Category Archives: STEM Tuesday

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 Exploration– Books List

Welcome to January’s STEM Tuesday book list! This month our topic is EXPLORATION! It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? You’ll see that we stretched the concept of exploration to include some unique ideas. We hope that these books launch you off on new adventures.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSmash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider by Sara Latta
Discover what happens when two cousins visit the Large Hadron Collider that speeds up tiny particles and then smashes them together in this fun graphic novel.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species by Sandra Markle
Sandra Markle brings Kristofer Helgen’s discovery of a new, furry, four-legged Ecuadorian  species in this middle grade title. Readers will experience a real-life adventure into a cloud forest.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDiving To a Deep-Sea Volcano by Kenneth Mallory
Not all volcanos explode lava above ground. Readers of this Scientists in the Field title will discover that most volcanic activity is under the ocean. Explore the ocean depths and discover new worlds with Kenneth Mallory.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAstronaut/Aquanaut by Jennifer Swanson
Space and sea exploration in one title! This National Geographic title discusses the ways deep-sea and space explorers have to be concerned about the same things — pressure, temperature, climate, and remote places.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAmazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest by Sy Montgomery
Can a tiny fish save millions of acres of Amazon rainforest? Enjoy this adventure story with Sy Montgomery as she travels the Amazon river and rainforest to discover this important ecosystem.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgNational Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas by Carolyn DeCristofano
Kids are the explorers in this collection of amazing maps, including the solar system, deep space, the Milky Way, and the night sky. Written by a STEM educator, this title is perfect for budding astronauts.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWelcome to Mars by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne Dyson
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin invites readers to explore the universe and imagine living on the red planet.  If you want more on Mars exploration, check out Mission: Mars by Pascal Lee  Readers will discover how they can train to be part of the 2035 mission to Mars.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhat a Waste! Where Does Garbage Go by Claire Eamer
If you have ever wondered where your trash goes once it leaves your home then this book is for you. Readers will explore the history of garbage, where it goes today, and why it has become such a problem.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSeven Wonders of the Solar System by David A. Aguilar
Travel the universe with astronomer David Aguilar in this gorgeous book. Explore the far reaches of our solar system to see the surface of distant planets.  Break through colorful gaseous hazes. This title is published by the Smithsonian Institution and will not disappoint.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgScience Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean  by Maris Wicks
In this latest Green Earth Book Award winning title, Maris Wicks invites readers to explore the world’s coral reefs and their ecological importance. Through fun illustrations and comic cuteness this book delivers some hard-core science. Other titles in this  fun series focus on dinosaurs, volcanoes, and human anatomy.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgNot for Parents – How to Be A World Explorer: Your all terrain training manual by Lonely Planet
How could we not finish up our list with this appropriate how-to book from Lonely Planet? Readers will discover how to cope with extreme cold, navigate through the stars, and how to escape quicksand along with many other explorer necessities. This title touches on many STEM topics in a fun and useful way.

STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the 2017 Green Earth Book Award and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips with readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. www.nancycastaldo.com

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Check back every Tuesday of every month:

  • Week 1:  STEM Tuesday Themed Book Lists
  • Week 2:  STEM Tuesday in the Classroom
  • Week 3:  STEM Tuesday Crafts and Resources
  • Week 4:  STEM Tuesday Author Interviews and Giveaways

 

STEM Tuesday: Science in Fiction Books – Author Interview with Mary Knight and Giveaway

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math! 

Your host this week is Dr. Amber J. Keyser, evolutionary biologist and author of many books for young readers. Today, she’s interviewing Mary Knight, the author of Saving Wonder.

About the book: Having lost most of his family to coal mining accidents as a little boy, Curley Hines lives with his grandfather in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. Ever since Curley can remember, Papaw has been giving him a word each week to learn and live. Papaw says words are Curley’s way out of the holler, even though Curley has no intention of ever leaving.

When a new coal boss takes over the local mining company, life as Curley knows it is turned upside down. Suddenly, his best friend, Jules, has a crush on the coal boss’s son, and worse, the mining company threatens to destroy Curley and Papaw’s mountain. Now Curley faces a difficult choice. Does he use his words to speak out against Big Coal and save his mountain, or does he remain silent and save his way of life? With everything changing, Curley doesn’t even know if there will be anything left to save.

