Posts Tagged book clubs

STEM Tuesday — Robotics and Artificial Intelligence– Writing Tips & Resources

AI & Robots Activities

When beginning to research this month’s topics (AI & Robots) I needed to look no further than my own writers’ group. Longtime member George Anthony Kulz is our resident technical guru with books out about both topics. And he is a prime example for the success strategies of STEAM. While he uses his technical skills and knowledge for his work, he has also been honing his creative writing skills. Combining the two has resulted in a complementary career as a children’s book author, showing how important it is to balance the sciences with the arts.

I asked George several questions about his writing and how he got there. At the end of this article, there are some resources for kid activities that combine visual art, writing, and science.

You have been asked to write a number of books about technology. How did you come by your interest and knowledge?

I have always been interested in technology since I was a kid. My dad worked as an electronics technician and loved learning about new technology. He passed that interest on to me. I mostly do my own research on new technology. I also hold a B.S. and a M.S. in Computer Engineering and have worked as a software engineer since 1993. I am currently enrolled in a computer science program at Johnson and Wales University to learn about the latest developments in computer science today and to refresh my existing knowledge.

AI in the Real World cover image

You are not only an experienced computer scientist, you are also an accomplished and imaginative writer. You write middle grade ghost stories. Do you think technology and creative writing can be partners?

There are a lot of similarities between developing technology and developing a story, and certainly knowing one can definitely help with the other.

For both, you are trying to solve a problem. When developing technology, the problem is a real-world problem, like: how do I land a rocket on the moon? When developing a story, the problem is an imaginary one and most likely your main character’s problem, like: how is Myles going to catch that ghost that’s been hanging around the graveyard down the street?

To solve a problem, you need a set of steps to get there. Related to technology, that set of steps is called an algorithm. In a story, it’s called a plot. In both the development of technology and a story, there may be a series of smaller problems that need to be overcome in order to move step-by-step to the solution. Keep in mind that, in order to stay focused, every step in building technology and building a story should take you (or your character) closer and closer to the goal of solving the problem.

Setbacks are inevitable when trying to accomplish anything. Maybe in the real world, they’re not fun and can be frustrating. In the story’s imaginary world, setbacks may not be fun for the main character. But in both cases, setbacks can build character and can make the one solving the problem more determined to succeed. Keep track of these setbacks. When building technology, it’s good to write these down so you can learn from them. In your story, it’s good to write setbacks down because it helps to build suspense and keep the reader interested in your character’s journey to get to their goal.

Most important of all, though, is that in developing both technology and a story, you need to use your imagination. Some of the best technological advances came from someone’s creativity. Just like some of the best stories.

What kinds of activities did you do as a kid that channeled you into a technology career as well as having interest in writing for kids?

One thing that most affected my decision to go into a technology field was a Christmas gift my dad gave me when I was very young. It was a kit of electronic parts that, when put together, made a real working radio. Another was playing home video games and wondering how they worked and how I could create some of my own.

My love of stories came from my mom, who read to me almost from the day I was born. My love of writing definitely came from one of my elementary school teachers. I developed a love of language because he constantly challenged me to learn new words and encouraged me to read well beyond my grade level. It was in his class that I wrote my first short story, and I fell in love with the idea of writing from that point on.

Hobby & Competition Robots cover

Do you have advice for kids who would like to do the same?

First, understand that you can do more than one thing. A person is not just a software engineer. They’re also not just a writer. In fact, there are no limits to what a person can do. Just remember to do what makes you happy. If you want to be a dancer and also fix cars, do both. If you want to be a teacher and also fly airplanes, do both. In my case, I like to create software and also like to write. When someone asked me if I could write a book about some software topics, I thought: Wow, what a great idea. I never thought of that before. I had found a way to do both of my favorite things at the same time!

Once you find those things that make you happy, learn everything you can about them, however you can, from whomever you can. Find others who share the same excitement about those things that excite you. It’s always better when you do things with others. Plus, you can always learn something from anyone you meet.

Then, once you think you know enough, go out and do those things. Don’t be afraid to fail. It builds character. You can learn from your mistakes. You can always (and probably will) do better next time. And who knows? Doing those things that you love may take you to some interesting places that you never imagined.

Thank you, George, for insightful advice! Here are the links for the two books above.

https://www.amazon.com/Artificial-Intelligence-Real-World-Set-ebook and Hobby-Competition-Robots-Robot-Innovations.

For more activities, I went to Teachers Pay Teachers, a website of sharing teaching activities. It offers both free and paid materials developed by teachers. I found a number of art, writing, and robot projects for different age groups. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/

Friendly Robot image
Energy Robot image
Descriptive Writing image

And think about George’s advice – do what makes you happy. The arts are a path to enjoyment of sciences, as well as increased learning and invention. Remember STEAM!

Margo Lemieux and George Kulz are members of The Magic Storymakers, a children’s writing group that was started in 1998. They both have stories in Kaleidoscope for Kids, an anthology with contributions from members of the group (and Margo has art too).

