Hoot the Owl - the backstory

We believe that educational outreach is at the center of our exhibitions, so nothing could have excited us more than a letter we received last November when Stacey Stevenson told us the story of "Hoot the Owl." A children’s book, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began, was written and illustrated this past Fall by Anna Todd, a 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, located in El Reno, Oklahoma. Hoot the Owl is not one of the 88 official constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union, but it's my new favorite constellation! You can read the book and learn the backstory below. As you will see, the story of Hoot the Owl is a specific, concrete example of how knowledge of the stars enhances our lives today.


Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site: http://lynx-open-ed.org/hoot
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.


Here’s the story behind the story:

Stacey has been participating in the NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) which is led by Dorinda Risenhoover, the NASA OSGC Education Coordinator.*

Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit.
Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit in the Exhibit Hall.

We so admire Dorinda’s leadership and vision for supporting educators in this state, and appreciate her decision to bring the participating educators to OU Libraries for an all-day workshop, which we held for them last September, to introduce them to open educational resources (OERs) developed for the Galileo’s World exhibit.

Stacey at the OU Libraries workshop last September.
Stacey (far right) at the September workshop.
Left to right: Sharon Scott, Rashid Troupe, Stacey Stevenson.

I wish for any future grandchildren I might have that they will have teachers like Stacey and the other educators in this mentorship! NASA OSGC’s Mission To Planet Earth and the Galileo’s World workshop begin the story of how Anna came to create “Hoot the Owl.” On Nov 7, 2017, Stacey wrote us to explain the rest of the story:


Dr. Magruder,

Good evening! I hope this email finds you well.

I would like to share a story of early inspiration with you. I have been tutoring a 2nd grader in reading for my Diagnostics in Reading course. We have read over 50 books since we started working together. From the beginning I told her to keep in mind, as we read, that she would be writing her very own book at the end of the semester. I told her to consider the subject matter of the books we read and the illustrations as well.

Early into the semester we read Fancy Nancy Sees the Stars. The book is a level 1 reader and it explains planetariums and constellations so early readers can understand. When we were finished, she was fascinated by the idea of constellations. That night I put together several of the materials that were given to me during the HOS [workshop on] Galileo’s World. I also bookmarked a few of the pages from your site as well. The next time we met I had checked out a few more children’s books on constellations, brought my HOS materials and my laptop. She was in awe, absolutely consumed by the idea of constellations. She was able to comprehend that the pictures were not actually in the sky but “imaginary, for my heart to see but not my eyes”, those are her words. We read the captions connected to the images on the materials you handed out and on the website. After a few meetings of reading only about constellations and stars, she decided to write her book about a constellation. She decided to make up and create a story as to how the constellation came to be. The story is absolutely fantastic and she has told her teacher, her family, and her classmates all about constellations and some of the stories she has been able to remember.

I really want to thank you. I was struggling to find a subject for her to really connect with, to give her the desire to read. To her, reading was boring. She had no heart for it and did not enjoy it. She enjoys reading now. She says, “The more I practice reading, the more I will be able to read about the sky when I am older and can understand the biggest words of all”.

I have mailed you a copy of her book. I hope you enjoy the newest constellation “Hoot the Owl”.

Thank you always,
Anastasia “Stacey” Stevenson
Thanks


What a story “Hoot the Owl” is! Such drama! What a plot, what a flow, how colorful! Anna wrote with amazing creativity! And to think Anna caught her love for reading from Stacey’s intervention — educators make such a huge difference in young students’ lives. Generations from now there will be ever-enduring effects from what an educator does with just one student this very semester. Maybe Anna, and her fellow students, will write many books… teach astronomy or literature or reading… or go to Mars.

As for now, in the 2nd grade, Anna wears beautiful bows, and looks great in pink!

Anna Todd with book
Anna Todd with her book

Anna Todd with sweater
Even Anna's sweater expresses her love of the stars!

Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson
Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson

Congratulations to Anna and all of her fellow students at Rose Witcher Elementary School! We’re sure her principal, Mrs. Tiffany Patrick, and all the teachers are quite proud and super-excited about her new book.

An original, laminated copy of Hoot the Owl has been placed in the Marilyn B. Ogilvie Exploration Room. The Exploration Room is part of the OU Libraries’ Exhibit Hall on the 5th floor, where the Galileo’s World Reprise exhibit continues. Here, alongside other books in the Exploration Room, children who visit Galileo’s World can read Anna’s story, right where they might sit down to color their own constellation pages and imagine their own stories of the stars.

We are grateful to be able to share Hoot the Owl in both our on-site and off-site educational programs, and to share it in the Lynx Open Ed website. We think many other young children will be inspired by reading Hoot the Owl. We also think many educators will be encouraged by its example to encourage their students to write their own constellation stories. Hoot the Owl also has been placed in the ShareOK repository of the University to guarantee that it will remain available in perpetuity.

Stacey’s story of working with Anna encapsulates perfectly what I mean when I tell myself that without educational outreach, exhibits wouldn’t be worth doing. The story of Stacey and Anna is what makes the time and effort we pour into exhibits worthwhile. This story illustrates the kind of impact that can occur when libraries work with educators through exhibitions. Hoot the Owl is going to be one of my favorite constellation stories of all time! :)

We’re grateful to Anna Todd and her family, and to Stacey Stevenson, for giving us full permission to share Anna’s book, this story-behind-the-story, and these photographs with you. Anna’s book is published with a Creative Commons license to share-alike, for non-commercial purposes, with attribution (CC-by-sa-nc).


Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site: http://lynx-open-ed.org/hoot
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and Illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.


 

* More on MTPE: The NASA OSGC Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission To Planet Earth is designed to empower pre-service educators from each of our eight affiliate universities (OU, OSU, SNU, ECU, Langston, Cameron, SWOSU, SEOSU) as STEM educators through a year of unique and hands-on STEM institutes, engagements, VIP NASA center tours, and more!  Participants network with NASA educators, researchers, scientists, museum curators, and other leading STEM-related experts while utilizing the latest iPad technology.  At the end of their year-long mentorship with NASA OSGC, the end goal is that each participant graduates the program with a passion and motivation to seek any and all opportunities in order to empower our next generation of STEM thinkers and doers through aerospace education as they begin to influence young minds in their own classrooms.