STEM Tuesday — Chemistry ROCKS! — In the Classroom


Having majored in chemistry in college and then going on to teach the course a couple of times, I know how difficult this topic can be for students to understand. But really, chemistry is just the science of what matter is made up of and how it interacts with other types of matter. See? Not so hard at all. 🙂  I get it. Some students need to have more to help them become more comfortable with chemistry.

Here’s a list of things you can try:

Hands on Interaction:  I like to tell my students that the best way to understand chemistry is to think of it like cooking. Say you’re going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You need the ingredients: the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Those are all different parts of matter. Then you mix them together with a certain amount of force by stirring or using a hand mixer. That gives you the cookie batter– a different kind of matter, but the chemical change hasn’t happened yet. Finally, you put the pan of cookie batter into the oven and voila you have cookies. Can’t you just smell the warm chocolate fresh out of the oven and imagine the first bite of gooey chocolate-y goodness?



During the whole process you are mixing and combining different kind of matter, but it isn’t until you apply heat that the chemical change takes place and you have cookies. Yum! This is a great way to get your students comfortable with chemistry.


Unfortunately, it’s not  possible to make cookies with your students in the classroom. Is there a substitute? Yes! Use these books. While it won’t get  you a warm chocolate chip cookie to eat in the end, you can do some pretty cool experiments with food.

Edible Science by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (NGKids, 2015) is chock full of awesome food experiments! Many of these can be done in the classroom. Try the “Inflatable Marshmallow” on page 42. Kids learn about air pressure by watching a marshmallow expand and contract.

Another awesome one is watching how plants get water (page 9) by placing pieces of lettuce into bowls with different colored water (from food coloring). After a few hours students will see how the lettuce absorbed water through its leaves

My favorite one, though, is making slime (page 60). Your students will love it! This book is also great for homeschoolers since you can do a lot of the experiments in your very own kitchen. Happy experimenting!


Kathy Ceceri’s Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, and Grow (Maker Media, 2016)  also has some amazing experiments for kids to do with chemistry. She, however, goes a little more out-of-the box and discusses how kitchen gadgets can be used to make butter makers. She ventures into creating gelatin dots, and even agar noodles (don’t eat those!).

Finally, there is a whole discussion of 3D food printing and she gives you instructions on how to use your name-brand building blocks to make your own 3D food printer! Wow! This one is definitely for the more adventurous chemistry cook in your house. It will provide hours of fun.

After they perform each experiment have them analyze their outcome and discuss what happened. This is exactly what real scientists do. 

Questions could include:

  1. Did you get the outcome you wanted
  2. If not, why do you think this happened
  3. Could you repeat this experiment and get the same result? Why or why not?
  4. How is your result different from another team’s? Explain

By asking questions of your students you can help them to create a model to explain what happened. Perhaps they will end up changing the procedure or adding some requirements of their own, ie. use a hand mixer not a spoon to get a smoother consistency for the product.



2. Add some Fun Facts to your Experiments

Looking for a way to give your students a little more explanation of chemistry terms, and maybe a little history of the subject? Check out these titles, Explore Solids and Liquids! with 25 great experiments  by Kathleen M. Reilly (Nomad Press, 2014) and Explore Atoms and Molecules! with 25 great experiments by Janet Slingerland (Nomad Press, 2017)  have awesome experiments, but also contain explanations to describe the different parts of chemistry.

They have timelines the show the discovery of important scientific events, and also easy-to-understand definitions of words such as atom, molecule, solid, liquid, gas, states of matter, and mixtures and compounds.

These highly energetic texts and enthusiastic illustrations will grab your student’s attention and the experiments are all easy to do. Just follow the directions and you will have a great time in your classroom or homeschool environment.

After reading this book and doing some of the experiments, have students come up with their own examples of matter, molecules, and solids, liquids and gases. 

  1. Ask them to identify these different parts of matter in the things they see around the room or around their house
  2. Did they come up with something that can be both solid and liquid? How would they classify that?
  3. Discuss the types of conditions that might cause these substances to change from one to another.
  4. What types of evidence do they have to indicate the change


3.  Tie Chemistry to Literacy

If you have older students who are ready to learn more about chemistry, have them read The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (Little, Brown BFYR, 2018).  This book gives a lively and interesting history of the scientists who discovered the different elements of the periodic table.

Discovering an element is not as easy or amazing as you might think. In fact, it can be downright dangerous to your health. Ask Marie Curie. Many of these stories are about scientists who defied all odds to come up with a new element or perhaps stumbles upon it accidentally. It is a compelling read for anyone who is interested in becoming a scientist as it gives a behind-the-scenes look at real-life challenges many of the scientists faced.

