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STEM Tuesday –Community Science – Author/Scientist Interview with Jessica Taylor

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

Today we’re interviewing Jessica Taylor, Physical Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She serves as the Principal Investigator for the GLOBE Clouds program, an exciting community science program that lets citizens around the world get involved in observing and researching Earth’s environment. GLOBE is the initials for the “Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment” program. By the way, outside of her NASA responsibilities, Jessica is also the author of an upcoming STEM children’s book, “How Do Satellites Stay In Space?”

* * *

Christine Taylor-Butler. Jessica, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the STEM Tuesday blog. I had an opportunity to sit in on your presentation about the GLOBE Cloud program and think it would be a fascinating asset for classrooms and libraries. Tell me a bit about yourself. What’s your background?

Jessica Taylor – My background is in Meteorology, Finance and Science Education. I went to Florida State University and got all of my degrees from there.

CTB: How did you get involved in Meteorology?

JT: I grew up outside of Tampa, Florida. Tampa is the lightning capital of the world and I just loved watching thunderstorms and thought they were really cool. A teacher encouraged me to research lightning. What I learned was that scientists are still learning about lightning. I thought it would be fun to have a job where you could learn about something that was of interest to you. That’s basically what science is: learning about things that you don’t fully understand yet. That’s how I decided to pursue Meteorology as a career.

CTB: And now you are working at NASA. Wow! How did that happen?

globeprogramJT: Yes. I wound up at NASA because of the GLOBE program. I was a GLOBE student at Florida State. My professor was the principal investigator for GLOBE cloud. That meant he helped to oversee the science part of the program. I got really engaged in doing science outreach and training teachers. That’s how I decided to pursue science education. I asked questions about how people learn. My professor encouraged me to take classes in education. It was through that journey and my connections with the GLOBE program that helped me get the job at NASA Langley. They were looking for someone who had experience in GLOBE.

CTB: So how long have you been involved in the GLOBE program?

JT: I’ve been with the GLOBE program since 2000 when I was a college student and now I’ve been at NASA for ten years.

CTB: So now NASA has a Citizen Science program. Tell me a bit about the GLOBE Cloud program.

Water cycle

Illustration of water cycle.

JT: GLOBE involves communities from over one hundred countries around the world, collecting and sharing data. That helps scientists better understand the environment. The cloud program is part of that initiative. It helps us analyze and better understand clouds and how they work. Did you know that more than 70 percent of the Earth is covered by clouds? They help our planet control its temperatures. For instance, we know certain clouds block some of the sun’s heat from reaching the Earth’s surface. Other types of clouds are higher in the atmosphere let energy pass through and act like insulation. So we have satellites that collect data on clouds, but we also collect data from citizen observers on the ground. We combine that data and put it online where anyone can access it.

Note for our readers: here’s a link to a short intro and video to help students understand how to get started watching clouds: https://www.globe.gov/web/s-cool/home

CTB: Who is your target audience? Would you say this program is aimed at teachers? Kids? Librarians?

JT: Yes! All of the above! GLOBE is a community of students, teachers, the general public, scientists all working together to understand the environment.

CTB: So even children as young as elementary school can participate in cloud observation or a classroom can work together to upload what they are observing outside for comparison with observations made by scientists? Can they go to the website and get additional information?

Globe app

There’s a GLOBE app too!

JT:  Absolutely. We have online tutorials and lots of different hands-on activities that teachers or educators can do. Librarians, for example, could host a citizen science program for students or adults and engage them at looking at the natural world and recording it. For the clouds program, there are guides to help everyone identify the types of clouds. We even have a GLOBE Observer app that helps you make observations, take photos and even measure the height of trees. Then you can submit the data to NASA. We even help you figure out when satellites are above taking measurements. That way you can submit your observations and we can match them with satellite data taken around the same time. You can find the app here: https://observer.globe.gov/about/get-the-app

cloud science books

NASA has free pamphlets in English and Spanish to help you learn about clouds.

CTB: If you had one hope or goal for what this program can do, what do you want people to get out of it?

cloud template

Photo courtesy of NASA

Cloud template

GLOBE has a guide with a punch-out center to help you make cloud observations.

JT: For people to notice, to recognize the environment and that nature is all around you. Even when you live in an urban environment you are still surrounded by nature, the atmosphere for example. Through regular observations of the environment, I’ve found that people get a much greater appreciation for nature and what is going on in the environment. That’s the whole goal of the program. By getting people to ask questions they become better at knowing and wondering what’s happening.

CTB: If a kid wanted to follow in your footsteps, what kind of courses should they be taking right now?

JT: If you want to go into science or meteorology, don’t shy away from science or math courses. Sometimes they’re hard. Somethings they’re REALLY hard. But that’s okay. You can persist and you’ll be able to do it. I know I struggled myself in some of my math classes later on, but I had a support system of people to turn to. Be open to ask questions of your teachers or peers. That’s important. And take as many classes in math and science as you can. Then learn to ask questions. That’s a skill!

CTB: I often tell students and teachers that life is not about the right answer, but seeing the wrong answer and investigating why and how to fix or improve something.

JT: It’s interesting that asking questions is a skill. Most people don’t know that it gets easier with practice. Participating in the GLOBE program helps you develop skills in observation and asking questions. I work in the Earth Science division. Sometimes people don’t think of Earth as one of the planets NASA is studying. But it’s the most important planet because we live here. NASA has a hugely important role to play in monitoring our home planet, collecting that data, making it publicly available and helping to answer questions about how the Earth is connected and how it is changing. We do it all for the benefit of humanity.

CTB: You’ve also written a children’s book in your free time. So you’re officially a STEM author. What’s the name of the book?

JT: The title is How Do Satellites Stay In Space? It’s being published by Flowerpot Press and comes out in September (2022). In the book, I explain the science behind satellites, what data they collect and how we get them into space.

Satellite Cover

sample satellites

“A friendly, enlightening text for future scientists or anyone curious about space.”Kirkus Reviews

 

 

CTB: Jessica, thank you for giving us a peek into your work with the GLOBE Cloud program. And for your marvelous new book for young scientists. Any last words for our school and library audiences?

JT: Just keep being curious and asking questions. And if you want to learn more about how to get involved, you can go to https://www.globe.gov/

CTB: Note to readers. NASA provides a wealth of information to help students, teachers and libraries learn about science and scientists. All available free of charge. NASA scientists are passionate about helping the community. And now you know about them too! Become a GLOBE Observer/Citizen Scientist! Happy exploring!

 

Jessica Taylor

Courtesy of NASA

Jessica Taylor is a Physical Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. She leads the Science Directorate’s Science Education team. This team engages teachers, students, and the public in authentic NASA science experiences. Jessica serves as the Principal Investigator for GLOBE Clouds and My NASA Data programs. Jessica loves her work because she helps make Earth science exciting and meaningful to everyone. Jessica received Bachelors degrees in Meteorology and Finance, and a Masters degree inScience Education for Florida State University. Prior to joining NASA, Jessica worked at the College of William and Mary’s STEM Education Alliance and served as Director for School Improvement at the Florida Department of Education. A fierce advocate for encouraging girls towards fields in STEM she is affiliated with the PBS SciGirls program. Jessica now lives in Virginia where her family watches and observes the clouds together.

 

author christine Taylor-butler

Photo by Kecia Stovall

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, The Oasis, Save the Tigers, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

Under the Mike-roscope: Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

If I were a book reviewer, I’d be the world’s worst book reviewer. Honestly, I stink at it. That said, I’m not a book reviewer; I’m a microbiologist. A scientist. I like to read and write middle-grade books not only for enjoyment but study them and learn from them as well. 

  • What techniques and skills do the author incorporate into their work?
  • What kept me turning pages?
  • Why did I forget to do my chores when reading this book?

And any additional questions as to why a book takes over my brain.

Today, I’m sharing Sisters of the Neverseas by Cynthia Leitich Smith, a book that has taken over my brain.

I’ll spare you my version of a summary of the book because it’ll sound a lot like my almost 4-year-old grandson describing the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. All over the place and delivered with terrific, over-the-top, and breathless enthusiasm. Instead, I’ll sum up my take on Sisters of the Neversea in three words.  

READ THIS BOOK!

As a fan of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s work, I admit I had high expectations for Sisters of the Neversea. It was on my reader radar for quite a while before its release. When I finally got my hands on a copy and read it, it did not disappoint. If fact, I’m currently listening to the audiobook immediately following a listen of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. 

One of the many things that blew my socks off with Sisters of the Neversea is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Being a middle-grade writer with an interest in how authors put together their books, I’ll often read the author’s notes or acknowledgments before I read the book. This time I was so stoked to start reading, that the thought to read anything but the book itself never crossed my mind. When I finished and read the Author’s Note, here’s that bit that caught my eye and hooked my storyteller radar.

“One of the most interesting and powerful things about Story is that it invites future storytellers to build on it, to reinvent, and to talk back. Like any other kind of magic, stories can harm or offer hope, even healing.”  

                                             – Cynthia Leitich Smith, Sisters of the Neversea Author’s Note

That’s money. Bulletin board material to post above the writing desk. I’m still bouncing it around in my brain.

Sisters of the Neversea is a masterclass on reinventing a classic story, especially a classic wrought with questionable representation. Cynthia Leitich Smith tells a better story than the traditional Peter Pan story. She expands the story world, and its characters, adding depth to both. The setting of Neverland itself becomes a player in the tale. Best of all, she “talks back” to the original work in a way that’s believable and imaginative.

She doesn’t hide, bury, or run from the questionable representation of the original. She addressed it and attacks it head-on. Her answer to the “redskins” and “injuns” and to the role of girls and women in Barrie’s creation, is to create fully-fleshed Native characters from different Nations and backgrounds and strong female characters throughout. 

She seamlessly weaves the reinvented narrative into the existing framework of Barrie’s work. It has this amazing way of feeling like Barrie’s original Peter Pan yet tells its own unique and contemporary story.  

One of the parts of Sisters of the Neversea I particularly enjoyed was the family dynamic. The weight and burden of the blended Roberts-Darling family’s problems seem insurmountable to Lily and Wendy. This leads to a lot of anger between them and a growing rift. Their home in Oklahoma, their parent’s marriage, and their future as sisters are all on the line. 

However, when they get separated and enter Neverland, Lily and Wendy begin to see each other and their family’s problems in a new light. By taking a step back from the day-to-day struggles at home, the step-sisters realize their problems, no matter how large, can be dealt with as a family. Talk about story magic bringing hope and healing!

Good literature makes the world a little brighter. Great literature transforms it. With Sisters of the Neversea, Cynthia Leitich Smith completely transforms the world we’ve come to associate with Peter Pan and Neverland with luminosity and truth. Under her skilled hand, the Neverland story becomes something entirely different. Something better. Much, much better.

I hope the Sister of the Neversea finds its way into the hands of young readers. I also hope it sparks them to read Barrie’s original and realize the attitudes and mindsets of yesteryear don’t have to be the attitudes and mindsets of today. Things can, and should, change as knowledge changes.

Finally, I can’t wind up this look at Sisters of the Neversea without admitting there’s a wide smile on my face. No, it’s not the amazing cover art by the late Floyd Cooper.* The smile is because I ran across a recent social media post from Cynthia about how she’s drafting a new middle-grade novel. This makes me happy for young readers. The potential for a new, transformative Cynthia Leitich Smith book has this reader on Cloud Nine.

*Judge a book by its cover, please! Floyd Cooper’s artwork captures the characters and the story in perfect fashion. No need for Peter Pan here! Lily, Wendy, and Michael beckon you to the adventure. Come on in for the ride, my friends! We are going to miss Floyd Cooper.

Note: In case you can’t tell,  I am a fan of Cynthia Leitich Smith. In the work she does on the page. In the work she does with and for the Native writing community. In the work she does for the We Need Diverse Books community and leading the Heartdrum Imprint at Harper Collins. She is a force in the kidlit industry while being one of the nicest people in the business. (Perhaps the most remarkable example of how skilled she is as a writer is the fact she had me riveted to her Tantalize YA vampire series back before I was even aware of her other work. Me! Reading YA vampire fantasy! Now that’s writing talent!)

STEM Tuesday –Community Science – Writing Tips & Resources

The community bit to science is often the ignored, undervalued piece of the scientific process. Collective knowledge needs to be collected and then dispersed among the collective.

Totally confusing, right? 

Well, it is if you think about science as we’ve been generally taught…as a static thing. We’ve been ingrained to think of science as only a rather dull series of steps. How many times have you had to list the steps of the SCIENTIFIC METHOD on a test? I wish I had a dollar for every time I did!

  • Observation
  • Discovery
  • Hypothesis
  • Test
  • Conclude
  • Communicate

Sarah Greenwood, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

But science is so much more than just a few memorized steps in a process. What has often been overshadowed in science is the “aliveness” of science. We too often think about science as an individual or small group activity of people isolated in a laboratory, office, or at a site going about their business. We think of science as static. The same misconception holds true for technology, engineering, and mathematics. Lifeless and mundane egghead stuff.

But STEM is so much more. It’s vibrant and alive! It’s all around us. It affects all of us. Science is a tool we use to explain the world around us. Technology, engineering, and mathematics are the tools we use to help science define our world and then manipulate it. And STEM needs you

As much as science affects the community, community affects science. Whether it’s an individual or group participating in a scientific study to collect data points for a research group or science information being presented to a population, the community plays a vital role.

It’s TEAMWORK!

What better way to learn and appreciate science than by participating in science? Shared experience. Now, that’s the value of community science. With many eyes, bodies, and brains at work, the more alive the science is. Community science spreads the load in both directions. It helps cover the necessary ground to turn an unknown into a known by gathering and then distributing the information.

Within the realm of community science, there is a multitude of opportunities covering just about any interest. From open code sourcing software to bird counts, to data analysis, to at-home CRISPR gene-editing, there’s something for everyone. Find your particular jam and give it a shot.

Community Science for the win!

  • Teamwork
  • Spread the load
  • Cover the ground
  • Gather the information

Teamwork makes the dream work!

 

Mount Rainier NPS, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at  www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and Instagram at @mikehays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files provides resources to get involved in community science projects. 

Looking for a community science project? Check out these resources!

The one and only Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count!

CRISPR at Home – Gene editing for anyone!

The Cornell Ornithology Lab