STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Writing Tips and Resources

There’s an old baseball saying that states, “The ball will find you.”

It’s based on this odd predisposition for a baseball to be hit right at you if:

  • You just entered the game cold (The closer and more intense the game, the more likely a screaming line drive will be soon be headed directly at your head.)
  • You’ve just made an error.
  • You have an injury but keep playing at less than 100%.
  • You’re playing a defensive position you don’t normally play.

“The ball will find you.” is a commentary on how a flaw or weakness in a system always seems to be exposed at a critical juncture. In baseball, we often attribute such a phenomenon to the wrath of the baseball gods.

The ball will find you.

I tell you this because there must also be a Mixed-up Files version of “The ball will find you.” that the middle grade, kidlit gods apparently have decided to haunt me with.

“Poetry will find you!”

Several months ago, after the STEM Tuesday leader supreme, Jen Swanson, emailed the group to announce she had posted the upcoming monthly STEM Tuesday themes. I rushed my mouse to the MUF bookmark, logged in, and scrolled to my assigned month of April.

Topic?

STEM Tuesday–  Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse.

I LOL’d

I rolled out of my desk chair to the office floor, laughing maniacally like the Joker after he’d just pulled one over on Batman. From the next room, my adult children expressed concern to my wife, who nonchalantly waved them off, “Just another of your father’s poetry fits. No worries.”

No worries. Here I am. Fully recovered. Poetry fit behind me? Well, let’s just say I’m ready to accept the sentence placed upon me by the MUF “Poetry will find you” curse.

Poetry will find me.

And you know what?

That’s not a bad thing.

I think I’ll give this poetry/science thing a go…

Roses are red

Violets are blue

When working with elephants

Don’t step in the doo-doo

 

Muses and Poets via Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, my poetry skills are lacking. I do, however, possess adequate mental faculties to observe poetry and STEM have quite a few similarities. We can even, for argument’s sake, go as far as to classify STEM and poetry as close relatives who manage to stay civil even outside of major holidays.

“What in the whiskers is he talking about this time?” you ask.

Poetry and STEM on level intellectual ground? Is this coming from a 30-year microbiologist? You must think this guy took way too many of those screaming baseball line drives to the head. (The answer is “No”. The majority of those screaming line drives went through my legs or off my kneecap, chest, shin, or various other body parts. Very few went off my noggin and even fewer went into my ball glove.)

Give me a chance to shine some light on this poetry/STEM connection with the following five points.

Both STEM and Poetry rely on elements that are quantifiable and measurable.

  • One can measure the beats in a couplet, a quatrain, or a septet just as one can measure the excitation and emission wavelength spectra of a fluorophore.
  • There are a definable rhythm and cadence to a poem just as there are for a parasite’s life cycle, embryo development, building a bridge, programming a robot, or quantum theory.

Both STEM and Poetry follow rules and formulas.

  • Just as we have theorems and equations to help define the physical world, poems have form, patterns of sound, meaning, and meter.

Both STEM and Poetry extract meaning from observation.

  • Poetry attempts to describe observations through words and form.
  • STEM attempts to describe observations with hypotheses, theories, laws, code, and blueprints to name a few.

Both STEM and Poetry are ways to look at the world around us in order to gain a greater understanding.

  • A poem has a thematic weight and uses figurative and connotative devices to deliver meaning.
  • STEM uses a device called the scientific method to better understand the natural phenomenon.

Both STEM and Poetry are organized by classifications according to certain properties and traits.

  • There are many types of poems.
    • Lyric poems, narrative poems, descriptive poems.
    • Odes, elegy, epic, sonnet, ballad, haiku, limerick, etc.
  • Mammals, bacteria, viruses, plants, insects, atoms, orbitals, planets, electrical systems, aeronautics, etc. are all STEM groups that we classify according to properties and traits.

 

Next time someone (especially your favorite STEM-crazed middle grader) poo-poo’s the poetry, remind them,

POETRY WILL FIND YOU!