After reading this book, have your students break up into discussion groups.

  1. Each group can choose a scientist or element and come up with a way to present it to the rest of the class.
  2. Maybe they dress up as the scientist and have them talk about their challenges
  3. Infographics or posters can show their process
  4. Be sure to include the pros and cons of each element (some of them are quite dangerous to humans)
  5. Have them show the element as it is used today (hint: it’s not just a two-letter symbol on a chart)

This is a great way to promote discussion about the periodic table in a place other than the science classroom!


Whatever way you choose to introduce chemistry into your classroom or homeschool, remember one thing, HAVE FUN with IT! Students will get enthusiastic about a fun, interactive, presentation and who knows, you may just inspire a future generation of STEM/STEAM careers.



Science ROCKS! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for kids. Jennifer Swanson’s love of science began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, you can find Jennifer at her favorite place to explore the world around her.

STEM Tuesday — Chemistry ROCKS! — Book List

It’s time to explore another facet of science…chemistry. This branch of science is more than test tubes and beakers, it is the ways in which substances interact, combine, and change. These books will take kids from the science lab to the kitchen lab and through history to present day discoveries.

The Elements

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

The young readers’ version of Kean’s book of fascinating tales of the periodic table for fans of adventure, history, and of course, science.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Jeanne Bendick, Benjamin Wiker and Ted Schleunderfritz

Although a bit older than most of our suggestions, we feel it’s a worthy read. This absorbing historic look at the mysteries and discoveries of the periodic table will engage middle school and high school readers.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Grey and Nick Mann

A photographic companion to all the books on this list. This visual book will enlighten and inspire science and art enthusiasts. This is a great reference book to keep on your shelf.


A Bit of Chemistry History

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perlious Professions, and Murderous Medicine by Sarah Albee

We’ve included this title on a previous STEM Tuesday list, but it’s too good not to include here. A curious approach to this fun book will leave readers thinking twice about the plants in their garden and the medicines on their shelf.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Marie Curie: The Woman Who Changed the Course of Science by Philip Steele

Dig deep into the life of this important Nobel Prize-winning chemist to inspire and empower young scientists. This biography shares Marie’s school reports and family photos with young readers.



Chemistry Activity Books

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Book of Ingeniously Daring Chemistry: 24 Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly

Great for a rainy day or classroom chemistry exploration. These experiments use everyday items to unleash the powers of chemistry.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Edible Science:  Experiments You Can Eat by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

Everyone has a laboratory right in their own home — the kitchen! Use this book to investigate how cooking and science go hand-in-hand.



Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, and Grow by Kathy Ceceri — Curious kids will devour the experiments in this book as they work their way through the kitchen lab. Projects include 3-D printing with food, cooking off the grid, chemical cuisine, and more.


Chemistry Nitty Gritty

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Explore Atoms and Molecules! With 25 Great Projects by Janet Slingerland; illustrated by Matt Aucoin

Build a 3-D model of a molecule and more with this science activity book that focuses on the basic building blocks of matter.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Explore Solids and Liquids! With 25 Great Projects by Kathleen M. Reilly

This great companion title to the above book explores solids and liquids with 25 activities for your home or classroom using everyday household items.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Add Gareth Steven’s A Look At Chemistry Series to engage reluctant middle-grade readers. Titles include:  Atoms, Elements, Molecules, The Periodic Table, The pH Scale; and States of Matter.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Stinky Science: Why the Smelliest Smells Smell So Smelly by Edward Kay, illustrated by Mike Shiell

A fun and engaging romp into the science of stink, e.g. the chemicals smells are made of, how and why smells are linked to memories, plus gross stuff such as poop, body odor, and rotting flesh.

Pair the nonfiction titles on this list with this chemistry-themed fiction title

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Grave is a Fine and Private Place: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

Discover the world of 12-year-old science sleuth, Flavia de Luce in this twisty, mystery novel.



For extra fun

Check out Mrs. Humphries’ class signing Chemistry Christmas on Teacher Tube.

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 — Epic Achievements and Fantastic Failures — Interview with Anna Crowley Redding

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

Today we’re interviewing Anna Crowley Redding about GOOGLE IT: A History of Google. The book received a starred review from Booklist, saying, “Redding does an admirable job of chronicling Larry and Sergey’s amazing successes and will inspire young people to follow in their ingenious footsteps.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did Google It come to be?

