STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday gift recommendation– Buy STEM/STEAM books for the holidays!

 

Happy Holidays!!

It’s that time of year where people scramble to find gifts. We, at STEM Tuesday, recommend you give the gift of CURIOSITY. DISCOVERY. ADVENTURE… Buy a STEM/STEAM book for someone! Not only will you be opening a child’s eyes to the wonder of the world around them, you’ll also be supporting a STEM author, too. 

But what topic? And where do I find a great book? While your first thought might be to look at award lists (which also start to come out this time of year),  we recommend that you look further than that. The award books are great, but there are also plenty of other STEM/STEAM books out there that don’t win awards. So look widely and take a gander at our monthly book lists. They are chock-full of great titles!

author christine Taylor-butler

Our own Christine Taylor-Butler did a post on where to find great STEM books and how to support STEM authors last year. Since it’s very pertinent to today, I’m re-posting it here. (Thanks, Christine!)

Over the past two years authors I interviewed for STEM Tuesday have taught me about spider silk made from genetically modified goats, women who were denied a spot in the astronaut program despite performing better than their male counterparts, and implicit bias in archeology that may skew what we know about ancient civilizations. One author/illustrator judged an MIT contest showcasing implausible scientific ideas. Another learned to dive with a photographer in order to better understand the nature of ocean conservation. And while the world knows about the women showcased in Hidden Figures, one author published a book about fifty additional African American women whose STEM contributions changed the world.

If I were to ask you to name the above authors, would you be able to do it without looking at my interviews? That’s my concern in a nutshell. A select few of these authors have been recognized with awards, but most have not. Nonfiction is a staple for helping young readers develop executive functioning and learn more about the world around them, but the authors are not often celebrated in proportion to their contributions to children’s literature. Even with awards, most authors are still struggling to become household names let alone achieve financial stability.

Writing STEM is hard. The research often rivals an academic research paper. Many of us write for magazines, textbooks, trade publishers and educational publishers. What is often true is that authors need to log a lot of hours in the library, speaking to experts and researching in the field to determine how to best present the subject matter in a way a student can understand. In a sense, we have to do a deep dive to understand the material before we can explain it coherently to someone else. Unique to children’s publishing there are additional rules to follow. There’s an art to working within those constraints. I’ve been asked to do planet books of 4,000 words for upper elementary students and recast those same facts for a beginner readers using only 300 words. It’s not just the word count but the choice of words. For instance, with younger students we have to be mindful about sentence length, how many multisyllabic words in a sentence, and words common for that reading level and Lexile range.

After the books are printed and in circulation, awards are tricky. For every author that receives recognition, there are many equally skilled authors that don’t. And remember, the industry celebrates winners, not runners up. A different committee, on a different day, might have picked a different book entirely from the same pile. I know, because I’ve been on a number of awards committees. There are epic battles and painstaking discussions before a consensus is reached.  I’ve also noticed that the attention paid to award winning fiction authors is sustained much longer than for nonfiction authors. Those awards often translate into more work for fiction authors and higher compensation but not necessarily for their nonfiction counterparts.

I’ve been luckier than most of my peers in this respect. I’ve published more than 90 books for children and have more under contract. So I wanted to raise my voice to challenge the readers of this blog to change the nature of the game. The industry pays attention to where the money is flowing. Publishing pays attention to social media chatter and reviews. You can help my STEM peers by doing the following.

Once a month:

  1. Check out a book (or two) from the library. If you need a place to start, we have great recommendations on our STEM Tuesday site. Books that are checked out stay in circulation longer.
  2. If you’re in a school district, consider adding a book to the school library or classroom. I know budgets are small, but even one book is a boon for that author.
  3. Write a review. It only takes five minutes. Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble.
  4. Give a shout out to an author whose work you admire. Try to pick someone who isn’t getting a lot of marketing support from publishers. The ones the awards committees didn’t announce. I’m all for boosting underdogs. That shout-out will make an author’s day.
  5. Buy a STEM book as a gift for the holidays! 

 

Win a FREE copy of the book of your choice from me, Jennifer Swanson.

It’s the holiday season so let’s do something positive to end 2022.

This month, instead of us telling you what we found fascinating…this time you tell us.

What nonfiction book have you loved?

What’s next on your wish list?

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!

 

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Jennifer Swanson, author
Jennifer Swanson dreams of one day running away to the Museum of Science and Industry- then maybe she could look at all the exhibits and try out all the gadgets without competing for them with her kids. An author of fifty nonfiction science books for kids, Jennifer’s goal is to show kids that Science Rocks! She lives in sunny Florida with her husband and Great Pyrenees dog, Sasha. When not writing she’s on the hunt for fun science facts. www.jenniferswansonbooks.com

STEM Tuesday– The Science of Art– Author Interview with Karen Latchana Kenney

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

Today we’re interviewing Karen Latchana Kenney, author of FOLDING TECH: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology. Booklist says, “From folded cranes to collapsible solar sails, this offering provides an enticing look at a unique STEAM crossover.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Folding Tech?

Karen Latchana Kenney: My editor Domenica DiPiazza at Lerner Publishing approached me with this topic after watching the PBS documentary The Origami Revolution. I loved the idea of connecting art with technology and wanted to expand it even more. I had questions—what other influences could help engineers find new folding techniques? And why is folding technology so important—what is it used for?

