Category Archives: MUF Contributor Books

STEM Tuesday Exploration– In the Classroom

January. The month for making resolutions. At STEM Tuesday, it’s also the month for exploration. Why not resolve to explore creative ways to bring middle grade, STEM-themed books into the lives of young readers?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLaunch into exploration with Mission: MarsAuthor Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist and chairman of the Mars Institute, embraces the theme by transporting readers to this far-flung destination. As would-be astronauts contemplate heading to the Red Planet, even short segments of the book serve as possible springboards to new lessons or activity ideas.

For example, with a single, short passage on page 5, you can connect math, science, and ELA. Here, providing a sense of the distances to Earth’s nearest neighbors, Lee compares how many months it would take to drive (at 70 miles per hour) to the Moon and Mars—5 months and 5,000 months (more than 400 years), respectively. The numbers are fun and informative – and a great model for your students’ own sense-making and communication.

Invite them to check Lee’s calculations (because it’s good to get in the habit of checking authors’ figures). Next, students can write a similar passage comparing the same distances (to the Moon and Mars). After they select different vehicles and research or estimate typical speeds, you can help students work through how long it would take for the vehicles to get them to their destinations.

For a truly open-ended approach, ask students how they would try to solve the problem and invite them to give it a try on their own. Of course, you might prefer to provide more direction, using this example in a lesson on proportional reasoning, using tables, spreadsheets, unit analysis, or other approaches relevant to your curriculum goals. Afterward, return to Lee’s passage. Help readers notice that comparisons like this work especially well because they connect to something the reader can readily imagine or has experienced. Which of their own comparisons would be most useful to readers of different ages? Which might make the greatest impressions? Why?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgKeep on trekking. Once your readers-turned-math-and-science-communicators have the Earth-Moon-Mars scale under control, let them loose on the whole universe! Cracking open National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas (which I authored), check out the facts and figures related to the sizes of objects and distances across our Solar System, through the Milky Way, and beyond. Students can translate these measurements into the distance scales they have just developed based on vehicles’ travel times. Continuing your exploration of space, use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast various features of solar systems, stars, and more. Or take a close look at the different types of graphic information in this highly visual book. How do illustrations, scientific images (from telescopes, for example), photographs, and more draw readers in? How do they shape a reader’s impression of the information?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDiving in to an exploration that is closer to home, check out Kenneth Mallory’s Diving to a Deep-Sea Volcano. Vbrant pictures of exotic organisms and underwater landscapes complement the fascinating story. As with space exploration, technologies for transportation, remote sensing, and communications play a vital role in oceanographic discovery. Now’s the time for an engineering design challenge that’s linked to ocean exploration technology–submarines and more.

For example, Engineering is Elementary’s* Ocean Engineering unit, Taking the Plunge, offers an engineering challenge focused on remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV), no electronics required. This or any well-developed ROV design challenge would make an important engineering connection to Mallory’s book, attracting tinkerers and readers alike.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center’s free ROV-related guide can also help you dive further into the deep sea exploration! For example, following one of the resource’s links, I found this wonderful clip. Watch an enchanting little fish roam its territory while a scientist reminds us that anyone watching the video live was witnessing the first-ever glimpse of this particular species. The experience—as well as the scientist’s voice–affirms that science is an exciting, vibrant adventure.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Launch and dive into science exploration — at the same time. That’s no mixed metaphor if we’re talking about Jennifer Swanson’s Astronaut Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. To strengthen conceptual knowledge and help readers connect science topics to the excitement of exploration, try reading the book before or during a science unit on density, buoyancy, plate tectonics, technology…or any of the other topics that are woven into the book.

The included science activities might be of special interest to help you extend the literacy experience, but don’t miss the obvious opportunity to reflect on the comparisons throughout the story.

You might want to use the text as a model for students–and challenge them to find and write about other topics with surprising or interesting connections. (How about comparing and contrasting the forces that shape mountains and canyons…that cause droughts and floods?) Whatever your learners choose, ask them to consider what concepts bind them and what connections they see in how people explore these topics.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgKeep an eye out for opportunities to explore. Speaking of “new” species, Sandra Markle’s The Search for Olinguito. reminds us that sometimes exploration involves taking a new look at something we have seen before. Curiosity and sharp observation are part of the story of scientific exploration. If not for scientist Kristofer Halgen’s observation of a unique pelt in a museum collection, the olinguito (an adorable raccoon relative) might not be known to science.  Emphasize this point with a fun, game-like experience.

Tell partners take a good look at each other. Then, ask partners to turn away from each other; each one should make a subtle change to his or her appearance. When partners face each other again, can they find the change? You can adapt this idea as an ongoing group experience. Every few days, change something about the physical environment. Challenge students to notice. Keep them tuned in to visual detail.

This book is also a great opportunity to help your students understand how scientists classify organisms in the first place. The American Association for the Advancement of Science offers a basic classification activity that you can use to engage your students in this essential content. At the end of the lesson, you’ll find links to extensions that will help you dive deeper or begin at a more advanced level.

To explore (scientifically) is human. One more note for this month: Science and STEM stories have the potential to positively impact the whole child, modeling, for example, inquisitiveness and tenacity. Science is a human adventure. Feeling the shiver of curiosity, digging for answers, facing challenges and disappointments, and celebrating success are all part of the experience.

Ask students to share their own stories that parallel the scientific tales of exploration in these books. Possible prompts include:

  • When have you had a question you really wanted to answer?  How did you figure it out?
  • When have you found yourself  inventing or adapt an object so you could do something you wanted to do? (Something as simple as using a paperclip to replace a button counts as an example.) 
  • When have you ever felt stuck? How did you get past that?
  • Tell us about a time when you reached a milestone that you worked hard to attain.

After students share their tales, turn to books on this month’s list in search of the scientists’ similar experiences.

Share your own exploration! As you venture into your own new territory with these books and the theme of STEM exploration, please don’t leave us in the dust. Drop us a line in the comments section below! Think of it as an entry in a communal adventure log!

  • How else do you help students experience reading and doing as exploration?
  • Do you prefer to focus on exploration as a one-time theme or sprinkle it throughout the year? Why?
  • What other books do you use to help introduce exploration as an important aspect of science? How?
  • What ideas worked well—or not so well—with your students?

 

portrait of author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofanoWhen she’s not exploring the topic of her next nonfiction book for kids, author, STEM education specialist, and President of Blue Heron STEM Education Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, M.Ed., helps students and teachers explore science and STEM fields with dynamic, hands-on author visits, professional development programs, and curricula that are customized to meet their needs and interests.

*Disclosure: As one of original authors and a consultant for Engineering is Elementary, I have professional ties to that program. However, I do not receive sales commissions or royalties.

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books– In the Classroom

We’ve taken a few of the titles from last week’s book list – Science in Fiction Books – and found some fantastic ways to use them in the classroom. There are lots of links and places for teachers, students, and parents to go from here!  Have fun!

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas   by Jacqueline Houtman

Science comes easily to Eddy (Edison) Thomas. Social relationships? Not so much. On her website, Houtman shares a number of classroom activities which will prod middle-grade readers toward deeper discovery and understanding. Here are a couple.  See more cross-curricular classroom activities here. 

Design an experiment to test Fact Number 28 (p. 73): Listening to slow music can lower your heart rate, while music with a faster tempo can increase your heart rate. Who would be your subjects? How would you measure heart rate? What other factors might affect your experiment? How would you make sure that you are only measuring the effect of the music?

Find out how the special effects in your favorite science fiction or fantasy movie were done. (Many DVDs come with special feature discs that explain how the effects were achieved, or you can use the Internet.) How have special effects in movies changed in the last 10 years? 30 years? 50 years? How did they do special effects before there were computers and computer animation?

Eye of the Storm  by Kate Messner

A summer at science camp turns into a life-or-death situation for Jaden and her new friends Risha and Alex in this thrilling science-packed middle-grade novel.  Teachers can find a thorough Eye of the Storm Discussion Guide on author Kate Messner’s website as well as a link to a gallery of Eye of the Storm Resources on Pinterest. 

Is there a Placid Meadows in your state?  Use data from the national weather service to look at where tornados or super storms have occurred in your state in the past year. Map locations and decide if there is a spot that, like the fictional Placid Meadows, seems immune from such disasters. Or, is there a “tornado alley” or path that seems to attract severe weather time and time again?

Using gripping fiction like  Eye of the Storm in conjunction with nonfiction books about climate change and super storms can add a personal element to research and discussion of these topics.

The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson

Truly a story of discovery, this novel takes readers along with Angel, the 11-year-old main character, on a journey in which she’ll find out things about herself and about the universe that she never believed possible.

The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) has created a wonderful teacher’s resource for The Same Stuff as Stars here.  (Scroll past the resources for one of Paterson’s other books, but tuck those away for another day!)

As Angel learns more about the constellations, teachers and parents can help young readers do the same with websites such as KidsAstronomy.com and NASA Kids Club.

The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman

Every great story and every great scientific discovery have started with the same question:  “What if?” So, what if every adult in the whole town of St. Polonius fell asleep and the children were left to run the town?

There’s so much fun to be had with a story that mixes science and problem-solving with  politics and mystery.

The Investigative Process and Premise –  Scientists begin their investigative process by asking questions.  Authors create a premise before drafting a novel. They are both asking and answering the “What if” question. Take a look at the books your class had read this year. What is the “what if” question posed by the author. Now, take a look the science topics you’ve discussed this year. What questions did the scientists ask for their investigations?  Now ask your students the following questions:   Can your science topics lead to new fictional story ideas?  Can fiction stories lead you to further investigate a science topic?

What is hibernation? Using the unexpected hibernation of the adults in St. Polonius to launch a study of real hibernation. Which animals hibernate and why? Where and when do animals hibernate?  Use facts found at How Stuff Works  to chart your findings on graphs or maps.

Add to the list!  If you have a classroom activity to accompany a sciencey-fiction book you’ve read, post it in the comments below. We love sharing your ideas!

Michelle Houts is the author of ten books for young readers. Her Lucy’s Lab series is another example of science-filled fiction. Find Lucy’s Pinterest page with classroom activities and experiments here.

December New Releases!

The holidays are almost here. What makes a better gift than a book? NOTHING!  As you start your shopping, consider looking for great books to buy for all of your friends, relatives, and well, just anyone. Here are a few wonderful books releasing this month to get you started…. Happy Holidays!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMidnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (HMH BFYR)

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. For now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

 

 

Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey (Graphix)    Hot diggity dog! Dog Man, the newest hero from Dav Pilkey, the creator of CapSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgtain Underpants, is back — and this time he’s not alone. The heroic hound with a real nose for justice now has a furry feline sidekick, and together they have a mystery to sniff out! When a new kitty sitter arrives and a glamorous movie starlet goes missing, it’s up to Dog Man and Cat Kid to save the day! Will these heroes stay hot on the trail, or will Petey, the World’s Most Evil Cat, send them barking up the wrong tree?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgthe Bad Guys in Intergalatic Gas by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)

The bad news? The world is ending. The good news? The Bad Guys are back to save it! Sure, they might have to “borrow” a rocket. And there might be something nasty in one of the spacesuits. And Mr. Piranha miiiight have eaten too many bean burritos. Surviving this mission may only be one small step for man, but it’s one giant leap for the Bad Guys.
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Liberty  (Dogs of WWII) by Kirby Larson (Scholastic)

Fish has a knack for inventing. His annoying neighbor, Olympia, has a knack for messing things up. But when his latest invention leads Fish to Liberty, a beautiful stray dog who needs a home, he and Olympia work together to rescue her. At the Higgins boatyard, where the boats that just might save the Allied forces during World War II are built, the wartime workforce is integrated and includes women and the disabled. However, a friendship that crosses racial lines is not the norm in 1940s New Orleans.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org  The Slime Book by DK Children

Includes more than 30 borax-free, simple, safe, homemade slime recipes—from basic slime to edible, textured, glow-in-the-dark, and color-changing slime. Kids will be mesmerized and “slimerized” by the book’s gloopy, gooey, colorful slime recipes. The easy-to-follow recipes all use inexpensive, accessible, and safe everyday products.

 


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Detention of Doom by  Derek Fridolfs  (Scholastic, Inc.)

When Lex Luthor’s family company, Lexcorp(TM), invites kids from all over the country to attend an honors ceremony, Clark Kent is happy to participate. That is, until his award trophy creates a portal to another dimension and sucks him in! Lucky for Clark, his old friends Bruce and Diana along with newer friends Barry (The Flash(TM)) and Ollie (Green Arrow(TM)) are on the case! They’ll have to travel to an alternate dimension to free their friend from Lex Luthor’s grasp (and the worst detention ever) in this all-new adventure from Eisner Award winner Dustin Nguyen and Eisner Award nominee Derek Fridolfs.
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Who Was Corretta Scott? King by Gail Herman (Penguin Workshop)

The wife of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was a civil rights leader in her own right, playing a prominent role in the African American struggle for racial equality in the 1960s.

Here’s a gripping portrait of a smart, remarkable woman. Growing up in Alabama, Coretta Scott King graduated valedictorian from her high school before becoming one of the first African American students at Antioch College in Ohio. It was there that she became politically active, joining the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After her marriage to Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta took part in the Civil Rights Movement. Following her husband’s assassination in 1968, she assumed leadership of the movement. Later in life she was an advocate for the Women’s Rights Movement, LGBT rights, and she worked to end apartheid in South Africa.