Women’s History Month

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– Interview with Catherine Thimmesh

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 Sibert-winner Catherine Thimmesh about Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. This new edition of her classic 2000 book has been revised and updated. Horn Book says, “Today’s readers will find a laudable increase in the subjects’ diversity as well as a more contemporary focus…A resource as informative as it is empowering.”

Mary Kay Carson: Why did you write this book? 

Catherine Thimmesh: I’ve always been drawn to the idea that creativity is not something “merely” relegated to the arts, but that it is a tool used across disciplines and particularly for problem solving. To me, “inventing” is just one word taking the place of three: “creative problem solving.” Also, I’ve always felt strongly about how society treats and depicts (or ignores) women and girls, and so I set out to write a book combining these two interests of mine.

MKC: How did you decide who to profile?

Catherine: The inventors I chose to feature meet subjective criteria I have:  do I find this invention cool and fascinating? Do I think kids will find this invention cool and fascinating? Can I make the invention relevant in some way to today’s reader? Will the invention itself expressly turn away boy readers? (Which I don’t want — boys like these stories too, despite the title — and it’s important they see stories of women and girls inventing, not only stories of men.) And, importantly, can I show as much diversity as possible within the pages? (In the original, I didn’t have the internet as a research tool and it was exceptionally difficult to find inventors of color. The new version has   a more balanced mix of inventors of different ethnicities and of different countries.

MKC: What makes inventors such an engaging topic for kids?

Catherine: I think kids like reading about inventions and inventors because they recognize themselves in the pages. Even if a kid has never physically invented something, and never tinkers in a maker space, kids think about these things all the time. They’re inventing things in their minds and in their creative play. And they are wildly inventive. So, I think they connect with the idea that anyone, at any age, can invent. And, possible invent something others would use, and maybe even make money!

Catherine Thimmesh is the author of many creative nonfiction books for children, including the Sibert medal-winning TEAM MOON: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon and CAMP PANDA: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild — a Sibert Honor recipient. She lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. www.catherinethimmesh.com

MKC: Do you choose to write STEM book or have a STEM background?

Catherine: Girls Think of Everything (2000 edition) was my first book. At that time, STEM (as STEM) didn’t even exist. I don’t technically have a STEM background — I have a liberal arts degree, but I took my fair share of required, and many elected, STEM related classes. I love science! But with my books, I don’t approach them as “STEM books” or “this would fit in with STEM curricula” — and thus, in the writing process I’m never trying to write to any guidelines. I choose my book topics in almost the very same way I chose who to include in the inventor’s book: What topic am I excited about/or passionate about/or intrigued with? What topic am I really curious about? What topic do I think kids are curious about? Excited/passionate/or intrigued with? Does my curiosity/interest overlap with kids’? Can I make the topic relevant and accessible to kids? Actually, I think it’s kind of interesting that the majority of my books are STEM books, though I don’t set out to write STEM books. I just set out to satiate and better understand my curiosity. But isn’t that exactly where scientists begin? With curiosity? And isn’t that what kids’ have in abundance?

Win a FREE copy of Girls Think of Everything!

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 Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– Writing Tips and Resources

Begin at the End

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTwo-time Pulitzer prize winner Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, writes “The story doesn’t pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending – so write that first.” I’ve discovered that the same trick works when I need to read like a writer.

Narrative, expository, opinion pieces – no matter the approach – informational texts are written to convey something. Be it a concept, a scientific process, personal growth, an abstract theme, a historical truth, whatever, the entire text builds towards it. So, if I want to understand the building blocks an author uses, it makes sense to read the conclusion first to know were the book is going.

Try it.

The books in this month’s list provide a perfect opportunity; they are all about women’s history and offer great comparison opportunities.

Pick up one of the books and read the final chapter – not the author’s note, or any of the back matter, but the chapter intended as the official conclusion. Ask yourself: What do I notice? Who are the characters? What is the tone?

Ask: What is the point of this book? List some questions that reading the conclusion first brings up.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI picked up Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margo Lee Shetterly. I knew that the book was about multiple women who had an impact on space exploration, so what struck me was how the ending focused on one of the characters, Katherine Johnson. Why? I leafed through the rest of the book and saw that, although mentioned earlier, Katherine’ story doesn’t really begin until page 93. Why? This had me charging back to the beginning of the book to read straight through to figure out just how and why Shetterly built to that particular conclusion.

When thinking about the structure of a text, I try to sketch shapes as representations. In Hidden Figures would I find a triangular structure, pointing to Johnson? A chain of interlocked links? A circle where the conclusion brings us back to the beginning?

This is inquiry.

This is close reading!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWith this shape idea in mind, I flipped to the end of Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. The book is written in verse. The title of the last one was “The Wider World” which sounded like a conclusion, but as I read, I realized the entire verse was about one character. Where were the other two girls? How could this be a conclusion for the entire book?

Driven by that question, I read the book. I sketch three pillars; one for each story. Each stands independently, illustrating the life of one girl. But together those pillars support a bigger idea, a universal idea that the last verse just happens to illustrate perfectly. Now that’s skill: conveying a universal truth that a reader laps up before they even realize it!

Speaking of universal truths, Jon Franklin instructs “if those truths seem like clichés . . . so much the better.” That surprised me at first, but then I compare a few of the books and it starts to make sense. Universal truths are eternal truths, messages we have all heard before but still need to hear again and again.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI figured this collection of women’s history books will all hit on the same universal truths and might use very similar approaches. Again, those conclusions had something to teach me. In Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream, Tanya Lee Stone uses a brand new character and open ended questions to shine a light into the future of women in math and science. In Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, Mary Cronk Farrell uses reflection and a character who we met on the first page of the book.

When I picked up Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, I was intrigued to find the book concluded with “Your Turn.” This segment uses direct address and includes specifics on how to apply for a patent. An indirect challenge to the reader to get busy inventing!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

It wasn’t till I skimmed through the rest of the book, though, that I realized another gem of the conclusion. It took the book’s premise (female inventors) up a notch. It highlighted an inventor who was not only female, but also a young female. By that point I was totally jazzed to dig into the intro to see how Thimmesh set up the book for this romp through chocolate chip cookies, Liquid Paper, and space bumpers, leading us to the universal truth of the power of girls as inventors.

So, I challenge you. Pick up a book and begin at the end. You might be amazed at where I takes you!

Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. How does she conclude her books? With a story of a kid who discovered a new species, an insect who eats his sister and her own close encounter with the skin of a skunk!

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

 

 


O.O.L.F

Some authoritative works on crafting nonfiction:

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner, by Jon Franklin, which focuses on crafting an effective structure for narrative nonfiction

The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality, by Lee Gutkind, in which the guru of creative nonfiction looks at the genre, immersion techniques, framing devices, essays, and more

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, by Jack Hart, which provides a balanced look at topics such as structure, character, dialog, reporting and ethics

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas, which dissects the research process and provides guidance on submitting to the children’s market

 

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– In the Classroom

 

This STEM Tuesday, Jodi and Carolyn are teaming up and tackling it all–well, almost! Literacy, science practices and a cross-cutting concept, technology tie-ins, and gender and general equity in STEM. It goes to show you what a couple of great books can do to stimulate learning–our own and, we hope, your students! So let’s get going…

 

Literacy Connection: Writing Prompts!

It’s March, which means that it is Women’s History Month. In schools, March is also the time when teachers of all subjects are especially pressured to give writing assignments that will help prepare students for upcoming writing assessments. You can “celebrate”  both with Women in Science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world, by Rachel Ignotofsky.

 

This book contains an excellent collection of 1-page descriptions of female scientists’ lives and careers. Let’s look at how you can use them to quickly pull together writing prompts.

