STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them – Interview with author Mary Kay Carson

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 author Mary Kay Carson who wrote this month’s featured cool invention book, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: His Life and Inventions 

Find out how Alexander Graham Bell invented not only the telephone, but also early versions of the phonograph, the metal detector, airplanes, and hydrofoil boats. This Scottish immigrant was also a pioneering speech teacher and a champion of educating those with hearing impairments, work he felt was his most important contribution to society. Bell worked with famous Americans such as Helen Keller and aviators Glenn Curtiss and Samuel P. Langley, and his inventions competed directly with those of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers.

May Kay’s books include  a number of titles in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s award-winning SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series, including  Park Scientists and The Bat Scientists, an ALA’s 2011 Notable Children’s Books for Middle Readers. Her book Exploring the Solar System was the 2009 recipient of the American Institute ofAeronautics and Astronautics Children’s Literature Award and the State Library of Ohio selected Beyond the Solar System as a CHOOSE TO READ OHIO book for 2015 & 2016. Visit her at marykaycarson.com  or on Twitter at @MaryKayCarson

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JAS: Thanks for joining us today, Mary Kay. This is a fabulous book! I love how you found such a unique trait to describe this historical figure. I mean, everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but not many know why. Can you tell us how you discovered this fact? And also why you used it to create your whole book?

MKC: In today’s terms, we’d call Alexander Graham Bell a third-generation speech therapist. Bell’s father and grandfather worked with people trying to overcome speech impediments like stuttering or pronunciation struggles because of hearing impairments. Alexander Graham Bell was born into a family where the proper mouth position for making the sound of S was dinner table talk. Bell naturally went into this line of work, as well. Growing up with a mother who couldn’t hear gave him a deep understanding of both the isolation of the hearing impaired as well as a motivation for understanding how sound is made, transmitted, and perceived.

JAS: How did you come up with all of the activities? And why did you choose to add activities to your book?

MKC: I knew Alexander Graham Bell For Kids would include activities as a title in the Chicago Review Press “For Kids” series, all of which have 21 activities. It’s actually why I thought the book would be such a good fit for the series. Bell’s experiments, investigations, and inventions run the gamut from sound and light to flying machines and sheep genetics. The telephone invention alone lends itself to activities about electricity, sound, vibrations, and batteries. I’ve written four other books in this series with activities and Alexander Graham Bell For Kids was by far the easiest to come up with activities for. He was a wellspring of ideas.

JAS: The use of original sketches of Bell’s inventions are really great. How difficult was it to get permission to use them?

MKC: The Library of Congress has a huge Alexander Graham Bell archive, much of it digitized and in the public domain. It includes laboratory notebooks, invention blueprints, journals, personal letters, and photographs. It’s a real treasure trove of primary source material.

JAS: Why do you think learning about inventors is a so important for kids?

MKC: One of my favorite Bell quotes is: “The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world.” To me, Bell’s description of an inventor actually describes young people in general. Most see the world as overdue for upgrades and improvements. Many have ideas on how to make things better, too. Being able to envision something different is the first step to inventing. Whether we’re talking about tackling a changing climate or designing a fun video game, it all starts with “What if…”

JAS: How would you suggest a teacher use your book in the classroom?

MKC: There are quite a few ways teachers can use the book in the classroom. The biography itself is instructive on how life experiences shaped the inventor that Bell became. The primary source material is cited and resources given for older kids who want to dig deeper into Bell’s life and legacy. Some of the activities in the book are simple enough for even kindergarteners to explore sound and light. Other activities are more open ended and challenge students to think of and execute an idea of their own.

Buy a Copy of the Alexander Graham Bell book

Praise for Alexander Graham Bell: “Many of the activities featured throughout the chapters, such as making an ear trumpet and feeling sound vibrations, use materials readers likely have at home, fairly easily giving them a taste of the devices used during Bell’s time and illustrating properties of sound. Avid readers can also pursue activities that require special purchases, such as seeing sound and making a pie-tin telegraph. Numerous black-and-white photographs of Bell and his family, period scenery, and artifacts immerse readers in the world of this prolific inventor, from his free-roaming childhood through his adulthood as a teacher of the deaf, an inventor many times over, and a family man. Children who enjoy exploring different symbolic communication codes, historical sciences, and inventions will find much to dig into in this detailed volume.

Thorough and well-rounded. (timeline, resources, glossary, notes, bibliography)”–Kirkus

 

Win a FREE copy of the Alexander Graham Bell book!   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! 

Hosting this week is Jennifer Swanson, fellow science nerd, and author of Astronaut Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact and other nonfiction books for kids. @JenSwanBooks

STEM Tuesday Inventors- Those Awesome People of Science – Writing Craft & Resources

 

Reading Between the Facts

Don’t you just love it when a story comes to life? When you are reading something and you can smell the sooty aromas, hear the grinding gears of a new invention, taste the tang of tart pie? And when, long after you’ve put a book down, you find yourself wondering about the characters? But that’s fiction, right? A story that wraps you up and carries you away.

