STEM

Grab a Book and Head Outside!

Design by Nature book

It’s that time of year. The sun is out longer, the end of school is in sight, and flowers are blooming everywhere. It’s time to GET OUTSIDE and get your Outdoor science on! Where do you start?

Head to your bookshelf!

That’s right, inspiration for how to imagine, invent and discover great outdoor science is right there among the books.

What are you interested in?  Bugs? Moths? Birds? Cool!

Check out a few of these books.

     

 

What about doing some FUN activities while you’re outside? Then check out the entire Outdoor School series!

Hiking and Camping Book

Animal Watching Book

Rocks Fossils and Shells book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or perhaps you have more of a technology bent and want to understand how animals and technology go together.

Design by Nature book

Book Beastly Bionics

 

 

Don’t forget to notice all of the cool engineering around you! In fact, do some of the activities in these awesome books to experience it!

Engineering Activities for Kids

     

 

 

Finally, what if you are just inspired to invent something? Try out these fun books

Magnificent Makers book

    

 

For MORE great ideas of how to use STEM/STEAM books to enhance fun outdoors,

check out our STEM Tuesday Blog, which has almost FIVE years worth of activities for kids/parents/teachers —   

and also STEAMTEAMbooks website which highlights new STEM/STEAM books from 2020 to 2022!

 

Listen to an Expert and Go On a Water Walk

Dr.  Kelsey Leonard, of the Shinnecock Nation gives a talk on the award-winning podcast, Solve It for Kids!

WAter walk Solve It podcast

 

 

CHALLENGE:
Go on a Water Walk! Pick a body of water near your house and go with your parents on a walk safely along the water. Take time to notice things about the water. Does it flow? Is it still? What color is the water? Does it look healthy? Are there a lot of plants around it, etc? Also, spend time just breathing and thinking about the water. Listen to it, too.

 

 

Now that your interest has been piqued, it’s time to DO something with your new knowledge.

Your challenge is to observe, draw, and get outside to explore! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Come up with a new type of animal– one that doesn’t exist but you think it should
  • Design a new type of bionic robot that mimics the way an animal moves or reacts that would be helpful to humans
  • Draw a picture of a car or building that would be awesome to drive or live in
  • Write a story about your creation and share it with your friends and family
  • Make a game or puzzle for others to try to guess what you drew
  • Turn your backyard or living room into a new type of ecosystem  and take everyone on a safari

 

Science really IS all around you. It starts with your imagination. Time to let that imagination and inspiration SOAR!

I’d love to see what you come up with.

Enjoy the outdoors  and Happy Science-ing!

Book Spotlight: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

It’s the time of the year to be grateful. Grateful for what we have in life. Grateful for communities like From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors. Grateful even though life sometimes throws us curveballs. 

Life does throw us curveballs. Sometimes we hit the ball, most of the time we miss. Life also has been known to lob a ball right down the fat part of the plate allowing us to take one heck of a swing. Sometimes we drive those for base hits; other times we knock the ball out of the park. Life provides unexpected opportunities.

Recently, while listening to the fantastic three-part episode on The Little Mermaid from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast, Revisionist History, life lobbed a pitch that floated across the strike zone as big as a beach ball. 

In Episode 2 of the Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell talks to Angus Fletcher, a literature professor at the Ohio State University’s Project Narrative. Dr. Fletcher talks about fairy tales and what makes the oldest of the fairy tale twist stories work for kids while the poetic justice fairy tale stories and their modern “Disney-fied tales really don’t resonate with them.

After listening to Dr. Fletcher’s interview, two things jump out.

  1. Angus Fletcher is a neuroscientist turned English professor.
  2. He has just released a book called, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.

Cover for Wonderworks

Wait! A literature professor with a background in brain science wrote a book about 25 ground-breaking literary inventions?

Count me in!

So I bought the book. I started reading the book. I knew immediately I needed to share this book with my MUF friends and family.

The format of Wonderworks is well designed. Each literary invention is a chapter. It starts with a literary history and a background as existed at the time of the invention. The literary invention is introduced by an author or philosopher in their creative work with an explanation of why the invention worked. Examples are often provided highlighting the use of the invention by different authors.

The kicker, the hook, the thing about this book that reels me in is the section of each chapter where Dr. Fletcher delves into the brain science, the neurology and neurochemistry behind how and why the literary invention works for the reader. Shots of dopamine. Left brain/Right brain interactions, the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenal gland), the balance between the amygdala vs the prefrontal cortex. So much awesome, I’m in reader/writer/scientist heaven!

As a scientist/STEM-enthusiast and writer, this connection is what earns Wonderworks a place on the top shelf of my writing resource books. Absolutely fascinating to read a book about the effect literature has on the brain.

Confession time. I fully expected to be completely through Wonderworks by the time this post was due. 

I’m not. But there’s a great reason why.

Each chapter is so intriguing and packed with information, I find myself needing to work slowly through each of the literary inventions. I find myself seeking out the works mentioned as examples. Some of these books I have on my own shelves. Some I find online, while others I’ve found in my local library. I’ve landed on the Project Narrative website at Ohio State seeking more story knowledge and have downloaded academic papers from the participating faculty. Talk about going down the rabbit hole! Each invention listed in Wonderworks has sprouted many paths to investigate, directions to discover, and mysteries to seek out.

Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! Enjoy the process. Create like the world needs your work because the world needs your work. Be grateful and celebrate the power of words. If you get time, I recommend Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.

The story of story, it turns out, is a fascinating story.

