Posts Tagged Common Core & NGSS

Happy New Year from the STEM Tuesday Team!

Inertia For the New Year

Painful Inspiration

The weather turned. The temperature dropped rapidly. It was a cold and misty day but the precipitation began to freeze in the late afternoon causing black ice. Typical Kansas weather where the temperature went from the mid-40s to -8 within a 36-hour period. 

No problem. Hunker down, stay warm, and finish the STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post. Easy.

Not so fast. 

I also had to walk my daughter’s dogs who were staying with us. Dog #1 went fairly easily as the dog and human performed seamlessly transversing the ice rink of a sidewalk. Dog #2, however, had other things in mind. Just a few steps past the thawing effects of the ice melt on the sidewalk, a squirrel ran down a tree trunk and sprinted across the ice-crusted lawn. Dog #2, by all measure a champion squirrel chaser, tipping the scales at ~80 lbs., launched with great enthusiasm after the squirrel. 

Time and perception snapped to slow motion. I watched the retractable leash unroll with great speed. Just when it crossed my mind I should probably let go or get my arm jerked off, the line ran out. My arm jerked forward but, fortunately, not off. My feet shot out from under me and I found myself sliding rapidly down the sidewalk incline toward an oak tree trunk located in my path at the bottom of the walk. Just when the inevitable crash was mere seconds away, I had a STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post revelation and screamed, “INERTIA!”

After a few minutes of nursing the scratches and bruises while the rest of the family directed all their attention to the health and well-being of Dog #2, I limped to my desk to capture the moment inertia changed everything. 

(Note: No animals or humans were hurt during this highly dramatized, perhaps over-dramatized, story.)

Inertia. A brilliant and inspirational word! In fact, a perfect word to use as the 2023 STEM Tuesday Word-of-the-Year. 

Throughout our educational journey, we’ve probably been exposed to Newton’s First Law of Motion, a.k.a. Newton’s Law of Inertia, so many times it became rote and not the alive physical law it is. An object at rest or in motion tends to stay at rest or in motion unless a force acts upon it. That’s Newton’s Law of Inertia. 

Inertia is one powerful property and one powerful word to guide us in the coming year.

A Discovery

The year was 1851. It’s deep into a cold January 6th night a few hours after midnight. A young man knelt over his latest experiment in the cellar of the house he shared with his mother at the corner of rue de Vaugirard and rue d’Assas in Paris. He is not considered a great scholar by his peers. Although he has already made several significant advances in science, he is not accepted in the inner circles of the great Parisian mathematical or astronomical minds of the era. Yet, when Leon Foucault released the 5-kg brass bob connected by a wire to an anchor on the ceiling, he made history.

Foucault watched the oscillations as the pendulum swung slowly and gracefully in front of him. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Then he saw it. The plane of oscillation had moved ever so slightly away from its initial position. He knew immediately he had done something nobody in history, not even Galileo, Newton, or any of the great scientific human minds, had done. Leon Foucault had proven with his simple, but elegant, pendulum experiment that the earth rotates.

The next month, Focault demonstrated to the scientific community his pendulum experiment in the Meridian at the Paris Observatory. Much debate was raised, especially about how an “amateur” could have made this discovery, but nobody could refute Foucault’s conclusions. The experiment was repeated on a grander scale a few weeks later with a 28-kg bob hanging from a 67-meter wire from the dome of the Pantheon in Paris. The public was invited and people flocked to see the exhibition. Scientists all over the world repeated the experiment and all confirmed Foucault’s findings. Even today, the Foucault Pendulum is a popular experiment to recreate by both science museums and home enthusiasts. In a sense, the inertia of Foucault’s experiment continues in motion to this day.


An excerpt from the illustrated supplement of the magazine Le Petit Parisien dated November 2, 1902, on the 50th anniversary of the experiment of Léon Foucault demonstrating the rotation of the earth. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The STEM Tuesday 2023 Word-of-the-Year “inertia” is submitted for consideration to all creative people in the spirit of Foucault and his pendulum. The whole experiment worked because of inertia and the motion described by Newton’s First Law in the plane of oscillation. When the pendulum moved back and forth, the earth below moved. 