Wait, what about fact-filled books that transport you like that? When I looked at this month’s book list, packed with techy inventions and their nerdy inventors, a story that transported me was the last thing I expected. Physical science isn’t my thing, so I gritted my teeth anticipating some dull, dry reading.

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Boy was I wrong. Flying Machines: How the Write Brothers Soared had me so hooked I convinced my aerospace engineer husband he had to read it (sidenote: he was impressed with the accuracy of the content).  Eureka! Poems About Inventors drew me through periods of history I had never cared about. And then there’s Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d which made me pondering how light works, I mean really think about the physics of it. A week later I found myself Googling “Newton’s Laws of Motion because I wanted to actually understand them – not just memorize them. How did this book do this to me?

I had to know.

So I did what every good writer does, I studied the words on the page. I looked at how Mary Losure cast stories, how she used sentences, how she arranged paragraphs, and how she constructed chapters that draw me in. And then I noticed something.

Writing Between the Facts

Mary Losure had written a lot between the facts. When you research a historical figure, you only have so much information.  From the level of detail included (like the child’s drawings found in the house where Isaac grew up) it is obvious that this author dug and dug and dug until she found gold. But even a gold nugget won’t reflect light unless it is polished and placed in just the right position – in this case it shone a spotlight on Isaac’s childhood attributes. Losure had to bridge the gaps between the facts.

I’m not saying she falsified facts. No, through clearly-stated, careful conjecture, she brilliantly brought her readers into the world of inquiry.

“Far in the future, a child’s drawings would be found scratched in the farmhouse’s soft stone walls: a windmill, a church, a figure with a spurred boot. It was clear the child who drew them was bright and imaginative. The pictures had been hidden by layers of plaster for many years. The people who found them wondered if the drawings had been made by Isaac. It was easy to imagine him scratching away, unnoticed by anybody in the busy household.” Page 5, The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d

Once I noticed that, I turned my mental search engine on, pulled out my wet-erase markers and transparency paper. I got to work. I wanted to ferret out all of the hard facts on a page, find the gaps between them, and see how Losure bridged them. Laying the transparency paper over a page allowed me to mark up the page without leaving a mark in the book.

I highlighted the obvious facts in green, qualifying words in red, and passages I wasn’t sure about in yellow.

Page 5, Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d 

Cool! Working my way through the book, I found lots of examples:

  • She presented us with quotes from texts he read: “In his book The Mysteries of Nature and Art, there were instructions for making: A Water Clock …” page 31
  • She admitted we don’t know but presented evidence: “No one today can know exactly how Isaac and his friends spent their time, but the list Isaac made …” page 55
  • She referenced oral history: “To this day, people tell an old familiar story …” page 122

I learned lots of writing moves from Mary Losure that day. And as a bonus, the next time I read a fact-filled text, you can be sure my mind will read right between the facts – that’s an skill for every reader needs to hone.

—–

By Heather L. Montgomery

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. She reads and writes while high in a tree, standing in a stream, or perched on a mountaintop boulder. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com


The O.O.L.F Files

For the Out of Left Field (O.O.L.F) post, let’s look at inventions gone wrong.

Some inventions are completely pointless, like shoe umbrellas and the car exhaust grill : http://www.complex.com/style/2013/05/25-inventions-that-are-completely-pointless/air-conditioned-shoes

Inventions aren’t always used the way they were intended. Read how a soybean fertilizer became Agent Orange and why the Wright brothers regretted creating airplanes:

http://bigthink.com/laurie-vazquez/6-scientists-who-regret-their-greatest-inventions

Time shares 50 of the worst inventions, including pay toilets, DDT and hair in a can:

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1991915,00.html

And then there are always human errors… To read true tales of technological disasters, check out Steven Casey’s Set Phasers on Stun.

STEM Tuesday Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them – In the Classroom

Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them

For this In the Classroom feature, I’m taking a broad view of the idea of “invention,” and including similar processes, such as discovery (science) and engineering, although each is unique.I’ve also tried to give a broad range of possible activities–some of them hands-on STEM experiences, others more literary, imaginative, or whimsical, to help you ignite the type of passion and curiosity that your students will be reading about in this month’s books.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMind Your (and Your Students’) Metaphors
You can explore metaphors and our perceptions of discovery, while learning about a whole range of innovators, with Joyce Sidman’s Eureka! Poems about Inventors (illustrated by K. Bennett Chavez).

