Engineering

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer–Interview with Author Heather L. Montgomery

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files 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 Heather L. Montgomery, author of SOMETHING ROTTEN: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, a recently-released book that’s stacking up starred reviews. School Library Journal says, “With wry humor, gory detail, and great enthusiasm, . . . this book is not for the faint of heart, but be prepared to laugh along the way and to learn a lot. . . Sure to be a hit among students. A top addition to STEM collections.”

Click the cover for additional information about the book, including research photos and a link to submit your own roadkill stories. www.heatherlmontgomery.com/something-rotten.html

 

 

 

Mary Kay Carson: Why did you write Something Rotten?

Heather L. Montgomery: One day, when I was procrastinating writing a book about rattlesnakes, I went for a run. On my little country lane I came across a rattler who had lost his life to a tire. I had some questions, so I picked him up. No, you probably shouldn’t do that, but I did. And I spent the rest of the day learning from that marvelous guy, his fold-able fangs, his snorkel for when his mouth is crammed full of bunny, his non-existent lung!?! This was research at its best. And then I wondered: who else uses roadkill…

MKC: Care to share a memorable research moment?

Heather: Just about everything about this book has become a favorite moment. From plunging my hands into roadkill compost to talking to a kid who re-builds animal skeletons from roadkill, this research rocked. Another beautiful thing is that the research process became the book.

This might be my favorite part of it all: I had the opportunity to share with readers how questions drove me to slice open a skunk, how one sentence dropped in an interview lead me across the country to meet 400 roadkill professionals, how trusting inquiry carried me right down the road to jaw-dropping discoveries — can you say “contagious cancer”!?!   This book proved it: Inquiry is my life!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. The weirder, the wackier, the better. An award-winning science educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. During school presentations, petrified animal parts and tree guts inspire reluctant readers and writers. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

MKC: Why do you write STEM books?

Heather: Um, Inquiry is my life. Once, I tried to kick the habit of asking questions. It made me sick. I do have a B.S. in biology, an M.S. in environmental education, and over 20 years’ experience teaching about nature, but really it’s just that writing, researching, and teaching about science is who I am at my core.

MKC: The book’s unique first-person voice and the clever use of footnotes are courageous style choices. Who was your audience when writing the book? 

Heather: For years at school visits or educator conferences I talked about dissecting that road-killed rattlesnake. Those audiences showed me the power of story. They taught me to play a game, balancing information and story. And, they laughed with me (this quirky lady asking oddball questions), not at me. Those audiences gave me the confidence to write the way I speak. That was a gift. I began to see that readers would follow me down this road, this rollercoaster of research. Thank you listeners, for showing me how to write this book.

MKC: Any suggested titles for fans of Something Rotten?

Heather: Any of the phenomenal nonfiction by authors Sy Montgomery, Sarah Albee, or Georgia Bragg. Page-turning fiction such as: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali BenjaminAdult readers might like books by Mary Roach. She showed me how to share my quest for information.

Win a FREE copy of SOMETHING ROTTEN: A Fresh Look at Roadkill!

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 this week is fellow skull collector Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer — Writing Craft and Resources

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

Peeking in

This month we have been challenged to peek into the mind of scientists and engineers. How do we do that? It seems like such a scary proposition. How could we approach those aloof academics squirreled away in hermetically sealed laboratories, thinking about nothing else but their hypothesis?

Ummm. . .

#Fieldworkfails will give you a whole new perspective on those stuffy scientists. These are everyday folks making everyday mistakes. One researcher accidently glued herself to a crocodile, a field team had baboons steal their last role of toilet paper and string it up in trees, another group managed to get a drugged zebra’s neck stuck in the fork of tree.

This is peeking in!

And guess what – STEM Professionals are eager to share. In fact, many are almost shouting, jumping up and down, waving stadium-sized banners: “COME LEARN FROM US!”

There’s this growing field, science communication, and more and more practicing scientists are themselves becoming all about some SciComm. Go ahead, check out #Fieldwork or #SciComm or one of the bajillion other cool places these STEM nerds are sharing.

As a writer, I’m just as likely as the rest of the world to see scientists – especially those I adore – as remote individuals who don’t have the time for me. Once, I was in awe of this scientist – she gets to dive with manatees for her research – so I put off contacting her for months. When I finally did reach out, she invited me to join her next research trip to Belize! But the trip was in two weeks. I couldn’t get organized that quickly. I missed the opportunity of a lifetime because I had been nervous about contacting her.

Don’t miss out. Don’t let your students miss out.

Do reach out to the STEM community

But first, be prepared.

  1. Visit the scientist’s website. If they have videos, articles in popular magazines, or active social media accounts, they are eager to engage.
  2. Read about the research the scientist is conducting.
  3. Generate a list of your questions and then prioritize those questions.
  4. Contact the individual (I use email), letting them know:
    1. your purpose
    2. how you prepared for talking with them
    3. what exactly you are seeking (a phone interview, answers via email, a video chat)
    4. why you are seeking them out as opposed to another researcher.

Then, once you’ve made contact, let the questions begin. Do let the professional share in a way that is comfortable to them. Some prefer lots of questions; others love to tell stories. Have fun with them and don’t forget to send a thank-you.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Peek Into the Past

But don’t think this peeking in is limited to living folks. Books on this month’s reading list give you prime opportunities to wander around in the world of geniuses such as Charles Darwin. Take a look at Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, by Deborah Heiligman. You’ll get a look into the inner workings of his mind:

  • Reading Charles’s list of marriage pros and cons
  • Seeing that after years of work he worried that “all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed,”
  • Watching him grapple with a child’s death and the realization that natural selection was playing out in his own life.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFiction can show us the inner scientific mind as well. Consider The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.  Young Callie Vee posts questions in her notebook, “What shapes the clouds?” She observes a weather vane and documents her ideas. She builds an anemometer, and just like the contributors to #FieldworkFails, she discovers that STEM endeavors aren’t always easy. Her great anemometer blew apart. Fortunately for Callie Vee, she has a mentor eager to share the thrill of design, but wise enough to let her learn through failure.

I encourage you – students, writers, educators – STEM lovers reach out and peek in!

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction author Heather L. Montgomery peeks into the lives of scientists in her recent book Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill. A scientist who pulls parasites from snake lungs? A kid who rebuilds animal bodies bone-by-bone, a researcher who finds contagious cancer? Don’t you want to know how those folks think? Heather also peeks directly into roadkill herself. Dissecting a rattler, skinning a fox, her hands stay busy discovering answers to questions her brain keeps pumping out.  

 

 

O.O.L.F (Out of Left Field)

How can students connect with STEM professionals? Here are some good opportunities:

Before they were scientists is an interview series that asks scientists what they were like in middle school.

Skype-a-Scientist matches scientists with classrooms for 30-minute Q & A sessions.

Melissa Stewart’s “Dig Deep” series looks at the inner lives of nonfiction writers who often write on STEM topics.

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer–In The Classroom

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

This month’s book list offers fascinating stories about the lives and learning of scientists, famous and not-so-much, real and fictional.

That said, here and there, you may find content you want to be prepared to address, so be sure to read the books before you bring them into the classroom experience. That should prove no burden, as the books offer a lot of food for thought, richly textured profiles, and insights into STEM fields.

This month’s suggested activities fall into two categories: Getting to Know the Characters and Book-Specific Extensions.

Getting to Know the Characters

Chart Traits. Keep a running wall chart to track the characteristics and life experiences of the real scientists in these books—for example, Charles Darwin, Sylvia Acevedo, Irene Curie, and Lise Meitner—as well as Calpurnia in the novel. Different students can read different books. Complete the chart as students independently make their way through the reading. In the first column, list the scientists; dedicate each additional column to a trait or descriptor, each suggested by students based on “their” scientists. These traits might include: “intensely curious,” “passionate about science,” “imaginative,” “ambitious/has dreams or goals.” Students can place post-its with brief notes that illustrate when they see that a specific scientist demonstrates a given trait.  Use these notes as a basis for exploring similarities and differences among scientists, and for reflection.

After students complete the books and the chart, consider setting up small group discussions of follow-up questions, such as:

  • Which traits do you see as helpful and/or counterproductive to the scientists in their professional lives? … To their personal lives? Do you think there are examples of any one trait being be both helpful and counterproductive for any of the scientists?
  • Complete these sentence : “I share [trait] with … [scientist(s]. For example, I…[story from life to illustrate similarity].” “Something I don’t quite connect to with …[scientist] is…”
  • A life lesson I learned from each character is…
  • Out of all of these scientists’ interests, the ones I strongly share are: ….
  • How do the social norms and circumstances of each person’s time and place help or hinder their journey?
  • What opportunities and obstacles helped and hindered the scientists in their personal and professional journeys? Have you experienced anything like this? How might your knowledge of one or more of these scientists help you in your own life, personally or as you aspire for academic and, later, career success?
Additional activity suggestions:
  • Connect these scientists’ stories to the NGSS science and engineering practices. Have students create their own graphic organizers to reflect how they see these practices in action in these books.
  • If possible, invite scientists into the classroom for students to interview. Students can enter each scientist and anecdotes into the chart.
  • Each of the scientists in these books experienced both positive moments (successes, support from others) and set-backs (fears, life events, failures) in their professional and personal lives. Have students create a Chutes and Ladders style game representing these events, labeling each chute or ladder entrance’s game square with the episode from the corresponding scientist’s life. Each game piece can represent one of the scientists. Landing on a chute or ladder entrance that depicts an episode from the game piece-scientist, the player gets an additional turn. Later, keep the game available for informal time.
  • Discuss how other people—friends, family, and colleagues—support the achievements of the individual scientists in the books.
  • Take a cue from the Radioactive! teacher guide: Create a shared graphic of things that students are curious about. This will help connect students to the scientists and each other, and foster a culture of curiosity. Have students add the scientists’ likely responses to the graphic.

Book-Specific Extensions

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate and Charles and Emma

Both books may help students find their inner naturalists. Build on this opportunity with these ideas:

Collect Their Thoughts. Ask students to contribute inexpensive, readily available objects – seeds, leaves, pebbles, shells, marbles, and even paper clips of different configurations —  to an “interesting stuff” classroom collection. Challenge students to sort, organize, compare and contrast objects in the collection.  Conduct a collection circle discussion once a week:

  • Which objects do you find most interesting, and why?
  • What stirs your curiosity?
  • Do you know anything about this object? What interesting connections can you find between it and something else in the collection?

 

Make Science Social. At the beginning of the Charles and Emma, readers learn that Charles values the stimulating intellectual conversations of the day. Calpurnia also deeply enjoys the social aspect of science.  Help students experience this excitement with free-form, dorm-style, no-right-answer(-at-least-not-yet) science talks. Create a culture that encourages them to speculate, challenge each other, and use their imaginations to develop possible explanations for their questions.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSomething Rotten

Look Inside. Author Heather Montgomery (one of STEM Tuesday’s own!) may be the real-world’s answer to Calpurnia. Like Calpurnia and her brother Travis, Heather embodies both curiosity and a connection to the natural world. Help students follow in Calpurnia and Heather’s footsteps by offering dissection opportunities for your students; if not with animals, then with plants or gadgets.

Do Some Good! Look for a citizen science opportunity, such as this one (in Vermont), to share road kill sightings with scientists so they can study and help wildlife. Or think about organizing your own study of a small section of your community. Students might track road kill along their bus routes for a period of time. They might not be able to investigate the details from the bus window, but they could create maps of the routes and areas of relatively frequent road kill incidents.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgPath to the Stars

Explore the Results of Rocket Science. On Page 289 of her autobiography, “rocket scientist” Sylvia Acevedo mentions two NASA projects she worked on. Visit NASA web pages to find out more about these missions. Solar Polar Solar Probe, now called the Parker Solar Probe, which launched this year, some 30 years after she worked on the project, and Voyager 2 Jupiter flyby. Check out the pictures of the results of these probes’ successful missions!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRadioactive!

Know the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma of Radioactivity. These resources can help kids grasp some of the book’s science content:

 

Bonus: Teacher Guides!

And, finally, for discussion ideas, as well as a few STEM-related activities, check out the teachers’ guides available for each book.

 

Drop Us a Line. As always, we at STEM Tuesday are eager to hear what you think of these ideas, how you use and adapt them, and how else STEM books have brought excitement to your classroom. Please leave a comment.