Posts Tagged Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer–In The Classroom

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

This month’s book list offers fascinating stories about the lives and learning of scientists, famous and not-so-much, real and fictional.

That said, here and there, you may find content you want to be prepared to address, so be sure to read the books before you bring them into the classroom experience. That should prove no burden, as the books offer a lot of food for thought, richly textured profiles, and insights into STEM fields.

This month’s suggested activities fall into two categories: Getting to Know the Characters and Book-Specific Extensions.

Getting to Know the Characters

Chart Traits. Keep a running wall chart to track the characteristics and life experiences of the real scientists in these books—for example, Charles Darwin, Sylvia Acevedo, Irene Curie, and Lise Meitner—as well as Calpurnia in the novel. Different students can read different books. Complete the chart as students independently make their way through the reading. In the first column, list the scientists; dedicate each additional column to a trait or descriptor, each suggested by students based on “their” scientists. These traits might include: “intensely curious,” “passionate about science,” “imaginative,” “ambitious/has dreams or goals.” Students can place post-its with brief notes that illustrate when they see that a specific scientist demonstrates a given trait.  Use these notes as a basis for exploring similarities and differences among scientists, and for reflection.

After students complete the books and the chart, consider setting up small group discussions of follow-up questions, such as:

  • Which traits do you see as helpful and/or counterproductive to the scientists in their professional lives? … To their personal lives? Do you think there are examples of any one trait being be both helpful and counterproductive for any of the scientists?
  • Complete these sentence : “I share [trait] with … [scientist(s]. For example, I…[story from life to illustrate similarity].” “Something I don’t quite connect to with …[scientist] is…”
  • A life lesson I learned from each character is…
  • Out of all of these scientists’ interests, the ones I strongly share are: ….
  • How do the social norms and circumstances of each person’s time and place help or hinder their journey?
  • What opportunities and obstacles helped and hindered the scientists in their personal and professional journeys? Have you experienced anything like this? How might your knowledge of one or more of these scientists help you in your own life, personally or as you aspire for academic and, later, career success?
Additional activity suggestions:
  • Connect these scientists’ stories to the NGSS science and engineering practices. Have students create their own graphic organizers to reflect how they see these practices in action in these books.
  • If possible, invite scientists into the classroom for students to interview. Students can enter each scientist and anecdotes into the chart.
  • Each of the scientists in these books experienced both positive moments (successes, support from others) and set-backs (fears, life events, failures) in their professional and personal lives. Have students create a Chutes and Ladders style game representing these events, labeling each chute or ladder entrance’s game square with the episode from the corresponding scientist’s life. Each game piece can represent one of the scientists. Landing on a chute or ladder entrance that depicts an episode from the game piece-scientist, the player gets an additional turn. Later, keep the game available for informal time.
  • Discuss how other people—friends, family, and colleagues—support the achievements of the individual scientists in the books.
  • Take a cue from the Radioactive! teacher guide: Create a shared graphic of things that students are curious about. This will help connect students to the scientists and each other, and foster a culture of curiosity. Have students add the scientists’ likely responses to the graphic.

Book-Specific Extensions

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate and Charles and Emma

Both books may help students find their inner naturalists. Build on this opportunity with these ideas:

Collect Their Thoughts. Ask students to contribute inexpensive, readily available objects – seeds, leaves, pebbles, shells, marbles, and even paper clips of different configurations —  to an “interesting stuff” classroom collection. Challenge students to sort, organize, compare and contrast objects in the collection.  Conduct a collection circle discussion once a week:

  • Which objects do you find most interesting, and why?
  • What stirs your curiosity?
  • Do you know anything about this object? What interesting connections can you find between it and something else in the collection?


Make Science Social. At the beginning of the Charles and Emma, readers learn that Charles values the stimulating intellectual conversations of the day. Calpurnia also deeply enjoys the social aspect of science.  Help students experience this excitement with free-form, dorm-style, no-right-answer(-at-least-not-yet) science talks. Create a culture that encourages them to speculate, challenge each other, and use their imaginations to develop possible explanations for their questions.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSomething Rotten

Look Inside. Author Heather Montgomery (one of STEM Tuesday’s own!) may be the real-world’s answer to Calpurnia. Like Calpurnia and her brother Travis, Heather embodies both curiosity and a connection to the natural world. Help students follow in Calpurnia and Heather’s footsteps by offering dissection opportunities for your students; if not with animals, then with plants or gadgets.

Do Some Good! Look for a citizen science opportunity, such as this one (in Vermont), to share road kill sightings with scientists so they can study and help wildlife. Or think about organizing your own study of a small section of your community. Students might track road kill along their bus routes for a period of time. They might not be able to investigate the details from the bus window, but they could create maps of the routes and areas of relatively frequent road kill incidents.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgPath to the Stars

Explore the Results of Rocket Science. On Page 289 of her autobiography, “rocket scientist” Sylvia Acevedo mentions two NASA projects she worked on. Visit NASA web pages to find out more about these missions. Solar Polar Solar Probe, now called the Parker Solar Probe, which launched this year, some 30 years after she worked on the project, and Voyager 2 Jupiter flyby. Check out the pictures of the results of these probes’ successful missions!


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRadioactive!

Know the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma of Radioactivity. These resources can help kids grasp some of the book’s science content:


Bonus: Teacher Guides!

And, finally, for discussion ideas, as well as a few STEM-related activities, check out the teachers’ guides available for each book.


Drop Us a Line. As always, we at STEM Tuesday are eager to hear what you think of these ideas, how you use and adapt them, and how else STEM books have brought excitement to your classroom. Please leave a comment.

STEM Tuesday — Let’s Explore Botany!– Writing Craft and Resources



When I first applied and joined up with the STEM Tuesday team, there was one general subject I secretly wanted to avoid at all cost. A subject which is one of my weakest scientific areas. Botany.

It’s not that I am a complete putz when it comes to botanicals. I cultivate a vegetable garden every year. I enjoy both the gardening process and reaping the benefits of the garden’s production. My paternal grandfather taught us grandkids how to plant petunias in my mother’s flowerbeds not long after we were out of diapers. My maternal grandfather kept a big, spacious garden where he grew tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, horseradish, and all things which could be made into spicy canned deliciousness.

I must confess, however, when it comes to the study of plants, I fall short. I can spend hours studying an animal cell or bacteria or a virus. A plant cell? Not so much. I can make a pretty solid salsa out of the tomatoes, peppers, and onions from my garden; yet can tell you very little about the seed anatomy, the root system, the physiology, or the leaf structure of that tomato plant.

With my relative ignorance out in the open, what can I offer to the STEM Tuesday Botany Craft & Resource game this month?

I can ask a simple question that lies at the core of an inquiring STEM mind:

How can I learn more about _______?  (Which, in this case, is botany.)

I can suggest doing what STEM thinkers have done for centuries and go to work.

  • Observe. “Hey, that thing is pretty awesome.” 
  • Ask why. “Why is that thing as awesome as it is?”
  • Research. “I need to find out what makes that thing awesome.”
  • Go where your interests take you. “This thing is like that thing and it’s also awesome.”
  • Dig deep into those directions that interest you. “Whoa! This thing and that thing are both are part of something bigger.”
  • Be open and willing to learn. 
  • Be willing to do the work to learn.

I cleaned the remaining vegetables off all the plants in my garden this past weekend in front of an early frost and snow shower. The plants were pulled and thrown into the compost pile and the last containers of homemade salsa and pasta sauce were canned and now sit in the pantry. Gardening season 2018 has come to an end. But the learning is just beginning for the gardener. Time to hit the STEM Tuesday Botany book list and see where my plant learning journey takes me over the winter.

As my wife, who teaches first grade, often reminds her rock-headed husband, we are never too old to learn something new.

Finally, never forget that life viewed through the lens of an inquiring STEM mind is a much richer life.

Keep asking questions!

Keep learning!

STEM rocks!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his essays will be included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books release later this month. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field files this month focuses on the fun side of botany in an attempt to make up for my shortcomings on the subject as outlined in the above post. And if you find yourself hungry at the end of chasing the links, the final link can easily take care of your appetite, one way or the other.





STEM Tuesday — Let’s Explore Botany!– In the Classroom

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

STEM TUESDAY: Let’s Explore Botany – In the Classroom

Note to all: This STEM Tuesday In the Classroom, we welcome Jodi Wheeler-Toppen as our newest blogger. As her “In the Classroom” collaborator, I think you’ll just love what Jodi has to offer. Author of STEM books for kids and educational books for teachers, this dynamo has lots to share. Welcome, Jodi!

                                                                     –Carolyn DeCristofano

Botanical Bellringers

I took a botany course in college. I planned to get it out of the way so I could move on to the more interesting parts of getting a biology major. Instead, I had an excellent professor who threw open the treasure chest of plant knowledge for me (and, incidentally, got me started on science writing). A maxim among children’s writers is “plant books don’t sell.” I want to change this to “Plant books don’t sell themselves.” With the right introduction, kids can be drawn into reading a book with cover-full of plants.

The books on this month’s list aren’t as likely to be used as a whole-class read, so I propose having them in the classroom library and using bellringers (warm-up questions/ do-nows/ or whatever you like to call the questions that teachers have students do as they enter the classroom) to engage students in the topics. After the bellringer, you can show students the book and encourage them to take a look at it later.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBotanicum: This is a wonderful book for browsing and might draw artsy students into the topic. It illustrates the breadth of the plant world. This bellringer helps students think about the domestication of crops.

Display plants 1-5 on page 66. Ask: Make a prediction. How might plants 1 and 2 be related? How about plants 3, 4, and 5?

When you are ready to discuss the bellringer, display the first two paragraphs of text on the page, which describe the wild plant that was domesticated to become corn and the two plants that were crossed to create the wheat we eat today.

It's a Fungus Among Us: The Good, the Bad & the Downright ScaryIt’s a Fungus Among Us: Students will pick this one up because of the engaging photographs. It also has “test it out” experiments. I particularly liked one on p. 15 that gave students ideas for gathering data on whether lichen could serve as a compass. This bellringer works on visual literacy and plant/ fungi interactions.

Display the text and diagram for “Plant Partners” on p. 26. Ask: This diagram and text work together to give you information. What do you learn from the words that you don’t get from the picture? What information is in the picture that you don’t get from the words?

When you are ready to discuss, point out to students that pictures and text often have different information, and it is valuable in science to spend time with each. Never just skip over the diagrams! (Students often ignore diagrams and charts in their science books, and visual literacy is as important as text literacy in academic reading.)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Story of Seeds: This is a book that students are less likely to pick up on their own, but it covers an important topic and could become an area of interest if students are exposed to the ideas. For this bellringer, collect some photos of interesting heritage vegetables. Seed Savers is a great source for these. You might consider Dragon Carrots, Old Timey Blue Collards, Watermelon Radish, and Calypso Beans.

Display the images. Ask: Try to identify each of these vegetables. Have you ever eaten anything similar?

When you are ready to discuss, talk about the value of heritage seeds. It’s not just fun to have different foods to eat, but it also helps us have a variety of genes to help breed plants for new environmental challenges. Encourage them to read The Story of Seeds to find out more.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgChampion: I recommend this one especially for students who live in the area where chestnut trees used to grow. Many students don’t know that plants can catch diseases, and this book can bring that idea home.

Display this photo. (It is also in the book.) Ask: Would you like to have a tree this big in the school yard? Why or why not? Where do you think this tree lives?

When you are ready to discuss, explain that the picture is of the American Chestnut. Ask students for their guesses of where it lives. Tell them you have a map of the range of the Chestnut tree and display the map on p. 16 (A similar map can be found here.) Have them find where you live on the map and imagine that 100 years ago, they could have gone outside and seen one of these trees. Point them to the book to find out about the disease that killed this tree, where survivors still exist, and the hunt for a way to bring the American chestnut back.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBonus–Poison: You won’t have any trouble getting students to pick this one up to browse. It covers a wide variety of science (and history) topics. I recommend it particularly for physical science/chemistry, however, as a fun take on not-so-fun elements.

Display the “Tox Box” for Lead (p. 23), Radium (p. 126), Mercury (p. 15), or Arsenic (p. 13). Ask: Before the scientists could use chemistry to figure out if someone had been poisoned, people were often thought to have died of disease instead of poison. Read this description and propose some diseases or conditions that people might have gotten confused with this poison.

When you are ready to discuss, don’t tell them if they are right or wrong. Insist that they read the book to find out! And next time students ask when they are “ever going to use this stuff,” remind them that the ability to use chemistry to detect poisons is the reason that poisoning has fallen out of favor!

Do you have other bellringers you like to use when teaching plants? Tell us about them in the comments!

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. She loves plants but seems to have a brown thumb.