Let’s launch into nonfiction literacy with this month’s theme, Deep Space and Beyond!
Space is the star of the show this month. From asteroids to zero gravity, there are human interest and general STEM themes interwoven with this theme. Have a blast as you explore the Solar System and beyond!
Try a Trio.
Emphasize the human heart of science as you compare and contrast the stories in a trio of books: Team Moon (Catherine Thimmesh), Mission to Pluto (Mary Kay Carson), and Voyager’s Greatest Hits (Alexandra Siy). Focus on the motivations, challenges, worries, and risks involved in reaching for big, ambitious goals that advance scientific and technological frontiers. Students can consider which missions they find most interesting; which one they think they would most like to have been involved in; and where else they think humanity should explore. They might also write about what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of human explorations compared to robotic ones.
Elizabeth Rusch’s IMPACT! Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World focuses on professional scientists’ efforts to understand asteroids and their, er, impacts, both past and potential, on Earth. Then Rusch invites readers to get involved in citizen, or amateur, asteroid science. (After reading this book, who wouldn’t want to join the fun?) Page 64 offers resources to help engage your group, or just one motivated kid, in efforts to track asteroids, discover one, or even save the world from an asteroid! Rusch provides tips for meteorite collecting, but it might be easier to collect tiny micrometeorites. Their incredibly long adventures through space can end on rooftops and in downspout debris. They’re ready for pick-up by the well-informed, slightly lucky, prepared amateur with a magnet. Check out Popular Science’s DIY article for details. (Be sure to get all the appropriate permissions and scout only in safe areas when collecting!)
Readers zipping through Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System (Bethany Ehlmann with STEM Tuesday’s Jennifer Swanson) might appreciate the mind-boggling size of the solar system after they make and revise solar system models to various scales. Get started with a scale and relevant data for a football field-sized model, found on page 18. Before heading out to the gridiron, however, help students map out the model.
Begin by sketching the football field on cm-grid graph paper and locating the planets’ orbits on it. (Each cm represents one foot on the field and 5 million miles in real space.) At this scale, students will find the field is too small for all orbits; students will need to adjust the scale so all planets can fit. New map in hand, head outside. Students can position themselves at the scaled planetary distances from the Sun.
Reading on, as students find that the solar system extends farther than the planetary orbits, they can track distance data for all Solar System features mentioned in the book. At the scale students used before, where in the community beyond the field would these features have to be placed?
For more depth, consider the scale of the objects and other models.
- Is the model of the Sun (an orange) the right size for this scale?
- If not, what would be?
- What are the strengths and limitations of various 3D and illustrated visual models of the solar system that students have encountered?
Metaphors and imagery help scientists flesh out ideas for themselves. Piggy-backing new ideas onto ones we already grasp is also important in science communication, especially when it comes to fascinating but abstract, challenging concepts related to black holes.
Keep a class log of the metaphors, analogies, and other comparisons used by scientists and the authors—including Sara Latta, author of Black Holes: the Weird Science of the Most Mysterious Objects in the Universe and me, author of A Black Hole is NOT a Hole. You’ll find some, for example, on page 35 of Black Holes, where Latta quotes Neil deGrasse Tyson describing galactic (and black hole) cannibalism : “…the big galaxies get bigger; the little ones get eaten”. By contrast my book begins by challenging such anthropomorphism (“monstermorphism”?); soon, starting on page 8, the text compares a black hole to a whirlpool.
- What other examples can readers find of scientists or writers using metaphorical language to describe black holes and related ideas?
- In what ways does each metaphor work as a model and in what ways does it break down? What metaphors do students come across in other science contexts?
- Based on their own world experience, what metaphors can students develop for the science concepts they are learning?
Make It Your Mission. Just as it took 400,000 people—Team Moon–to launch humanity to the moon, it takes a big Team STEM Tuesday to launch kids into getting the most of their STEM and STEM reading experiences. We would love to hear from you.
- What books on this month’s list do you want to bring to your young readers?
- Which of this month’s suggestions intrigue you most?
- What other ideas, thoughts, and questions around using space books with your young learners do you have?
STEM author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano writes books for kids about space and other topics. Her lively author programs bring engaging science and writing experiences to readers. As co-founder of Blue Heron STEM Education, she provides teacher professional development and creates curriculum resources for classrooms and other contexts.