I found that folding technology is important in space, due to the spatial and weight restrictions necessary for rockets to reach Earth’s escape velocity. So, to get large solar arrays needed to power telescopes into space, they had to be able to fold up compactly within a rocket’s body and then unfold efficiently (without direct human assistance) when in space. Another area where folding is important is inside the human body, where it is useful to have compact tools enter small wounds and then expand inside the body. Smaller wounds are not only more aesthetically desired, but they decrease healing time and possibilities for infections.

Folding Tech covers not only where folding technology is needed in our lives, but also the artistic and natural inspiration for new folding techniques and the mathematics behind different kinds of folds. I spoke with and researched mathematicians (like Tom Hull, professor at Western New England University), professional origamists (including Robert J. Lang, who’s worked on a foldable space telescope lens), software engineers, and entomologists. I also included folding activities for kids to try, such as the natural folding patterns created through a force folding technique developed by Biruta Kresling. It was especially fun to connect these ideas with developing technology, like deep-sea collection tools inspired by origami.

MKC: Anything special about the book you’d like us to know?

Karen: I really like the interactive nature of this book, with origami folding exercises to try and Lerner’s AR app. The app brings images to life, like NASA’s InSight Mars lander image in Chapter 5. It shows how the lander’s solar arrays unfold from their compact shape. It’s really cool!

MKC: Care to share a favorite research discovery from Folding Tech?

Karen: One of the most fascinating bits of research I found was related to the folding mechanisms of insect wings, particularly the study of ladybug wings. Beetles have these delicate and large wings compactly folded underneath hard elytra, which rapidly unfold (in less than 1/10th of a second!) when they want to take flight and escape predators. Because they are hidden under elytra, it was difficult to study their folded shapes and the ways they unfolded and then folded back again. The scientists could not take high-speed photographs or videos of the unfolding process.

source: Saito et al. (2017)

The solution came from someone not involved with the research—a secretary working with the researchers. She proposed replacing an elytron with a prosthetic made from UV-cured clear resin (commonly used in nail art). It worked, and the researchers were able to see and record how the wing unfolded and folded back again! They found that the wings’ veins stored energy like a spring when folded. That’s how the wings popped out so quickly to unfold. I love how a surprising idea from an unexpected source was key to solving this mystery. Here’s a diagram from the study that shows how ladybugs fold their wings.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Karen Latchana Kenney’s 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. Visit her website or follow @KLatchanaKenney.

Karen: I love the curiosity and wonder inherent in working with STEM topics—the initial moment when scientists find the question they want to answer, the methodical experimentation and documentation they undergo to find clues to the mystery they want to solve, the collaboration across multiple disciplines needed to fully understand a problem, and often the surprising accidental discoveries scientists make when trying to find their answers.

Part of my interest in STEM is simply that I enjoy learning more about science and the natural world and writing about these topics helps me learn about unusual discoveries and scientific connections. I like seeing how concepts connect across multiple contexts—like the way ancient arts can influence space technology. Another big part of my interest in writing about STEM topics is my desire to promote respect and awe for the wonders of our world. I hope that my books will help kids have more respect for the environment and see what may have become mundane in the natural world in a new and exciting light. I hope these kinds of books initiate new questions that need to be solved by our future scientists.

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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of The River that Wolves Moved, Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– The Science of Art– Writing Tips and Resources

Quantities and Questions

The Science of Fashion book cover

Me, I like to analyze things. Pick them apart and put them back together again. And I’m not just talking about breaking into an old blender to see how it works. When I’m looking at a piece of writing, I do it too.

Literary analysis usually comes in the form of studying symbolism, figurative language, etc. But what if we go past the words and dive into some numbers? How can we quantify a piece of writing? And what might we learn from that?

 

Cool Paper Folding book cover

Counting Counts!

  1. Grab a book from this month’s theme list, flip open to any random 2-page spread and start counting.
  2. Start simple. How many paragraphs? Here’s what I found:
  • Folding Tech 6.5
  • Cool Paper Folding 3
  • The Science of Fashion 5

This simple activity brought up questions: Is each speech bubble considered a paragraph? What about each bullet point? Within each book, how consistent is this number from spread to spread? Comparing books, why might the number of paragraphs vary so much? What factors are involved in paragraph length?

And that might lead to another level of counting: How many sentences per paragraph?

  • Folding Tech 4
  • Cool Paper Folding 2
  • The Science of Fashion 3

Of course, that led to more questions: What’s the average on one spread? How much does it vary from spread to spread? From book to book? What factors might an author consider when making decisions (consciously or subconsciously) about where to break for another paragraph?

Folding Tech book coverThis analysis might lead us to dive even deeper: How many words per sentence?

Which might then lead us to: How many letters per word?

For the most authentic inquiry, I find that it is best to begin this analysis manually, but once a writer become curious about patterns across a book or between multiple books, the counting can become laborious. Time for some tools!

Check out your word processing program. I’ll bet you’ll find a word count feature and more. Snag a bit of text from a book and put that tech to work!

Compare that text to a similar portion from one of your own pieces of writing. In what ways are the quantities similar? Different? In what ways are the intended audiences similar? Different?

Visualize it!

As I was performing my analyses, I noticed that both Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology and The Science of Fashion (Inquire Investigate) used another really cool tool that can be used for analysis: word clouds! I love the way these turn data into visuals.

Word cloud

  1. Find a word cloud generator online. Lots of options at https://coolinfographics.com/word-clouds Here’s one of this blog post.
  2. Create a word cloud in the shape of the topic of the text.
  3. What other fun ways can you analyze and visualize your writing?

Quantities and questions can lead to an entire realm of learning about writing. Try it yourself!

 


When not analyzing words written by others, Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals! Snag some text from her recent Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other to see what you can see! Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com