STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — In the Classroom

Kids love learning about animals—especially ones with superpowers! Use these books from the STEM Tuesday list along with their classroom ideas to let students explore how animals use their amazing skills to survive in nature and help humans too.  

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos, photographs by Andy Comins

Can you believe that delicate little spiders can create something with such amazing strength that might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments? Read all-about it in Heos’ Scientists in the Field title.  

 

Activity

Experiment with different kinds of materials to see which makes the strongest web!

Materials:

  • thread, yarn, or thin stretchy cord
  • bowl
  • objects to put on top of your web (rocks, sticks, fake bugs)

Steps:

  1. Have groups of students choose a type of string to use. Then ask them to wrap the string around the bowl to make a web over the open side. They should think about the pattern of their web as they wrap.
  2. Next tell students to test the strength of their web. Put objects all over their web. Are certain areas stringer than others? How many objects can it hold?
  3. Then ask students to test out a different kinds of string to make a new web. After testing its strength with different objects, ask them: Which web was stronger? Why do you think it was stronger?

 

Check this out!

The author’s classroom discussion and activity guide: https://www.scribd.com/document/135393652/Stronger-than-Steel-Discussion-Guide.  

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent  

Explore how dogs use their super sniffing detection skills to help humans.      

 

 

 

Activity

Dogs can smell scents from much farther away than humans. See how close you have to be to detect a certain smell.

Materials:

  • jars with lids
  • cotton balls
  • strong scents (such as perfume, vinegar, coffee, onions, or vanilla extract)
  • measuring tape

Steps:

  1. Soak some cotton balls with strong smelling liquid or cut up onions or other foods that have a strong smell.
  2. Put the stinky cotton balls or food in a jar—one smelly item per jar—and close the lids.
  3. Ask a friend to stand 15 feet away and then open a jar. Can your friend identify what the smell is?
  4. If not, ask your friend to slowly step forward, still smelling, until they can tell you what the scent is. Measure how far away your friend was before identifying the smell.
  5. Repeat with the other jars. Were some smells easier to identify from far away? Were some smells especially difficult?

 

Check this out!

TedEd video about how dogs “see” with their noses: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/17/alexandra-horowitz-dog-animation/.  

 

Superpower Field Guide: Moles and Superpower Field Guide: Eels by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Firth

Discover the extraordinary skills of moles and eels in these two guides. Then explore the rest of the series. Poliquin and Firth have two other titles about beavers and ostriches.      

 

 

Activity

Some superpowers are hard to believe–like the eel’s ability to store and discharge electricity! They store electricity like a battery, so try making this battery with a lemon.

Materials:

  • 4 lemons
  • 4 pieces of copper
  • 4 galvanized nails
  • 5 alligator clip wires
  • a light to power

Steps:

  1. Roll lemons on countertop with your hand  to release the juice inside.
  2. Stick one nail and one piece of copper into each lemon.
  3. Use the alligator wire clip next. Attach one wire from an alligator clip to a nail in a lemon and the other wire to a copper piece in another lemon. Continue until all the lemons are connected.
  4. You should have one piece of copper and one nail that are not connected to wires. Connect the copper piece to the positive connection on the light. Connect the galvanized nail to the negative connection.
  5. Turn on the light and it should work with your lemon battery.

 

Check this out!

Superpowered Creature Creator post on the author’s website: http://www.rachelpoliquin.com/superpowered-creature.

 

Further Resources

Check out these sites for more fascinating and fun STEM animal superpower resources:

Hope these activities and resources get your students excited to learn more about animal superpowers!

 

     

 

Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com.

WNDMG: South Asian Picture Book Biography: Meera Sriram talks about BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Meera Sriram, author of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL (Penny Candy Books, 2021), illustrated by Ruchi Bakshi Sharma,  and other titles for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

Hi Meera, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

About BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is a non-fiction picture book for children (6-11 years). It is  illustrated beautifully by Mumbai-based artist Ruchi Bakshi Sharma. This book is a biography of Amrita Sher-Gil, a remarkable painter and a pioneer of early 20th century modern art. Amrita lived and created art on her own terms. Her father was a Sikh scholar from India and her mother was a Hungarian Jewish opera singer. Throughout her life, Amrita traveled between Europe and India. She was also a woman ahead of her times in a male dominated art world. This story layers Amrita’s journey navigating cultures over her artistic journey trying to discover where her art belonged.

On Amrita being a rebellious artist

Even as a little girl, Amrita hated being taught art. She always believed art came from the heart. Growing up, her art reflected her bicultural identity. While in Paris, she learned a great deal about European art. She painted many portraits of herself, her family members, friends, and lovers of both sexes. And she did this unabashedly. During this time, she also longed to paint what she’d experienced in India. Eventually, she found her “voice” by fusing western techniques and Indian subjects – something that was ground-breaking in the artistic world during that period. Amrita also pushed boundaries in how she centered women in her paintings. As a feminist, her art was unapologetic about brown female nudity, and her work celebrated ordinary, less privileged women at a time when women were mostly objectified in art.

On reading and writing picture books and how they are an integral part of your writing career

I did not read picture books as a child growing up in India. I fell in love with them when I started reading them to my daughter many years ago. I was blown away by the themes, aesthetics, and more importantly, the impact they can have on children. I believe they are an intensely powerful medium as they have the ability to influence young minds. When I noticed the invisibility of children of color as well as the entire gamut of immigrant experiences, I decided to tell our stories. I hope to continue to write about people, places, and experiences less commonly seen in stories for children.

On a moment in your life that inspired this story

I was sitting on my bed in my parents’ home on a summer night in India. Someone sent me a New York Times article on Amrita Sher-Gil pointing out what an incredible story it would make. I’d known about Amrita Sher-Gil. In fact we’d picked up a picture book for my daughter a few years before that. However, the article prompted me to dig deeper. I sat there obsessed for several hours reading up on the internet. During this time I made a small but striking personal connection with some of her experiences, especially around identity, life across continents, and blending cultures while creating. In those wee hours, I found the inspiration to tell her story.

On the process of immersing yourself in Amrita’s story and writing it for children

Initially, I was reading up every news bit, essay, and article I could find on the internet. Later, I managed to lay my hands on an important primary source, two volumes of AMRITA SHER-GIL: A SELF-PORTRAIT IN LETTERS AND WRITINGS (Tulika Books, 2010) by Amrita’s nephew Vivan Sundaram. This is a compilation of Amrita’s letters and writings along with notes by the author offering chronology and context. It also includes over a hundred reproductions of Amrita’s paintings and many amazing photographs. I researched and made notes for months. The narrative flowed out lyrically in my first draft and stayed that way. However, it took me many revisions and ample aid from critique partners to weed out details and extract the essence for her emotional trajectory as she tried to find out where she and her art belonged.

As an Indian American, Meera has lived equal parts of her life in both countries. Previously an electrical engineer, she now writes for children and advocates for diversifying bookshelves. Meera is the author of several picture books including THE YELLOW SUITCASE (Penny Candy Books, 2019), illustrated by Meera Sethi, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Penny Candy Books, 2021), illustrated by Ruchi Bakshi Sharma and DUMPLING DAY (Barefoot Books, 2021), illustrated by Inés de Antuñano. Her book, A GIFT FOR AMMA (Barefoot Books, 2020), illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, is the winner of the 2021 South Asia Book Award and the Foreword Reviews Indies Silver Award. She has also co-authored several kids’ books published in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, please visit: http://www.meerasriram.com.

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — Book List

 

Who needs superhuman heroes when there are animals with their own superpowers? This list gives readers an opportunity to explore all of the ways animals use their skills for surviving in the wild and even help us humans out as well!  

Animal Zombies! And Other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters by Chana Stiefel  

Some may call these creatures creepy, but others will marvel at their special skills.  

Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell

 Messner explores the super talents of bugs in this fun title.  

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos, photographs by Andy Comins

Can you believe that delicate little spiders can create something with such amazing strength that might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments? Read all-about it in Heos’ Scientists in the Field title.  

Superpower Field Guide: Moles and Superpower Field Guide: Eels by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Firth

Discover the extraordinary skills of moles and eels in these two guides. Then explore the rest of the series. Poliquin and Firth have two other titles about beavers and ostriches.

Superpower Dogs: Disaster Response Dogs by Cosmic  

Dogs have some of the best noses in the business. Learn how they help in disasters.

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent  

Explore how dogs use their super sniffing detection skills to help humans.

101 Animal Super Powers by Melvin Berger and Gilda Berger

Discover lots of extraordinary animals with this collection of animal superpower stories.  


Photo of DESERTS author Nancy Castaldo

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save The World, so she knows first hand about animal superpowers. Her books have 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 served as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 international title about farm and food is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US: A Year In The Life Of An Organic Farm. Visit her at her website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Instagram

Sibert Honor author Patricia Newman shows young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. One Texas librarian wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.” Titles include: Planet Ocean (new); Sibert Honor book Sea Otter Heroes; Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy!; The NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants; California Reading Association’s Eureka! Gold winner Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Visit Patricia online at her website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Pinterest.