Climate Change/Earth Science

STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– Interview with Sneed Collard

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

Today we’re interviewing Sneed Collard, author of HOPPING AHEAD OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival. The book follows scientists as they study snowshoe hares and other animals that change their coat colors each winter as they adapt to shorter winters brought on by climate change.

Mary Kay Carson: How did Hopping Ahead of Climate Change come about? 

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival was named a Junior Library Guild selection.

Sneed Collard: This book actually has an instructive background in patience and timing. I first got a contract for this book for Houghton Mifflin’s well-known “Scientists in the Field” series, and planned to travel to Bhutan to follow Scott Mills and other scientists as they studied animals that changed their coat colors every year. The year was 2008, the dawn of the Great Recession, and unfortunately I was unable to get the permissions I needed to travel and work in Bhutan so the entire project just fell apart. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because Professor Mills was just beginning his work on coat-color-changing animals and I really wouldn’t have had much to say about his work at the time.

Around 2014, however, I happened to run into Prof. Mills again and asked him what he’d been working on. He enthusiastically shared results of his recent research looking at the impacts of climate change on snowshoe hares, and I thought, “Oh, well now is the time to write this book.” By this time, I’d also started my own publishing company, Bucking Horse Books, and I thought, “Rather than go through the multi-year process of trying to get a contract for this book, I am just going to write and publish it myself.” It was one of the best moves that I’ve made.

MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment? 

Sneed: One of the really fun things about this project was the opportunity to go into the field in Montana with Prof. Mills and visit his research laboratories, then located at North Carolina State in Raleigh. During several trips, I had the opportunity to watch Prof. Mills track radio-collared snowshoe hares as well as take blood samples and tag them. On my last visit with him, we headed into the woods near Seeley Lake, Montana. Scott had set out cages the night before and we hit the jackpot, capturing a number of snowshoe hares. One of the last was a young hare, or leveret. Scott coaxed the leveret into a burlap sack while he took a blood sample and tagged it. Then, I stood a few yards away ready to take a photo as he released the hare back into the wild.

“He’s going to go fast,” Scott warned. When he opened the sack, though, the hare didn’t run away. Instead, it just sat in Dr. Mills’ lap for about twenty seconds. Then, it hopped toward me and posed for another twenty seconds while I fired photo after photo.

“Wow,” Scott said. “They never do that. I think it was doing that just for you.” One of those photos, by the way, ended up on the title page and page 54 of the book.

Sneed B. Collard III has written more than eighty award-winning nonfiction and fiction books for young people including Woodpeckers—Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs; One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution, and his newest picture book Birds of Every Color. In 2006, Sneed was awarded the prestigious Washington Post-Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award for his body of work. Learn more about Sneed at his website

MKC: What are you working on now

Sneed: So a passion I have shared with my sixteen-year-old son, Braden, for the past five years is birds. (Follow their birding blog at I am constantly thinking about bird diversity and biology, and the survival issues faced by many birds. This has resulted in a number of recent books including Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, Woodpeckers—Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs, and my newest picture book title, Birds of Every Color, which features photos by both Braden and myself. To study birds, scientists and ordinary citizens spend a huge amount of time counting birds and it was suggested to me that this might make a good topic for a book. Braden and I started our research by participating in recent Christmas Bird Counts in our area, but I also plan to participate in a variety of other bird-counting programs held in various places and at various times of the year. It’s one of those books where I probably won’t know exactly where it’s heading until I’ve completed my research, but I think it will turn into an engaging series of stories about birds and bird studies.

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Sneed: Science has been a part of my life since my earliest memories. Both of my parents were biologists, and I vividly remember going out catching crickets with my mom or digging through tidepools with my dad while they were still students at U.C. Santa Barbara. I must have gotten the gene because I didn’t hesitate to declare a marine biology major at U.C. Berkeley before going on for a master’s in scientific instrumentation at U.C.S.B. I realized, though, that there were probably enough scientists to save the world. The bigger problem was the immense gulf between what scientists know and what the general public—including politicians—understand. I think it was this gap that helped push me into a writing career.

Win a FREE copy of Hopping Ahead of Climate Change!

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!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– Writing Tips & Resources

The Right Words

There’s a Neil Gaiman quote which is popular around the writing circles.

“Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

Find the right word.

And then the next.

And then the next…

That’s where the “magic” of writing comes in, right? Wrong. That’s where the work of writing comes in.

Hard work is the magic.

In nonfiction, finding the right words are just as important as it is in fiction. And in STEM nonfiction, the importance and value of the précise and correct word rises exponentially. The right word can make or break the credibility of the piece. The wrong word can create confusion, misinformation, and spread inaccuracies.

The right word matters.

This month’s topic is Climate Change/Earth Science. While planning the Writing Tips & Resources post this month, I originally planned an optimistic post on the potential solutions to our environmental issues blossoming in some of our young minds. Kids working toward and demanding changes in their institutions and local environments. It’s promising.

But then I heard something last week that made me shelf the original touch-feely post. It was an unfortunate reminder of how important the right words are. One prominent politician making fun of another prominent politician with the classic jab of “global warming? (laugh, laugh, laugh)” as the second politician made a campaign announcement backdropped by snow and cold weather.

Global Warming

One of the most prominent choices of words gone astray has to be “global warming”. The fight against climate change would have been a whole lot better off if “global warming” was never introduced as the lead terminology. What’s hard now to get many to understand is that small changes, like the atmospheric warming over the Earth poles caused by a stark increase in CO2 build up, can cause big problems to the entire system.

