An Interview with Francis J Downey,Publisher, National Geographic Explorer
Once the youngest planetarium director in the United States, Francis J Downey is now the publisher of The National Geographic Explorer – an award-winning magazine designed to teach science and social studies in classrooms around the world.
Downey will be speaking at SchoolsNOW 2011, a principal’s conference that is being organised by Hindustan Times on Friday.
What does your work involve?
I have the greatest job in the world. I get paid to think like a 10-year-old. I think that describes my job perfectly. Children approach the world with a sense of awe and wonder, and are natural born scientists. They always ask questions. My job involves keeping them engaged and helping them make sense of all the fantastic information there is out there.
How is the Explorer used in classrooms to aid learning?
The magazine, which is published seven times a year, deals with subjects such as science, environment and culture. We try to create unusual ways of teaching topics that are part of the students’ regular curricula. We try to make matter that can be misconstrued as boring more exciting by using writing styles used in fiction. We try to get students to see the things they are reading about in their minds. We use lively images that put the reader right in the picture itself, creating an emotional response that helps them learn better.
What brings you to India? How has your experience here been so far?
This is my first trip to India. The Explorer is currently published in 8 countries, and we are now adding India to that list. Today, I took a class for Class 4 students at a city school and was amazed to see the how smart the children were.
If I did not know they were 9-year-olds, I would never have believed it. Their reading skills, ability to grasp ideas and their classroom interaction floored me.
What impact do you hope to leave on the children who read the Explorer?
I hope that students can learn to care about the planet. Today in my class, I talked to the children about hurricanes and tornadoes. Perhaps one of those students will grow up to be a meteorologist one day, but even if another is simply better prepared for the next storm, learning something new today has made a difference to them.