Creative Inertia

In order to create, we need to be like Foucault’s Pendulum and use the force of inertia to make our creative world turn. What if on that dark February night alone in his cellar, Leon Foucault wouldn’t have let go of the brass fob? No motion. Which would have meant no discovery. In order for him to prove the earth turned, he had to put the pendulum in motion and tap the power of inertia.

Inertia for 2023 means putting creativity in motion by…creating. Creative inertia!

What fuels creative inertia? Curiosity. A creator is driven by curiosity much like a scientist is.

  • Curiosity about what happens next drives the fiction writer.
  • Curiosity about what actually happened or what actually is drives the nonfiction writer.
  • Curiosity about the image and what it represents drive the illustrator.

Creative inertia grows out of curiosity. Like Foucault, creators need to release the bob and put creative inertia to work. It all starts with a single word or a single mark, followed by one after the other. 

Even if it sometimes (or often) feels like your creative life is static and going nowhere but back and forth, remember the world below is turning. Creative inertia means you are improving. It means you are in motion.

A creator at rest tends to stay at rest. A creator in motion tends to stay in motion.


Starry circles arc around the south celestial pole, seen overhead at ESO’s La Silla Observatory., CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The phenomenon develops calmly, but it is inevitable, unstoppable. One feels, one sees it born and grow steadily; and it is not in one’s power to either hasten it or slow it down. Any person, brought into the presence of this fact, stops for a few moments and remains pensive and silent; and then generally leaves, carrying with him forever a sharper, keener sense of our incessant motion through space.

                                                   -Leon Foucault, describing his pendulum experiment, 1851


Happy New Year from all of us at STEM Tuesday and From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors. May you find your creative inertia and keep your creative world turning!


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 Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and on Instagram at @mikehays64.

STEM Tuesday– Author Interview: Gae Polisner

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Gae Polisner, author of Consider The Octopus, proof positive that STEM related topics don’t have to be restricted to nonfiction texts. Co-written with Nora Raleigh Baskin, this engaging book employs humor and mistaken identity to explore the impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on our environment as told through the eyes of two twelve-year olds.

“Superlative writing and character development uplift this timely story . . . An inspiring tale of friendship and conservation.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review


Christine Taylor-Butler: Before we get into the book, can you tell me a bit about yourself? For instance, many people think writers have always been writers but are surprised to learn many have professional non-writing jobs. What is yours?

Gae Polisner: I’m a lawyer by profession. I graduated from law school at the height of the 1991 depression when there weren’t a lot of job openings. My family law professor hired me. I started as a litigator but then I trained in family mediation. It uses a different side of my brain and I love it.

CTB: Law was your graduate degree. What was your undergraduate?

Gae: Marketing. Believe it or not that degree has helped me survive in publishing. It gave me the skills to put myself out there and make connections with readers and book buyers.

CTB: So how did you make the leap to writing?

Gae: I wrote all the time as a kid. When I was younger I was praised by teachers for my writing in elementary school and middle school. I got compliments in creative writing classes in college. But it was outside the scope of professional jobs. I planned to go to law school or medical school. My father was a surgeon so in my family, having a profession was a given. After graduating I practiced law and started a family. I was fulfilled in my life, but I missed being creative.

When I had my second son I started writing women’s fiction and got an agent. By the time my kids were eight and ten I was reading aloud to them every night. My agent was submitting and I was getting great feedback but lots of rejections. That’s when I decided I was going to write a book for my kids. I wanted to write the books I liked to read when I was younger. I loved Judy Blume and Madeleine L’Engle. I loved the Mixed Up Files.  I wrote The Pull of Gravity which was published by Frances Foster (FSG). It was two more years before I sold my next book, Summer of Letting Go (Workman/Algonquin). I’m most known for The Memory of Things which is about 9/11.

CTB: You have seven books in print now?

Gae: Yes. But that’s seven books out of twenty-two manuscripts. It’s been an interesting journey.

CTB: So let’s dig into your latest book: Consider the Octopus. This book caught me off guard. It’s not often I find such fun storytelling which is simultaneously covering a real science topic. Could you tell me how the idea came about?