Especially with older students, you can begin by conducting the survey described and discussed in Kristen C. Elmore and Myra Luna-Lucera’s work, article, “Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius,” which examines how specific metaphors about discovery influence our perceptions of the not just of the process, but, perhaps surprisingly, of the discoverers and value of their achievements. After students respond to the survey (resources are provided in the article), let them in on the whole study and discuss their own responses in light of the researchers’ findings.

Then crack open Eureka! While enjoying the poems and thinking about the inventors, also of looking for the ways in which design, discovery, and invention are portrayed. In any poem, does Sidman seem to see the inventor’s experience as  a “light bulb moment” (as the book’s title suggests), or as a process of  “nurturing seeds?” Perhaps something else? Overall, does Sidman’s view of invention seem to favor one metaphor or the other? (Keep in mind that you can continue this discussion with respect to other books from this month’s list.)

Of course, after students read the stories in Eureka! it makes perfect sense for them to write their own poems about:

  • Their own experiences of discovery or engineering insight
  • Other innovators featured in this month’s books–Elon Musk or Isaac Newton, for example.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDream Big—Really Big (and Then Maybe Engineer Something)

Readers of Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk & the Quest for a Fantastic Future will surely notice something that really makes Elon Musk stand out: his mission-driven ambition.

This guy dreams big.

Many people– including engineers and inventors–hope to make the world a better place; Musk wants to save humanity. This kind of high-impact calling can be a great motivator for future engineers and other innovators. Capitalize on the excitement of the Musk’s vision with one or more of these ideas:

Encourage Daydreaming!

  • Invite your students to take a cue from Musk and envision something that would be really important to the well-being of people around the world. Begin a discussion with a grand question: If you could invent anything to make the world a much better place for everyone, what would you invent?

 

  • Follow through with a brainstorming session around this question, encouraging students to think about ideas that might not seem realistic or possible right now. (If the class has already read the book, you can remind students that Musk’s ideas might not have seemed feasible at first, and, in fact, that lots of people have scoffed at his ideas.)

 

  • Keep a running dream-list posted in the classroom and return to it from time to time. Invite students to keep “Dream Books,” where they focus on one or two ideas (or more) and write and sketch about how the dream might become a reality through some technology.

 

  • You can expand on this idea by holding your own school version of the National Academy of Engineering’s “E4U” contest—minus the $25,000 grand prize– which (apparently) was last held in 2016. While the national contest is not open now, students can follow the contest rules to create 1-2 minute videos that aim to highlight a mega-engineering project related to one of their big dreams and, in the words of the contest guidelines, “expand the way people think about engineering and how it is involved in solving large-scale global challenges.” Check out winning entries, guidelines that you can use or adapt, and an explanatory (if outdated) video at the E4U contest site. Whether you run this as a contest or a showcase, this is a creative way to help students connect to Musk’s work and the importance of STEM in our world

Join Musk on His Mission (Sort Of)

For a more concrete experience, lead your students through engineering projects with connections to SpaceX rockets and Tesla’s electric cars, such as those featured in these resources from Design Squad Global:

Musk is all about the future. But there’s plenty of excitement in the past. Just check out the likes of Isaac Newton, whose experiences can add a bit of magic to how we think of early science and engineering.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgExplore a Little Magic with Isaac Newton

From the outset of Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d, author Mary Losure explains to readers that in Isaac Newton’s time, some of what we now understand through science, such as chemical reactions and optical effects,  seemed a lot like magic.

They still do.  Have fun with this idea and explore the magical effects of our everyday world!

 

  • Adapt additional resources to create inquiry-based, surprising, and delightfully magical lessons. (Notes: I named these activities to spice things up; you won’t see these activity names in the resources. Also, see the safety reminder, below.)

Spirit Writing?

Cast a Colorful Spell (magic trick begins at about the 7-minute mark)

Cast a Colorful Spell 2

Refraction Action: Disappearing Coin

Liquid Refraction Action 2: Liquid Invisibility Cloak!

Vanishing Glass (See Item 1 in the linked resource.)

 

  •  Finally, to continue the science-is-magical theme, and for a bit more fun and a creative literacy extension, you might have students write and perform scripts for a magic show, each student team building a story or act that uses one of the chemical reactions to create the “magic.”

As I find every month when I contribute to STEMTuesday, the books on the list inspire many more lesson ideas than space will allow. What inspires you? Leave a comment sharing new ideas or comments on what you see here!


*Safety Reminder: The magic/science activities are generally safe, but in the classroom, you should always be sure to follow the guidelines for safety and for modeling safe use of all chemicals. Check with your local science curriculum coordinator or the National Science Teachers Association Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops.


portrait of author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofanoSTEM Tuesday–In the Classroom contributor, author, and STEM education consultant Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano writes about science and technology/engineering for kids.  Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work? –a book for early readers released this month–celebrates the innovative spirit and challenges behind engineering solar technologies, and received a starred review from Kirkus.