 

The Anatomy of a Middle Grade STEM book — AND a Giveaway!

People are always asking me where I come up with ideas for my STEM books. After all, if you’ve seen my books, I tend to use out-of-the-box angles to get kids excited about some interesting STEM topics.

Astronaut Aquanaut book by Jennifer Swanson

 

Take my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. This one compares and contrasts SPACE and the OCEAN. Pretty cool concept, especially when you learn that while these two places are very extreme enviroments, it takes a lot of similar training and equipment to go both places. Which would you rather be?

 

 

 

Then there’s my Save the Crash-test Dummy book. It’s the history of car safety engineering, told through the lens of a day in the life of a crash-test dummy. Yes, you read that right.   Save the Crash-test Dummies book by Jennifer Swanson

A crash-test dummy. Probably NOT a job you want to have. But it’s a great way to get kids interested in car safety. (Shhh… don’t tell the kids they are learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion)

 

 

 

 

So HOW do I come up with my ideas? And then HOW do I turn these ideas into books? Well, I’m going to give you a peek inside my creative process. It’ll be fun. You might even say, SPORTS-tacular. 🙂

Yep, I’m going to use my new book that releases next Tuesday, July 20th, from Black Dog & Leventhal, as my example. I’ll take you through how this book started as an idea, then a proposal, then… a book. (With amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio)

The Secret Science of Sports book by Jennifer Swanson

STEP 1: Come Up with an IDEA

  • The easiest thing to do is write what you KNOW. — For me, I grew up with 3 brothers and a father who love sports. It was natural that I would as well. After all, I spent most of my days playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming laps in the pool for swim practice, running, hiking, biking, etc. You name it, I’ve played the sport. It only seemed natural that I write a book about something I know and love.
  • Write something that INTERESTS you. This one should also be easy. If you know the topic, hopefully, you’ll like it. I do happen to like sports, which is good.
  • Find the HOOK– This can be the tough part! After all, just because YOU like it and find it interesting, does not mean that others will. You need to  think about how you can make this topic exciting to others. For this book, it was natural to combine my love of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) + Sports =  STEM Sports Book (Exciting!)

 

WHY STEM and Sports? To me, combining STEM and sports seemed natural. Many people watch sports and just look at the game, but I see the physics, the technology, and the math everywhere. I thought if I could get kids (of all ages) to see that, they might find it cool to know as well. Besides, using something a lot of people love (sports), with something everyone learns (science and STEM), that just seemed logical to me. Good thing my editor agreed. 🙂

 

STEP 2: Write the proposal and a really good pitch

Writing middle grade nonfiction book proposals are not for the faint of heart. They take a lot of time and research, but are totally worth it. Here is a great place that offers tips just for this:  https://www.dystel.com/nonfiction-proposals

Writing pitches is not easy either. You need to include enough information to make the editors interested, but not too much to make it boring. Keep your voice fun and entertaining (it should match your voice in the book) and have LOTS of energy.

Here is  my first pitch: Hey! Want to know the secret to winning at sports? It’s not what you’d think. It’s… SCIENCE! Yep. To be great at sports you need to know about physics, biology, neuroscience and even a little engineering. Who would have thought that science class would be the best place to learn how to be a better athlete. Shh…. don’t tell anyone.

 

STEP 3:   WRITE the manuscript!

So now that you’ve sold the book. Yes, I skipped over the hardest part, selling it.  It can take awhile or in the case of this book, it was relatively short. An editor happened to be looking for a book on this topic at just the right time that my proposal was ready. Pretty great, huh? That does not happen all the time. But let’s face it, part of this career is just plain luck, right?

Anyway, as I began writing, I knew I wanted this book to be different. First of all, it had to have  a cool kid-friendly voice. Here are the first few sentences:

If you picked up this book, it’s probably because you like sports. Maybe you want to see if it has tips for how to improve your game (it does), or how to become more fit (it has that, too), or just because you want to learn more about different types of sports (also there). But wait, the title says, the Science of Sports. That means that this book also teaches you about science. What does a sports book have science in it? Those two subjects seem so different. It’s not as if sitting in a science class can teach you more about your sport than practicing it. Actually, it can.       

©Jennifer Swanson, Secret Science of Sports 

 

But most of all, I wanted kids to USE this book. After all, science is best when it’s in action. So, I as I wrote about the science and STEM, I had the readers DO activities like these:

Secret Science of Sports book page

 

 

Secret Science of Sports Book page 25

I also included images that showed the readers how the STEM was actually happening.

Secret Science of Sports Book - Soccer pages

 

 

Again, my editor was totally on board with all of these ideas, thankfully. When you add in the amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio it is really COOL! Readers get their own STEM sports-tastic view of the world!

So, THAT’s how I created my latest book. It was tons of fun and easy to write. For me, it was simply a trip through my sports-filled life. My hope is that readers of all ages find this book interesting, exciting, and useful. I want this book to get taken outside, sloshed through the mud-filled soccer fields, have sports drinks from tennis and football players spilled on it, and yes, even get a little wet from being beside the swimming pool.

It’s also a  PERFECT companion for those of you that will sit down to watch the 2021 Summer Olympics

Sports Book with Olympic rings

Finally, there NEEDS to be more STEM Middle grade books in the world, consider writing one. Kids of all ages will love you for it. GO STEM/STEAM!

I am giving away one copy of my Secret Science of Sports book. Leave a comment below with your favorite sport or favorite sports memory to be entered.