 

Rachel Ignotofsky’s opening pages (p. 6-7) provide an excellent introduction for the prompt:
Next, pivot to the actual prompt:

Finally, add in your question. Here are some suggestions you might consider, based on your area of science:

That’s all there is to it! Strong texts on an important subject, and writing practice for all.

 

STEM Connections: Patterns and Practices

The Girl Who Drew ButteSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgrflies offers wonder-full opportunities to connect kids to NGSS disciplinary core ideas (e.g., heredity). But its value goes beyond DCIs. Together with carefully paired experiences, this inspirational book promises to stimulate learning in the areas of science practices and the cross-cutting concept of patterns.  It also suggests strong connections to technology and engineering, art, and fostering gender (and general) equity in STEM. Doesn’t that paint a powerful picture? (Just like Maria Merian!)

Bring Up “Baby” (Eggs, Instars, etc.) for Pattern Recognition

Of course, the focal points of Merian’s scientific studies–body forms and regular, predictable repetition of life cycles of insects, and these animals’ relationships to specific plants– offer key examples of patterns.

An obvious—and engaging–learning link: Nurture butterflies from eggs (or instars, AKA caterpillars)! Choose painted lady butterflies or monarchs.

Better yet…

Make a Menagerie of Metamorphosis!

Raise multiple species! For example, rear painted ladies, monarchs, and add in “brassica butterfly” eggs , various moths, and the  mealworms (which are neither butterflies nor moths).

 

Add Power and Punch with Plants

Echo Merian’s emphasis on ecological relationships by providing plants that your particular classroom specimens rely on.  For example, raise the “brassica butterfly” on the quick-growing Wisconsin FastPlants® variety of brassica, which allows students to examine a complete plant life cycle. Free lesson and activity guides  are available.  (The plants won high marks with teachers in one of my recent curriculum-based professional development programs.)

 

Outward Bound

For more info on tagging butterflies, visit Monarch Watch.

Are you fiscally and philosophically motivated to follow Maria Merian’s lead and head outdoors for your specimen? Missouri Botanical Garden offers user-friendly suggestions.

Exploring Patterns with Your Classroom Zoo (and a Garden, Too)

Observing the live specimens can foster awareness and understanding of patterns. Explicitly use the term while prompting students to reflect on their daily observations and data.


Exploring Patterns: Questions to Ask

 
  • For each individual species, what is the body pattern (the way the parts look and relate to each other, the basic template or form)? What differences, or variations, do we notice across individuals of the same species?
  • Investigate each species’ development, or life cycle, pattern: How many days do individuals spend in each phase of development? Is there a wide variation or a narrow range of time from one phase to another? (Can we tell without banding or marking individuals)?
  • Over each species’ life stages, what predictable relationships between the animal’s behavior and its stage do you see? Do these patterns make sense? What questions do they raise?
  • Across species: Compare and contrast the life cycle stages in different species. Are there any general patterns of development across species? What variations across different species do we see?
  • How do the animals’ and plants’ life cycles resemble and differ from each other?
  • What are the relationships between the species and the plants they rely on? Are their cycles synced in any way you can see?

Science Practices Make Perfect Connections!

You can foster development and understanding of science practices while interweaving The Girl Who Drew Butterflies and classroom studies of animals (and their plant hosts).

Practice 1: Asking Questions (for science)

While reading about Merian’s habit of hoarding insects for study, ask students to list the questions they think she had in mind; post them. (Although understanding the curiosity that drove her may be straightforward, articulating questions might be challenging.) Ask students which they think are most interesting.

Take students on a walkabout in a suitable outdoor space. Look for butterflies, moths, and other insects at various stages. (Remember to check out water insects if you can!) Begin preparations by encourage students to look with the eyes and questioning mind of Maria:

 

  • What questions do students have that relate to her curiosity? Which of these do students think they can investigate simply by going outside and carefully observing?
  • Plan to bring notebooks/sketch pads, trowels, rakes, nets, magnifying lenses, and small containers (such as salad dressing cups or baby food jars) to help unearth, collect for observation, and examine what students find.

Over time, as students get into a rhythm of recording data (including their observations), discuss their observations, questions, and any “wonderings” that are coming up for them. Keep a running list of questions on cards that you post.  Eventually, classify questions according to those that someone could/could not investigate by  running an experiment or planned observation. Consider trying some student-suggested investigations in your classroom, possibly guiding students to adapt and simplify questions as needed.

 

 

Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

This practice stems from and leads to the practice of asking questions. To deepen this connection, explicitly  involve students in identifying ways to collect and record data.

  • What will help us compare and contrast what they see across individual animals within a species, and across species?
  • As we try different approaches, what are the benefits and disadvantages of each?
  • What type of numerical data might be interesting and important to track? (Suggestions: numbers of individuals within a species population that survive to adult form, growth of individuals at, weight of food offered and consumed, numbers of certain features (spots, sensory organs, etc.).

 

  • Sketch the specimens but also keep notes of daily observations of change and constancy. Compare and contrast classroom records with information from other sources about other species.

  • Students might try making watercolor sketches the way Merian did!

 

  • Encourage students to think about the relationships of art, science, and technology in relation to this practice:

 

  • How does making sketches help you as a scientist?
  • How does being a scientist help you as an artist?
  • Maria made prints and books for sale. How did printing technology contribute to scientific knowledge and Maria’s ability to continue studying insects?

 

Add photography and videography to expand this opportunity for students to reflect on how technology helps us in scientific inquiry.

  • Compare and contrast the benefits and drawbacks of using pencil, watercolor, still photography, and video to document, enhance, and communicate observations.
    • What differences do we see among the drawings created by different individuals? How might such differences impact a scientific community?

 

Technology Tie-Ins: Use Insect Info to Solve Agricultural Problems

Two free lessons from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association engage students in practical applications of understanding insects life cycles and ecological relationships. Bugs on the Bog is an Integrated Pest Management problem-solving activity. Students rely on knowledge of pest insect stages to manage a model cranberry bog. How Do You Bee? focuses on ecological relationships between pollinators and plants at different plant stages.

(Disclosure: My educational consulting firm developed the CCCGA lessons.)

 

 

Mind the (Gender, SES, Racial, etc.) Gap: All Students as Scientists

Maybe these ideas and resources will bring about a full-scale metamorphosis in any beliefs that threaten your students’ pursuit of STEM:

 

  • Prominently post pictures of students that provide evidence that they are already scientists. Have students take and/or caption the pictures.

 

  • Discuss the book’s claims and evidence that Merian’s culture constrained, but didn’t stop, her.
    • Today, what beliefs might hinder or help you and others thrive as scientists?

These materials might support student exploration of this question.

 

We–Jodi and Carolyn–have had our say about this week’s featured books and connections to the classroom. But we’re most interested in hearing from you.

  • Have you read the books?
  • …Used them to foster science learning and engagement on the part of learners?
  • Do you want to recommend any additional resources or share a great lesson idea?
  • Share your thoughts; leave a comment!

(And Happy Pi Day!)


Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science, reading, and writing instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. Visit https://OnceUponAScienceBook.com for more information on her books and staff development offerings.

 

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is a STEM education consultant and provides curriculum development and professional development to schools and nonprofits as Blue Heron STEM Education, Inc., which she co-founded. Her books for kids include the popular A Black Hole is NOT a Hole (published in English, Korean, Chinese, and as an audiobook), and her recent Running on Sunshine: How Solar Energy Works. Find her in classrooms providing author visits, on Facebook –and in April 2019 at the National Science Teachers Association conference in St. Louis, where she will co-present on using authentic data in the classroom and participate–along with Jodi and several other STEM Tuesday contributors–in the Linking Literacy Event, which features conversations with authors.