Physics

STEM Tuesday — Fun with Physics — Interview with Author Carla Mooney

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

Today we’re interviewing Carla Mooney, author of the upcoming book: The Physics of Fun, by Nomad Press. Known for the depth and breadth of her body of work for middle grade and young adult readers, Carla took five popular youth activities and explored some of the science principles behind them. The book includes hands on science experiments to help readers make long-lasting connections to the material and practical applications in the real world.

Mooney_Nomad_Booth

Christine Taylor-Butler: Before we get into your books and writing, tell me a bit about yourself. What were you like as a child?

Carla Mooney: When I was younger, I loved reading. It was a big thing for me. I was also into music. I was the kid who played the piano and sang in the choir. I wasn’t super coordinated so I wasn’t into sports, but I was really supportive of my friends who did. I was an only child so I played a lot of board games. Every night after dinner I’d play Family Feud with my parents. We also played cards. Have you heard of Hearts? Dad and I would band together and gang up on my mother and we’d laugh. I have fond memories of those evenings. Now I’m married and have three children. My oldest, a girl, is a senior at Bucknell University. One son is a sophomore at James Madison University. My youngest son is a junior in high school. They’re fun.

CTB: When I first read your bio I was expecting your background to be in science. But you earned a Bachelors degree in Economics. So many of our readers don’t realize the unusual path many authors take to arrive at their careers. Why Economics?

Carla: It’s kind of ironic. The reason I got into accounting was because I hated my high school physics class. I really loved science especially chemistry and biology. But my physics class was taught in an old fashioned way with a super dry teacher. I would go to class and he’d play black and white movies made in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I came out of that class thinking, “What can I do that doesn’t involve Physics?” When I went to college I studied business and majored in Economics.

CTB: So that lead you to look at a different field?

Carla: Yes. After I graduated from University of Pennsylvania, I worked in public accounting until I was married. Then I worked in finance at a private company until my second son was born. After that I did financial consulting for start-up companies. Consulting is actually how I segued into writing. Many of the start-ups were so small they didn’t have their own finance departments. They were trying to raise money from venture capitalists and were pitching great ideas but couldn’t explain those ideas in language the funders could understand. So I would interview the scientists and the CEO’s to gather the relevant information and then I’d turn it into explanations the venture capitalists could digest.

CTB: So very much like what we as authors do with children’s literature. Take complex information and translate it into concepts and explanations young readers can understand. My alma mater, MIT, required a class in writing for all incoming freshman. They realized they were graduating gifted scientists and engineers who struggled to explain the results of their work to non-technical people.

Carla Exactly! My father-in-law is a former aerospace engineer. He had a similar observation when teaching at Tufts University graduate school. Students were smart but couldn’t write.

CTB: You’re known for writing a wide variety of non-fiction. You cover everything from  the human genome, globalization and even getting a job and paying taxes. There’s even a book on forensic science and crime scene investigation. I’m curious. What was your first book?

Forensices Human_Genome Careers_TaxesGlobalization

Carla: Surprisingly, my first assignment was not technical. I was hired to write a biography on Vanessa Hudgens, the actress. At the time, she was the star of High School Musical. My kids really loved the show so it was a fun book to research. The book was published in 2009.

CTB: In 2014, you wrote Isaac Newton: Genius Mathematician and Physicist. A review in School and Library Journal read: “Strong writing is peppered with dramatic details that will bring scientific discoveries to life. ” Did that book pique a renewed interest in Physics?

Isaac NewtonCarla: It did. I didn’t know much about him before writing the book beyond his connection to gravity and the laws of Physics. That’s why I love writing nonfiction. I like learning new things. My favorite part of the job is research. Not knowing about a subject beforehand doesn’t deter me. It’s actually kind of fun to dive in.

CTB: It might surprise students that authors write a lot more in their drafts than what finally appears in the final book. Is that the same for you?

Carla: Yes. We lay the tracks down to see what we have. I tell my kids, “Get it all down, then you can move pieces during the revision.” I noticed that my kids will sit there and have a few words on a page when working on homework. It’s because they’re trying to get a perfect sentence or a perfect paragraph at the start. I helped them understand that getting it all down is part of the drafting process. Once everything gets flowing you get more than you would if you’d waited for everything to be perfect on the first draft. Just put it all down and fix it afterwards.

CTB: You went on to write over seventy books over the course of your career. And now you’ve circled back to Physics again!

Physics_FunCarla: Oh, I love it now! The publisher, Nomad Press, pitched the topic to me. I’d been writing for them for years. I love that they are pretty open after giving me a topic. They’ll say, “Hey, we have an idea,” and I pretty much got into a science track. They leave it to me to decide how to develop the contents. I do research then generate an outline and chapter headings for their approval. The relationship has worked very well. When Nomad Press asked me to create The Physics of Fun, it was like going into a puzzle.

CTB: So what’s the concept behind the book?

Carla: I take common activities that kids do, skateboarding for example, and explore the science behind them. The publisher suggested possible activities they wanted to see. I chose skateboarding, snowboarding, trampolining, singing in a band, and video games. So not just sports. One of the challenges in writing the book is that when you’re talking about similar activities in separate chapters, the science concepts are similar. Skateboarding and snowboarding have similar principles. I didn’t want the book to be repetitive. So for each, I tried to focus on a particular area of physics. For example, with skateboarding I talked about how forces acting on the objects, combining forces, and the laws of motion impact the sport. For snowboarding I focused on energy, air resistance, speed and acceleration as science concepts to explore, With trampolining I look at how springs work.

CTB: You didn’t limit the chapters to sports. You use music and video games.

Carla; Yes. I discuss music and playing in a band. The science concepts I explore are sound and light waves and how those might impact you if you were at a concert. The last chapter focuses on video games and the science of electricity. Music and video games were easier to differentiate than the other three topics.

CTB: One of the advantages of The Physics of Fun is that it encourages experimentation. You introduce the science then provide hands-on activities to allow the students to immerse in the subject area.

Carla: That’s the intent. We included activities at the end of each chapter that reinforce concepts of that topic. It allows students to immerse in activities they relate to the best. For example, in the first chapter, I discuss friction. Readers are then encouraged to explore friction on a ramp they create. They can then add different surfaces to change the friction when a toy car is used. This allows them to observe and think about the results. How does changing the surface affect how the car rolls? How does physics explain what they are seeing. I’ve done most of the activities myself. My kids, when they were younger, did activities and experiments with me. I once wrote a forensic book and have picture of my kid on the floor with tape. I try to do the projects myself because I want to make sure they work before asking students to try them. But I also want to make sure the experiment is clearly explained and that we didn’t miss any steps.

CTB: This particular series is aimed at upper middle grade, early high school?

Carla: It’s part of Nomad’s Inquire and Investigate series. The projects are left a little more open ended to give the reader the freedom to design things themselves and think, “What would happen if I did this?”

CTB: You have such a breadth of knowledge. I wanted to talk a bit about some of your upcoming work before we close out. I was particularly interested in your book Collateral Damage: Mental Health Effects of the Pandemic. That topic seems so timely. Kirkus Reviews was complimentary about the level of research and called it, A useful guide to counter feelings of helplessness. Can you tell us a bit about the subject?

Collateral_DamageCarla: The book touched on experiences very close to home. My three children were home during the lockdown. Each have different personalities and were in different stages of their lives when the pandemic changed things. So they were handling the stress differently, some better than others. Most of this book was written last fall. What made the writing difficult is that the information was changing constantly. Every day there were different studies looking at different aspects of the virus and the impact on mental health. I was constantly reading research reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). So I worked hard to make sure the information was up to date before we went to press.

CTB: What are some of the concepts you want to share with readers?

Carla: People, especially young people, need to know that if you are struggling – reach out to someone. There are a lot of resources available. No one should suffer through anxiety or panic attacks or depression alone. There are resources such as family, friends, doctors, even virtual ones, and hotlines. Don’t sit there and think there’s nothing you can do and things are hopeless. Do what you need to do to keep your mind and body healthy. I’ll give you an example. During the strictest part of the lockdown my children couldn’t go outside. School was closed. So my youngest and his friends would put on headsets and play video games. My husband worried about how much time he was spending gaming, but it was my son’s lifeline. He and his friends were able to maintain their social connections that way. So I would encourage everyone to find their support systems and reach out in order to get through this.

CTB: So what are you working on next? Anything we should keep our eyes out for?

HIstoric_BattlesCarla: There are several things coming out. One is Historic Battles of World War II for kids. It’s published by Rock Bridge Press which is also known as Callisto. I love history even though I’m known for science. I especially love reading about military history and going to the historic sites.

Chemistry of FoodI wrote the Chemistry of Food. It’s delayed but will be coming out this fall. I explore how different food ingredients react when you combine them, or heat them. Chemical reactions happen so the book is about the science of turning ingredients into food. Here’s a fun fact I didn’t know: when you bake bread, the outside of the bread dough turns a golden brown because of a chemical reaction in the dough. The ingredients caramelize to create the color.

Lastly, I’m finishing up a book now on the climate crisis. April 2022 is the tentative release date. The focus is on the human impact on climate change. How does it relate to you as the reader? Why should the reader care. That’s another subject where I feel as if I’m constantly reading more stories that should be included. Think about it. There’s the recent flooding in Tennessee, and the massive wildfires. I often think, maybe I have room to add more.

CTB: Carla, thank you for giving us a peek into your writing life. I love your enthusiasm for your work and the young readers we write for. Looking forward to reading your books in the future.

Win a FREE copy of The Physics of Fun.

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!

 

Carla MooneyCarla Mooney is the award winning author of more than 70 books for children and young adults, and a regular contributor for STEM Tuesday. In addition, her work has appeared in many magazines including Highlights, Faces, and Learning Through History. When not writing, Carla is a chapter director for Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides professional portraits of kids with cancer and other life-threatening conditions and raises money for childhood cancer research. Carla lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To learn more about Carla and her work, please visit www.carlamooney.com . You can follow her on Twitter at: @Carlawrites.

author christine Taylor-butlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of more than 80 books for children including Think Like a Scientist, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM-infused middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram. Or see her website at: www.ChristineTaylorButler.com

STEM Tuesday — Fun with Physics — Writing Tips & Resources

The Sounds of Science

Tweet! Crash! Sizzle. Flip through a physics textbook, and you’ll find sound among the subjects. Since we’re having fun with physics this month, it’s the perfect time to delve into sound, especially the musicality of language and how we can apply it to science writing. Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano’s A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE, from this month’s book list, will serve as our mentor text.

Sound Devices

Poet and children’s book author Renee LaTulippe discusses sound devices in this video on her Lyrical Language Lab YouTube channel, which I highly recommend. She identifies:

  • onomatopoeia
  • alliteration
  • assonance
  • consonance
  • repetition
  • rhyme

Let’s look at each device in turn with examples from DeCristofano’s book for tips on how to add these to our own work.

This is a picture of the cover for A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE.

Onomatopoeia is sound effects. Like those I started this post with. In Chapter 3, DiCristofano uses several instances of onomatopoeia to add drama to the end of a star’s life, including WHOOOOOSH! CRASH! And BOOM!

Alliteration is when words that are close together start with the same letter or sound. DiCristofano has some wonderful examples of this, including this phrase from the subhead to chapter 1: “A black hole is a place in space with powerful pull.” Notice that place, powerful, and pull all start with p, an example of alliteration.

This phrase above also has an example of assonance, which is words that are close together with the same vowel sound. In this case “place” and “space.”

Consonance is when words close to each other have the same consonant sound anywhere in the words. Chapter 5 has this line: “Others, like a black cat on a dark night, aren’t lit brightly enough.” Notice all those ending k sounds. The t sounds also show consonance.

Repetition is just that — repeating words or phrases. Here is an example from Chapter 1: “Nothing can out-tug a black hole. No army of tow trucks, no convoy of supersized earth haulers, no fleet of giant rocket engines.” That repetition of the word no for emphasis, is just perfect.

In prose, we don’t usually use end rhyme, but we might use internal rhyme. That’s when words in the middle of a line rhyme, as they do with “place in space” above.

Easy does it

Adding musicality isn’t difficult. I usually focus on this part of writing after I’ve got my structure in place.

When I want to pepper my prose with alliteration, I look to an online thesaurus. I brainstorm synonyms and pick some with the same starting sound.

When trying to find rhyming words or words with assonance, I turn to Rhymezone. If I look up the word “space,” I find lots of words with the same vowel sound, including trace, base, case, and race. I normally write down lists of rhyming words in my notebook and see if any make sense for what I’m trying to say.

The key with sound devices is not to overdo them. Too much alliteration, for example, can cause the reader to trip over the words. Always read your work out loud to make sure it’s both clear and musical.

Putting it all together

Let’s end by dissecting DeCristofano’s fabulous first line from Chapter 1. Which of the sound devices above can you find? How do you feel about her use of all the elements? Are they too much? Not enough? Just right?

“Way out beyond where you are right now, beyond the clouds, beyond the Moon, beyond Pluto, beyond our solar system, space goes on and on.”

–Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, Chapter 1, A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE
Kirsten Williams Larson author

Kirsten W. Larson

Websitekirsten-w-larson.com

Biography

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of  WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), an NSTA Best STEM BOOK, A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, Sept. 28, 2021), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, Spring 2022), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter and Instagram @KirstenWLarson.

STEM Tuesday — Fun with Physics — In the Classroom

As we get ready to head back to school, there are a ton of physics activities that kids can try at home or in the classroom. The books on this list will help students learn more about the world around us and how it works. What are forces? How do they affect you every day? Why is it harder to push a box across the carpet than it is to push it across a smooth floor? How do you bounce so high on a trampoline? These are just a few of the questions that physics can answer. Are you ready to dive in and explore physics?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Fairground Physics: Motion, Momentum, and Magnets with Hands-On Science Activities by Angie Smibert and Micha Rauch We couldn’t enjoy our favorite summer fair without physics. This book uses real-world fun to explore physics.

Classroom activity: Most kids love the rides and games at amusement parks and fairs. Now they can apply science to one of their favorite activities! Have students choose their favorite ride or game and research the role of physics. What laws of physics apply? How do these laws of physics explain the way the ride or game operates? How does physics impact safety on the ride or game? Students can also design their own rides or games. What laws of physics will apply? How will physics explain the way the ride or game operates? Students may even build a model or diagram to demonstrate the new ride or game for the class.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

The Speed of Starlight: An Exploration of Physics, Sound, Light, and Space by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadia This book presents key physics principles through amazing artwork.

Classroom activity: This book combines art and science in a fantastic way. Students can also use art to understand and explain science concepts. Have students pick a law of physics and create a piece of art that illustrates and explains the science. Encourage students to use different art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, crafts, or video. Have each student present their art and explain the scientific concept.

Cover for Women Scientists in Physics and Engineering (Superwomen in Stem)

Superwomen in STEM: Women Scientists in Physics and Engineering by Catherine Brereton Read about STEM women who made a difference in the field of physics and engineering.

Classroom activity: Have students choose a physics and engineering pioneer to research. What has their chosen pioneer contributed to the science of physics and our understanding of matter and its motion? Have students work together to create a living timeline of physics’ most important discoveries and scientific achievements.

 

Looking to explore more and learn about physics and how the world around you works? The books on this month’s list are packed full of physics activities and experiments. Browse through the pages and choose a few activities to do in class or at home!

 

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.