A new book about Frankie MacDonald becomes a learning tool for students
By Richard Woodbury
Talking about the weather is something Canadians love doing and often serves as an ice breaker to conversations. Not surprisingly, books about weather are popular.
Terrilee Bulger, the co-owner and general manager of Nimbus Publishing, says she’s always been a fan of Frankie MacDonald, the YouTube sensation from Sydney, N.S., who is well known for the weather forecasts he posts online. MacDonald, who has autism, is known for the passion and energy he brings to the forecasts, especially when a storm is expected, which prompts him to say his catch phrase of “Be prepared” as he tells viewers what they can do to get ready.
MacDonald has almost 175,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, about 75,000 followers on Twitter, and almost 14,000 on Facebook. Bulger says she was impressed with how MacDonald built up such a huge online following. While much press has been devoted to MacDonald, Bulger says little was known about his personal story and thought it might make for the subject of a good book, but it turned into something so much more.
“As we started getting deeper into the project, we realized what a good story we had,” she says.
Writer Sarah Sawler, a regular Our Children contributor, was brought on to co-author with MacDonald. The finished product is Be Prepared! The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, the Weather, and Everything, a 46-page book that not only tells MacDonald’s life story but uses it as a conduit to educate readers about such things as the weather, bullying, and autism.
The different layers to the book meant Nimbus felt it would be a good fit for use in elementary classrooms, especially given that Nova Scotia’s Culture Action Plan released last year aims to use more local content in the classroom.
Recognizing the potential the book had for classroom use, Nimbus used the services of its curriculum co-ordinator, Robin Grant, to prepare teaching materials. Doing this increased the likelihood the book would be accepted for use in classrooms. Bulger says only about one per cent of books the company pitches to Nova Scotia’s Education Department are accepted, so having Be Prepared! accepted was a feat. It’s not yet clear how many classrooms will use the book as a teaching resource.
One of the reasons why local books are preferred is because students can better identify with the material.
“It’s about bringing learners to their homes or what’s familiar to them, and helping them learn from that perspective,” Grant says. She says the book is best suited for students in Grades 4 to 6. Some of the core competencies for children’s education that the book can be used for are citizenship, personal-career development, and critical thinking, and the book can be used in classes such as science, health education, and social studies.
One of the lesson plans prepared by Grant covers bullying. When MacDonald was 24, some kids stole his bike and smashed it up so badly it couldn’t be used again. His father has offered to buy him a new one, but MacDonald refused. He hasn’t ridden a bike since that incident. As an online personality, MacDonald has also encountered frequent bullying from online trolls.
MacDonald, 34, thinks the book will be helpful for kids to learn about bullying and how kids can deal with it. “It’s going to be great for them to learn,” he says. His advice for kids experiencing bullying is to tell a parent or teacher.
One of the activities suggests separating a class into no more than five groups and having each group discuss how they’ve stood up to bullies. To prep them for that discussion, the teacher should ask the students to consider things like what kinds of bullying they’ve observed or experienced, what tactics worked/didn’t work to stop or prevent the bullying, and why these approaches worked or didn’t work. “Because it’s so creative and so outside the box, I think there’s a real opportunity for kids to have hands-on experiential learning and creative activities, as opposed to, ‘OK, you know, answer this question in the proper format.’ There’s a lot of real-time learning,” Grant says.
Another example of an exercise covers identifying weather patterns. Students are separated into groups where they’re tasked with acting out a weather pattern, such as a thunderstorm, rainbow, or hurricane. Not only must the students identify the weather pattern, but they must also accurately explain why that type of weather pattern happens by using information sourced from Be Prepared! Grant thinks this exercise will resonate with kids.
“They get to be silly and when they’re having fun, they’re learning so much more,” she says.
Whitney Moran, a managing editor with Nimbus Publishing, says it’s unusual for a book to be able to cover such diverse topics. “[MacDonald’s] interests just seem to coincide with a lot of the curriculum outcomes,” she says.
Besides the potential for what students can learn through Be Prepared!, the book also has compelling narratives.
For example, when MacDonald was a child, his father would put the television on The Weather Network station, which MacDonald was fascinated by. At first, his father thought MacDonald was intrigued by the shapes and colours shown on the screen, but then he came to realize his son was learning things.
“If you were writing a book of fiction, that’s the kind of thing you would think up because it’s so perfect,” Moran says.
“You’d just get these stories that felt too good to be true.”
WHAT CAN KIDS LEARN FROM THE BOOK?
For Sarah Sawler, the co-author of Be Prepared! The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, the Weather, and Everything, she hopes kids learn factual details like MacDonald’s background and meteorology, but also what some people with autism do when they feel overwhelmed.
“I hope what they take away is everybody’s different, everybody faces their own challenges and at the root of it all, we’re all just people trying to make it through life,” she says. “I hope they understand that, you know, even if they cope with overwhelming situations by banging their heads or flapping their hands or if they have friends or classmates that do, I hope they take away it’s all just a coping mechanism… and we’re all just doing things a little bit differently and all of our minds work differently and we all have different skills. I hope it breaks down some barriers.”
WHAT FRANKIE MacDONALD CAN TEACH KIDS ABOUT OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
One of the things that most impresses Sawler about MacDonald is what he’s done in the face of adversity. As a child, he was non-verbal and would make noises to try to communicate.
Through the help of a speech therapist, he learned how to speak, which is something he’s obviously quite comfortable with now.
MacDonald has always been technologically adept, and has become skilled with social media. As well, his experiences with real-life bullying have prepared him well for the never-ending trolls that can be found online.
“All of these challenges he’s went through and all of these talents he has have come together to make him the success he is,” Sawler says.