STEM Tuesday — Let’s Explore Botany!– Writing Craft and Resources



When I first applied and joined up with the STEM Tuesday team, there was one general subject I secretly wanted to avoid at all cost. A subject which is one of my weakest scientific areas. Botany.

It’s not that I am a complete putz when it comes to botanicals. I cultivate a vegetable garden every year. I enjoy both the gardening process and reaping the benefits of the garden’s production. My paternal grandfather taught us grandkids how to plant petunias in my mother’s flowerbeds not long after we were out of diapers. My maternal grandfather kept a big, spacious garden where he grew tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, horseradish, and all things which could be made into spicy canned deliciousness.

I must confess, however, when it comes to the study of plants, I fall short. I can spend hours studying an animal cell or bacteria or a virus. A plant cell? Not so much. I can make a pretty solid salsa out of the tomatoes, peppers, and onions from my garden; yet can tell you very little about the seed anatomy, the root system, the physiology, or the leaf structure of that tomato plant.

With my relative ignorance out in the open, what can I offer to the STEM Tuesday Botany Craft & Resource game this month?

I can ask a simple question that lies at the core of an inquiring STEM mind:

How can I learn more about _______?  (Which, in this case, is botany.)

I can suggest doing what STEM thinkers have done for centuries and go to work.

  • Observe. “Hey, that thing is pretty awesome.” 
  • Ask why. “Why is that thing as awesome as it is?”
  • Research. “I need to find out what makes that thing awesome.”
  • Go where your interests take you. “This thing is like that thing and it’s also awesome.”
  • Dig deep into those directions that interest you. “Whoa! This thing and that thing are both are part of something bigger.”
  • Be open and willing to learn. 
  • Be willing to do the work to learn.

I cleaned the remaining vegetables off all the plants in my garden this past weekend in front of an early frost and snow shower. The plants were pulled and thrown into the compost pile and the last containers of homemade salsa and pasta sauce were canned and now sit in the pantry. Gardening season 2018 has come to an end. But the learning is just beginning for the gardener. Time to hit the STEM Tuesday Botany book list and see where my plant learning journey takes me over the winter.

As my wife, who teaches first grade, often reminds her rock-headed husband, we are never too old to learn something new.

Finally, never forget that life viewed through the lens of an inquiring STEM mind is a much richer life.

Keep asking questions!

Keep learning!

STEM rocks!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his essays will be included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books release later this month. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field files this month focuses on the fun side of botany in an attempt to make up for my shortcomings on the subject as outlined in the above post. And if you find yourself hungry at the end of chasing the links, the final link can easily take care of your appetite, one way or the other.





STEM Tuesday — Let’s Explore Botany!– In the Classroom

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

STEM TUESDAY: Let’s Explore Botany – In the Classroom

Note to all: This STEM Tuesday In the Classroom, we welcome Jodi Wheeler-Toppen as our newest blogger. As her “In the Classroom” collaborator, I think you’ll just love what Jodi has to offer. Author of STEM books for kids and educational books for teachers, this dynamo has lots to share. Welcome, Jodi!

                                                                     –Carolyn DeCristofano

Botanical Bellringers

I took a botany course in college. I planned to get it out of the way so I could move on to the more interesting parts of getting a biology major. Instead, I had an excellent professor who threw open the treasure chest of plant knowledge for me (and, incidentally, got me started on science writing). A maxim among children’s writers is “plant books don’t sell.” I want to change this to “Plant books don’t sell themselves.” With the right introduction, kids can be drawn into reading a book with cover-full of plants.

The books on this month’s list aren’t as likely to be used as a whole-class read, so I propose having them in the classroom library and using bellringers (warm-up questions/ do-nows/ or whatever you like to call the questions that teachers have students do as they enter the classroom) to engage students in the topics. After the bellringer, you can show students the book and encourage them to take a look at it later.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBotanicum: This is a wonderful book for browsing and might draw artsy students into the topic. It illustrates the breadth of the plant world. This bellringer helps students think about the domestication of crops.

Display plants 1-5 on page 66. Ask: Make a prediction. How might plants 1 and 2 be related? How about plants 3, 4, and 5?

When you are ready to discuss the bellringer, display the first two paragraphs of text on the page, which describe the wild plant that was domesticated to become corn and the two plants that were crossed to create the wheat we eat today.

It's a Fungus Among Us: The Good, the Bad & the Downright ScaryIt’s a Fungus Among Us: Students will pick this one up because of the engaging photographs. It also has “test it out” experiments. I particularly liked one on p. 15 that gave students ideas for gathering data on whether lichen could serve as a compass. This bellringer works on visual literacy and plant/ fungi interactions.

Display the text and diagram for “Plant Partners” on p. 26. Ask: This diagram and text work together to give you information. What do you learn from the words that you don’t get from the picture? What information is in the picture that you don’t get from the words?

When you are ready to discuss, point out to students that pictures and text often have different information, and it is valuable in science to spend time with each. Never just skip over the diagrams! (Students often ignore diagrams and charts in their science books, and visual literacy is as important as text literacy in academic reading.)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Story of Seeds: This is a book that students are less likely to pick up on their own, but it covers an important topic and could become an area of interest if students are exposed to the ideas. For this bellringer, collect some photos of interesting heritage vegetables. Seed Savers is a great source for these. You might consider Dragon Carrots, Old Timey Blue Collards, Watermelon Radish, and Calypso Beans.

Display the images. Ask: Try to identify each of these vegetables. Have you ever eaten anything similar?

When you are ready to discuss, talk about the value of heritage seeds. It’s not just fun to have different foods to eat, but it also helps us have a variety of genes to help breed plants for new environmental challenges. Encourage them to read The Story of Seeds to find out more.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgChampion: I recommend this one especially for students who live in the area where chestnut trees used to grow. Many students don’t know that plants can catch diseases, and this book can bring that idea home.

Display this photo. (It is also in the book.) Ask: Would you like to have a tree this big in the school yard? Why or why not? Where do you think this tree lives?

When you are ready to discuss, explain that the picture is of the American Chestnut. Ask students for their guesses of where it lives. Tell them you have a map of the range of the Chestnut tree and display the map on p. 16 (A similar map can be found here.) Have them find where you live on the map and imagine that 100 years ago, they could have gone outside and seen one of these trees. Point them to the book to find out about the disease that killed this tree, where survivors still exist, and the hunt for a way to bring the American chestnut back.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBonus–Poison: You won’t have any trouble getting students to pick this one up to browse. It covers a wide variety of science (and history) topics. I recommend it particularly for physical science/chemistry, however, as a fun take on not-so-fun elements.

Display the “Tox Box” for Lead (p. 23), Radium (p. 126), Mercury (p. 15), or Arsenic (p. 13). Ask: Before the scientists could use chemistry to figure out if someone had been poisoned, people were often thought to have died of disease instead of poison. Read this description and propose some diseases or conditions that people might have gotten confused with this poison.

When you are ready to discuss, don’t tell them if they are right or wrong. Insist that they read the book to find out! And next time students ask when they are “ever going to use this stuff,” remind them that the ability to use chemistry to detect poisons is the reason that poisoning has fallen out of favor!

Do you have other bellringers you like to use when teaching plants? Tell us about them in the comments!

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. She loves plants but seems to have a brown thumb.

STEM Tuesday — Let’s Explore Botany!– Book List

This month is all about books that focus on the subject of botany, or plant science. These titles highlight all sorts of plants, from tall trees to tiny seeds. There are stories of preservation and tales of how plants have been used medicinally. There are books that focus on entire forest communities. Plants provide us with food, shade, oxygen, and so much more. This autumn is the perfect time to take one of these titles outside, sit underneath your favorite tree, and read.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally Walker

The iconic American chestnut tree has a fascinating history. It’s hard to believe we almost lost it for good. Sally Walker tells the tale in this informative and engaging volume that bridges history and science.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth by Anita Silvey

If you love stories of adventure and science this book is a must-read. Anita Silvey introduces readers to the intrepid explorers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who contributed immensely to science, medicine, and agriculture.


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

This book investigates the role that poisons have played in history. It includes stories about the use of toxic plants throughout history.



Firebirds cover

Firebirds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed Collard III

In a period of increasingly more frequent wildfires, Sneed Collard delves into the relationship between natural forest fires and wildlife communities in these burned areas.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Botanicum: Welcome to the Museum by Kathy Willis and Katie Scott

This exquisitely illustrated oversized book depicts all types of plant life and includes cross-sections of how plants work. It is a perfect addition to any botany bookshelf.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest by Robert Burleigh

There are many books about our beloved sweet. Try reading this one if you haven’t already. A great blend of history and science.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around the World by Nancy F. Castaldo

By no means a gardening book, this title explores the state of our agriculture system and the loss of seed diversity. It is a great title to accompany school garden programs.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Prairie Builders: Rebuilding America’s Lost Grasslands by Sneed Collard III

This Scientist in the Field title focuses on regenerating an important area of America and its biodiversity. A great book for ecosystem units.



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1st Place —  Receives 5 autographed STEM Books from our STEM Tuesday team + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift card

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3rd Place—   Receives 2 autographed STEM Books from our STEM Tuesday team  +$10 Barnes & Noble Gift card


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, 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 and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor Award for Sea Otter Heroes 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. New in 2018:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at