For Teachers

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer–In The Classroom

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

This month’s book list offers fascinating stories about the lives and learning of scientists, famous and not-so-much, real and fictional.

That said, here and there, you may find content you want to be prepared to address, so be sure to read the books before you bring them into the classroom experience. That should prove no burden, as the books offer a lot of food for thought, richly textured profiles, and insights into STEM fields.

This month’s suggested activities fall into two categories: Getting to Know the Characters and Book-Specific Extensions.

Getting to Know the Characters

Chart Traits. Keep a running wall chart to track the characteristics and life experiences of the real scientists in these books—for example, Charles Darwin, Sylvia Acevedo, Irene Curie, and Lise Meitner—as well as Calpurnia in the novel. Different students can read different books. Complete the chart as students independently make their way through the reading. In the first column, list the scientists; dedicate each additional column to a trait or descriptor, each suggested by students based on “their” scientists. These traits might include: “intensely curious,” “passionate about science,” “imaginative,” “ambitious/has dreams or goals.” Students can place post-its with brief notes that illustrate when they see that a specific scientist demonstrates a given trait.  Use these notes as a basis for exploring similarities and differences among scientists, and for reflection.

After students complete the books and the chart, consider setting up small group discussions of follow-up questions, such as:

  • Which traits do you see as helpful and/or counterproductive to the scientists in their professional lives? … To their personal lives? Do you think there are examples of any one trait being be both helpful and counterproductive for any of the scientists?
  • Complete these sentence : “I share [trait] with … [scientist(s]. For example, I…[story from life to illustrate similarity].” “Something I don’t quite connect to with …[scientist] is…”
  • A life lesson I learned from each character is…
  • Out of all of these scientists’ interests, the ones I strongly share are: ….
  • How do the social norms and circumstances of each person’s time and place help or hinder their journey?
  • What opportunities and obstacles helped and hindered the scientists in their personal and professional journeys? Have you experienced anything like this? How might your knowledge of one or more of these scientists help you in your own life, personally or as you aspire for academic and, later, career success?
Additional activity suggestions:
  • Connect these scientists’ stories to the NGSS science and engineering practices. Have students create their own graphic organizers to reflect how they see these practices in action in these books.
  • If possible, invite scientists into the classroom for students to interview. Students can enter each scientist and anecdotes into the chart.
  • Each of the scientists in these books experienced both positive moments (successes, support from others) and set-backs (fears, life events, failures) in their professional and personal lives. Have students create a Chutes and Ladders style game representing these events, labeling each chute or ladder entrance’s game square with the episode from the corresponding scientist’s life. Each game piece can represent one of the scientists. Landing on a chute or ladder entrance that depicts an episode from the game piece-scientist, the player gets an additional turn. Later, keep the game available for informal time.
  • Discuss how other people—friends, family, and colleagues—support the achievements of the individual scientists in the books.
  • Take a cue from the Radioactive! teacher guide: Create a shared graphic of things that students are curious about. This will help connect students to the scientists and each other, and foster a culture of curiosity. Have students add the scientists’ likely responses to the graphic.

Book-Specific Extensions

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate and Charles and Emma

Both books may help students find their inner naturalists. Build on this opportunity with these ideas:

Collect Their Thoughts. Ask students to contribute inexpensive, readily available objects – seeds, leaves, pebbles, shells, marbles, and even paper clips of different configurations —  to an “interesting stuff” classroom collection. Challenge students to sort, organize, compare and contrast objects in the collection.  Conduct a collection circle discussion once a week:

  • Which objects do you find most interesting, and why?
  • What stirs your curiosity?
  • Do you know anything about this object? What interesting connections can you find between it and something else in the collection?

 

Make Science Social. At the beginning of the Charles and Emma, readers learn that Charles values the stimulating intellectual conversations of the day. Calpurnia also deeply enjoys the social aspect of science.  Help students experience this excitement with free-form, dorm-style, no-right-answer(-at-least-not-yet) science talks. Create a culture that encourages them to speculate, challenge each other, and use their imaginations to develop possible explanations for their questions.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSomething Rotten

Look Inside. Author Heather Montgomery (one of STEM Tuesday’s own!) may be the real-world’s answer to Calpurnia. Like Calpurnia and her brother Travis, Heather embodies both curiosity and a connection to the natural world. Help students follow in Calpurnia and Heather’s footsteps by offering dissection opportunities for your students; if not with animals, then with plants or gadgets.

Do Some Good! Look for a citizen science opportunity, such as this one (in Vermont), to share road kill sightings with scientists so they can study and help wildlife. Or think about organizing your own study of a small section of your community. Students might track road kill along their bus routes for a period of time. They might not be able to investigate the details from the bus window, but they could create maps of the routes and areas of relatively frequent road kill incidents.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgPath to the Stars

Explore the Results of Rocket Science. On Page 289 of her autobiography, “rocket scientist” Sylvia Acevedo mentions two NASA projects she worked on. Visit NASA web pages to find out more about these missions. Solar Polar Solar Probe, now called the Parker Solar Probe, which launched this year, some 30 years after she worked on the project, and Voyager 2 Jupiter flyby. Check out the pictures of the results of these probes’ successful missions!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRadioactive!

Know the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma of Radioactivity. These resources can help kids grasp some of the book’s science content:

 

Bonus: Teacher Guides!

And, finally, for discussion ideas, as well as a few STEM-related activities, check out the teachers’ guides available for each book.

 

Drop Us a Line. As always, we at STEM Tuesday are eager to hear what you think of these ideas, how you use and adapt them, and how else STEM books have brought excitement to your classroom. Please leave a comment.

Celebrating Art Museums in Books

Did you know that today is National Go to an Art Museum Day—and more than 30,000 museums around the world are participating by holding special activities and offering discounts? No? Well then, it’s probably too late to call in sick or play hooky. But you can still celebrate vicariously by going to your library, bookstore, or favorite online site to pick up a great book about art museums. Here are a few suggestions:

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Okay, you had to know I’d include this classic novel if you’re a fan of this blog. In E.L. Konigsberg’s 1968 Newbery winner, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away with her little brother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After spending their days wandering around the museum and their nights hiding in odd exhibits, the two become involved in solving a museum mystery concerning an angel statue, thought to be carved by Michelangelo himself. After some sleuthing, they track down Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the woman who sold the statue to the museum. Will she help them solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

 

Framed by James Ponti

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the first day of school or which Chinese restaurant has the best egg rolls. But when he attempts to teach the method to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery at the National Gallery of Art that involves the theft of three paintings. Will Florian’s skills help the FBI solve the crime and help him escape from the clutches of a dangerous crime syndicate?

 

The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone

Hannah Jordan lives in a museum…well, sort of. She is the daughter of the caretaker for mansion-turned-museum The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island. Hannah is captivated by stories of The Elms’s original occupants, especially Maggie Dunlap, the tween heiress who was the subject of a painting that went missing during a legendary art heist in 1905. When a mysterious mirror allows Hannah and Maggie to switch places in time, suddenly Hannah is racing to stop the heist from happening, while Maggie gets an introduction to iPhones, soccer, and freedoms like exploring without supervision. Not to mention the best invention of all: sweatpants (so long, corsets!). As the hours tick away toward the art heist, something’s not adding up. Can the girls work together against time—and across it—to set things right? Or will their temporary swap become a permanent trade?

 

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie Fleece knows the rules and follows them—that is, until the day she opens her front door to a mysterious stranger. Suddenly Moxie is involved in Boston’s biggest unsolved mystery: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Moxie has two weeks to find the art, otherwise she and the people she loves will be in big-time danger. Her tools? Her best friend, Ollie, a geocaching addict who loves to find stuff; her Alzheimer’s suffering grandfather, Grumps, who knows lots more than he lets on; and a geometry proof that she sets up to sort out the clues. It’s a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she’s ever lived by to find the art and save her family.

 

The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman

The day Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, four thirteen-year-olds converge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where an eccentric curator is seeking four brave souls to track down the hidden pages of the Kelmsbury Manuscript, an ancient book of Arthurian legends that lies scattered within the museum’s collection, and that holds the key to preventing a second attack on American soil. When Madge, Joe, Kiku, and Walt agree to help, they have no idea that the Kelmsbury is already working its magic on them. They begin to develop extraordinary powers and experience the feelings of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Lancelot: courage, friendship, love…and betrayal. Are they playing out a legend that’s already been lived, over and over, across the ages? Or can the Metropolitans forge their own story?

 

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed deep inside the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisitely crafted miniature rooms. Each room is set in a different historic period, and every detail is perfect. Some might even say, the rooms are magic. But what if on a field trip, you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you could sneak inside and explore the secrets of the rooms? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind? Eleven-year-olds Jack and Ruthie are about to find out!

 

Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Fourteen poems on the many dazzling collections featured in museums. The art, artifacts, and anthropological treasures found in museum collections are coupled with stunning poetry by acclaimed writers Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, Myra Cohn Livingston, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and many more. The lively verse captures the wonder and amazement of the exhibition experience, from mummies to medieval relics, and from fine art to fossils.

 

 

Beyond Shel Silverstein: Silly Poetry for Kids

I feel I must clarify. I adore Shel Silverstein. Who doesn’t love “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”? Or “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”? Great stuff. But I fear that children’s poetry, particularly funny poetry, begins and ends with dear old Shel. There is a whole world out there of funny poetry for kids, and some of it even gives Shel a run for his money. These are poems that evoke giggles and guffaws, that insist on being read aloud, and that are perfect for these evenings as the weather gets colder and we want to snuggle by the fire. Check them out! And if you have other suggestions for me, please add them in the comments. I am eager for a few new titles to grab on the next snowy Sunday.

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks by Calef Brown

Georgie Spider catches flies but never eats the little guys. Instead he cooks them up in pies. He doesn’t use the legs or eyes or any artificial dyes . . . Not far from a greenish town, the Bathtub Driver is selling cut-rate imported shampoo. Georgie Spider serves up award-winning pies, while overhead on Highwire 66 there’s a small problem causing an acrobat traffic jam. Ed’s funny smell, Eliza’s special jacket – they’re all part of the picture in Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, fourteen stories about pesky snails, sleeping fruit, and one funky snowman. In the tradition of Edward Lear, Calef Brown has fashioned fourteen nonsense poems so zany that both young and old will be unable to suppress their laughter. Brown’s invented words and sounds and their visual counterparts create both an audible and a visual feast. This is the kind of silliness children relish.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Meet Chris Harris, the 21st-century Shel Silverstein! Already lauded by critics as a worthy heir to such greats as Silverstein, Seuss, Nash and Lear, Harris’s hilarious debut molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make you look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. With enthusiastic endorsements from bestselling luminaries such as Lemony Snicket, Judith Viorst, Andrea Beaty, and many others, this entirely unique collection offers a surprise around every corner: from the ongoing rivalry between the author and illustrator, to the mysteriously misnumbered pages that can only be deciphered by a certain code-cracking poem, to the rhyming fact-checker in the footnotes who points out when “poetic license” gets out of hand. Adding to the fun: Lane Smith, bestselling creator of beloved hits like It’s a Bookand The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has spectacularly illustrated this extraordinary collection with nearly one hundred pieces of appropriately absurd art. It’s a mischievous match made in heaven!

What are You Glad About? What are you Mad About? by Judith Viorst

From the beloved and internationally bestselling author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst comes a collection of wry and witty poems that touch on every aspect of the roller-coaster ride that is childhood.

Did you wake up this morning all smiley inside?
Does life taste like ice cream and cake?
Or does it seem more like your goldfish just died
And your insides are one great big ache?

From school to family to friends, from Grrrr to Hooray!, Judith Viorst takes us on a tour of feelings of all kinds in this thoughtful, funny, and charming collection of poetry that’s perfect for young readers just learning to sort out their own emotions.

Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Peter Sis

We’re sailing to Scranimal Island,

It doesn’t appear on most maps….

Scranimal Island is where you will find the fragrant Rhinocerose, the cunning Broccolions, and if you are really, really lucky and very, very quiet, you will spot the gentle, shy Pandaffodil. (You may even hear it yawning if the morning’s just begun, watch its petals slowly open to embrace the rising sun.

So put on your pith helmet and prepare to explore a wilderness of puns and rhymes where birds, beasts, vegetables, and flowers have been mysteriously scrambled together to create creatures you’ve never seen before –– and are unlikely to meet again! Your guides –– Jack Prelutsky, poet laureate of the elementary school set, and two–time Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sis – invite you to join them on an adventure you will never forget!

The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Bite-able Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, Illustrated by Joan Rankin

Take a bite out of the calendar with this cheerful collection of delicious seasonal poems, each one an ode to a favorite food

The daring popcorn astronauts
are brave beyond compare–
they scramble into puffy suits
and hurtle through the air.And when they land, we say hooray
and crowd around the spot
to salt the little astronauts
and eat them while they’re hot.

Dive into a watermelon lake and sing the praises of mac and cheese in this playful and poetic celebration of food. In spring, bow to the “Strawberry Queen” and eat “Only Guacamole.” In summer you’ll meet Bob the Ogre, who only eats corn on the cob, and in fall, you can learn “21 Things to Do with an Apple.” And then in winter, retreat from the cold at “The Cocoa Cabana ” Stellar team Deborah Ruddell and Joan Rankin deliver a whimsical celebration of the tastiest treats of life in this palatable poetry collection.

Ogden Nash’s Zoo by Ogden Nash, Illustrated by Etienne Delessert

A collection of verses about animals from the barnyard to the aquarium and the haunts of the lion and rhinoceros also includes verses about mythical animals.

Kate Hillyer is a middle grade writer and poetry lover who feeds her addiction by serving as a Cybils judge for poetry. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen. You can also find her at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate.