STEM Tuesday

Sibert Showdown, Middle Grade STEM-Style


Hello There! Let me first say, yes it IS Thursday. (with this year you never know, right?)

The STEM Tuesday Team has staged a Thursday takeover of the Mixed Up Files blog so that we can add one more day to the week to celebrate STEM/STEAM books!!

Today we are offering a  FUN activity with STEM/STEAM books to do in your classroom:






Every year the American Library Association honors the best informational books of the year at their annual conference at the end of January.  The award for that is the Robert F. Sibert Award. Typically, one book receives that award and several honor books are chosen as well.

What is the Robert F. Sibert Award?   “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. ALSC administers the award.”– quoted directly from the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) website

What is an informational book?  “Information books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material for children. There are no limitations as to the character of the book, although traditional literature (e.g., folktales) is not eligible. Poetry is not eligible except as a format or vehicle to convey information.”  – quoted directly from the ALSC website



Get your class to decide! Which book do they think should win the Sibert Award? Which one(s) should be awarded a Sibert Honor?

Award-winning author Melissa Stewart started her Sibert Smackdown four years ago. What a BRILLIANT idea! Many teachers and librarians have been using it every year since. Here is a post about  Melissa’s  Sibert Smackdown

With a very enthusiastic nod to Melissa, we here at STEM Tuesday invite you to put a slightly different slant on her version. We encourage you to use middle grade STEM/STEAM books in your Sibert Showdown. This would be great to do for older classes, perhaps 4th graders and up. We realize that reading an entire middle grade book might seem daunting but don’t worry, we offer a few suggestions.



  Pick a book (see the book list below) 

  Decide how your class will read the books. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Book Talk in Teams –Divide them up into teams of 2-3 students. Have each student read the introduction, table of contents and one to two chapters. They can present the book to the rest of the class in a 5-10 minute Book Talk.
  2. Book Tasting– Every student reads just the first chapter of the book and then you discuss in class.
  3. Individual Book Talk– each student picks a different book and skims it, reading the first chapter, a middle one, and maybe the last one.
  4. Book Talk by Class– Split your class up into different groups. Each group reads the back cover blurb and one chapter. (don’t forget the back matter). Then have a discussion and compare.
  5. Read the whole book Book Talk– Of course, this is the best, let students pick from the list below which book they’d like to read. Have them read it all the way through (most of them aren’t too long). Then they give a presentation about why it should be chosen (or not chosen) for the award.
  6. Persuasive Writing Paragraph– Do any of the above, but instead of a presentation, have the students write a persuasive paragraph explaining why this book should or shouldn’t be included in consideration for the Sibert Award.



So that they are all working from the same guidelines, have the students ask themselves these questions as they go through the book:

  • Is the book interesting or FUN to read?
  • Does this book have a lot of information in it– enough to give a reader a very good idea of the topic?
  • Is the book easy to understand? (does the author do a good job of explaining things?)
  • Is the information presented in an organized way? (does it make sense as you are reading it?)
  • Is there a glossary or index in the book to help you understand the terms and find the topics?
  • Is there an author’s note or a way to learn more about the topic?

Their presentations, discussions, or writing should include their answers to these questions.

Sound fun? It IS!

***  And just a note, you could do this activity ANY time of the year, not just during the Sibert Award consideration time. There is always a time to have fun with STEM/STEAM Books!  😊***



Our STEM Tuesday Team came up with a list of some 2020 STEM/STEAM books we think are awesome and will get you started. But feel free to add to our list! Post your favorites in the comments below  OR you can always invite your students to come up with their own classroom list.



Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery (Author), Tianne Strombeck (Photographer),   HMH Kids





All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat, Candlewick Press






Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden, Abrams BFYR






Earth Day and the Environmental Movement: Standing Up for Earth by Christy Peterson, 21st Century Books




Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature by Jennifer Swanson, National Geographic Kids





Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani illustrated  by Maris Wicks, First Second Books






Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner, Millbrook Press



Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather Montgomery, Bloomsbury Kids





Big Ideas That Changed The World: Machines That Think by Don Brown, Amulet Books





Machines in Motion: The Amazing History of Transportation by Tom Jackson, Bloomsbury Children’s Books




Where Have All The Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis By Rebecca Hirsch, 21-First Century Books





This is our list. What is YOURS? Add to this list below. And if you use this activity in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it. Thanks for celebrating STEM/STEAM books with us!

Happy Holidays from the entire STEM Tuesday TEAM!

STEM Tuesday — Coding– In the Classroom

This month we’re focusing on coding. On our booklist, coding includes how to program computers, careers as a coder/programmer, and cryptography or secret codes.

This week is Computer Science Education Week, so it’s a great time to explore ways to incorporate coding ideas into lesson plans, scouting activities, and home learning. (Plus, it’s really fun.)

I tried to read the books like a codes and coding novice. This was a bit of a challenge. Prior to writing children’s books, I spent 15 years programming embedded computers (the microchips that go inside things like phones), often working with elements of cryptography.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgCoding Games in Scratch
by Jon Woodcock (2019)
You don’t approach this like a typical book. Rather, you work your way through it, alternating between reading and coding. It’s very easy to follow, providing a great introduction to MIT’s fabulous free coding system, Scratch. This book doesn’t just cover coding, though. It includes ideas behind game design like themes, difficulty, and playability.

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Video Game Coding
by Janet Slingerland (2019)
The title of this book may be a little misleading. It doesn’t teach readers how to code video games. Its purpose is to introduce readers to careers in video game coding. It looks at how many people work on a game, what kind of code they use, and a what the general process is.


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Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography
by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams (2019)
I love this book. It follows the history of secret codes, from Julius Caesar to modern day internet encryption. I found the explanations easy to understand, and there are lots of examples to put your understanding to the test.


As always, I have way more ideas on this subject than I have time and space to provide them. I’m going to restrain myself and give you a few things to explore and consider here.

For additional resources and ideas, you can check out the coding page on my website ( and my STEM for Kids Pinterest board (

Hour of Code

If you’ve never heard of Hour of Code or haven’t taken a closer look, I encourage you to do so. and have resources for students, educators, and more.

Hour of Code activities are generally designed for beginner coders. They cover a variety of coding languages and platforms.

The activities are searchable by many different variables: grade, time to complete, topics (including social studies and language arts), and available technology.

There are even activities that require no computers or other devices, just filter on “No computers or devices”.

If you want to host an Hour of Code event, you can find help to do so here:

Explore Scratch

Many of the books on this month’s list use Scratch. There are several reasons for this.

Scratch is free language, provided and managed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). If you need to work offline, you can download a Scratch program. But if you have a reliable internet connection, you can work solely online – no program download needed.

Scratch is a block-coding language. Coders choose blocks of code they customize to create a program. The blocks are designed to fit together like puzzle pieces. This takes away the syntax errors that programmers of text-based languages run into.

It’s designed as a sharing platform, so Scratch coders can learn from and be inspired by other coders. They can also easily share their coded creations with other Scratch users.

Many of the Scratch resources online encourage users to explore Scratch in a freeform manner. This can be rather intimidating for some new coders. Following the projects in one of this month’s books introduces users to Scratch. Once they get comfortable with Scratch, they are more likely to explore new ways of using the platform.

Like Hour of Code, Scratch has project ideas that focus on different areas like art, music, and stories:

Escape Room Challenge

As the current state of things has moved much of our lives online, virtual Escape Rooms have become very popular. There are many escape rooms out there to try. But how about challenging young readers and coders to create their own?

Designing an escape room can put into use computer coding ideas, game design elements, development processes, and cryptography skills. The experience will give young developers a taste of life as a video game designer/coder.

There at least 2 free platforms that could be used to develop an escape room – Google Forms and Scratch. Here are helpful resources for these.
Google Form:

Developers will follow the basic process described on page 29 of Video Game Coding. They can use the secret codes described in Can You Crack the Code? and consider the game elements discussed in Chapter 1 of Coding Games in Scratch.


Plan out the stages of the escape room, including the puzzles and/or challenges players will face. This is the pre-production or design stage of video game coding. The platform will determine the level of design required.

The first decision is what theme to use. The escape room could be based on a favorite book, character, or fictional world – like Harry Potter, Pete the Cat, or Star Wars. This could also be an opportunity to create new characters, stories, and worlds.

How many levels will there be? What are the challenges players will face? Make sure each challenge makes sense to get the player from one level to the next.

This is a creative process that mirrors fictional story writing. Characters need to be developed and worlds built. The progression through the levels is the plot. Challenges should work with the chosen world, character(s), and plot.

How are players working through the escape room – individually or in teams? Does that change what the challenges look like?

If coding in Scratch, are players represented on the screen? If so, what do they look like and what are they able to do?


Once the overall story and challenges are planned out, it’s time to move on to the production stage. This is where designers create the art, puzzles, and code needed to turn the escape room into reality.

In Coding Games in Scratch, readers learn to code a little then test a little. Build a part of the game, then try it out to make sure it works correctly. This is a great way to develop a game or program. It helps identify where problems are by keeping the testing area small. It also helps ensure programmers don’t incorrectly use a coding element throughout an entire program.


Once the initial escape room is put together, it’s time to move on to the post-production phase.

The escape room needs to be tested. Each path through needs to be checked for errors. This is often one of the most tedious portions of coding and game development. Once the designers have done their testing, it’s time to get a beta tester.

Beta testers are new to the game. Can they understand how to start and how to progress through the challenges? If not, the designers may need to add additional instructions or learning steps.

Beta testers may move through the escape room in a way the designers didn’t anticipate. This can highlight other errors or omissions that need to be corrected.

Each time a designer makes a change, they’ll need to test out everything to make sure they’ve solved the problem without introducing any new ones.


Once designers are confident their escape room is working the way they want, it’s time to release it to a broader audience. Invite classmates, friends, and family to try out them out.

This would be an excellent time to have a celebration. Developing something like this is a lot more work than people realize. Finishing is a huge accomplishment.

Explore More

I hope this has given you some ideas for exploring coding. There are so many more out there. I hope you take the time to explore and code.

Janet Slingerland in LondonJanet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children, including several about coding. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website – – or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Using Picture Books to Teach Middle Grade and Beyond

Teaching with Picture Books

by Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

When most people think of picture books, they think of cute pictures and feel-good stories that thrill children from ages 0-7. But, teachers know better. There is much more to picture books than meets the eye.

Students have grown up with visuals since the day they were born. From elementary to high school, picture books can spark the imagination and open the eyes as an introduction to a subject. Picture books boil down to the main topic and draw the reader in with interesting tidbits. Our public libraries are full of wonderful picture books ready to do the job. Picture books inspire conversations and provide topics for research. They allow insightful tie-ins to curriculum and present opportunities for projects. Their pictures bring the topic to life. They create understanding unlike anything else. They are quick reads that can fit into almost any schedule.

Take the book, The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Ree.

One of the greatest historical war heroes in the S. Korean culture was Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is known for saving Korea from Japan, a conquering country with a formidable naval fleet. Because of his design, the undefeatable Turtle ship had the ability to defeat the Japanese. His larger than life statue looms high over the skyline in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul.

In the picture book, a young Sun-Sin comes to life as a boy who is afraid to enter a shipbuilding contest sponsored by the King. The King needs an indestructible ship able to withstand ongoing invasions from the sea. Sun-Sin decides to accept the challenge. The author imagines what experiences might have influenced a young Sun-Sin’s turtle ship design, and from there the story is told.

Teaching Middle Grade with Picture Books

(Artwork from “Fighting Ships of the Far East (2)” by Stephen Turnbull © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc)

The Turtle Ship picture book goes step by step through the design engineering process. Young Sun-Sin tries and fails at several design attempts before creating the design known today. This was something I was able to use in my 6th-grade science class. As we talked about the boy Sun-Sin and identified how the process was evolving, it created a bridge to understanding the design process. We had also learned that historically, a lot of designs were inspired by nature. The Wright brothers studied birds before designing the first airplane. In our story, Sun-Sin looks to his turtle for solutions.

When I used The Turtle Ship book in our lesson, my students were fascinated by the Turtle ship design from the 1500s. They learned the ship could rotate in one spot and fire cannons from each of its sides. They discovered soldiers were encased inside the ship so the enemy could not attack. They loved that the top was curved and covered in spikes to keep from being boarded by the enemy. They also learned that the hull was designed to ram into other vessels.

The Korean Turtle Ship

The turtle ship became one of the top engineering designs in warship history. You can read about this incredible ship and its design ingenuity on the U.S. Naval Institute News website. USNI News asked its readers, “What is the greatest warship of all time and why?” The answer can be found on the USNI News website

Teachers in grade levels from primary to high school have used this story to inspire students with a wide range of activities and topics.

Engineering Design Process (EDP)

Research on Korean Inventions

Historical Fiction Comparative Study

Creating a Historical Timeline between Asia and American History

Writing Sijo, a Korean Poetic Form

Analyzing Civic Characteristics of Main Characters

Origin Story with Read-Alouds and Comparisons with Multiple Sources

Teaching Korea through Writing

Teaching Modern Asian Culture through History

Creative Writing

Using the Glossary for Vocabulary Understanding

Study of Honor

Compare and Contrast Other Korean Historical Picture Books

STEAM: Create a Vessel that Holds the Most Weight

STEAM: Design a Boat That is the Fastest

Downloadable Teaching resources:

Lee and Lowe Teaching Guide: TURTLE-SHIP.TG

Historical Information on Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Admiral Yi Sunsin_KSCPP(1)