Gae Polisner: I say it was a bit of synchronicity. I was headed for a swim and listening to NPR in the car when Norah called and said “Turn on NPR! They’re talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

Note: Here’s the WYNC link for readers:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Worse Than You Think.”

CTB: So you were both listening to the same broadcast when she called and you both had the same idea about creating a book using that as the basis for the adventure.

Gae: Yes. Nora and I had already collaborated on several manuscripts including a novel: Seven Clues To Home. So when she called I said, “Okay, let’s write this but the only requirement is that we write a funny book.” Neither one of us wanted the book to be solely an “issue” book. We wanted something that covered environmental pollution but wasn’t “heavy.”

CTB: Even so, you wanted to make sure the science was real.

Microplastics noaaGae: The garbage patch is often described as an island so initially I thought people could stand on it. When we were thinking of ideas for the book I wanted to put a research station there. Then I did research and realized the idea of it being an island was a misnomer. In photos you often see large groups of plastic trash floating in the ocean. There is quite a lot of that floating on the surface of the water and the “islands” are formed by the currents of ocean water. But most of the patch is composed of particles of plastics called microplastics. Some are microscopic which means they’re so small that you can’t see them. But they’re still dangerous to wildlife and the environment. According to the EPA it’s now found in every ecosystem on the planet.

CTB: To bring home the importance of this problem, the story is written in the points of view of two twelve-year old kids who form an unlikely friendship: Sydney Miller, who is invited to join the research ship after being mistaken for a famous scientist of the same name, and Jeremy Barnes, who is responsible for issuing that invitation. Did you and Nora write both voices together?

Gae: Actually, Nora wrote Sydney’s voice and I wrote Jeremy’s. Sydney’s character is funny but is the more serious of the two kids. Sydney has dreams and can’t believe what we’ve done to the oceans. She’s accompanied by her goldfish Rachel Carson who she smuggles on to the trip.

CTB: You were the voice of Jeremy. One of the fun aspects of this book were the titles for the chapters. Jeremy changes his nickname and the jokes are self-effacing and yet they project what is coming next in the text. For example, Jeremy JB “Not Made of Willpower” Barnes, or “Jeremy JB “Please, No More Puking” Barnes. No wonder kids find this book funny.

Gae: His voice was one of those muse things. I thought about boys I knew. The kids who were a cut-up and so smart but take a long time to recognize they are smart. One of my neighbors was like that and he was at my house all the time.

CTB: We tell readers (and aspiring authors) to spend a lot of time observing people and their behaviors to make their book characters real.

Gae: Yes. I look at how a kid’s brain works. Sometimes they are unintentionally funny. Once I knew who Jeremy was, writing his voice came easier

CTB: The majority of the book was set on a fictional research vessel named the Oceana II. Your details were so vivid I felt as if I were onboard with the Sydney and Jeremy. Have you been on a similar vessel?

Gae: No. It’s incredibly challenging to write that setting when you haven’t been on a research ship yourself. I’d never even been on a cruise ship. But there are plenty of places to get information. For instance, everyone thinks that SEAmester was a clever setting but it’s a real program. My friend’s son was interested in Marine Biology and did the program. Then he blogged about it so I got a sense of what it was like for a young kid to be on a research vessel in the middle of the ocean.

One of the great things about the internet is that I found a virtual tour of an Australian Research Vessel “Solander”. That allowed me to “travel” down into the lower levels and explore. The 3D tour was constantly open while I wrote. I could see how the different rooms worked including the dry room, the galley, etc..

AIMS Research Vessel Solander

RV Solander

CTB: What other resources did you find that readers might enjoy exploring?

The Jenny Ocean cleanupGae: There’s a lot of initiatives working on the problem. I sent you a cool link that follows “The Jenny.” It’s an ocean vacuum system that is having some success cleaning up the patch. It collected more than 30 tons of plastic. Readers can find it here at: The Ocean Cleanup.

I also found a documentary by Jack Johnson. It’s called “Smog of the Sea.” The film allows you to see how every mile of the ocean is filled with microplastics. You’re traveling in it when you’re sailing.

