Posts Tagged Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday — Brain/Psychology — Writing Tips & Resources

The STEM Tuesday Gods Smiled.

The STEM Tuesday gods must be smiling on me.

First, the monthly Writing Tips & Resources posting rotation bestowed upon me the good fortune of October’s “Spooky & Scary Science” and now January’s “Brain/Psychology” as my topics. How lucky is it that both topics land smack dab in the middle of my wheelhouse?

The second example is I’ve been borderline obsessed the past few years with studying and reading about brain science, especially how it relates to cognition and creativity. Brain/Psychology as my topic landed in fertile ground. 

Several of my recent posts have documented this journey. My brain became hooked on brain studies in 2021 when I read and posted about a fascinating book by neuroscientist-turned-English professor Angus Fletcher called Wonderworks. In late 2022, I posted a piece called Creative Braining inspired by a fascinating Scientific American collection, Secrets of the Mind. The collection covers some of the latest developments in brain science and how they relate to cognition, processing, and recall. 


The common thread of my brain journey has been studying how we interact with the world and constantly input/output information in such a way it gives each one of us a unique relationship to the environment. We call the expression of that unique relationship our personality. The magnet at the core of this is that, as creators, what is put into our brains gets processed differently in individual brains and results in unique output. This uniqueness of personality manifests in that often vague term “creative voice”. 

That brings us to this month’s short and sweet STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resources tips. The focus is on experiencing more and better inputs to get more and better outputs. Improving our creator voice by expanding our experiences.

  1. Discover – Get out in the world and look for new things. Nature, museums, libraries, people-watching, walking, etc. are all great avenues for discovery.   
  2. Adventure – Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Something new and possibly a little scary can lead to new brain-processing connections and result in new associations/ideas.
  3. Experience –  Jump into the discoveries and adventures to get the visceral feel of something. It’s one thing to read or watch a video about a rollercoaster.  Riding a rollercoaster, however, is on a whole other visceral level.

That’s it! Short and simple tips for maximizing your creator’s brain. Push information and experience into your brain and your brain will take care of the rest. The brain will take all those discoveries, all those adventures, and all those experiences, process the data, store it, and then form the neural connections to allow you to produce output unique to you.

Happy Braining!

Nikolakhs, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal-opportunity sports enthusiast, 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 at and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the X under the guise of @coachhays64 and on Instagram at @mikehays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files looks under the hood at the brain and psychology. 

The Creative Brain

Brain Central

Prehistoric Creative Braining for Survival – We’ve been creative braining since the dawn of man.

Psychology and Neuroscience



STEM Tuesday — Brain/Psychology — In the Classroom

The books I read for this month covered an interesting mix of brain science and psychology.


Your Amazing Brain: The Epic Illustrated Guide
by Jessica Sinarski, illustrated by Luiz Fernando Da Silva

This book gives a great explanation of how the brain works. It covers many of the different functions the brain is involved in.


Cutting-Edge Brain Science
by Buffy Silverman

To take a brief look at how scientists study brains and to get a glimpse of the future of brain science, read this book.


Detecting Brain Disorders
by Rachel Kehoe

When something goes wrong with the brain, there are many ways doctors can figure out what’s happened. This book looks at these different tools.


This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias
By Tanya Lloyd Kyi; Illustrated by Drew Shannon

This is a book that takes a closer look at psychology. It specifically looks at how people develop and react to stereotypes and how they may be able to counteract them.


There is so much that can be done with this topic (or rather collection of topics). Most of the books have activities to try and/or resources to explore. Here are a few additional ideas.

Make a Brain Hat

If you’re looking for a great way to explore which parts of the brain do what, here’s the activity for you! Students can color and cut out the brain hemisphere hat. It shows what functions happen where in the brain. Since they can wear the result, they can get a really great idea of how their brain works. Sound awesome?! Here’s the link:

Explore Your Bias

Take one or more areas of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) covered in This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes. Here is the link: There are tests for many different possible biases. What did you think of your results?

Conduct an Experiment

There are lots of experiments that can explore brain science and psychology. They can be a lot of fun, too.

Science Buddies guides students through science experiments. They have an entire collection of brain science/psychology experiments:

Other ideas for experiments can be found at the sites below. For a guide on how to conduct a psychology experiment, check out this page:

Experiment Ideas

More Activities

Other web sites have collections of activities that explore brain science. Here are a few.

Janet Slingerland is the author of over 20 books for young readers. You can find her online at She is also now on Bluesky:

Painting with an Allegorical Brush

The messages we convey through our storytelling are important and lasting, and those that are evident but not directly stated offer readers plenty to think about. One way to get those deeper-meaning messages across while offering middle graders real opportunities to engage with stories is through allegory.

What an allegory can do (and how it’s different from symbolism and metaphor)

It’s easy to confuse allegory with metaphor and symbolism—they are closely related literary devices with some overlap between them.

Metaphor – A comparison of two unlike things that points out how they, in fact, are alike: That girl is a night owl. The sun was a golden coin.

Symbol – Usually an object, character, event, or idea that has its own literal role in the story but also represents some important idea on a figurative level: The green light on Daisy’s dock, the raven perching on a statue of Athena.

Allegory – A little more didactic, allegories point the reader in a particular direction of thought or behavior with more comprehensive lessons about or inspired by life, morals, politics, religion, history, myth, or other big ideas. An allegorical character or situation might extend through the whole work, or a whole work can be an allegory with multiple meaningful elements.

You’ll recall allegories from studying adult lit. In the allegorical medieval morality play Everyman, for example, main character Everyman (that’s his name) doesn’t want to go on a journey of reckoning with Death (someone Everyman meets), and he is surprised that his buddies Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods won’t go along with him to the afterlife. He discovers, though, that Good Deeds will follow him on his journey, though he’s been remiss in attending to them and must turn to Knowledge and Confession to help Good Deeds along. (Medieval audiences got the allegorical message, loud and clear.) Other allegories you’ve probably studied convey political or societal messages, such as Animal Farm, Metamorphosis, and The Crucible.

It may be helpful, as a writer, to think about these devices’ comparative size and scope: In a story, metaphors are typically brief expressions for a passing effect on a reader (with extended metaphors really driving the point home with additional references). The scale of importance grows with a symbol, as it carries the weight of some important takeaway that enriches the reader’s comprehension of plot and character. An allegory uses symbols and metaphors and intends even more sweeping effect on the reader, with a message or meaning about life the reader can effectively employ for their betterment and/or the betterment of everyone.

Allegories seem heavy: Too much for MG?

You might wonder so, but remember, fairy tales and fables have been serving up allegorical lessons for young audiences since once upon a time. And think about some classic children’s stories widely accepted as allegories: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, The Giving Tree, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Little Prince. There are modern examples of MG fiction with allegorical elements we can turn to for cues as well:

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill — This allegorical fantasy reveals what happens to a community when its members are swayed by suspicion and start rejecting those unlike themselves.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller – In this Newbery Medal winner, tales told by the characters are allegories for family love and for the power stories have to inspire.

The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo – This story’s allegorical plot and character actions represent big ideas about being called to one’s true purpose and following the heart.

The Language of Spells – Garret Weyr – This adventure reveals the power of perception when considering what makes us special and points to what we tragically lose during times of conflict.

How might you employ the allegorical brush in your writing?

Experimenting with allegory in your writing? Some ideas to chart your course:

  1. What’s the big-picture message you want to send to readers?
  2. What are the most important elements of that message, and what’s the best way to convey them? Symbolic characters? Objects that recur? A quest, a battle, something else?
  3. Imply your message clearly but inconspicuously. Trust the reader: They will get the takeaway if the individual parallels are there.
  4. Keep the story strong and interesting…and prioritize it. The allegorical message flows from a story that is substantive and fulfilling all on its own.

I hope these ideas on allegory are helpful in your current projects, and thanks for reading!