STEM Tuesday — Fun with Physics — In the Classroom

As we get ready to head back to school, there are a ton of physics activities that kids can try at home or in the classroom. The books on this list will help students learn more about the world around us and how it works. What are forces? How do they affect you every day? Why is it harder to push a box across the carpet than it is to push it across a smooth floor? How do you bounce so high on a trampoline? These are just a few of the questions that physics can answer. Are you ready to dive in and explore physics?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Fairground Physics: Motion, Momentum, and Magnets with Hands-On Science Activities by Angie Smibert and Micha Rauch We couldn’t enjoy our favorite summer fair without physics. This book uses real-world fun to explore physics.

Classroom activity: Most kids love the rides and games at amusement parks and fairs. Now they can apply science to one of their favorite activities! Have students choose their favorite ride or game and research the role of physics. What laws of physics apply? How do these laws of physics explain the way the ride or game operates? How does physics impact safety on the ride or game? Students can also design their own rides or games. What laws of physics will apply? How will physics explain the way the ride or game operates? Students may even build a model or diagram to demonstrate the new ride or game for the class.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

The Speed of Starlight: An Exploration of Physics, Sound, Light, and Space by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadia This book presents key physics principles through amazing artwork.

Classroom activity: This book combines art and science in a fantastic way. Students can also use art to understand and explain science concepts. Have students pick a law of physics and create a piece of art that illustrates and explains the science. Encourage students to use different art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, crafts, or video. Have each student present their art and explain the scientific concept.

Cover for Women Scientists in Physics and Engineering (Superwomen in Stem)

Superwomen in STEM: Women Scientists in Physics and Engineering by Catherine Brereton Read about STEM women who made a difference in the field of physics and engineering.

Classroom activity: Have students choose a physics and engineering pioneer to research. What has their chosen pioneer contributed to the science of physics and our understanding of matter and its motion? Have students work together to create a living timeline of physics’ most important discoveries and scientific achievements.


Looking to explore more and learn about physics and how the world around you works? The books on this month’s list are packed full of physics activities and experiments. Browse through the pages and choose a few activities to do in class or at home!



Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.

Interview With Ally Malinenko, Debut Author of Ghost Girl

Hi, Ally! Thanks so much for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files Blog. I am so excited to talk all things, GHOST GIRL. I’m just want to say upfront; I’m an Ally Malinenko super fangirl. I loved your book so much. The writing, the storytelling, the characters . . . Everything was simply brilliant and creepy and left me wanting more.  So let’s not keep your fans waiting . . . Time to put you on the hot seat. 

Lisa: Tell us about Ghost Girl.

Ally: Ghost Girl is the story of Zee – a spooky story-loving, tow-headed, stubborn girl – her best friend Elijah and her bully turned buddy Nellie. After a massive storm washes through Knobb’s Ferry strange things start to happen. People are missing. And a new principal arrives who seems to be able to help people manifest their deepest desires. When things start going bad it’s up to Zee and her friends to figure out what’s going on, embrace exactly what makes her “Ghost Girl” and save their families.

Lisa: How did you come up with the idea?

Ally: Zee as a character has lived in my head for a long time. I tried slotting her into other short stories and it never worked. But she was always there, chattering on in the background. Two major things lead to the writing up Ghost Girl. One was a heartbreak and the other was art. The heartbreak came in the form of having spent over 7 years writing and rewriting a YA science fiction novel with a magical system based on chess. It was called Palimpsest. This book landed me my agent. We went on submission and, like one of those publishing horror stories you hear, it was rejected by every major house. So at many editors suggestions I tried to break the bones of that story and refit it as an MG. It was brutal. Afterwards, I was pretty heartbroken. So I decided to go back to the books that made me a reader – the books that I obsessed about as a kid – Middle Grade Horror. The other reason, art,  is that I got very into a recording artist named Nick Cave. The book has 17 references to Nick Cave’s music. Hence the red right hand.  If you know, you know.

Lisa: Did you base any characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

Ally: I used to tell people that all of my characters were me, and I still believe that. I wouldn’t say the characters themselves are based on anyone but the events are. I grew up with my best friend around the corner and he and I spent a lot of time galivanting around the woods of our little town, drawing eyes on trees and making up stories about the Birdman who stole kids out of the rooms at night. I also have two older sisters who I love very much so it was important to me to show sister representation.

Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?

Ally: Well for Ghost Girl it was, as I said, a lot of my childhood. The town of Knobb’s Ferry is based on Monroe, NY where I grew up. Knobb’s Ferry is definitely smaller than Monroe and Monroe sadly does not have a massive cemetery to explore but otherwise they’re similar. In my next book This Appearing House, there were definitely some serious life experiences with trauma and illness that found it’s way into that book. I think it’s impossible for real-life experiences to not inform any writer’s work. I mean, our books are just our experiences filtered through our imaginations and then held up to the light. Stories exist to create empathy. They are the bridge for people to say to each other “I feel this way. Have you ever felt this way too?” and then to hopefully have the answer be “yes.”

