STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– In the Classroom

This STEM Tuesday’s theme is on the ecology of polar regions—from animals and plants that find ways to survive in their extreme environment to deep sea creatures and melting polar ice to the scientists that study these frozen parts of the world. From the Arctic to Antarctica, life may be difficult, but it still thrives and clearly reflects our rapidly changing environment. Here are some books and activities you can use in the classroom to help students learn about this unique environment and why it is so important.

Ice: Chilling Stories From a Disappearing World,  by Laura Buller, Andrea Mills, and John Woodward

A browsable book that ranges from the prehistoric to present. Meet polar plants, frozen frogs, and other wonders of the icy world. Plenty of climate change alerts sprinkled throughout the pages


Classroom activity: Prehistoric animals (like wooly mammoths, wool rhinos, and cave bears) have all been found preserved for thousands of years in polar ice and on cave walls. Show students ice age cave art paintings (such as those in Chauvet–Pont d’Arc) and ask them to make their own cave art images of prehistoric animals using flat rocks and red or black paint. Students should research the animals and depict them doing an activity. Students can then try guessing which prehistoric animal in each person’s piece of cave art.


Climate Change and the Polar Regions, by Michael Burgan.

An introduction shows how scientists study climate. Following chapters focus on the impacts of climate change to the Arctic and Antarctic, from melting ice to changing ocean currents to wildlife.

Classroom activity: Have students do an experiment to understand the greenhouse effect using two thermometers, a jar with a cover, and sunlight. Place one thermometer inside the jar and seal it. Put the jar and the second thermometer in a sunny spot and have students record their temperatures every ten minutes.   Discuss what happened and why the jar affected the temperature. Explain how greenhouse gases act in a similar way to raise Earth’s temperature.


Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott

After exploring the fossil evidence of Pangea, this book offers a look at the unique physical and climactic differences of each pole, the people and animals that reside in each, and the lessons gained from explorers and scientists. It includes a good resource list of books and websites.

Classroom activity: Have students research two other creatures that live at opposite poles and have them create comparison charts listing qualities that make them similar and different. Are they both mammals? Do they both hunt? Do they have thick layers of blubber to keep them warm? Students should find images or create drawings to illustrate their findings and share them with the class.


Further Polar Resources

Here are some websites that students can use to learn more about the polar regions:

  • Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists
    Find out about the varied work scientists are doing in the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • PBS Learning Media, Polar Sciences
    Media resources show the importance of studying different kinds of polar sciences, including the atmosphere, ice, land, oceans, and people.

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– Book List

You may need to pull on a pair of fuzzy wool socks and heat up a cuppa cocoa before reading these books. Get ready for some armchair adventures into the frozen polar regions.

Polar Environments

Polar Worlds, by Wade, Rosalyn.

The first half introduces the polar environment and highlights things explorers need to stay alive. The second half focuses on animals in the north and south polar regions, from puffins to penguins.




Ice: Chilling Stories From a Disappearing World,  by Laura Buller, Andrea Mills, and John Woodward

A browsable book that ranges from the prehistoric to present. Meet polar plants, frozen frogs, and other wonders of the icy world. Plenty of climate change alerts sprinkled throughout the pages.




Climate Change and the Polar Regions, by Michael Burgan.

An introduction shows how scientists study climate. Following chapters focus on the impacts of climate change to the Arctic and Antarctic, from melting ice to changing ocean currents to wildlife.



Antarctica: Enchantment of the World, by Wil Mara

Did you know there was moss and grass growing in Antarctica or frozen steam towers from active volcanoes? How about that someone was born there? In addition to amazing maps, showing all the research stations and land forms, and unbelievable photographs, this book explores the history, scientists, politics, tourism, exploitation, and folklore of Antarctica.


Polar Wildlife


The Arctic, by Wayne Lynch

It may look cold and barren, but the Arctic is filled with a diversity of wildlife. From seabirds to blubbery beasts, this photo-rich book provides a field trip to the land of the midnight sun.



Arctic Tundra : Life at the North Pole, by Salvatore Tocci

This book presents an overview of the tundra – a desert at the top of the world. Readers will see how ice and cold shape the landscape and the plants and animals that live there.




Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott

After exploring the fossil evidence of Pangea, this book offers a look at the unique physical and climactic differences of each pole, the people and animals that reside in each, and the lessons gained from explorers and scientists. It includes a good resource list of books and websites.



Frozen Realms, by Melissa Gish

Explore the deep sea beneath the North Pole! Numerous short “Ask a Scientist” features accompany photographs of amazing underwater creatures – including dragons.



Polar Scientists and Explorers


The Polar Bear Scientists (Scientists in the Field Series), by Peter Lourie

Beginning on page one, readers are in a helicopter, chasing polar bears. Once captured, the scientists collect measurements and take samples of blood, fat, and even hair. Then they fasten a radio collar around the bear’s neck and move away, so the polar bear can return to its own hunt. There’s a series of conversations with a scientist, and thoughtful comments about the impacts of a warming climate on polar bears.



Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, by Sally M. Walker

This book focuses on modern explorers and scientists. You’ll learn how to survive extreme cold and meet the scientists studying the secrets of the ice, from how it forms to how it moves. And there’s a robot!



Ice Scientist: Career in the Frozen Antarctic by Sara L. Latta

Interspersed among the realities of bone chilling cold and blinding sunlight, are descriptions of scientists who have and do work in the Antarctic. These scientists found dinosaurs, meteorites, 20,000 species of nematodes, coral, and massive glaciers in Antarctica. The engaging text and sidebars combine with chapter notes, a glossary, further reading & links to create a great look at a chilly science.




Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance, by Tod Olson

Olsen writes a compelling, account of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 expedition to Antarctica. When their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in a sea of ice, the crew rescued whatever food and supplies they could. There are maps, photos, packing lists, and enough ice and frigid weather to make you head to the kitchen for a mug of cocoa.



Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica, by Rebecca E. F. Barone

This book chronicles the parallel journeys undertaken by Antarctic explorers. In 1910 two explorers, each leading their own expedition, set their sights on reaching the South Pole: Captain Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen. Their goal: to be the first to reach the Pole and make history. In 2018 two more explorers set off for the South Pole. Captain Louis Rudd hoped to complete the first solo crossing of Antarctica. Colin O’Brady set out on the same trek, determined to make it across the finish line first. Adventure mixes with STEM in this nail-biting story of survival.


STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:


Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter inspired her first article for kids. When not writing, she’s committing acts of citizen science in the garden. She blogs about science for kids and families at



Maria Marshall is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at


STEM Tuesday — Coding– Interview with Janet Slingerland

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


Many of us on the STEM Tuesday team work hard to showcase the often unsung heroes writing books that spark the imagination of young readers. But it is not often that we get to celebrate one of our own. Today we are interviewing Janet Slingerland – author Coding Creations, Coding 123 and Video Game Coding. Janet is a STEM advocate whose books have covered a wide range of non-fiction topics for k-12. The subjects include plant development, atoms and molecules, nanotechnology, military vehicles and more.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Janet, You are a kindred spirit. We both grew up reading, writing and conducting science experiments as kids. What was the most ambitious experiment you tried as a child? Was there praise and encouragement or were your parents (like mine) a bit flabbergasted?

JJanet and butterflyanet Slingerland: When I was growing up, I did a little bit of everything. I wrote really bad poetry, played lots of instruments (everything but strings and percussion) and sang, wandered around the woods, did theater, played sports, and read A LOT. When I was really young, I remember making mud pies and performing “experiments” at the dinner table. I’m sure you can guess what my parents thought of those experiments. I’m not sure I ever got really ambitious with science experiments after that. I fell in love with math and physics in high school – that propelled me into engineering school.

CTB: Women in children’s literature aren’t often acknowledged for our technical backgrounds. You earned a degree in electrical engineering and wrote computer software before becoming a writer. Tell us a bit about that journey. What it was like writing subroutines for submarines (and other machines)!

Janet: I’mCoding 1 2 3 not sure I really knew what I was getting into when I went to engineering school. I loved physics and math, but the science and math I had to learn in college was at a level I had never imagined! It was in college that I wrote my first computer program. Programming (or coding) combines learning another language with logical thinking – two things I’m pretty good at. (I was almost fluent in Spanish when I graduated from high school – unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of it since then.)

When I graduated from college, I entered the Edison Engineering Program at General Electric Aerospace.  The location I worked at was originally an RCA/Victor facility – where they once made Victrola phonographs. It still specialized in communication systems, so I ended up working in both coding and codes. I programmed computers inside things like submarines, telephones, and airplanes. The programs I worked on supported secure communications – things that used cryptography to make the communications unintelligible to anyone spying on them.

I found the work incredibly rewarding. I still remember the first day we got our secure telephone system working in the lab. We were talking back and forth, and it sounded like we were just talking over a regular telephone. We spent several days convincing ourselves that our voices were being encrypted and decrypted – old encrypted systems would warp the voices so it was obvious you were not talking on a normal phone.

CTB: When I was learning coding, it was Fortran, then PL1. Computers were room sized. That was a long time ago. How much has coding changed since you were in the field? Ever think of diving back in?

Janet: My first programming language was also Fortran – Fortran 77, to be exact. My college year was one of the first that wasn’t required to program a computer using punch cards. (It was fun to see those in the movie Hidden Figures.)

Fortran example

Example of Fortran 77

When I was working, I programmed primarily in assembly language and C. Assembly language doesn’t read like a normal language. It’s designed at a very low level. Grace Hopper was one of the visionaries who felt that a computer language should read in a way that you could tell what the programmer was intending for the computer to do.

I know coding has changed a bit since I first learned it. There are a lot more languages out there, running on a lot more platforms (like cell phones and e-readers/tablets). But I think at its core, coding hasn’t changed much at all. Logic really doesn’t change over time, and a coding language is really just a tool coders use to communicate with a computer. It’s easy to learn a new tool once you know the basics.

I do sometimes feel the desire to get back to coding. There is something very satisfying in starting with just an idea and building up code that brings that idea to life.

CTB: Your books cover a wide range of topics. Why did you make the switch from engineering to writing books about STEM?

Janet: I’ve always loved books and reading. It turns out, I also always had a love of writing. I was often the person (or one of the people) who wrote the documentation for our work – whether that was a lab in school or a project at work.

I found being a woman in the field of engineering/coding to be very challenging. When I was pregnant with my 3rd child, I struggled a lot with the work environment. When he was born, I found the joys at work were too few compare to the struggles. I started following my second love – writing. My background in math, science, and engineering, and my endless curiosity made writing STEM a natural fit.

CTB: So one advantage of writing in STEM is that you are never bored. It’s a major component in the development of just about everything.

Janet: So true! I have yet to find a subject that wasn’t totally fascinating once I started learning about it

Coding Creations CoverCTB: For purely selfish reasons I was fascinated by your book, Coding Creations, which covers Scratch, a free coding language for young people developed by my alma mater. I had not realized MIT’s Media Lab had a Lifelong Kindergarten Group division. Did you have an opportunity to experiment with Scratch while writing the book?

Janet: Absolutely! The first thing I had to do for Coding Creations was to decide on what computer language we would use. I tried out a few, including Scratch and Python – two free coding languages. (I didn’t want money to be a barrier that would keep a curious kid from learning about coding.)

A lot of people dismiss Scratch because it is a block coding language. Each command is represented by a block you connect together to build a program. Scratch doesn’t let you put the blocks together in a way that won’t work. In traditional coding languages, you have to use the proper syntax – you need to spell commands correctly, give them the correct inputs, and use the proper punctuation – in order for it to work. Sometimes, a simple error in syntax can take a long time to figure out.

Scratch example

Scratch 3.0

When I was working with Scratch for the book, I realized it’s actually a very powerful language. It has some limitations, but there are ways to work around most of them. It also works on many different platforms. You don’t even need to download it onto your computer – you can work with it online, if you have a reliable internet connection. That means you can work on your code from different computers if you have to.

My kids used Scratch when they were in school. One of the things that frustrated them is that they were given a lot of time to “play around.” Unfortunately, they didn’t really know much about coding and didn’t feel comfortable playing around with it. My goal with Coding Creations was to introduce readers to Scratch so they would be comfortable playing around with it. Not only did I want to give them a taste of what they could do with it – animation, music/sound, drawing, and coding – but I wanted them to see what other resources were available from Scratch so they could explore more on their own.

Video Game CoverCTB: For students interested in video games as a career, your book on Video Game Coding might serve as a launching point for exploring careers. At my daughter’s college, for instance, students in the video games division had a 100% rate of employment at graduation. If you had to do it again, would you code video games? Or better, what’s your favorite if you play them?

Janet: I wrote the Video Game Coding book mainly because I have a son who is interested in coding – specifically in video game coding. I wanted to learn how video game coding was similar to and different from the coding I did. As I suspected, the basics are pretty much the same, but there are differences in the details – and, of course, in how fun the end result is.

I think a lot of young gamers imagine video game coding to be a very glamorous career. While I’m sure it has its moments of fun and glamour – it’s like all other programming careers. It’s a lot of work and long hours.

All of my kids are big gamers. My favorite video games are puzzle and word games. I’ve tried playing games with my kids, and it’s pitiful – I have no idea what I’m doing. If it’s a game where you lose lives, I die VERY quickly. I could probably get into something like Animal Crossing (one of my daughter’s favorite games), but I honestly prefer to read.

Secret Life of Plants coverCTB: One of the things I love about your website is that you include resources to pair with each book. For instance, for your graphic novel on The Secret Life of Plants, you list not only links to science experiments, but a plant detective game, and the world carrot museum. Whats one of the most unusual or fascinating resources you encountered?

Janet:  That’s a really tough question. In addition to writing, I do a lot of work with scouts. When my daughter was younger, I was a Girl Scout leader. Now, I’m a Scouts BSA merit badge counselor. For that and for STEM Tuesday, I’m always looking for new ways to engage with or learn about things.

MoleculariumThere are a few things that pop into my head as being unusually compelling – and the World Carrot Museum is definitely up there. Another is the Molecularium Project – which was put out by one of my alma maters, Rensselaer – It’s like a video game where you can explore molecules.

Phet LogoI also love PhET – This site is filled with simulations that illustrate just about every math and science concept you can think of. For instance, here’s one that shows how people see color: . It shows that seeing color actually involves more that one science – it involves the physics of light and the biology of the human eye.

CTB: People often conflate STEM with pushing young people into careers in coding. Your book Sports Science and Technology was an excellent example of how STEM is used everywhere, including careers that might dovetail with a person’s real interest. For instance, part of helping a gymnast improve their skill is understanding physics. What one thing fascinated you as you researched sports related applications for STEM?

Sports Technology CoverJanet: I think we need to stop thinking putting things in bins. People think they’re either artsy or mathematical. They’re either sporty or sciencey. There are crossovers in everything.

My father was a gym teacher. Growing up, I played field hockey, volleyball, and track and field. I also marched in marching band. It amazed me that people didn’t view it as a sport – it was just as physically demanding as the other sports I participated in.

I think what fascinated me the most while researching my Sports Science books was how old the idea of sports science is. These ideas started long, long ago, when gladiators were fighting in the Roman coliseum. What’s kind of amazing is how long it took for those ideas to catch on in modern-day sports.

CTB. What’s next on the horizon for Janet Slingerland? Any upcoming books or projects we should be watching out for

QuietvsLoud coverJanet: A few years ago, I wrote a 12-book series about the weird creatures in the world. The books were delayed, and then 2020 happened. I hope I get to see them in print before too much time goes by. I have another book coming out in 2021 from The Child’s World called Quiet vs. Loud. This book helps young readers learn about the physics of sound.

There are a few other books I’m working on. Hopefully, I’m able to get some publishers as excited about them as I am. I call one of them a SHTEAM book – it adds history to science, technology, engineering, art, and math – all related to an object so common people barely notice it anymore.

CTB: Thanks, Janet, for taking time out to talk to us!

Win a FREE copy of “Coding Creations” or “Video Game Coding”.

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!

Janet Slingerland studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Drexel University. She has written many science books for children, including The Secret Lives of Plants!, which was named a Top 40 YA nonfiction book by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Janet lives in Mount Laurel, New Jersey with her husband, three kids and a dog named “Rocky.”

To learn more about Janet and her books, please visit You can follow her on Twitter @SlingSong. Or on Facebook at
Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT engineering nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and more than 70 other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram