Category Archives: Nonfiction

STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — Writing Craft and Resources

Wild and Wacky (and Weird) Science

Wild & wacky science is all around us. One of the best examples I’ve ever personally encountered is the Titan arum, or corpse flower, that went full bloom last summer at the university where I work. Beautiful in its perfect weirdness. And, if you’ve never had the pleasure of a blooming corpse flower experience, its smell is just as wonderfully horrific as the name suggests. Think one hundred dead mice in a 90°F humidity chamber and you’re getting really close…

Sometimes in the STEM world, great discoveries are made through observations that, at first glance, are considered “wild” and/or “wacky”. And for argument’s sake, I’m going to add “weird” as the third “W”. Science is basically built on things which appear odd at first glance. Imagine the first person who ever looked at the four-legged ruminant chewing cud in the meadow next to the village and said, “Hey, I bet whatever’s inside that hangy-down, bag thing would go great with my PB&J sandwich.”

The wild, weird and wacky often leads to open doors in both thought and discovery. One notices a little thing like how annoying it is to pick the cockleburrs off the dog after every single trip to the field. And while struggling to pull the little !@#$s out of the dog’s fur as she sits so, so patiently, you notice the weird design details of the burr. The hooked barbs jutting out at the perfect angles to cover the maximum surface area. You notice how those hooks grab and hold tight. You also notice that for the umpteenth time today your preschool-aged offspring asks you to tie his or her shoes. BINGO! The observation of the weird natural design of the burr serves as a template for the invention of something awesome like Velcro; one of the greatest and most practical inventions of the 20th-century.

Odd triggers inquiry in our brain. We, as humans, are innately curious. We see something wild, weird, and/or wacky and, after our initial shock, begin to ask, “Why?”. “Why?” is the switch which fires the STEM mind. Once switched on, these STEM neural connections in the brain process the input observations and begin formulating the next question, “How?”.

The wild, the wacky, and the weird can lead to the WONDERFUL. Answering the “why” and the “how” questions unlocks the door to discovery. And this is the same in the laboratory as it is in the classroom, the library, or in the writing bunker. Wild and wacky things we observe in our universe spark inquiry. Inquiry leads to discovery. Discovery leads to more discovery and more creativity

An interest in certain wild and wacky and wonderful aspects of our universe also lends itself to social connection. People with like interests can bond over these seemingly off-the-wall interests.   

What halfway reputable STEM wild & wacky science blog post would omit a list of random wild and wacky science facts? Not this halfway reputable STEM blogger! So, for your STEM entertainment, here’s an eye-opening list of wild, wacky, weird, and wonderful science facts.

  • The human brain processes around 11 million bits of information every second but is aware of only 40.
  • 42 minutes and 12 seconds? That’s how long it would take to jump to the other side of the earth through a hole drilled straight through the center of our wonderful planet.
  • A light particle, called a photon takes only 8 minutes to travel from the Sun’s surface to Earth.
  • But it takes 40,000 years for that same light particle to travel from its origins in the Sun’s core to its surface.
  • A mid-sized, run-of-the-mill cumulus cloud weighs as much as 80 elephants.
  • A single bolt of lightning contains enough energy to cook 100,000 pieces of toast.
  • After removing all the empty spaces in all the atoms in every person on Planet Earth, the entire human race would fit into an apple.
  • Over the course of an average human lifespan, the skin completely replaces itself 900 times.
  • The air in an average-sized room weighs about 100 pounds.
  • In 20 seconds, a red blood cell can make a complete circuit through the body.
  • Tyrannosaurus rex lived closer in time to us than to Stegosaurus.

Dear student, teacher, writer, and/or librarian readers, your STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Mission for the week is to observe and record something odd in your everyday world. Be it animal, vegetable, mineral, or mechanical, write it down and then think about it.

  • The size.
  • The shape.
  • The function or niche.

Whatever you see, document it. Use the information to formulate the “why” and then the “how” questions. Finally, let your imagination and logic run loose in the spirit of discovery and invention to formulate an alternate use, function, or future for your odd observation. Repeat daily for one week to find out how much fun, and how functional, the wild, the wacky, and the weird science in your world can be.

I bet it’s wonderful!

Have a wild and wacky month!


THE O.O.L.F. FILES

My biggest question for this month was whether we even need the O.O.L.F. files in the month of Wild and Wacky Science since The O.O.L.F. File section is basically wild, wacky, and weird by design. After much deep thought and soul-searching, the issue was decided. Of course, we need an O.O.L.F. Files! One can never have too much wild, wacky, and weird STEM information, am I right?

  • Titan arum, the corpse flower, blooms!
  • Mitochondria run hot!
    • Our cellular power plants can operate at what temp? Is that even possible? I honestly can’t feel a thing in any of my 37 trillion cells. Can you?
  • What Baby Poop Says About Brain Development.
    • Can the composition of an infant’s intestinal microbiota have an effect on future cognitive abilities? 
  • A Virus With Black Widow DNA
    •  In order to find a new host Wolbachia bacterial cell, the WO bacteriophage must punch its way back into another insect cell and another Wolbachia. Viruses are masters of escape and infiltration, but WO can uniquely get through two sets of barriers—one bacterial, and one animal—by using genes picked up from the black widow venom’s toxin.  Think that’s freaky? So do I!
  • Keeping Cool With Drool
    • By drooling and then slurping up the drop of saliva, a blowfly keeps a cool head despite not having the ability to sweat. (This makes my inner middle school boy smile with joy.)

Mike Hays, O.O.L.F. Master


STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — In the Classroom

This month’s STEM Tuesday Theme: Wild and Wacky Science has the potential to lead readers in all directions! What a fun Book List the STEM Tuesday Team found for us this month.

Here are a few ways to use this month’s books in the classroom, extending learning beyond simply reading. Enjoy these suggestions, and as always, we welcome your additional suggestions in the comments below!

Follow a Friend on Facebook! 

After reading Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals by Nancy Furstinger, you’ll want to adopt one of these furry heroes! Since convincing parents to get new pets of any kind can be a monumental task, it might be easier for your class to befriend a furrrball on Facebook. Here are links to the Facebook pages of several of Furstinger’s friends.

Chris P Bacon, Pig on Wheels @CPBaconWheels

Brutus the Rottweiler @betterpawsforbrutus

Molly the Three-Legged Pony @mollythe3leggedpony

Vincent the Cat @walkingvincentcat

Albie, Felix, and Fawn, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary @woodstockfarm

 Chart Your Allergies! 

First, read Itch! Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch by Anita Sanchez.

Then, practice data-collecting, chart-making, graphing, and data analysis skills by doing a classroom allergy assessment.  Start by asking students to create their own survey. What questions will you need to ask to find out who is allergic to what? Create the survey together, complete the surveys, and gather the data. Next, chart or graph (or both!) the results for a visual and numeric display of what gets under your skin. Who’s is inclined to itch when the cat comes in? Do menacing mosquitoes munch on many or just a few of the members of your class?

Dig Deeper!  Get the DNA 411!

In Forgotten Bones, Uncovering of a Slave Cemetery, Lois Miner Huey takes readers on a fascinating journey that begins with the discovery of and leads to an amazing amount of information about the thirteen slaves buried on what was once the Schuyler Family Farm near Albany, New York.

Much of what the scientists on the scene and in the lab near Albany were able to determine about the slaves was came the DNA samples from seven of the adult skeletons.  But what do you really know about DNA? Plan ahead for National DNA Day, April 25th, by checking out this website for several great DNA-related activities to do with kids. 

Make a Book Trailer.  Some of this month’s book picks have cool book trailers available on You Tube.  Watch these one-minute advertisements for wild and wacky nonfiction and make your own book trailer. There’s a lot to be said about getting the most out of just sixty seconds of screen time! Can you make a trailer that is certain to send readers running to the library to check out the book you’ve read? Here’s a link to a helpful tutorial to show How to Make a Book Trailer in iMovie.

   

This week’s STEM Tuesday post was prepared by

Michelle Houts delights in the wild and wacky side of finding fun facts for young readers. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and often finds the nonfiction harder to believe than the fiction. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @mhoutswrites and on the web at www.michellehouts.com.

Video

iNK: A Great Resource for Nonfiction in Your Curriculum

I grew up in the generation where many nonfiction books were dry and text-heavy. The content was to-the-point, and there were few photographs or illustrations. The purpose of even checking out a nonfiction book at the library was solely for school research projects.

Fast forward thirty-plus years. Nonfiction has changed. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It tells a story. Kids who “don’t like” nonfiction might not even know they’re reading it (kind of like giving a child something healthy to eat and they don’t notice!) So now we have kids reading these books for pleasure. But how can you utilize all of these great nonfiction books as part of your instruction? How can you even find out about them?

While web surfing the other day, I came across the site iNK and was intrigued. I had to find out more. What I found out is that the person behind this resource is Vicki Cobb. Those in the world of education know this name well: she wrote such books as Bet You Can’t! and Science Experiments You Can Eat. And she was one of the pioneers in the change in nonfiction. I tracked her down and had the opportunity to chat with her to learn more about iNK and The Nonfiction Minute.

iNK stands for Interesting Nonfiction for Kids and is a nonfiction database for teachers and librarians. The books that are part of the database are all written by award-winning, nonfiction children’s authors: Lawrence Pringle, April Pulley Sayre, Steve Jenkins, and Steve Swinburne, to name a few.

Vicki made an interesting point about how authors’ books are shelved. Fiction authors’ books are clustered together on the shelves of libraries and bookstores since fiction is catalogued by the author’s last name. On the other hand, nonfiction authors’ books are scattered throughout the stacks, catalogued by the subject’s call number. If a reader enjoys a particular author, they can’t just grab all of the books from that section of the shelf.

iNK introduces teachers and librarians to award-winning nonfiction authors and their body of work. iNK also allows teachers and librarians to work with some of the authors through the writers-in-residence program Authors on Call. A teacher or librarian can sign up for a professional development program titled Class ACTS Program. This program is customized for the teacher or teachers’ needs and includes written communication and videoconferencing with an author. See http://inkthinktank.org/images/INKBOOKLET.pdf  and http://www.nonfictionminute.org/authors-on-call.html for more details.

Vicki Cobb also heads The Nonfiction Minute, which is a blog featuring posts by nonfiction children’s authors. In addition to interesting nonfiction posts, you can listen to the authors read their posts! There are so many fun articles with high-interest photos. Teachers and librarians can also do a search by topic or scroll through the category list. These posts are great to share with students and show how nonfiction has voice.

Last, a new book is out by these award-winning nonfiction authors titled 30 People Who Changed the World: Fascinating Bit-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers (edited by Jean Reynolds). It includes biographies on people in a variety of fields, people such as Julius Caesar, Rosa Parks, and Roald Amundsen. And coming in March: 30 Animals That Share Our World. The book demonstrates voice through nonfiction, a topic that has more recently been studied with students.

And if you’re a big fan of Vicki Cobb, check out her posts on her new blog: www.vickicobbsblog.com.

So if you’re looking to add a component to your science, social studies, reading, math, or writing curriculum (wait, that’s just about everything!), check out The Nonfiction Minute and iNK.

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave