STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Serendipity Science — In the Classroom



This month’s book list highlights of my most favorite aspect of science –Serendipity! Why is it my favorite? Because while everyone may say science is exact, it is anything but that. Scientists conduct do research, make hypotheses, and then conduct experiments. Many times, the results they get are not what they anticipated in the first place. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong. Perhaps they have just discovered a new element, product, or created a brand new drug that will change the world (Alexander Fleming and penicillin)… accidentally!


While you most likely aren’t crazy about the idea of letting your students just do experiments without guidelines in your classroom on the off chance they will discover something amazing,  one of the best ways to introduce them to this topic is to introduce them to Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones, illustrated by John O’Brien or Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries That Changed Our Lives by Birgit Krols


Mistakes that Worked book cover

Accidental Inventions Book cover


Classroom Activities: Split the class up into four to six small groups. Have each group pick one or two inventions and discuss them amongst themselves. Write out what they think is the turning point in the discovery? Ie. When did the scientist realize what they did was not a failure but a success? And then how did they turn their product into something that was marketable? Each group can make a poster or give a talk about their invention and inventors to the rest of the class. Class discussion can focus on HOW it was turned into an invention that became a product to be sold or used. (Hint: this also teaches a bit of economics.)

Here are a few resources for students to use:


How To Become An Accidental Genius

Have Students that want to invent something to change the world? Have them read through How To Become An Accidental Genius by Frieda Wishinsky, Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Jenn Playford. This is a fabulous book for teaching kids HOW to become an inventor.

Classroom Activity:

This can be done in groups, pairs, or individually. Have students come up with their own invention. Use the steps in this book to develop a plan which contains the following

  • Have them outline what their invention is
  • How it will be used
  • List the materials they’ll need to create it
  • Design and draw it
  • Develop a method for the experiment and creation
  • Discuss what they’ll do if they have to make changes
  • How will they market it

Then have them present it to the class. My guess is, you’ll have some pretty amazing inventions! Kids are very creative and ingenious. This could be a fun thing to share with other classes or for a STEM night at school.


Show them this  video to be inspired by REAL  kids who came up with their own inventions!

iKids — The Inventive Kids site is a place where children and adults can learn about inventors and inventions, and their own creative potential!



The OTHER part of Serendipity Science is when someone stumbles on a great scientific or technological find. Science is a made up of curiosity, perseverance, and yes, luck. Sometimes the best discovery happens when you are in the right place at the right time.

One of my favorite books that showcases how anyone can make discoveries is Sarah Albee’s Accidental Archeologist. This book is chock full of discoveries made, well, accidentally.


Accidental Archaeology by Sarah Albee

Classroom activity: Have the kids read through the table of contents, just to get an idea of what was discovered. They can then pick a chapter and read through as a group or individuals. Make a list of the following

  • How the discovery was made
  • Where the person was when it happened
  • What was the person doing?
  • Where they looking for something else and made this discovery instead?

Then have the students think about something they might  have discovered accidentally? Have they ever found a penny on the sidewalk? Discovered a fossil? Picked up a rock that didn’t belong with the other ones? Seen an animal that is normally nocturnal (out at night) during the day? All of these are accidental discoveries. By paying attention to the world around them, maybe one day they could make a BIG discovery like the people in Albee’s book.




Hope you  have fun with this month’s topic!




Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 45 books for kids, mostly about STEM and STEAM. She is the founder of the STEM Tuesday blog and STEAM Team Books. She has a cool podcast for kids and families called        Solve IT! for Kids— check it out!  You can discover more about Jennifer and book her for events at her website:

STEM Tuesday — Serendipity Science — Book List

Do all discoveries, inventions, and innovations require plans and procedures? Nope. Serendipity, a blend of chance and wisdom, play a huge part in many instances. Tales of accidental brilliance are fun to read and show us the part in plays in all of our lives. Here’s a list of books that tell tales of serendipity.

Accidental Archeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries by Sarah Albee

Sarah Albee tells tales of the secret treasures that are found all around us in Accidental Archeologists. Readers will discover many incredible tales in this book of accessible archeology.

Building Blunders: Learning from Bad Ideas by Amie Jane Leavitt 

As a part of the series Fantastic Fails, this book shares building failures that led to learning.

Gadget Disasters: Learning from Bad Ideas by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Another in the Fantastic Fails series, Gadget Disasters introduces readers to gadgets gone wrong and what designers learn from those missteps.

How to Become an Accidental Genius by Freida Wishinsky and Elizabeth MacLeod, Illustrated by Jenn Playford

Yes, you can become an accidental genius too, according to these two authors, who share a series of inspiring tales of global inventors.

Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones, Illustrated by John O’Brien

Readers will find the stories of common things, like potato chips, and their chance invention. Mistakes can lead to success.

Rhinos in Nebraska: The Amazing Discovery of the Ashfall Fossil Beds by Allison Pearce Stevens, illustrated by Matt Huynh

It’s difficult to believe that rhinos, elephants, and camels once roamed North America. Readers will learn about a startling archeological discovery right in the heart of Nebraska in this book that proved their existence.

All In a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

Lori Alexander tells the fascinating story of self-taught scientist, Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s great discovery.

Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries That Changed Our Lives by Birgit Krols

Here is another book that features the backstories of some of our most important, fun, and useful inventions.

Great Medicine Fails by Barbara Krasner

Can bloodletting with leeches actually lead to a medical success? Read about some of the biggest failures in medicine that led to important success.

Alexander Fleming: Scientists and their Discoveries by Bradley Sneddon

Penicillin is one of the world’s greatest discoveries and has one of the most fascinating stories. Discover how a chance mold contamination led to saving countless lives across the planet.

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Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, 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 empower her readers. Nancy also served as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 international title about farm and food is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US: A Year In The Life Of An Organic Farm. Visit her at 

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Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. Academy Award winner and environmentalist Jeff Bridges calls Planet Ocean a “must read.” Newman, a Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, and a Eureka! Gold Medal from the California Reading Association for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at

STEM Tuesday — Geology — Interview with Author Jennifer Swanson

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 Jennifer Swanson, author of recently released OUTDOOR SCHOOL: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting. In a shining starred review, Kirkus says it’s a “stellar guide that engages readers with rocks, minerals, fossils, and shells.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting?

Jennifer Swanson: I wrote this book because the publisher reached out to me to ask me to write it. That happens sometimes when you are a STEM nonfiction author. The publisher comes up with an amazing idea and then they look for an author to write the book. Why did they ask me? Well, probably because of my background as an author of STEM books for kids, but also because I am a huge fan of science and the outdoors. I grew up with a creek in my backyard and practically spent my entire childhood running around outside along the creek, climbing trees, tromping in the forest, and much more. Writing this book was awesome! because it helped me to relive my childhood in a lot of ways.

There is a whole Outdoor School series! Check out the other two amazing books: Outdoor School: Hiking and Camping by Jennifer Pharr Davis and Haley Blevins, and as you know, Outdoor School: Animal Watching by Mary Kay Carson. If you have kids who love the outdoors, these three books are a must. Kids of all ages will find themselves armed with tons of maps, tips, and tricks to explore the outdoors like never before. If you want to continue the fun, draw images of what you see, organize the collections that you gather, and get to the library to look for more fun books about these topics.

MKC: The book is billed as “The Definitive Guide” and is 440 pages. What was researching it like?

Jennifer: As I mentioned before, I spent  my childhood outside, so I guess you could say that I’ve been researching this book my whole life. But to be more specific, with a book this long, there is a lot of research. I got very familiar with adult field guides of rocks, fossils, and shells (those are very big books, if I do say so myself). And then I wrote the experiments and actually did them. I mean you have to make sure they will work, right? The writing part took a lot of time, as did the editing. We had to go over each illustration to make sure it accurately represented every rock, fossil, and shell in it. Plus, I added in some safety notes throughout as well as suggestions for where to go to find all of these amazing objects to add to your collection.

MKC: Were you a rock or shell collector as a kid? Are you still?

Jennifer: Yes! I collected them all, or tried to anyway. I had a ton of rocks as a kid and shells, too. I never did find a dinosaur fossil, though. Isn’t that the goal of every kid? But I did get close (sort of). I found a cow skull when I was eight. It was the prize centerpiece of the science club I had in my garage. As an adult, I don’t collect as many rocks, fossils, or shells, as I realize that they are important parts of the ecosystem. So while I look for them, I usually leave them in place in the wild.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting this book?

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 35 children’s books, including Brain Games, Super Gear, Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Save the Crash-test Dummies. A self-professed science geek, she started a science club in her garage when she was 7 years old. When not researching cool STEM stuff or writing about it, you can find her walking along the beach with her husband and her dogs, looking for shells.

Jennifer:  Like all my books, I write my books for kids who love science, engineering and the outdoors. For me, writing STEM/STEAM books is about having a conversation with a young reader. It’s about getting them excited about the topic so that they get curious, ask questions, and want to explore more on their own. I love including fun facts so that my readers say, “Wow! I didn’t know that.”  The target audience is kids ages 10-14 years, but really it’s a great book for kids of all ages (yes, that means adults, too). If you love the outdoors or just want to get more familiar with it, this book is awesome for just that!

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project?

Jennifer: Right now I’m working on my new book, Saving the Amazon which features a team of scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago who work to help countries decide if a certain part of the land in the Amazon should be conserved for national parks or protected lands. The team goes into an area and  inventories everything! from the animals that creep on the land to the birds that fly in the trees to the fish in the waterways, plus the plants and people that live there, too. It’s a fascinating process and one I’m honored to be able to tell kids about. My process is to interview each scientist/expert on the team, look through photos, papers, and other resources they have and then to visit the Field Museum for onsite research. For me, this is one of the most exciting parts about writing the book– doing the research and interacting with the scientists. The book will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing in 2023. I’m so excited about it!


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 is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson