Outschool Classes, Reading, Writing

Announcing a New Class: Composition Using Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I’m very excited to announce the development of a new composition class. In October, I found myself on a women’s writing retreat with some amazing people. I knew that I wanted to start working on a new class, and (as I’ve written about before) I like to theme my classes around nonfiction books.

I had taken a stack of books with me on this retreat. I knew I would be without internet access (the horror!) and would have plenty of time to dig into some reading and find out what I wanted to use for the next book. I had planned to skim through all of the books and see which one clicked best, but I didn’t get a chance because the first one I picked up had me enthralled from page one.

Hope Jahren’s book Lab Girl was written in 2016. (You can hear a quick NPR interview with Jahren about the book here.) The book is partly a memoir of Jahren’s own journey into becoming a scientist, partly an up close (and sometimes devastatingly honest) look at the way that scientific research depends on funding and luck, and partly a scientific text explaining some fascinating realities of botany. It’s more than any one of those things, though. Jahren’s prose is absolutely beautiful, and her description of both her own life and the facts about the life of plants draws you in like a great thriller.

As soon as I started reading, I knew that this was my next book. I could immediately see possibilities for an amazing process paper (Jahren has a meticulously detailed description of herself working as a medicine mixer early in her career that serves as a perfect example). I could see ways to bring in interdisciplinary discussions about the role of humanities in the sciences. I could see the class unfolding before my eyes.

I’m really excited about teaching this book, and I’m going to start with a 12-week Outschool class themed around Lab Girl in January. Once I have run the class and had time to tweak assignments, I will eventually be offering a full standalone curriculum for this class so that it can be downloaded and taught in homes or in co-op settings.

Whether you consider using my curriculum or not, I highly recommend this book. It would be an excellent read for high schoolers considering a career in the sciences as well as a great way to provide some inroads into science topics for a student who appreciates more metaphorical and literary writing. It is truly an excellent merger of worlds that are too often held separate, and I believe just about anyone could benefit from giving it a read.

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