Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday — Epic Achievements and Fantastic Failures– In the Classroom

This week explore the importance of bringing epic achievements and fantastic failures to your classroom. Let the stories of people persisting in the face of seemingly impossible odds inspire your students to consider how STEM might figure into their everyday lives and future careers. And remember, managing failures is part of the arc of success. Set-backs and disappointments help STEM professionals improve, invent, and innovate their way to their dreams.

Create a “Dream Big” Bulletin Board. Before introducing this month’s books to students, ask students to respond to these prompts:

  • Think about the technology around you—everything from paper plates to bandages to medicine to transportation systems and more. All of these things were figured out by people. Which technologies impress you the most? Why? What else can you think of that’s a big-deal achievement in science, technology, engineering, or math?
  • Scientists explore the unknown and try to describe and explain the world and universe around us. What’s the most amazing scientific discovery you know of? What big questions do you wonder about that science might answer someday?
  • What’s the most amazing discovery or invention you can imagine making?

After students complete index cards or journal entries in response to the selected prompt, give them time to exchange ideas about their “big dreams” with each other. Encourage them to think bigger and bigger as they talk. After several minutes, ask students to consider their answers as a group:

  • What common themes can you find across different achievements and dreams? (For example, several ideas might relate to discovering a cure for disease or inventing a way to travel quickly from place to place.)

Post student ideas on a “Dream Big” bulletin board and refer to it as a context that will help them connect to any of the tales of success or failure in the books from this month’s STEM Tuesday list. As students read the books, ask them to identify the “big dream” behind each success, and motivating the people in the stories to overcome failures along the way.

Is it Failure or Just Practice for Success? In many quarters, failure has a bad reputation. Sure, we all feel like celebrating when things go right, but it’s important to understand that if we are going to achieve anything — epic or everyday — we are likely to encounter bumps, mistakes, hiccups, set-backs, and mess-ups along the way. The better we can accept failures and learn from them, the more we will learn and achieve. You can help students explore this idea with one of these engineering design challenge “launchers,” which focus on the engineering design process and how it embodies a growth mindset. After students test their first design ideas, challenge them to improve the performance of their designs. Lead reflection on how students’ final (and usually improved) designs evolved from the designs’ initial shortcomings and set-back (failures). Be explicit that in many ways, failure is something to embrace—as a chance to learn and explore in new directions.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgConnect students’ experiences with design failures with highlights from a TED Talk and an interview with Astro Teller. Teller, the “Captain of Moonshots” at X, a Google company featured in Google It: A History of Google, discusses his own view of success and failure, and the importance of committing to projects that may or may not succeed. Speaking of moonshots…


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMap the Ups and Downs along the way to an epic achievement, such as figuring out how to achieve powered flight or landing people on the Moon. You’ll find these stories in Countdown, Rocket to the Moon, and Epic Fails The Wright Brothers: Nose-Diving into History. To map the vicissitudes of these or any other accomplishments, begin by drawing a horizontal timeline across a piece of paper near the middle. Label the line with each chapter, episode, or student-identified turning point. Ask students to make a mark above or below each label indicating the degree to which the episode seems like an “up” or “down” moment (when people were meeting Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgwith success or failure/setback); then connect the dots. Students can also keep similar timelines in their journals representing their experience of projects in science, technology, engineering or math. Encourage them to focus on the relationship between achieving and navigating through—and learning from—failures.


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Combined with hands-on activities and opportunities for student reflection, stories of STEM successes and failures can’t fail to inspire and engage students. How do you help students identify their own, personal “moonshots”? What do you do to foster risk-taking? Drop us a line in the comments suggestion below!

As a co-founding consultant at Blue Heron STEM Education and a partner in STEM Education Insights, LLC, STEM Tuesday contributor Carolyn DeCristofano, MEd, supports the development of high-quality, research-based STEM education resources that inspire students and teachers alike. An acclaimed author of STEM books for kids, including A Black Hole is NOT a Hole and Running on Sunshine: How Solar Energy Works, she enjoys bringing the joy of STEM, creativity, and writing to school groups.

STEM Tuesday — Epic Achievements and Fantastic Failures– Book List


Great things can happen even if there are blunders and mishaps along the way. The pathway to great discoveries is always fascinating. This month we are delving into some epic achievements and fantastic failures with some terrific STEM titles that will challenge your thinking.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Wright Brothers: Nose-Diving into History by Erik Slader and Ben Thompson; illustrated by Tim Foley

How could countless crashes lead to such an important success? Erik Slader and Ben Thompson explore the Wright brother’s hard-earned path to an engineering breakthrough that gave humans wings.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Wright Brothers for Kids: How They Invented the Airplane, 21 Activities Exploring the Science and History of Flight by Mary Kay Carson

Pair this title with the Wright Brothers Epic Fails title above to compare how the same story can be told in different ways. Carson’s activities give young readers a great introduction to the science of flight with some hands-on investigation.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters: 33 Thrilling Experiments Based on History’s Greatest Blunders by Sean Connolly

This title focuses on the E in STEM. Why did the Titanic sink? Why does the Leaning Tower of Pisa lean? What is the fatal design flaw in the Sherman tank? Connolly explains each disaster, and then includes an experiment using household items to reinforce the science and hands-on inquiry.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Google It! A History of Google: How Two Students’ Mission to Organize the Internet Changed the World by Anna Crowley Redding

This book explores how two Stanford college students developed the most influential and innovative ideas for organizing information on the world wide web. Want to know more about it — Google it!



Space is a popular topic for young readers. We’ve included four very different titles that describe the challenges of outer space travel.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade and Thomas Gonzales

Countdown tells the true story of the American effort to land the first man on the moon. Told in free verse, it is a great addition to a classroom library poetry/verse STEM collection. It is also an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Rocket to the Moon  by Don Brown

In this first book of the new graphic novel series, Big Ideas that Changed the World, Don Brown brings his signature award-winning style to a big subject, discussing the people and decisions that went into creating the moon landing in 1969. You’ll be sure to want to check out the upcoming titles in this new series.



