Tag Archives: children’s 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.

Keys. Journal. Imaginations.

I recently read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I loved this story of children creating change in their community through innocent acceptance.

At the heart of story lies a mysterious key. What does it belong to? And, once discovered, what secrets would be revealed from its home?

I was looking for my extra set of car keys the other day, and I came upon these.

23 keys.

They’ve all traveled with us as we moved into our new home six months ago, and yet, not one of them serves a purpose here. Except one, which is to my garage door. I guess I’d better figure out which one that is.

But, where do the rest belong? Their secrets remain with their notched blades, their wards a mystery.

Samar and Stephen, the two young protagonists of Wishtree, discover that their key, bestowed upon them by Bongo, an animated crow, opens a journal which holds a wish from the distant past. Their sleuthing changes the fate of Red, the long-standing neighborhood oak.

The keys now sit on my desk, as I’ve resolved to figure out which portals they fit into, or likely not, before repurposing them. They have found a temporary home next to a journal that is significant to my personal storyline.

It is a journal given to me by my friend Michelle Houts, editor of the Biographies for Young Readers series I’ve written for. My first contribution shares the life journey of Mildred “Millie” Benson, the original ghostwriter of Nancy Drew. The cover and contents of my gift are from The Secret of Red Gate Farm, a Nancy Drew Mystery Story written by Millie. There are lined journal pages in between the text. How cool is that?

I’ve got over a dozen journals, filled with reflections from our family adventures to all 50 states, notes from writing workshops, and musings.

Yet, this one was special, and its purpose needed to be just that.

I’ve determined it is to be my story idea journal. I get inspirations for stories, both imagined and real, daily. My challenge is finding that one, perfect idea, sticking to it, and finishing it.

I’m certain that my fellow Mixed-Up blog contributors are the same. Life presents us with story all the time. And, for those of you teachers and librarians whose days are filled with characters and plots, I encourage you to start writing them down too.

Find that one key that fits somewhere, and explore it. Use it to unlock your imagination and share the journey with children. They need our stories of acceptance, kindness and empathy.

This is my wish and goal for 2018, and it will be discovered in my journal. All I need to do is look, unravel that one unique, shiny, mysterious idea, and then help it find its place in the world.

As for those other keys? This may be their perfect ending.

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