Anna Crowley Redding: This book was the brainchild of my incredibly talented and brilliant editor, Holly West. We are both excited about technology and the human stories behind tech. The more we talked, the more excited I became and dove into the research immediately. We knew from the start that this should be a fun look at exactly how this company came to be and that, of course, begins with the dreams, ideas, hard work, and failures of two students. Starting with that focus in mind, I have to say it was really delightful peeling back the onion layers of Google. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious or poignant parts of this story, there truly are. And exploring those aspects really allowed the book to demystify this huge company and the people behind it. From losing a dad, to coming to this country as a child refugee, to constant rejection, and then controversy, the personal struggles and triumphs are as much a part of the story as the technology.

MKC: Do you have a favorite aha! discovery or surprise finding you’d like to share from your research?

Anna: As far as aha! moments, there were many, but two stand out. First, reading about artificial intelligence and machine learning changed the way I think about our future and it changed the way I teach my own children about the future. As a society, we are the candlemakers standing at the dawn of electricity. That’s how big these developments are and it made me realize anew the importance of critical thinking, communication, and flexibility. These are the skills every child needs for our future. While a big change like that can be scary to think about, it can also be super exciting and fascinating. Another bit of research that changed the way I think was learning about failure, Google’s failures as a company, and the failures of people who work there… and most importantly, how THEY view failure––as a key ingredient to success. When you look at failure as an intellectual exercise, as a tool for improving your effort, as getting you closer to the solution for the particular problem you are trying to solve, well then it becomes far less personal and emotional. Your journey becomes very much about the process itself instead of a focus on instant perfection. One of Google’s attitudes about this is: fall in love with the problem, not the solution. This changed the way I approach my work, parenting, and just about everything else. It’s a concept I also actively teach my kids.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Anna: My background is in journalism, starting with television news. And as a TV news reporter, so much of current events touches STEM. From stories on ice-storms, plane crashes, environmental pollution, medical stories, crime, public policy and more––they all involve STEM. And using technology itself to gather and report the news is essential. That experience has kept me perennially interested in all things STEM. As an investigative reporter, that’s where I fell in love with research. The process of digging and digging is something I truly enjoy. And the common thread with every story is storytelling itself… how do I take these facts, this science, or tech and talk about it in a way that is as compelling as it is informative. As far as choosing STEM topics for writing books, I love stories about big thinkers and risk takers and naturally STEM fields are full of those stories. Sometimes when we think about STEM, it can be easy to focus on the STEM topics or products themselves, rather than how people connect to these subjects. The human aspect of STEM is what I find endlessly fascinating. Enormous problems are being solved and that requires personal and intellectual bravery. I find that very moving. It really is rewarding to tap into that part of STEM. And hopefully, in taking that angle, young readers can see themselves in these fields, in these careers, solving the problems they deem worthy.

Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding’s first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Anna now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for young readers — which, as it turns out, is her true passion.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Anna: When I was writing this book I thought a lot about my older brother as a kid. His room was full of Star Wars posters and toys. He loved Lost in Space. Every book that Elon [Musk] adored as a kid, so did my brother. So my writing goal was to write a book that my brother might have picked up and been inspired by. For Google It, it was important to recreate the world that needed Google. That meant going back to the past in a relatable and sometimes funny way to think about life before Google. What types of phones did we use? How did we get to the library if we didn’t have directions? It really was a different world, recreating that for young readers in a relatable way was, for me, an essential ingredient in bringing Google’s story to life. Hopefully that will allows students to think about today’s tech and problems the same way and challenge themselves to take these problems on–– (whether political, technological, artistic, whatever they find interesting!)

MKC: You’ve also written a book about Elon Musk, correct? What’s the appeal of entrepreneurs and inventors?

Anna: Elon Musk’s life is fascinating. Young readers are going to love diving into his back story and understanding what drives him and how he got where he is today. In ELON MUSK: A Mission to Save the World, I spend a lot of time on who Elon was as a child and as a reader. The science fiction and comic books he read as a child were his refuge from school bullies, from a complicated home life. Ultimately those stories inspired him to ask big questions, examine the world’s biggest challenges and do something about them. And when I tell you he read, I mean he read every science fiction book he could physically put his hands on. At the comic book shop, he read every comic book in the store! Flash forward to today, Elon has changed the game for electric cars. His company, SpaceX, has revolutionized rocket technology and is making plans to colonize Mars. Even though Elon often courts controversy (or controversy courts him), his work and the way he approaches problem-solving, his tolerance for failure in the course of reaching a goal––is fascinating. I hope that readers will themselves in his story, that they see their own seemingly unattainable dreams as worthy pursuits.

Win a FREE copy of Google It

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson