Posts Tagged Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday: Snow and Ice– Interview with Author Cindy Blobaum

    We are delighted to interview author Cindy Blobaum for our Ice and Snow theme this month!

Cindy is the author of:

 

Ice Age by Cindy Blobaum

Explore the Ice Age! With 25 Great Projects

Illustrated by Bryan Stone
Brrr–does it feel cold? Get out your gloves and get ready to experience the Ice Age! In Explore the Ice Age! With 25 Great Projects, readers ages 7 to 10 discover what an ice age consists of, why we have them, and what effect an ice age has on living organisms and ecosystems. The book pays particular attention to the most recent Ice Age, which is the only one humans were around to witness.

Cindy digging up mammoth

Cindy holding a mammoth bone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cindy digging up a mammoth bone, and then holding one! 

 

 

Cindy, thanks for being on our blog. How fun was it to write a book about the Ice Age? 

I’m one of the few people I know who absolutely LOVES winter.  In fact, I drive almost everyone crazy because I sing every time it starts to snow J . The cold weather gives me the opportunity to create snow “somethings” (not usually a snowman), make snow ice cream and go ice skating (outdoors), snow shoeing and skiing.  So writing a book that revolves pretty much around winter-style activities was a blast for me.

 

Your book is packed full of awesome projects– did you come up with them yourself?

Many of the projects tapped into my experiences as a naturalist (field trip lady). I had the good fortune to take part in a mammoth dig (excavating several mammoth skeletons), I constantly use ice cube glacier models in my geology programs to explain local topology, and teaching people how to throw spears using atl atl’s was a constant part of fall programs for many years. Other projects that explained important concepts are ones that I adapted from other programs. When I started working on Explore the Ice Age, I had a notebook full of ideas and connections, which expanded as I got going.

 

Did you research them? If so, where can people find cool activities for kids?

Each activity I include is thoroughly researched and tested – with my children and neighbor kids often helping out. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing! The research can include checking books, online resources, primary source materials and of course, asking real experts.  I learn so much that it can be difficult to select what to include and what I have to leave out. For example, I lived in Iowa when I was writing Explore the Ice Age.  When I was working on the mammoth dig, I met an expert on giant sloths. He had created a website with a wealth of information that could be enough for its own book! https://slothcentral.com/

As for finding cool activities for kids, there are multiple ways to approach the search. Activity books are an obvious choice, and don’t pass up the old ones!  I have “discovered” many awesome projects that are so old that many people have never seen them, but they are still cool, fun and relevant! Online searches are great, especially if you have the time to actually use “the web” – as in follow many of the multiple possibilities that pop up, especially if you scroll past the first page of results. I also let my mind wander, choosing a word, like “lever” or “insulation” and seeing what I can find that way. And don’t be afraid to adapt activities – try doing them using different materials or in new ways.

 

Can you give us a sneak peek of one or two of the activities? 

 

An easy and very effective activity to start RIGHT NOW is Sun Stretch! The purpose of the activity is to measure how much the tilt of the sun changes from season to season.  If you are living in the Northern Hemisphere, use a south facing window. (Use a north facing window if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Write today’s date on a piece of masking tape or similar substance. Right around noon, place the piece of tape on the floor or wall where you see the sunlight end.  At least once a month, do the same thing – putting a new dated piece of tape where you see the sunlight end. The farther you live from the equator, the more change you will see!

Bundled Bottles is an activity that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the insulation found on some animal’s bodies. The equipment is zippered baggies, shortening, socks (the thicker, the better), plastic water bottles and a freezer.  After creating a coat that mimics a warm-blooded animal’s body, you measure how long it can keep hot water from freezing.

 

Can you give any tips to writers who want to break into nonfiction children’s books? Should they start with educational publishers like you have done? 

At a writing conference, I remember a publisher commenting that although children’s fiction titles usually steal the spotlight, young readers eagerly seek out nonfiction to feed their desire to know more and understand how things work. That is who I write for and why I write. The fact that many formal and informal educators (staff/volunteers at museums, nature centers, summer camps, home schoolers) use my books gives me a definite thrill.

Just like you have to do your research for your subject matter, it is also imperative to research potential publishers. Due to my writing style and content, it makes the most sense to work with publishers who know/understand/work with that format, which is mostly educational publishers. If your writing is more narrative, look for publishers who feature that style of titles. Two other nonfiction styles (this list is not exhaustive) are short facts/records/lists and curriculum/activity sheets. Each one has a separate but sometimes overlapping audience and publisher. .

 

What are you working on now? 

I recently updated Explore Gravity (Nomad Press), expanding it for older readers (ages 9 – 12). I am also working on updating Geology Rocks to get it back in print with Chicago Review Press. With my new full time position, quite honestly, it would be very difficult to start a project right now – although as always, I have a notebook and file folder full of ideas!

 

Thanks for being on our blog, Cindy, and sharing all of this great info on your book and STEM!

You can discover more about Cindy HERE 

 

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Jennifer Swanson authorJennifer Swanson is the award-winning  author of 45+ books for kids, mostly about STEM, and also the creator and cohost of the Solve It for Kids podcast.  You can hear her recommendations for the best STEM books for kids in 2023 on NPR’s Science Friday, here!

 

STEM Tuesday: Snow and Ice– Writing Tips & Resources

 

Accordions and Information

The five-paragraph essay. Love it or hate it, it’s a thing. One of the reasons it is so hard to teach? Young writers rarely see pure examples in their pleasure reading. Still, this formulaic approach can help young writers learn to organize their thinking and writing.

So, how do we teach them to use this tool?

Step By Step

My favorite is the accordion method. Start by printing each of the sentences below on a separate sheet of colored paper.

Green paper:

  • Bugs have wicked cool mouthparts.
  • These mouthparts allow insects to chow down on their favorite food.

Yellow paper:

  • Some bugs have hypodermic needles for mouths.
  • A few insects use sponges for mouths.
  • And, others have strong grinding jaws.

Post those in random order on the board or wall. Challenge students to physically re-arrange them into a logical paragraph. This can be done together on the board or students can copy onto sticky notes and work individually on their desks.

Now, on the board, lay the sentences out with the yellow ones indented to look like an outline. Introduce the color scheme and provide examples from texts they are familiar with (textbooks, student writing, etc.):

Green = General topic

Yellow = Reason, detail or fact

Red = Example or explanation

Accordion it!

Next, demonstrate how a paragraph, like an accordion, can be lengthened if we add additional information. Show the new sentences below and have students move these examples into place on the outline.

Red paper:

  • The assassin bug stabs its sharp proboscis through the exoskeleton of other insects.
  • The house fly uses its labella to sop up spit-soaked food.
  • The mandibles of a cockroach crush with a force five times stronger than human jaws.

Rewrite on the board in standard paragraph form.

Once students are comfortable with the color scheme, challenge them to use highlighter markers to color-code pre-written paragraphs. You can write your own or use examples from textbooks or STEM Tuesday’s reading list. For example, Page 30 of What was the Ice Age:

“To have enough energy, Megatherium needed to eat a lot! It ate grasses, buts, and fruits. It dug roots out of the ground with its sharp claws. It stood on its hind legs to pull leaves from the highest branches. Some scientists think Megatherium might have even eaten meat.”

Once they are ready, have students use this color-coded sticky notes to create a paragraph about their favorite animal.  For some fun, let students swap yellow and red notes to create silly paragraphs.

Extension

To extend the lesson, demonstrate how a single paragraph can be lengthened like an accordion into a 5 paragraph essay, a section of a longer work, or an entire book. For example, in Ice: Chilling Stories from a Disappearing World students can study the introduction as one accordion and the entire book as another.

Finally, have students examine nonfiction trade books, magazines, and a variety of informational texts. Are super-structured paragraphs common? Discuss why and why not. Are they more common in one type of informational text? Is the formula more common in the over all text than as paragraphs? Do students prefer them or not?

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Prepared by:

Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. She is author of 17 nonfiction books for kids, including What’s In Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures and the upcoming Sick! The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs.

www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

Perspective in MG Lit: Lessons in Empathy

I read an APA article recently that quoted a Stanford psychologist who referred to empathy as the “psychological ‘superglue’” that helps us all to react with kindness, understanding, and support. Empathy is one of greatest, most important life lessons for anyone, any age, any background; it fosters cooperation, inclusivity, forgiveness, and volunteerism; it can serve as both a preventative and an antidote for conflicts and disagreements on matters personal, political, familial, environmental, and worldly.

Many schools and classrooms actively or subtly coach the development of empathy. The middle grade ELA classroom offers prime opportunities for coaching empathy because many MG readers are still developing the cognitive and social tools needed to perceive someone else’s point of view. And let’s face it, the middle grades (well, school in general) can be a hazardous proving ground to navigate with the potential for strong emotions, communication struggles, and impulsivity; generally speaking, middle graders can benefit from lessons in empathy to better weather the storm.

Since the ability to perceive issues and conflicts from another’s perspective is key to an empathetic reaction, teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents have consistent opportunities to coach empathy in group study by introducing, reviewing, and analyzing point-of-view as a story element. Discussing the viewpoints and perspectives of fictitious characters (rather than friends, family, and other real people) can provide and promote a safe space for exploring emotions and observing the empathetic reactions of peers. In thinking how that article and others might be useful in MG lit instruction and the coaching of empathy, here are some interpretations and takeaways:

  1. Offer the chance to students to practice empathy toward a variety of characters. It might be easy to empathize with the comfortable familiarity of the I-voice character, the character who looks and speaks in ways similar to their own appearance and speech, or the central character whose conflict is often made clear. Discuss instead why readers might try to empathize with the antagonist, with a character who is different from the reader in multiple ways, or with a character whose actions cannot easily be explained by a clearly stated conflict. Readers should strive to see implied motivations, points of connection, and new, potentially challenging perspectives.
  2. It’s actually not about “stepping into someone’s shoes.” Readers shouldn’t try to empathize by imagining themselves (as exactly who they are) in the problem or conflict, because each reader’s experiences, being different, have the potential to change or remold the problem or circumstances around their own preferences, needs, and background. Instead, practice “other-oriented” empathy, which would encourage the reader to focus closely on how and what and why the character is feeling—and how, therefore, the character’s actions might be explained or interpreted.
  3. As teachers, librarians, writers, and parents, we want readers to have an appropriate emotional reaction to a book; readers shouldn’t, though, let themselves become burdened with a character’s suffering or sadness.

Some classroom activities that may help to develop empathy:

  • Rewrite a scene from a secondary character’s perspective.
  • Focusing on a character’s drastic or surprising decision, create a “Top 5 Reasons Why” list to explain implied or explicit reasons for the choice.
  • Represent a character’s emotions in a symbolic, stylized collage, design, piece of music, or poem.
  • Review the subtext of a scene and a character’s movements and body language to practice interpreting nonverbals.
  • Extend reader understanding of a character’s role in the story (or a key figure’s role in nonfiction) with a character interview (crafting that character’s first-person responses) or a diary entry (written as that character).

Some works that offer the potential for empathy-building strategies, discussion, and activities (though, happily, most MG reads in general fit this bill 😊):

Jacqueline Woodson’s Remember Us: Almost-seventh grader Sage must balance the comforts of the past with the inevitable (and sometimes exciting) potential for new changes.

Landra Jenning’s Wand: Eleven-year-old Mira struggles under the heavy weight of grief since her father died and feels unhappily out of place with her stepmother and stepsisters. When a mysterious girl steps out of the woods and offers Mira three wishes, she hopes fervently that magic might be real.

Jarrett Lerner’s A Work in Progress: In a mix of prose, verse, and sketches, middle schooler Will seeks acceptance from peers and a crush named Jules; plagued with body image concerns, Will determines to transform his physical appearance.

June 2023 releaseJ. Anderson Coats’s A Season Most Unfair: Set in medieval times, Tick—short for Scholastica—is proud to help with her father’s candlemaking business, even though she isn’t permitted to take the role of an official chandler (candlemaker) apprentice. When her father allows a boy named Henry to apprentice the trade, Tick knows she must prove to her father that she is a capable chandler—in spite of being a girl.