When it does, show them the STEM Tuesday Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse book list and tell them to give it a chance. Even the most STEM-centric mind can benefit from the beauty of a poem.

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 www.coachhays.com 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 take a look at a connection between poetry and STEM.

Elements of Poetry

  • A nice overview of the nuts and bolts of poetry from Lexiconic Education Resources. Even I was able to understand and learn the fundamentals.

Science and Poetry: A View from the Divide

  • “What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don’t know.  It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic.”  – from a beautiful 1998 essay by poet Alison Hawthorne Deming on the intersection of science and art.

‘Technimeric’ = Poetry + STEM

  • How about a STEM-focused Technimetric Poetry Slam? YES!!!

Poetry for Science, STEM & STEAM by Pomelo Books

  • A Pinterest page LOADED with STEM poems for kids. My kind of poetry!

Engineering the Perfect Poem by Using the Vocabulary of STEM

  • Lesson plans from ReadWriteThink all about how to engineer a poem about…engineering!

 


 

 

 

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Special NSTA Conference Edition

Yes. It’s April–National Poetry Month. Yes. It’s STEM Tuesday, and our theme this month is STEM in verse. Yes, our book list for the month includes books with poetry in them that are devoted to STEM themes.

But April is also the time when the National Science Teachers Association holds its annual conference, and the usual STEM Tuesday post in line for this week is all about connecting STEM books to the classroom. This year NSTA did something bold and exciting that is begging for recognition on this particular post, so that’s what this week is all about.

With J. Carrie Launius coordinating, NSTA invited a slew of nonfiction authors who write on STEM themes to participate in a 5-hour Linking Literacy event over two days–including 5 panel discussions, an opportunity for science educators and authors to mingle, and a book signing. Wow! As you can imagine, it was an opportunity to revel in creativity, caring, and collegiality. After a kick-off panel discussion featuring Steve Light, Melissa Stewart, Jennifer Swanson, Tracy Nelson Maurer, Shanda McCloskey and presiders Jacqueline Barber and E. Wendy Saul, four break-out panels delved into various themes.

There was a lot happening, often simultaneously. As I was a panelist and mixing-and-mingling author, I’m quite sure I missed a bunch, but still, I hope to share some of the take-aways from the conversations that took place informally and in some of the panels. I’ve tried to stick to the topics that most directly connect to bringing STEM books into the classroom.

STEM-themed biographies and scientist stories are for everyone. Laurie Wallmark, biographer of women in STEM, reminded us that while it is great to share books about women, people of color, or other underrepresented groups in STEM with girls or kids of color only, it’s even better—and vitally important—that we share these stories with all children (and adults). It’s also key to break out of biographies and include stories for middle grade readers of scientists doing science. Need some examples? How about Patricia Newman’s Eavesdropping on Elephants or Mary Kay Carson’s The Tornado Scientist?

Cross-disciplinary content is a natural part of many STEM books, especially those that feature topics that lure children in. Cheryl Bardoe, who writes picture bookCheryl Bardoe speaking with mic in hand biographies, pointed out that individual STEM thinkers are specific to their place, time, and social contexts. Meanwhile, books about technology, including, for example, my Running on Sunshine or Jennifer Swanson’s Super Gear, root conceptual information in strong, motivating contexts. (It was wonderful to chat with teachers who appreciate the connections between their curriculum about “the sun” and solar energy technologies. This is just the type of connection-making that the NGSS emphasizes.)

 

The rich visual imagery in STEM books can help readers connect to content and spark their interest and imagination. Of course, this is true of the illustrations in picture books, such as Steve Light’s Swap! But there’s more to look for. Keep your eyes peeled for  primary source materials in picture books, such as photographs related to a remarkable discovery in Darcy Pattison’s Pollen. Keep in mind–as Jen Swanson pointed out–there’s also powerful imagery in books for middle grade readers.

 

It’s important to consider the whole range of roles that various STEM books can play in education.

E. Wendy Saul and Jacqueline Barber’s thoughtful questions and insightful reflections helped us consider some of these roles. Some books are great at fostering curiosity before a classroom unit on a given topic, while others are perfect resources to bring in after children have had a chance to try to make sense of their first-hand experiences and are looking for factual resources. STEM reading can inspire children to see themselves as competent STEM learners and future STEM professionals. Putting the right book in the  hands of a particular child may be a pivotal moment in that child’s life, honoring and responding to  his or her curiosity, interest, or moment of need.

 

Books and experience go hand-in-hand.

Educators check out simulated canine vision with Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (center). They hold blue viewmasters to their eyes and peer at slides that are mounted on wheels and inserted into the viewmaster.

Educators check out simulated canine vision with Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (center).

Weaving my way through the tables during Linking Literacy’s informal time, I was struck by the many ways we authors link our books to opportunities for readers to experience the world. Of course, we generally provide teachers’ guides, but we also offer dynamic activities and interesting artifacts. I saw evidence of the added value of visiting with an author. For example, I showed visitors how I simulate stars orbiting mystery objects and how that relates to finding black holes. In addition, to extend the content of Dog Science Unleashed, Jodi Wheeler-Toppen provides customized Viewmasters that offer comparisons of human and canine vision. Meanwhile, Heather Montgomery shows off a fox pelt (among other artifacts) that she prepared as part of her research for Something Rotten. Truly, STEM authors can bring their own brand of multi-dimensional learning experiences and inspiration to the NGSS’s emphasis on 3D learning.

 

The STEM stories we share are a powerful aspect of creating a culture that honors STEM literacy. Do you have a story to share—some way in which you have used a STEM book in a middle grade classroom or out-of school setting? Let us know; leave a comment below. And keep your eyes open for NSTA ’20 (in Boston). Hopefully, Linking Literacy will be a recurring and integral component of future conferences!

Six of the STEM Tuesday crew at NSTA19!

 

 

 

 

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Book List

April is a time to celebrate poetry so we’ve gathered a list of wonderful STEM titles in verse for you to explore. Enjoy a poem each day. You might find many of these will spark you to write your own STEM poetry this month. From birds to biographies, these titles are sure to please.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Leaf Litter Critters and Superlative Birds by Leslie Bulion

Leslie Bulion’s titles featuring familiar birds and bugs will spark joy this spring.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis

With over 200 poems about nature by many well-known authors, you are sure to find a favorite.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Carver, A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson – A biography of George Washington Carver

Explore the life of agricultural scientist George Washington Carver in these biographical poems by poet, Marilyn Nelson.

 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Universe Verse by James Lu Dunbar

Explore this fun comic book in verse about the origin of the universe.

 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and Eric Beddows

This classic book by Paul Fleischman celebrates the insect world. It’s even more fun if you read it with a friend.

 

 

The Poetry of Science: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

This great classroom resource has over 200 STEM poems from 78 authors, including Joyce Sidman, Mary Ann Hoberman, Laura Purdas Salas, Jane Yolen, and Greg Pincus.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Finding Wonders: The Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

Explore the lives of Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell is this beautiful text by poet Jeannine Atkins.

 

 

 

FICTION
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Forest World by Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle brings this rainforest to life in this book in verse that is a perfect accompaniment to habitat lessons.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Ringside: 1925 – Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant

This title is a bit older but is worth searching out to open up a discussion of the Scopes Trial with a middle school class. Perhaps pair it with Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman.

 

 

 

Lastly, we don’t usually include picture books on STEM Tuesday lists, but this classic title by one of our contributors is worth breaking the rules:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Big Bang! The Tongue-Tickling Tale of a Speck That Became Spectacular by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Pair DeCristofano’s alliterative verse with The Universe Verse listed above. Both titles deal with the creation of the birth of our cosmos. How are they the same or different?

 


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, 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, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor 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:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

 

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