CTB: That’s amazing. You slip in so much science in a seamless way. Even something as simple as the “goldfish” t-shirt is written in scientific notation: “79 AU 196.97”. Seventy-nine is the atomic number for gold on the periodic table, AU in its elemental symbol and 196.97 is its atomic mass. You don’t go out of your way to explain everything, you leave some things for the readers to discover on their own. When writing science topics it always helps to have a second pair of eyes. Once the manuscript was complete did you and Nora reach out to people to read the draft?

Gae: We did. Norah reached out to Karen Romano Young. She’s a fellow writer and scientist who has been on a research ship. She’s also contributor to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I asked a friend who is a marine biology teacher to read the book and vett the science before it was published.

CTB: One of the hardest parts about the pandemic was so many good books didn’t get the visibility they deserved. I wanted to help readers discover this particular book.  I just completed three books for the “Save The….” (Animals) series with Chelsea Clinton. One of the things that kept popping up what how many animals are endangered by the plastics in our oceans. Which, by extension, means we are also exposed as humans. We wanted, at the end of the book, to provide ways young readers can get involved and have a sense of agency. That you were able to highlight both in a book that uses humor and heart was such a bonus. Thanks for agreeing to be my guest this month.

Gae: You’re welcome!

sample from book

Win a FREE copy of  Consider The Octopus.

“A fun read… made me laugh… also has a really powerful message about how we need to save the environment.” Ronak Bhatt, Kid Reporter: TIME for Kids

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!


PolisnerGae Polisner is the author of seven books for young people. Awards and honors include Booklist and Kirkus Starred Reviews, The Wisconsin’s Children’s Choice book award, The Nerdy Book Club Award, the Pennsylvania School Library Association’s list of best fiction and others. Consider the Octopus is her first middle grade novel with a STEM focus.

To learn more about Gae and her books, please visit You can follow her on Twitter @gaepol
Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of three books in Chelsea Clinton’s Save The . . . (Animals) series and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

STEM Tuesday– Evolution– Writing Tips & Resources

The Gift of New Writing Approaches

It’s the holiday season, and soon we’ll usher in a whole new year. It’s a time filled with family and friends (hopefully), good food, and gift-giving. This year, as my present to you, I want to discuss the gift of trying new approaches with our writing (CCSS ELA Writing Standard 5).

This month’s book list contains an irresistible assortment of approaches to the same topic of Evolution. Skim the list, and you’ll find:

  • A graphic novel – Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, illustrated by Kevin and Zander Cannon
  • A modernized primary source – Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” adapted by Rebecca Stefoff
  • Evolution told through the lens of a single species (humans) – How to Build a Human by Pamela Turner, illustrated by John Gurche
  • A hands-on book loaded with activities – Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment with 25 Projects by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Alexis Cornell
  • A biography – One Beetle Too Many: Candlewick Biographies: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwinby Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
  • A narrative focused on a relationship (the Darwin’s marriage) – Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
  • A narrative focused on an event – The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez (to be released in March 2023)

As writers, part of the revision process requires us asking if we’ve accomplished the goals we had for our writing.  Did we make the point we wanted to make? Will our readers understand the story we are telling and the information we share? If not, could a new approach help?

Techniques to try

If you’re feeling stuck, try some of these techniques:

  • Flip the format: If you’ve written an informational or narrative piece could you add images and turn it into a comic?
  • Narrow your focus: If you’ve written a broad overview of a topic, what would happen if you rewrote your piece using a different lens focused on a single person, place, or thing?
  • Rethink your main character: Any person, place, thing, or event could be the center of a narrative. If you’ve focused on a person, could you refocus on an event or a relationship instead?

As writers, a flexible approach to our writing is key, especially when something’s not working. So give yourself a gift this holiday season – the freedom to try something new.

One more parting gift

If you’re looking for another way to reenergize your writing as we approach the New Year, you might try Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers, which begins Dec. 26. Teachers, you can sign up for the daily emails here and share the process with your students after break.

Per Julie’s site, the 12 Days of Christmas gives writers:

  • Exercises to evaluate and integrate their previous writing year so they are ready for the new one.
  • Tools to illuminate successes in order to go even further in their writing.
  • Inspriation for how to write through tough times.

I go through this process each and every year and love what it does for my writing life.

Wishing you and yours a safe and healthy holiday season!