STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — Interview with Sarah Albee

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 Sarah Albee who wrote this month’s featured wild and wacky science book, POISON: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines.

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for kids, ranging from preschool through middle grade. Recent nonfiction titles have been Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections, Notable Social Studies Trade Books, and winners of Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards. She loves to meet her readers and visits K-8 schools all over the country.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us about Poison and how you came to write it.

Sarah Albee: It’s the history of how humans have poisoned one another, from ancient times to the present. For kids who want to delve deeper into the chemistry of a particular poison, there are “tox boxes” throughout the book that describe how a particular poison can be delivered, where it comes from or how it is manufactured, and what the symptoms are when a person is poisoned. I’ve been obsessed with poison and how it works ever since I was a little kid and first read Snow White. I wanted to know what sort of poison was in that apple. How could it cause a reversible paralysis and a heartbeat that is so slow, you might not find a pulse and conclude that the victim is dead? And because I know you are wondering, too, I’ll tell you my theory: atropine. It’s a plant-based alkaloid found in belladonna and mandrake, and used to be known as sleeping nightshade. Back in 1597 a botanist wrote that a small amount of belladonna leads to madness, while a moderate amount causes “dead sleepe” and a lot of it can kill you.

MKC: You undertook a phenomenal amount of research to write this book. 

SA: I uncovered so many cool stories, I didn’t have room to include them all in the book. So I released a series of short videos called The Poison Files, mostly “whodunit” poison cases from history, and starring some great kid-actors. You can find them on YouTube and on my website.

MKC: This book, as well as others you’ve authored, are a mix of both history and science. Do you have a STEM background? 

SA: Many of my books are a mash-up of history and science. I am more of a historian than a scientist. In fact, to refresh my scientific knowledge, I took two online college courses as part of my research for this book (chemistry and forensics). But the division of human knowledge into separate disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon, and in my mind, somewhat of an artificial construct. Enlightenment era thinkers considered all human knowledge seamless. What I find fascinating to explore and to write about are the in-between areas—the science behind historical events, the history of science, the real lives of painters and musicians and how their experiences informed their art, and the real-life events that might have inspired novels and poems.

MKC: For readers who loved POSION, what other middle-grade books would you suggest—nonfiction and/or fiction?

SA: I’m a big fan of How They Croaked/How They Choked by Georgia Bragg (and, fun fact, we share the same editor!). Also books by Carlyn Beccia (she has a new one coming out in April that I can’t wait to read, called They Lost Their Heads!). Another science writer with a great sense of humor is Jess Keating. Love her books!

MKC: What’s next for Sarah Albee?

SA: I am hard at work right now on a book that has yet to be announced, so I can’t talk too specifically about it. But it will be a combination of (true) stories that include a bit of history, science, biography, art, and sports, all rolled into one. As for how I’m tackling it…let’s just say one must tiptoe gently through my office to avoid setting off an avalanche and being crushed beneath a tumbling pile of books.

More about Sarah Albee and her book POISON:

  • Read reviews from KirkusSchool Library JournalBooklist, and Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books here.
  • Buy the book!
  • See the book trailer!
  • Watch six videos from Sarah Albee’s “Poison Files.”

Win a FREE copy of POISON!

* 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 Mary Kay Carson, fellow space geek, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.

 

STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — Writing Craft and Resources

Wild and Wacky (and Weird) Science

Wild & wacky science is all around us. One of the best examples I’ve ever personally encountered is the Titan arum, or corpse flower, that went full bloom last summer at the university where I work. Beautiful in its perfect weirdness. And, if you’ve never had the pleasure of a blooming corpse flower experience, its smell is just as wonderfully horrific as the name suggests. Think one hundred dead mice in a 90°F humidity chamber and you’re getting really close…

Sometimes in the STEM world, great discoveries are made through observations that, at first glance, are considered “wild” and/or “wacky”. And for argument’s sake, I’m going to add “weird” as the third “W”. Science is basically built on things which appear odd at first glance. Imagine the first person who ever looked at the four-legged ruminant chewing cud in the meadow next to the village and said, “Hey, I bet whatever’s inside that hangy-down, bag thing would go great with my PB&J sandwich.”

The wild, weird and wacky often leads to open doors in both thought and discovery. One notices a little thing like how annoying it is to pick the cockleburrs off the dog after every single trip to the field. And while struggling to pull the little !@#$s out of the dog’s fur as she sits so, so patiently, you notice the weird design details of the burr. The hooked barbs jutting out at the perfect angles to cover the maximum surface area. You notice how those hooks grab and hold tight. You also notice that for the umpteenth time today your preschool-aged offspring asks you to tie his or her shoes. BINGO! The observation of the weird natural design of the burr serves as a template for the invention of something awesome like Velcro; one of the greatest and most practical inventions of the 20th-century.

Odd triggers inquiry in our brain. We, as humans, are innately curious. We see something wild, weird, and/or wacky and, after our initial shock, begin to ask, “Why?”. “Why?” is the switch which fires the STEM mind. Once switched on, these STEM neural connections in the brain process the input observations and begin formulating the next question, “How?”.

The wild, the wacky, and the weird can lead to the WONDERFUL. Answering the “why” and the “how” questions unlocks the door to discovery. And this is the same in the laboratory as it is in the classroom, the library, or in the writing bunker. Wild and wacky things we observe in our universe spark inquiry. Inquiry leads to discovery. Discovery leads to more discovery and more creativity

An interest in certain wild and wacky and wonderful aspects of our universe also lends itself to social connection. People with like interests can bond over these seemingly off-the-wall interests.   

What halfway reputable STEM wild & wacky science blog post would omit a list of random wild and wacky science facts? Not this halfway reputable STEM blogger! So, for your STEM entertainment, here’s an eye-opening list of wild, wacky, weird, and wonderful science facts.

  • The human brain processes around 11 million bits of information every second but is aware of only 40.
  • 42 minutes and 12 seconds? That’s how long it would take to jump to the other side of the earth through a hole drilled straight through the center of our wonderful planet.
  • A light particle, called a photon takes only 8 minutes to travel from the Sun’s surface to Earth.
  • But it takes 40,000 years for that same light particle to travel from its origins in the Sun’s core to its surface.
  • A mid-sized, run-of-the-mill cumulus cloud weighs as much as 80 elephants.
  • A single bolt of lightning contains enough energy to cook 100,000 pieces of toast.
  • After removing all the empty spaces in all the atoms in every person on Planet Earth, the entire human race would fit into an apple.
  • Over the course of an average human lifespan, the skin completely replaces itself 900 times.
  • The air in an average-sized room weighs about 100 pounds.
  • In 20 seconds, a red blood cell can make a complete circuit through the body.
  • Tyrannosaurus rex lived closer in time to us than to Stegosaurus.

Dear student, teacher, writer, and/or librarian readers, your STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Mission for the week is to observe and record something odd in your everyday world. Be it animal, vegetable, mineral, or mechanical, write it down and then think about it.

  • The size.
  • The shape.
  • The function or niche.

Whatever you see, document it. Use the information to formulate the “why” and then the “how” questions. Finally, let your imagination and logic run loose in the spirit of discovery and invention to formulate an alternate use, function, or future for your odd observation. Repeat daily for one week to find out how much fun, and how functional, the wild, the wacky, and the weird science in your world can be.

I bet it’s wonderful!

Have a wild and wacky month!


THE O.O.L.F. FILES

My biggest question for this month was whether we even need the O.O.L.F. files in the month of Wild and Wacky Science since The O.O.L.F. File section is basically wild, wacky, and weird by design. After much deep thought and soul-searching, the issue was decided. Of course, we need an O.O.L.F. Files! One can never have too much wild, wacky, and weird STEM information, am I right?

  • Titan arum, the corpse flower, blooms!
  • Mitochondria run hot!
    • Our cellular power plants can operate at what temp? Is that even possible? I honestly can’t feel a thing in any of my 37 trillion cells. Can you?
  • What Baby Poop Says About Brain Development.
    • Can the composition of an infant’s intestinal microbiota have an effect on future cognitive abilities? 
  • A Virus With Black Widow DNA
    •  In order to find a new host Wolbachia bacterial cell, the WO bacteriophage must punch its way back into another insect cell and another Wolbachia. Viruses are masters of escape and infiltration, but WO can uniquely get through two sets of barriers—one bacterial, and one animal—by using genes picked up from the black widow venom’s toxin.  Think that’s freaky? So do I!
  • Keeping Cool With Drool
    • By drooling and then slurping up the drop of saliva, a blowfly keeps a cool head despite not having the ability to sweat. (This makes my inner middle school boy smile with joy.)

Mike Hays, O.O.L.F. Master


STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — In the Classroom

This month’s STEM Tuesday Theme: Wild and Wacky Science has the potential to lead readers in all directions! What a fun Book List the STEM Tuesday Team found for us this month.

Here are a few ways to use this month’s books in the classroom, extending learning beyond simply reading. Enjoy these suggestions, and as always, we welcome your additional suggestions in the comments below!

Follow a Friend on Facebook! 

After reading Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals by Nancy Furstinger, you’ll want to adopt one of these furry heroes! Since convincing parents to get new pets of any kind can be a monumental task, it might be easier for your class to befriend a furrrball on Facebook. Here are links to the Facebook pages of several of Furstinger’s friends.

Chris P Bacon, Pig on Wheels @CPBaconWheels

Brutus the Rottweiler @betterpawsforbrutus

Molly the Three-Legged Pony @mollythe3leggedpony

Vincent the Cat @walkingvincentcat

Albie, Felix, and Fawn, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary @woodstockfarm

 Chart Your Allergies! 

First, read Itch! Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch by Anita Sanchez.

Then, practice data-collecting, chart-making, graphing, and data analysis skills by doing a classroom allergy assessment.  Start by asking students to create their own survey. What questions will you need to ask to find out who is allergic to what? Create the survey together, complete the surveys, and gather the data. Next, chart or graph (or both!) the results for a visual and numeric display of what gets under your skin. Who’s is inclined to itch when the cat comes in? Do menacing mosquitoes munch on many or just a few of the members of your class?

Dig Deeper!  Get the DNA 411!

In Forgotten Bones, Uncovering of a Slave Cemetery, Lois Miner Huey takes readers on a fascinating journey that begins with the discovery of and leads to an amazing amount of information about the thirteen slaves buried on what was once the Schuyler Family Farm near Albany, New York.

Much of what the scientists on the scene and in the lab near Albany were able to determine about the slaves was came the DNA samples from seven of the adult skeletons.  But what do you really know about DNA? Plan ahead for National DNA Day, April 25th, by checking out this website for several great DNA-related activities to do with kids. 

Make a Book Trailer.  Some of this month’s book picks have cool book trailers available on You Tube.  Watch these one-minute advertisements for wild and wacky nonfiction and make your own book trailer. There’s a lot to be said about getting the most out of just sixty seconds of screen time! Can you make a trailer that is certain to send readers running to the library to check out the book you’ve read? Here’s a link to a helpful tutorial to show How to Make a Book Trailer in iMovie.

   

This week’s STEM Tuesday post was prepared by

Michelle Houts delights in the wild and wacky side of finding fun facts for young readers. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and often finds the nonfiction harder to believe than the fiction. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @mhoutswrites and on the web at www.michellehouts.com.