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The Race to Space: Countdown to Liftoff by Erik Slader and Ben Thompson; illustrated by Tim Foley 

In book two of Slader and Thompson’s noteworthy Epic Fails series, we read about the failures that made up the race to be the first to explore outer space. Readers might enjoy pairing this with the above title.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Moon Mission: The Epic 400-Year Journey to Apollo 11 by Sigmund Brouwer

Readers relive every step of the nearly-disastrous Apollo 11 moon landing through the astronauts’ point of view. Told in 11 different episodes, each episode includes the technological advances that made the mission possible.



STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, 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 Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at



Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book for Eavesdropping on Elephants, and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, 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 young readers can be the voice of change. Visit her at




STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Writing Tips and Resources

There’s an old baseball saying that states, “The ball will find you.”

It’s based on this odd predisposition for a baseball to be hit right at you if:

  • You just entered the game cold (The closer and more intense the game, the more likely a screaming line drive will be soon be headed directly at your head.)
  • You’ve just made an error.
  • You have an injury but keep playing at less than 100%.
  • You’re playing a defensive position you don’t normally play.

“The ball will find you.” is a commentary on how a flaw or weakness in a system always seems to be exposed at a critical juncture. In baseball, we often attribute such a phenomenon to the wrath of the baseball gods.

The ball will find you.

I tell you this because there must also be a Mixed-up Files version of “The ball will find you.” that the middle grade, kidlit gods apparently have decided to haunt me with.

“Poetry will find you!”

Several months ago, after the STEM Tuesday leader supreme, Jen Swanson, emailed the group to announce she had posted the upcoming monthly STEM Tuesday themes. I rushed my mouse to the MUF bookmark, logged in, and scrolled to my assigned month of April.


STEM Tuesday–  Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse.


I rolled out of my desk chair to the office floor, laughing maniacally like the Joker after he’d just pulled one over on Batman. From the next room, my adult children expressed concern to my wife, who nonchalantly waved them off, “Just another of your father’s poetry fits. No worries.”

No worries. Here I am. Fully recovered. Poetry fit behind me? Well, let’s just say I’m ready to accept the sentence placed upon me by the MUF “Poetry will find you” curse.

Poetry will find me.

And you know what?

That’s not a bad thing.

I think I’ll give this poetry/science thing a go…

Roses are red

Violets are blue

When working with elephants

Don’t step in the doo-doo


Muses and Poets via Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, my poetry skills are lacking. I do, however, possess adequate mental faculties to observe poetry and STEM have quite a few similarities. We can even, for argument’s sake, go as far as to classify STEM and poetry as close relatives who manage to stay civil even outside of major holidays.

“What in the whiskers is he talking about this time?” you ask.

Poetry and STEM on level intellectual ground? Is this coming from a 30-year microbiologist? You must think this guy took way too many of those screaming baseball line drives to the head. (The answer is “No”. The majority of those screaming line drives went through my legs or off my kneecap, chest, shin, or various other body parts. Very few went off my noggin and even fewer went into my ball glove.)

Give me a chance to shine some light on this poetry/STEM connection with the following five points.

Both STEM and Poetry rely on elements that are quantifiable and measurable.

  • One can measure the beats in a couplet, a quatrain, or a septet just as one can measure the excitation and emission wavelength spectra of a fluorophore.
  • There are a definable rhythm and cadence to a poem just as there are for a parasite’s life cycle, embryo development, building a bridge, programming a robot, or quantum theory.

Both STEM and Poetry follow rules and formulas.

  • Just as we have theorems and equations to help define the physical world, poems have form, patterns of sound, meaning, and meter.

Both STEM and Poetry extract meaning from observation.

  • Poetry attempts to describe observations through words and form.
  • STEM attempts to describe observations with hypotheses, theories, laws, code, and blueprints to name a few.

Both STEM and Poetry are ways to look at the world around us in order to gain a greater understanding.

  • A poem has a thematic weight and uses figurative and connotative devices to deliver meaning.
  • STEM uses a device called the scientific method to better understand the natural phenomenon.

Both STEM and Poetry are organized by classifications according to certain properties and traits.

  • There are many types of poems.
    • Lyric poems, narrative poems, descriptive poems.
    • Odes, elegy, epic, sonnet, ballad, haiku, limerick, etc.
  • Mammals, bacteria, viruses, plants, insects, atoms, orbitals, planets, electrical systems, aeronautics, etc. are all STEM groups that we classify according to properties and traits.


Next time someone (especially your favorite STEM-crazed middle grader) poo-poo’s the poetry, remind them,


When it does, show them the STEM Tuesday Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse book list and tell them to give it a chance. Even the most STEM-centric mind can benefit from the beauty of a poem.

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, 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 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.


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month take a look at a connection between poetry and STEM.

Elements of Poetry

  • A nice overview of the nuts and bolts of poetry from Lexiconic Education Resources. Even I was able to understand and learn the fundamentals.

Science and Poetry: A View from the Divide

  • “What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don’t know.  It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic.”  – from a beautiful 1998 essay by poet Alison Hawthorne Deming on the intersection of science and art.

‘Technimeric’ = Poetry + STEM

  • How about a STEM-focused Technimetric Poetry Slam? YES!!!

Poetry for Science, STEM & STEAM by Pomelo Books

  • A Pinterest page LOADED with STEM poems for kids. My kind of poetry!

Engineering the Perfect Poem by Using the Vocabulary of STEM

  • Lesson plans from ReadWriteThink all about how to engineer a poem about…engineering!