The Earth is a system. Changes in portions of a system can resonate throughout the entire system. This is the so-called Butterfly Effect associated with chaos theory (which also suffered from a poor choice of words (A butterfly flaps its wings…) in early explanations of chaos theory). In the system then, even a relatively small increase in temperature can change the weather patterns thousands of miles away. It’s HARD to get people to accept this when they keep reverting to “global warming” mode while they’re standing knee-deep in record snowfall.

Save the Planet

Another problematic choice of words I feel has held back the efforts to promote and advance earth science is, “Save the Planet”. Barring catastrophic internal of external events, the planet will survive humans. Earth will be fine. It may look and act completely different, but it’ll still be here.

What we need to do is reframe the environmental argument in terms of saving ourselves and the flora & fauna currently inhabiting this planet. Reframe environmentalism in terms of long-term economic viability and make it something of value to everyone.

The Right Word

Words are powerful. They carry weight. The right word can forward a way of thought or a new idea while the wrong word can sink the ship before it leaves port. Choose words wisely. Find the right word with the best fit. Make it work for you and work for your ideas.

The world of STEM will appreciate your efforts.

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 at and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. 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 (O.O.L.F.) Files this month takes a look at earth science, climate science, and some ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Here are a couple of information packed sites from some heavy hitters on the climate front:

I found this article and Tweeted it out to my fellow STEM Tuesday team member, Patricia Newman, thinking she’d enjoy the article on laboratories working to reduce single-use plastics because of her fantastic book, PLASTICS AHOY!

She liked it but one-upped me by Tweeting me this article about the potential use of plastic bags in cellphones.

Geodesy – I’ve been researching geodesy as a side topic to a story about satellite navigation I’m working on. It’s fascinating science!

(Geodesy definition and information from GIM International, “the independent and high-quality information online source for everything the global geomatics industry has to offer: news, articles, vacancies, company profiles, educators and an event calendar.

And if you just can’t get enough geodesy in your current life, here is a PDF from N.O.A.A.  of the 1985 reprint,



STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– In the Classroom

Tough Texts

As I discussed in last week’s In the Classroom blog, science text is tough because it is often dense–there are lots of ideas crammed into just a few sentences. Students often think of reading as an all-or-nothing proposition: either they read through and get it (success!) or they read through and didn’t (failure!). Academic text is more complicated than that. Just as they couldn’t unzip a duffle bag and instantly perceive everything inside, they won’t be able to understand most academic texts on the first read-through. They have to be like the guards at the stadium and unpack (or at least riffle through) the things inside the duffel bag.

In this month’s blog, I am going to walk through a set of unpacking tools that readers might use to work through a passage from Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass by Mary Kay Carson.

Before using this passage with your class, you should do a quick book-talk, explaining that the Biosphere 2 is a gigantic (multi-acre!) laboratory that reproduces several earth biomes in ways that allow scientists to control environmental variables such as the temperature, rainfall, wind, and the organisms present. One of the biomes is a tropical rainforest. Joost van Haren studies this biome.

Then present them with this passage from pages 24-25.

Highlight these strategies as you work through the passage with your students:


Focus in on this sentence:

Coal, petroleum, and natural gas were once plants and animals full of carbon, like all living things.

There are actually three ideas in this sentence, that I have marked with slash marks (/) below.

Coal, petroleum, and natural gas were once plants and animals / full of carbon, / like all living things.

If your students are familiar with all three ideas, the sentence will be easy to read. But if some of these ideas are new, they may need to linger on them a moment, and think through what is being said and how it relates to their prior knowledge about fossil fuels.

This strategy is called chunking. Students tend to pause and think at points predetermined by the author: at commas, periods, or the ends of paragraphs. Sometimes, a reader needs to slow down and process smaller chunks of text. As Ruth Schoenbach explains in Reading for Understanding, nobody eats a pizza in one bite. Everyone has to break the pizza down, bit by bit, but different people take different sized bites.

Sketching/ Diagramming

This passage offers a whole series of causes and effects, a cascade of consequences. A quick sketch of the relationships between ideas could help keep them straight. This was my sketch through the text:

Look for surrounding supports

Many science ideas are easier to understand in diagram form, so when you encounter tough text, check surrounding pages for a diagram or illustration. In this case, some of the information in this paragraph is summarized in a diagram of a tree interacting with the environment on page 24.

Build your background

Sometimes, tough text is tough because the writer of the text assumes you already know something that you don’t already know. If you’ve tried to unpack the text, and its still tough, you may need to step back a level–not a “reading level” so much as a “knowledge level.” Read someone else’s account of the ideas, especially one aimed at a less knowledgeable audience, and see if that gives you the background for the more sophisticated text. Another book off this week’s list addressed some of these ideas in simpler form. Show students this passage from page 5 in Out of the Ice by Claire Eamer.

What information does this paragraph contribute to their understanding?

Skip it

Let students know that sometimes, its ok to just skip past a section of tough text! This can feel very freeing for struggling readers. It depends on your purpose for reading–I chose this passage because it gets at an important idea for Earth Science. But what if you are reading this because you want an overview of Biosphere 2? Or you are planning to visit, and want to know what to expect? Or you’re looking for an idea for a science project? You might not need to understand this particular section of text. In this particular book, there is a wealth of interesting information. You could skip this paragraph and still glean all kinds of great ideas from the book. Indeed, it may be that reading further clarifies this set of ideas for you.

(And as a side note make sure your students know that it can be ok to blame the author. Sometimes, text is tough because it is not well-written (not the case here, but sometimes)! Struggling readers tend to assume that reading struggles are all their fault. But many times, the fault lies with writer for not expressing ideas clearly.)

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. Visit for more information on her books and staff development offerings.