Lisa: Did you get bullied in school? And or were you ever a bully? If yes, to either, how does that impact your writing?

Ally: I did get bullied in middle school. When I joined facebook, she attempted to friend me and while I had not thought of her in a long time, those feelings of helplessness and anxiety came back pretty fast. But I didn’t include bullying in Ghost Girl because I was bullied. I included it because so many kids are bullied, because bullies are often more than just mean kids, and because I wanted to blow up the “mean girl” trope that I see everywhere. I wanted girls who were different to learn to understand their differences and work together. It’s my life’s mission to abolish the term “catty.”

Lisa: What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?

Ally: Everything honestly, from non fiction animal books to classics like A Wrinkle in Time but I had a love for horror that burned bright. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, non-fiction books about Halloween, anything about witches – those were my favorites. I recently read a piece by Ally Russell called “On the Loneliness of the Young Horror Fan” that really hit home. Ally talked about how she struggled to find other kids into horror, especially as a young Black girl. She talked about being shamed for reading horror. Which reminded me of an experience I had. I was fortunate to meet a well-known biographer who happened to write the biography of one of my favorite writers. I had just gotten my book deal and this woman wound up being the first non-family member that I shared the news with. When I told her it was middle grade horror, she wrinkled her nose in disgust and said, “Why would anyone write books like that? I would never let my children read something like that.”

I’m getting a little off topic here, but what I’m saying is horror books were my favorite as a kid. Kids today are no different. They know the world is scary. Horror gives them a safe space to navigate those fears. Adults need to support that.

Lisa: Were there any scenes or chapters you found difficult to write because of an emotional experience you had to tap into?

Ally: Without getting too spoiler-y, there is a scene towards the end where Zee, fearing she is losing Elijah to the bad guy, has to convince him that the thing he wants most in the world – for his mother to be well again – is not really happening. She has to tell him the one thing Elijah doesn’t want to hear in order to help him and I had to walk away from that scene a couple times. It’s not easy to write about breaking the heart of someone you love in order to save them.

Lisa: Do you believe in ghosts? If yes, have you had any first-hand experience with the paranormal?

Ally: Do I believe in ghosts? The million dollar question. I don’t believe in ghosts but I also don’t NOT believe in ghosts. I have never had a paranormal experience (though I did once see something very unsettling in the sky that I have not been able to shake) but I know people who have and I believe 110% that something happened to them and that if they tell me it was a ghost then it was a ghost. Who am I to say? Like Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

That said if any kind ghosts out there want to say hello, I wouldn’t mind.

Lisa: What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ally: Both? Neither? I wrote ONE synopsis in my life when I sold my second book and thought I know I’ll have to I never want to do it again. So outlining is not for me. Usually I know how a story opens and how it ends. The in between is a little murky so that’s the space where I let my characters surprise me. I also find that the universe delivers so many little nuggets of inspiration when I’m drafting. Like, it KNOWS I need some guidance. It just happened last night, listening to a podcast, I figured out the missing part of Book 3. The universe can be very generous if you’re paying attention.

Lisa: What advice would you give 12 year-old Ally?

Ally: Well considering 12 year-old Ally wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world, I would tell it was going to happen! YAY!

But then I would gently tell her the road is long and winding and there are so many ups and downs, so much joy and heartbreak, and so much hope and tears but that’s okay.

That’s what an adventure is.

Lisa: Thank you for chatting with me, Ally. And congratulations on your debut novel! For more GHOST GIRL fun and games, please join Ally’s Ghost Girl Launch Party on August 10th at 3:00 pm EST. 



Back to School with Book Clubs and a Giveaway

An interview with Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts  

Our guest today is Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs Across the Curriculum.  As students head back to school, Book Clubs can be an important tool to promote social and emotional learning and to foster a love for reading and for learning. Parents as well as educators can use the techniques in the book to start and facilitate Book Clubs. 

Thanks so much, Lesley, for joining us at the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors!  I love how Talking Texts  provides practical guidance about how to use Book Clubs to engage students more fully. Your book also provides templates for doing exactly that. Can  you share with us  your inspiration for this book?


My inspiration was seeing readers, especially “reluctant” readers, engaged and motivated by collaborative reading and the small-group discussions that Book Clubs allow. This was true both in my middle school classes and classes from grades three through high school that have invited me to facilitate Book Clubs. Book Clubs give readers a choice of books at their individual reading and interest levels and a social, safe space in which to discuss their reading. Most classroom teachers agree that, in whole-class discussions, only three to four students talk and it is usually the same students. In small groups that have had training in social skills, I observe all students talking. Because of peer pressure or a wish to take part in their group, students keep up with Book Club reading.