Credits

The Knitted Apple (Energy Robot)

 

Happily Ever Elementary   

(Friendly Robot)

Redfly Classroom

(Descriptive Writing Robots)

STEM Tuesday– Food Science — Book List

 

 

Food science focuses on many facets of our food system: chemistry, biology, nutrition, engineering and more! The books listed below are just the beginning for budding scientists who want to learn more about how food shapes our world; where it started, where it’s going and how to improve what we have.

 

The Story of Seeds

by Nancy Castaldo

Do you want to know where our food comes from? And where it is going? The Story of Seeds will let you know. The author investigates the importance of seeds in our world, how they’re preserved, and more importantly what readers can do to help preserve the variety of them through simple actions.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chemistry of Food

by Carla Mooney

Learn the science behind the food you love as you explore the chemistry within the meal. This hands-on book is a delicious way to learn more about flavors, nutrition, and the texture of food. It even includes recipes!

 

 

 

Forthcoming | Skyhorse Publishing

Food Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about Food and Drink

by Alex Palmer

Want to learn weird facts about food that you can share with friends and family? This is the book for you. Each chapter offers an encyclopedia of strange facts about everything from junk food to vegetables – and then some! Learn about the odd and obscure aspects of food – including some of your favorite snacks.

 

 

 

Buy Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Our Edible World Book Online at Low Prices in India | Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Our Edible World Reviews

Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Our Edible World

by Julia Rothman and Rachel Wharton

This engaging book starts with an illustrated history of food. As you continue to read, you’ll learn about street eats and short-order egg lingo. Curious? This book has the recommended daily allowance of facts and fun. You’ll be sure to eat it up.

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Bugs as Sustainable Food

by Cecilia Pinto McCarthy

This book tells us why eating bugs might help feed more people around the world – after all, bugs take less space, water and food than livestock. It also talks about the science behind raising bugs, and there are a ton of images and infographics.

 

 

 

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet : Boone, Mary: Amazon.in: Books

 

 

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet

by Mary Boone

This book takes a look at entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs for nourishment. It talks about why it makes sense from a nutritional point of view. As a bonus, it’s good of the planet. There are recipes as well!

 

 

 

 

Introduction to Food Science: An Overview (Edible Knowledge)

by Dale W. Cox

The first book in a series of workbooks gives an introduction about food science, food processing, careers in the field, and a lot of experiments on food science theory designed for children 10 and up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Things to Know About Food (Usborne)

by  Alice James, Jerome Martin, Sam Baer, Rachel Firth, Rose Hall, Federico Mariani and Parco Polo

This bright book is full of fascinating fun-filled browseable facts about food, from farming to cooking, from nutrition to tastes, and everything in between.

 

 

 

 

 

The Science Chef: 100 Fun Food Experiments and Recipes for Kids (Second Edition – 2020)

by Joan D’Amico and Karen Drummond

This book teaches the basics of food science through hands-on experiments and detailed recipes. How does food cook? How does popcorn pop? How does bread rise? How do beans sprout? Information about all these and much more within these pages.

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Summers is a wildlife enthusiast and an author. Contact her at: https://susan-inez-summers.weebly.com/

 

 

Shruthi Rao is an author. Her home on the web is https://shruthi-rao.com

 

 

STEM Tuesday– Entomology– Author Interview

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 Brenna Maloney, author of Buzzkill: A Wild Wander Through the Weird and Threatened World of Bugs. This book is for anyone who’s ever watched an ant crawl across the kitchen counter and wondered, huh, where is that little creature going. And why? Brenna follows her own curiosity and relates her own up-close-and-personal moments with insects in a book that heavy on humor and fun facts.

Andi Diehn: I love the tone of this book! How did you come to choose an informal, conversational voice for this book?

Brenna Maloney: I actually had to fight for this. I had a very specific tone in mind for this book—I wanted it to feel like the reader and I were having a conversation. A lot of nonfiction is written in a way that keeps the writer out of it. Largely because the writer doesn’t want to become part of the story; the writer wants to present facts and sound like a voice of authority. But, I’m no authority. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an entomologist. I didn’t want to appear as if I was claiming any specialized knowledge that the reader can only have access to through me. I’m just a regular person who was curious about how insects are vital to our world. So,  I asked a lot of experts questions and I had a lot of interesting first-hand experiences with insects, and I wanted to share those with readers and let them know that they can try these things, too.

When I wrote the book proposal, I wrote it using that voice—very conversational, a little conspiratorial with the reader, playful and fun and excitable. Because those really were the things I was feeling, and I didn’t want to cover that up.

I had a handful of rejections. A lot of publishers thought I was too weird or that the book wouldn’t sell because readers didn’t want to have a conversation. But there were two publishers who expressed interest. I spoke to each at length about the voice. I said: This is how I want it to sound. And of the two, only one said: Yes, we know. We like it. Be you.

It’s a wonderful and rare blessing when a publisher says that and means it. Luckily, mine did.

AD: I’m fascinated by the discussion of African killer bees – what a story! Why is it important to learn about different species that were created through human intervention?

Brenna: Terrifying, isn’t it? That poor fellow. He was trying so hard to build a better bee. His intentions were good. But Mother Nature has a way of doing her own thing. So, when those bees escaped….

This story is important, though, because it reminds us of how interconnected everything on our planet is with everything else. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and nothing happens without consequences. If you don’t understand these things, you can do more harm than good.

AD: It’s so interesting to read about your personal connections to different insects. Are these stories where you got the idea to create a whole book? 

Brenna: No, actually! Most of these things happened as a result of me wanting to directly experience things I was learning about the insect world for the book. The more research I did, the more I wanted to interact directly with the natural world. To read about something gives you one experience. To connect directly with that thing gives you a different perspective. A personal connection.  And this is something that I hope I passed along to readers. I know insects aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay. But readers are probably interested in something. And you can learn a lot about your something if you just seek out information, which is what I did. I wanted to know. So, I made an effort to find out.

AD: A very predictable question: what’s your favorite insect and why?

Brenna: Impossible to pick! There are so many insects that I still don’t know about.

AD: Love your story about making cricket cookies because it shows us that eating insects doesn’t have to be crunchy. Can you talk a bit about this and why you framed it that way?

Brenna: More than anything, I wanted to make what I was learning accessible to other people. Eating bugs sounds gross. And, well, it certainly can be. Or, it can be tasty and even a little thrilling to try something new. I think we grow as people when we step out of our comfort zones and try to expand what we know.

Many people are quick to reject ideas or experiences because they seem too different from the things they know and are comfortable with. But, when you open yourself up—even a little—to something new, you gain so much. If you eat a cricket cookie and you hate it, that’s okay. But you’ve now tasted something that people in other parts of the world rely on as a food source. And because you were “brave” and tried it, you won’t judge it in the same way as you might have before you tasted it. That builds your understanding and your empathy.

AD: OMG – boiling the deer head! How important are insects as decomposers?

Brenna: Well, if you read Chapter Four, you know that insect decomposers are absolutely essential to life on Earth running smoothly.

Things die. All the time. Animals, yes, but plants, too. And what happens to those things when they die? Nature needs to clean up after itself. A good number of insects play the role of decomposer. By breaking things down, valuable substances—like water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium—can be used again. You can start to see why decomposers are critical in the flow of energy through an ecosystem. Without insects, all this dead stuff would pile up and keep piling.

AD: The section on climate change, extinction, and the dangers to various insect species was hard to read, but important. Why include this kind of topic in a kid’s book?

Brenna: Ah. Well. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I didn’t write this book for kids. Not really. A lot of kids already understand the perils our planet is facing and already acknowledge and value the importance of balanced ecosystems. I really wanted to reach adults because adults are the ones whose behaviors need to change the most. One industry expert I talked to said: “No adult will ever buy this book.” He said that adults don’t like to be told what to do, and they would never listen to my advice. I think that fella is wrong. I think most people—adults and young people—want to do good things. They want to help solve problems. But they may not always know how. So, I thought if I could get them to understand how important (but at-risk) insects are and then if I could offer some ideas of how we can change our behaviors to help insects, it would be a winning combination. But I couldn’t get anyone to believe in the project for adults. Everyone said a book like that would only sell to children. I still don’t really understand that. But book publishing is kind of a weird industry.

There’s some hard stuff in this book. You can’t shy away from talking about things because they are hard. Or because they aren’t as entertaining. I believe that people are smart, and they can handle difficult, complex information. My hope was that readers would either finish this book knowing more than when they started OR that they’d have enough of an interest in insects and our planet to pursue more knowledge from other resources.

AD: I’m so glad you included citizen science opportunities in the back matter! How does citizen science benefit both the world at large AND the people doing the science?

Brenna: We all live here, right? It’s our only planet. So, we have to take care of it. I think people do care, and most people would like to help, if only they knew what to do. I tried to write as many examples of engagement that I could think of—really simple things and more involved things—so that everyone who reads the book, if they are so inclined, could try to do something. We have some amazing scientists and researchers who are studying our planet in as many ways as they can. But it’s a big job. Having data really helps. Our observations as regular citizens can contribute to their data-driven work.

I also tend to believe that little things matter. If each of us does one small thing, then together those small things add up to a bigger thing. You only need to look at bees to see that this is true. A bee is a tiny thing. During her time on this mortal coil, a worker bee will produce about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey—barely enough for you to taste. The smallest of things. She’s one bee. Yet she and her sister bees work together. To produce one pound of honey, those bees will visit two million flowers. One trip at a time.

That’s our path too. You, me, and anyone else we can get to help us. Each of us has to Be the Bee. We have to work steady and work hard and contribute in whatever ways we can to help Mother Earth until she feels more in balance. If we do enough small things, it starts to add up. I know small things matter—just ask the bee.