STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday –Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — Writing Crafts & Resources

 

Getting into Character

Planes, trains, automobiles, and more – this month’s look at transportation books might seem a bit impersonal, characterless, emotionless. When I looked closer, though, I found all kinds of characters. Let’s spend a few minutes examining how authors infuse character in these books about more technical topics.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBiography is an obvious approach, one taken in Elon Musk: And the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Following one individual’s life, author Ashley Vance shows us the development of his passion, the technical challenges he conquered, as well as the human challenges he dealt with. The results are an in-depth look at the skills needed to develop advanced transportation systems such as spaceships and electric cars.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

When tackling a topic such as the Titanic, which incorporate so much human tragedy, utilizing character is a natural fit. In Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, author Deborah Hopkinson interweaves individual’s stories to convey the magnitude of this event.

But even in a book with a much more technical focus, such as Who Built That? Bridges by Didier Cornille, space is given to including character. A single paragraph at the beginning of each chapter presents a brief expository bio before the chapter dives into the history and a step-by-step look at how each specific bridge was constructed.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgUse of character isn’t limited to actual human characters. Take a look at Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jennifer Swanson and you’ll see how inanimate dummy characters play a role in conveying the mechanical and historical content.

Why did each of these authors use character? I’m thinking deeper than the obvious answer: to draw the reader in. I’m comparing and contrasting how they presented these characters. The placement in the sequence of the text, the words used to describe the characters, the impact of character development, or lack of it. In analyzing this, I’m considering how I’ll use character in future writing to present topics that appeal to a wide variety of readers.

 

Try It Yourself:

  • Compare the first two pages of the first chapter of two books. Titanic and Elon Musk work well. Highlight every word or passage that characterizes the humans. Which techniques do these authors use? How similar or different are they? Consider why.
  • Now focus on a single book, Save the Crash-test Dummies, is ideal for this exercise. Scan the book for places where the nonhuman characters are characterized. Where is that in the sequence of the book? Can you find examples of characterization in places other than the main text?
  • Think about characterization in expository versus narrative text. Look for examples of each in this collection of books. Find an example of expository characterization (as in Who Built That? Bridges) and rewrite that is narrative. Yes you probably have to make it up; that’s okay for an exercise. Find an example of narrative characterization and rewrite that as expository. Which was harder? Why? How would making that change to the text impact the larger piece of writing?


Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids are wild about animals; she’s learned to bring characterization into her works. Her recent Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill follows an inquisitive narrator who visits scientists who use roadkill bodies to make discoveries. Her Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis under the Waves characterizes juvenile marine creatures to tell the story of how they each grow up.


THE O.O.L.F. FILES

Podcasts are great forgetting your regular dose of science. Here are some great ones for kids and adults:

  • Science Friday: In-depth looks at current science research. These stories dive deep into questions that are at the forefront of our minds. Their website has episodes sorted by topic (health, math, energy) as well as further reading and resources for each episode.
  • Brains On! Science Podcasts for Kids: From American Public Media, this podcast is perfect for kids and curious adults. Each week it focuses on a different fascinating question such as: How do elevators work? What is dyslexia? How do ants and spiders walk on walls?
  • WOW in the World: in this high-energy podcasts produced by NPR, the hosts take you on an imaginative trip, a journey into the wonders of the world. Inside brains, deep into the ocean, or far out in space. Perfect for the whole family.
  • Tumble Science Podcast for Kids: Hosted by a science reporter and an educator who are also parents, this podcast asks questions, shares mysteries, and interviews real scientists. Episodes include: The Secret Senses of Plants, Earth Rangers, and What Would Happen if There Was No Moon?

Taking Stock of Writerly Weaknesses and How to Avoid Overwhelm

One of my graduate students once told me that as she was reading a craft book on writing, she suddenly felt that everything she read about was a technique that she had failed to apply to her work-in-progress.

I laughed with recognition. It’s like a medical student who thinks she has every disease in her textbook.

This can feel a bit dire, even scary, as well as a little overwhelming.

However, just like a solid protagonist, you must comfort your flaws in order to achieve growth.

Today, my musings will be posting on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. And I will sit in synagogue and take stock of my behaviors, actions, and habits. This is a designated period of forgiveness as well as renewal.

As a writer, I try to also take stock of my areas of weaknesses and consider practices I might like to change. It is one of the greatest joys in writing—this idea that we can always grow, always learn.

But how to stop the overwhelm of it all?

Once when I was in graduate school, I visited my professor and I was really upset. She had read my submission, and I felt she had been too easy on me. “But what about setting?” I said. “I’m horrible with exposition. And my characterization and my rhythm and… and… and…”

She told me to take a deep breath and realize that it’s crazy making to try to fix everything all at once. Read a chapter for just one or two issues. For example, you could look at it to see if the dialogue sounds naturalistic and then edit with that in mind. Then you could examine how you’re dealing with tertiary characters, for example.

But after you’ve looked at a few craft areas, she recommended putting the piece down for a bit.

Although I didn’t believe her at the time, I do now.

There is be wisdom in putting your WIP on pause. You might, after a few months, have fresh eyes on your writing project. This does not mean to give up. Sometimes a little vacation can be healthy. You might even keep a notebook and, as you get an idea for revision, write it down, but not actually apply it right away. The WIP can be something you can attack when you feel ready and excited about it.

So, I guess, what I’m saying is take stock of what you want to fix in life, and in writing, but don’t feel like you need to remedy it all at once.

Tomorrow, PG&E will shut off my power for two to five days (I live in a wildfire area of California). It feels appropriate to me, on this day of awe, to take a pause, a break.

Although it seems a bit daunting, I’m actually looking forward to it.

Hillary Homzie is the author of Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2-18), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

STEM Tuesday –Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — In the Classroom

 

This month’s theme looks at transportation–something students might think as ordinary. But as the books we’re highlighting show, plaines, trains, and automobiles have rich histories and lots of science going on.  They’re perfect starting points for different science activities and discussions in the classroom. Here are a few to try.

 

Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jen Swanson, illustrated by Tamika Grooms
Explore how autos are made even safer by using crash-test dummies for design. An entertaining look at the history of car production, as well as the science and engineering behind these machines we can’t seem to live without.

  •  Make a timeline of the evolution of the car bumper.
  • Research the science behind how car bumpers absorb energy from a crash. Have students design the ultimate car bumper, listing what it can do during a crash and labeling its parts on a drawing.
  • Have students imagine a crash-test dummy’s perspective of being tested in a car crash. They can make a comic or write a story about the dummy’s experience.
  • Watch “The Physics of Seat Belts” video from the Smithsonian Channel and ask students to list three reasons why seat belts are important. Have them make a public safety poster about why it is important to always wearing a seat belt when riding in a car. They should include their reasons on the poster.

 

 

Milestones of Flight: From Hot Air Balloons to Space Ship One by Tim Grove

Grove gives readers a look into transportation history and science in this book. Illustrated with photographs, documents, and diagrams from the Smithsonian’s collection.

  • Did one inventor make flight possible? No, like many inventions, the ideas developed from one inventor to another. Ask students to pair up and discuss how two different inventors added to the history of flight.
  • Who was Charles Lindbergh? What did Robert Goddard do?  This book is filled with interesting people vital to the development of flight. Students can pick one and research that person. Then have them act as their character, wearing a costume if they’d like, and tell the class who they are and what they did related to the history of flight.

 

 

Green Transport: Exploring Eco-Friendly Travel for a Better Tomorrow by Rani Iyer  

More on eco-friendly alternatives as transportation industries strive to create green options. This comprehensive title explores traditional energy sources and their impacts, alternative fuels, and mass transit issues as cities move toward more sustainable solutions.

  • Vehicles contribute to climate change, but what else affects the climate. Let students explore the causes of global warming on this site: https://eo.ucar.edu/kids/green/warming5.htm
  • Have students create a train development timeline, listing the fuels used by different trains throughout history and how they affect the environment.
  • Ask students to imagine transportation of the future and have them design a plane, train, ship, or car that runs on clean fuel that does not harm the environment. Have them describe what this fuel is and how it makes their futuristic vehicle run.

 

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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. Her award-winning and star-reviewed books have been named a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, a 2015 Book of Note from the TriState Review Committee, a 2011 Editor’s Choice for School Library Connection, and Junior Library Guild selections. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can.