Talking Texts provides detailed support for every recommendation in your book.  Why it is so important that students be allowed choice in reading?

There is a decline in, or even a halt to, reading both for pleasure and academics at the middle grades, sometimes earlier. Aliteracy occurs when students are capable of reading, but choose not to read. Many students have told me that they don’t read, mainly because they don’t like the books the teacher chooses. We first have to grow readers, students who think of themselves as readers and are on their way to becoming life-long readers. I had many eighth grade students who admitted they previously never had read an entire book or had read only one or two books in the previous grades or rather fake-read those books. Those same students became readers of twenty to thirty books by the end of that eighth grade year. Choice was the prime motivator. There are very few topics or writing styles or genres that interest everyone.

This has been verified by research: “A meta-analysis of 41 studies examined the effect of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes in a variety of settings with both child and adult samples. Results indicated that providing choice enhanced intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, and perceived competence, among other outcomes.”– (U.S. National Library of Medicine)


What is another advantage of Book Clubs?

After students have read and discussed their novels, Book Clubs can prepare a presentation of their books for the rest of the class through skits, puppet shows, narrative poetry, talk shows, and a variety of other means explained in Talking Texts. This synthesizes text for the readers while sharing texts with students who haven’t had the chance to read. This is particularly effective when clubs read articles about a topic being studied in class.


Can you tell us about your experience and review of research that resulted in your book and its appendices?

I would call it action research. During my time at the Summer Reading Institute of the Pennsylvania Writing Project, I read all the “experts” in reading. In my role as Director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project facilitating our Summer Reading Institute as well as teaching reading strategies to pre-service and in-service teachers, I kept up with the research, but most of my “research” was in my middle grade classroom and when facilitating Book Clubs in classrooms to which I was invited.


Can you share with us some best practices in setting up a Book Club?

a. Let the students choose their books, after a teacher book talk and a few minutes to read a page or two, and form Book Clubs based on the books rather than the other way around.

b. Teach social skills: how to prepare for a discussion with reading notes and bringing a well-designed discussion question (Book Clubs should be student-led); how to hold a discussion; how to extend a conversation when everyone agrees; and how to respectfully disagree.

c. Provide a range of reading levels and characters but if the books have something in common—a topic, a genre, a format—it allows for whole-class focus lessons and for inter-club discussions.


Can you provide insight on how educators can use Book Clubs to teach subject-matter content in any discipline?

Book club strategies and techniques can be used with articles and nonfiction books in any discipline as I explain in Talking Texts. My college students would meet for the first 15 minutes of class in Textbook Clubs, discussing what they had read for that class meeting and resolving any questions they had about their reading. Any questions they still had, they could write on the board to be covered in class. This would work for any grade level in any subject.


Book Clubs can be customized to any genre or interest. You regularly update your social media with lists of books organized by a variety of factors to provide a wide range of options for educators, parents and readers.  Where can we find your book lists?

I’ve included some lists in Talking Texts and I regularly post on Facebook when I think of a topic, like Bullying or Kindness, or format, such as verse novels, or genre, such as Historical Fiction. I share with other Facebook groups but always post on mine.


Do you have any advice for people organizing virtual Book Clubs?

I would suggest keeping those groups small. Educators who have held on-line Book Clubs said that they followed the strategies in my book and students meet in breakout rooms. If the teacher feels they need to observe, each Book Club would have to meet at a different time or day.


What would you most like for educators and parents to take away from Talking Texts?

That we need to not teach reading but reach readers. Students of all ages, but especially adolescents, are social and if we can make learning social, they will be more engaged. Also the power of Book Clubs is that they are student-led. If teachers put the students into groups and give the students questions to answer, they are no longer student-led.


What has been your favorite part about seeing Talking Texts make its way into the world?

I am happy that Talking Texts provides me with opportunities to share strategies and what I have learned through my many experiences. I really love that teachers who were nervous about trying Book Clubs say they feel confident and are excited to start Book Clubs and  that veteran teachers who have included Book Clubs in the past write that Talking Texts gave them new strategies and new ideas, such as article and poetry clubs.


How do you have students prepare for Book Club meeting other than reading?

Reader need to come to meetings with notes from or reflections on their reading. Short informal written reflections cause students to interact with text, thereby increasing comprehension. Having notes give readers something to refer to, a basis for discussion beyond the member-prepared discussion questions, and proof that they have completed the assigned reading for that meeting. Talking Texts includes many reader response forms that readers can use as well as forms to reflect on their Book Club meetings.


Thank you, Lesley!  To learn more about Lesley and her latest book lists, you can follow her on Facebook- @Lesley Roessing and Twitter @LRoessing.  We are offering a giveaway of Talking Texts  to one lucky winner. Enter here by August 16 for your chance to win.  Note:  Only residents of the contiguous United States, please.