About the author: Mary’s debut novel, SAVING WONDER (Scholastic), won the 2017 Green Earth Book Award, a Parents’ Choice award, a Sigurd Olsen honorable mention for nature writing from Northland University, and was named a Notable Book for Social Studies by the Children’s Book Council. In addition to author visits and working on her next novel, Mary is a mentor for the Carnegie Center’s Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. She is also co-authoring a professional development book for teachers called CoreEmpathy: Transforming the Literacy Classroom. More about Mary and her work at www.maryknightbooks.com

Praise for SAVING WONDER from School Library Journal: Descriptions of the setting’s fragile beauty are so subtly interwoven with dialogue and action, they’re not only powerful visual images but ever-present reminders of what’s at stake in Curley’s fight…Characters are fully developed and endearing, their dialogue direct and sincere…Curley and Pawpaw’s word-a-week ritual crystallizes their relationship for the readers and gives Curley the confidence to take on an adversary that seems more powerful than he is. VERDICT A remarkable debut novel from an author to watch.

Also check out great reviews from Bookpage and Publisher’s Weekly.

Mary’s ideas for how to use SAVING WONDER to introduce STEM topics in the classroom: Generally, teachers who want to use the story of Saving Wonder as a “jumping off point” for further exploration of STEM topics have found it to be very versatile. Fiction has a unique function in engaging student interest in STEM topics by showing how an individual life is being personally affected by that topic or issue.

For instance, my novel offers a very personal, heartfelt betrayal of how one family (and community) is affected by a coal company’s decision to mine a mountain. A fictional story can show readers WHY we study and explore these topics, WHY they matter to people in their everyday lives. The story inspires interest and then, the student has their own personal stake in what they are researching and exploring…because they’ve “walked in a character’s shoes” and seen that topic from that character’s point of view. In short, a story can inspire them to care…and that caring makes all the difference in their learning.

Math topics:

First paragraph of the book, Curley says that learning a word a week from his grandfather and going through the alphabet twice a year is “a perfect system.” I love asking readers “why” this is. What’s the math? A teacher could ask: What are some examples of perfect systems? “Is an equation a ‘perfect system.’ What makes a system “perfect?’

Researching statistics / surveys on the effects of mountaintop removal on the Appalachian region. Exploring the economics involved in the issue, i.e. jobs versus effects on environment and public health.

Science topics:

Extinct species in the Appalachian Mountains: What made the Appalachians a perfect habitat for animals during the ice age? What made species go extinct? The considerations / consequences of introducing a new species into a region. (The introduction of western elk into the Appalachian region is explored in the novel.)

The long-term effects of extractive mining processes, specifically mountaintop removal mining, on environment and health. 

(Science and engineering) Designing experiments on run-off and water quality on nearby streams. One fifth-grade teacher in South Charleston, West Virginia created a classroom experiment showing how toxic minerals leech into the soil and then, streams and rivers. Contact Knight through her website for a copy of this lesson. 

How mountains are formed. If the Appalachians are among the oldest mountains in the world, why are they so short? 

How coal and other energy materials are formed. How and why they burn (chemistry).

Sustainable vs non-sustainable energy systems. (Cost analysis / diagrams could also be a math topic.)

One of Curley’s words is “tipping point.” What does “tipping point” mean in science? What are some examples of a tipping point? Scientific demonstrations of “tipping point,” say when water becomes a solid and/or a gas. Relating the scientific to social or cultural tipping points may enhance understanding of both.

Curley and his friends use the power of technology to spread the news about the mining threat to their mountain and to inspire other people to care through the power of their words. Where are all the places where technology comes into play in the novel–for good or ill? How does their use of technology have to do with “tipping point?” What is the definition of “going viral” these days and how may it differ from the past?

How might you use technology to spread the word regarding something you care about? Projects could revolve around this. One middle school teacher, after reading Saving Wonder with her class, invited her students to answer the question: “What makes something worth fighting for?” And then they created projects in which they took action to make a difference in their community. This same invitation could be made, inviting students to incorporate technology in their design / response.

On a more social note . . . 

In Saving Wonder, my protagonist Curley Hines has a conversation with the new coal boss, Mr. Tiverton, concerning the mountaintop removal mining planned for Curley’s mountain. Both characters have their say, offering what the mountain and the proposed mining means to them. I think this scene offers a great example of how to have a civil conversation where both parties are able to speak and be heard–something I believe we need more of in today’s divisive culture. I created the following lesson based on this scene to help students create and practice civil conversation. This is not STEM oriented, specifically, but anyone in a STEM field will one day need this skill! This was a guest blog for Jacqueline Jules’ blog, “Pencil Tips Writing Workshop.”

