Tag Archives: Kate Messner

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books– Craft and Resources

There are two things you need to do to ensure proper use of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in fiction.

  1. Obtain an advanced degree in nuclear computational physics C++ programming or an equivalent field.
  2. Obtain a federal or privately funded grant to research the molecular neurological factors and biochemical pathways necessary for the incorporation of STEM into story.

Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m only joking. I’m a microbiologist, not a comedian (if you hadn’t noticed). I’m also a writer so the representation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is important to me. Nothing rings my own readerly bell more than a seamless use of STEM in fiction and I believe it is vital to show STEM topics outside of a nonfiction or textbook scenario.

Remember back in the day when you were in that algebra or physical science class? Do you recall the question that ran through your young, the-world-is-my-oyster brain?

WHEN AM I EVER GOING TO USE THIS STUFF IN REAL LIFE?

The answer is one we didn’t like back then and we probably still don’t like today…

You are going to encounter this STEM stuff all your life.

It’s everywhere. Even in our entertainment.

STEM in fiction further defines the subject through the power of story. That magic of story we Homo sapiens have shared from our first breath. Shared experience. Shared truths. Shared hopes. Shared knowledge.

STEM fiction is a gateway into the world of STEM for young readers. STEM-based fiction and science fiction show possibility. The melding of facts and story through our STEM lens peers forward to what can be. To explore possibilities. To dream. To take what we know and throw it into the pot to create a future built on past discovery.

BUT STEM IN MY FICTION? SERIOUSLY?

Okay, okay! I know! The STEM fields are based on fact. It’s using data and observation to draw conclusions about the world we live in. It’s formulas, white coats, statistical analysis, publications, lines of code, blueprints, lectures, etc. STEM has always been labeled as serious, strict, narrow, and just a tad bit snooty and full of itself. But is that all science and technology and engineering and mathematics are?

No way!

These STEM fields are living and breathing and growing and discovering. STEM is disciplined creativity at its finest. STEM skills enable one to ask, “Why?”, then go figure out “How”, and eventually figure out a better way to move forward.

This sounds very similar to classic fictional story structure.

Problem/Solution/Improve = Setup/Confrontation/Resolution.

How can we include STEM topics into fiction without it sounding like a 1950’s textbook pontificating that, maybe someday, we will explore our moon?

  1. Mix the STEM with the narrative.
    We don’t need to know all the details. It’s not a standard operating procedure manual. It’s a story. We don’t really need to know exactly how Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin, was transformed in Jennifer Holm’s THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH. We only need to know it had something to do with his work as a research scientist, a new species of jellyfish, and an unfortunate (or fortunate depending on which side of the fence you sit) experiment.
  2. Story Logic
    The science, technology, engineering solutions, and the mathematics using in the story world must be logical. It must make sense. This doesn’t mean it has to be true to what we know to be true. It means it has to be logical within its context and can’t just be thrown in to solve the story problem deux ex machina-style.
    Think about how well the magic system in the Harry Potter series work. Why? Because J. K. Rowling did such solid work behind the scenes to build the magical world, we don’t even question the validity of the system by the time we get through SORCERER’S STONE.
    Whatever the genre, STEM works! It can even be completely made up stuff. STEM principles work as long as they fit logically and are ground in the foundation of the story world.
  3. Setting
    A solid fictional setting is as much of a story’s character as an actual character. A good story environment is created by the author from information gleaned by observation of actual environments. STEM basics!
    Think about the setting Kate Milford constructs in GREENGLASS HOUSE. The architectural design of the house, the engineering principles of the lift, the meteorology, and the cartography. All crafted at such a stellar level, you can feel the impact of the setting as you read.
  4. Character
    Similar to the setting. Same rules apply. A fictional character is created from observations an author makes over time.The data is analyzed and manipulated to build the precise character needed.
  5. Plot
    The three-act storytelling structure is ingrained into our western culture psyche. It is almost as old as stories themselves. Our minds expect a story to follow a certain path and adhere to defined beats. Now, that sounds eerily similar to the way we do STEM, doesn’t it? Two of my favorite craft writing books are STORY ENGINEERING & STORY PHYSICS Physics by Larry Brooks. In both books, Mr. Brooks breaks down the nuts and bolts of how to build a story and how to make the story sing to the reader.
    The Hero’s Journey narrative pattern, made famous by Joseph Campbell, is built upon psychology. Carl Jung Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology first defined the archetype in literature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the observed data weigh heavily on the STEM inclusion side of the fiction argument. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fit into the world of fiction just as snugly as they fit into the nonfiction world. STEM not only adds depth to fiction, it also acts as a gateway to introduce readers to STEM topics. And that itself is as important as the entertainment value of a story.

STEM in fiction just makes good stories even better.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Breaking News from the STEM Tuesday news desk!

The National Science Teachers Association just released their Best STEM Titles list for 2018. Definitely worth the click to check out these great STEM books!

I hope you are enjoying the STEM Tuesday series on the Mixed-Up Files blog. I am! And as we highlight science in art, don’t forget to also put some art into your science. Science needs creativity as much as creativity needs science.

Until next time…STEM On!

Mike Hays


The O.O.L.F. Files

This month’s STEM Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files looks at some cool ways science and technology work their way into our everyday lives. Everything from a blog series where experts weigh in on how to best use science to write sci-fi and fantasy to classic lectures from three heavyweights in their fields to a new annotated version of the classic book that birthed a genre.

Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. I don’t know where to even start with ASU’s CSI. So much crazy-awesome information, so little time! Check out CSI’s new version of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking Frankenstein to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its publication. Particularly interesting are the discussions about gender and the trials Mary Shelley faced as a woman author in 1818.

The Science in SciFi blog series hosted by Dan Koboldt. A great resource for writers where experts weigh in on topics relevant to science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been fortunate enough to pen three posts for the series. Keep an eye out for Fall of 2018, when Writer’s Digest Books will publish an anthology of Science in SciFi blog posts titled, Putting the Science in Fiction.  I was fortunate to have two of my posts selected for the anthology.

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future by Eileen Gunn (May 2014) from Smithsonian Magazine.

From Science Fiction to Science Fact: How Design Can Influence the Future by Patrick Purdy (June 2013) from UXPA.

Science influenced by science fiction by Bruce Sterling (September 2010) from Wired.

And to wrap up the O.O.L.F. Files this month, a throwback to this 1985 look on science and society. THE IMPACT OF SCIENCE ON SOCIETY by James Burke, Jules Bergman, and Isaac Asimov (1985)  PDF link from NASA 

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


 

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.

Daring to Be Different

Because this is Black History month, I asked several experts to recommend some not-to-be-missed middle-grade books. Not all their suggestions are about the African American experience, but they’re all about the multicultural experience and kids dealing with differences. If you’re discussing the timely topics of prejudice or exclusion, here’s a great list of resources:

TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Two girls named Naomi are forced into an unlikely friendship when their parents begin dating. The girls’ emotional journeys take them through the struggles of living in a blended family and learning to become friends as well as sisters.

 

 

AS BRAVE AS YOU by Jason Reynolds

This multi-award-winning book examines bravery from the viewpoint of Genie, who wonders how you can tell who’s brave. What about his blind grandfather, who never leaves the house? Or his older brother who doesn’t want to shoot a gun? Maybe bravery is being strong enough to admit what you don’t want to do.

 

 

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

A National Book Award Finalist, Ghost tells the story of four kids from diverse backgrounds whose personalities clash. But they must come together to form an elite track team bound for the Junior Olympics.

 

 

 

THE LEFT-HANDED FATE by Kate Milford

Caught up in the war between England and France, Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault hope to stop the battle by finding parts to an engine. They’re imprisoned by a twelve-year-old American midshipsman, Oliver, who must decide whether to become a traitor or risk the lives of enemies he now sees as friends.

 

 

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson

Set in Mississippi in 1955, Jackson’s novel blends fiction with the true story of the trial of Emmett Till. Rose Lee Carter decides to be a part of the movement that changes the South.

 

 

 

FRAZZLED by Booki Vivat

Filled with doodles by Booki Vivat, this hilarious story of Abbie Wu is filled with drama. Will Abbie “survive the everyday disasters of growing up”? Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

 

 

 

THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

Charlie feels unimportant until she discovers a wish-granting fish – only what she wishes for comes true in unexpected ways. Then her family faces a challenge. Should Charlie risk a wish on something this important?

 

 

 

THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi

In a steampunk set in the Middle East, twelve-year-old Farah and her friends get trapped in a game board. The only way they can escape and save the others inside is to figure out the puzzle set up by a diabolical gamemaker.

 

 

 

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes

An award-winning author, Rhodes tells the story of the Twin Towers from the point of view of children who weren’t born when it happened. While they’re learning about their town’s history, they’re also discovering things about themselves and what it means to be an American.

 

 

MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: SPIRIT WEEK SHOWDOWN by Crystal Allen

With pink cowboy boots and the upcoming Spirit Week, Mya’s all set for partnering with her best friend. But then she gets paired with the school bully. Great for fans of Clementine and Ramona.

 

 

 

 

If you want more great titles written by and about African Americans, take a look at Brown Bookshelf’s daily featured books and authors every day this month. If you’re not familiar with the Brown Bookshelf,  be sure to return to our blog on February 22 to learn more when Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman interviews Kelly Starling Lyons, one of the founders.

ABOUT THE BLOG AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 36 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. Living in Africa as a child and traveling extensively as an adult taught Laurie the importance of appreciating other cultures. She spent last weekend with an African friend, learning to properly cook grasshoppers and caterpillars. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.