These are just a few ideas for integrating the “A” of language arts into “S-T-E-M” to increase the vibrancy of learning! 

A Q & A with Amber J. Keyser and Mary Knight:

When you began to work on Saving Wonder, which came first, the environmental issues or the characters?  

Chronologically speaking, my experience and impassioned response to the environmental destruction of mountaintop removal coal mining came first, but it wasn’t until I was “introduced” to my main character, Curley Hines, that the story began to unfold.

When my husband and I moved to Kentucky from the Pacific Northwest eight years ago, we were missing our mountains, so when we heard that a state park was offering elk tours in eastern Kentucky, we jumped at the chance to explore our new landscape. Little did we know that that tour would land us on an active mountaintop removal (MTR) site. We were absolutely flabbergasted at the sight of so much devastation—hundreds of acres absolutely stripped of all life. The experience led me to conduct research on the mining practice for the next two years, while also participating in some environmental activism.

Two years after that initial experience, I was researching the setting of another novel I was writing when I came upon a historic gazebo in a public park in Cincinnati. People through the decades had carved their initials on its stone wall. As I was running my hands over the engravings, I came upon one that read: “I love Curley Hines” and in that moment, I knew that boy. I tell my readers that “he came to me whole.” I knew that he was tall and thin with curly hair, of course, that he was really smart and lived in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky with his grandfather. And I began hearing his voice. He wanted to tell me his story! It was then that I knew MTR would provide the central conflict. I had finally found a story big enough to explore the topic.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this book?

As part of my research, my assistant interviewed a contact she had in the mining permit field to answer my story-specific questions. When he was asked, “What stops mountaintop removal?” he answered, “Very little.”

Although I knew how challenged environmentalists are regarding MTR in Kentucky where many say, “Coal is King,” this answer was still very sobering. We followed up later by asking, “We’re not looking for what is probable, but rather, what might be possible to stop MTR.” He said, “Well, I suppose if an ancient Native American burial site were found, maybe some petroglyphs…” and then he said, “But none of that would matter UNLESS (caps, mine) there was also a large public outcry.” This was when I understood the power of numbers in getting what you want…or stopping what you don’t want. These answers figured prominently in the choices I made with my plot. Specifically, this was when the Native American element entered my story—an element I love. As I talked with Cherokee elders now living in the commonwealth, I discovered that the state government doesn’t even recognize that they exist nor that they ever lived here. Historians claim Native Americans were just passing through!

Can you tell us a fascinating research tidbit that you weren’t able to work into the book?

There is a very important tree that is a central element to the story—a tree that my young characters call “Ol’ Charley.” It was initially a Native American marker tree, a tree that some theorize was bent as a sapling to indicate the direction of trails or to sacred sites. An anthropologist who was a member of the Cherokee tribe and who vetted the Native American elements in the book strongly disagreed with this theory, however. To include his name in the credits, we decided to change the tree to a sycamore. The sycamore plays an important role in the Cherokee creation story and sometimes Native Americans hid in its hollowed trunks to escape “removal,” otherwise known as The Trail of Tears. I felt good about making Ol’ Charley a sycamore…but I still miss the marker tree!

Why are STEM topics important to you? 

Honestly, the most important mission I have as a fiction writer is to engage my readers in a really good story. STEM topics offer great material that can capture a reader’s attention and inspire their curiosity—which in turn keeps them turning those pages! But I have a confession to make—I didn’t really set out to introduce STEM topics in my novel. That just happened. Now, however, I’m the one who’s hooked! My next novel intentionally explores issues around endangered species and global warming on the beautiful of island of Hawaii…and yes, I had to go there to conduct my research!

I hope all you STEM folks check out SAVING WONDER and find lots of ways to use it in your classrooms! As you do, I hope you will also send me your lesson ideas. I love sharing these with other teachers. Feel free to contact me at maryknight314 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Happy STE(A)Ming! Don’t forget the wonder of ‘A’!

Buy a copy of SAVING WONDER! 

Win a copy of Saving Wonder! 

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

About Amber J. Keyser: Evolutionary biologist Amber J. Keyser has an MS in zoology and a PhD in genetics. She writes both fiction and non-fiction for tweens and teens. More information at www.amberjkeyser.com.