Posts Tagged engineering

The Anatomy of a Middle Grade STEM book — AND a Giveaway!

People are always asking me where I come up with ideas for my STEM books. After all, if you’ve seen my books, I tend to use out-of-the-box angles to get kids excited about some interesting STEM topics.

Astronaut Aquanaut book by Jennifer Swanson

 

Take my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. This one compares and contrasts SPACE and the OCEAN. Pretty cool concept, especially when you learn that while these two places are very extreme enviroments, it takes a lot of similar training and equipment to go both places. Which would you rather be?

 

 

 

Then there’s my Save the Crash-test Dummy book. It’s the history of car safety engineering, told through the lens of a day in the life of a crash-test dummy. Yes, you read that right.   Save the Crash-test Dummies book by Jennifer Swanson

A crash-test dummy. Probably NOT a job you want to have. But it’s a great way to get kids interested in car safety. (Shhh… don’t tell the kids they are learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion)

 

 

 

 

So HOW do I come up with my ideas? And then HOW do I turn these ideas into books? Well, I’m going to give you a peek inside my creative process. It’ll be fun. You might even say, SPORTS-tacular. 🙂

Yep, I’m going to use my new book that releases next Tuesday, July 20th, from Black Dog & Leventhal, as my example. I’ll take you through how this book started as an idea, then a proposal, then… a book. (With amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio)

The Secret Science of Sports book by Jennifer Swanson

STEP 1: Come Up with an IDEA

  • The easiest thing to do is write what you KNOW. — For me, I grew up with 3 brothers and a father who love sports. It was natural that I would as well. After all, I spent most of my days playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming laps in the pool for swim practice, running, hiking, biking, etc. You name it, I’ve played the sport. It only seemed natural that I write a book about something I know and love.
  • Write something that INTERESTS you. This one should also be easy. If you know the topic, hopefully, you’ll like it. I do happen to like sports, which is good.
  • Find the HOOK– This can be the tough part! After all, just because YOU like it and find it interesting, does not mean that others will. You need to  think about how you can make this topic exciting to others. For this book, it was natural to combine my love of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) + Sports =  STEM Sports Book (Exciting!)

 

WHY STEM and Sports? To me, combining STEM and sports seemed natural. Many people watch sports and just look at the game, but I see the physics, the technology, and the math everywhere. I thought if I could get kids (of all ages) to see that, they might find it cool to know as well. Besides, using something a lot of people love (sports), with something everyone learns (science and STEM), that just seemed logical to me. Good thing my editor agreed. 🙂

 

STEP 2: Write the proposal and a really good pitch

Writing middle grade nonfiction book proposals are not for the faint of heart. They take a lot of time and research, but are totally worth it. Here is a great place that offers tips just for this:  https://www.dystel.com/nonfiction-proposals

Writing pitches is not easy either. You need to include enough information to make the editors interested, but not too much to make it boring. Keep your voice fun and entertaining (it should match your voice in the book) and have LOTS of energy.

Here is  my first pitch: Hey! Want to know the secret to winning at sports? It’s not what you’d think. It’s… SCIENCE! Yep. To be great at sports you need to know about physics, biology, neuroscience and even a little engineering. Who would have thought that science class would be the best place to learn how to be a better athlete. Shh…. don’t tell anyone.

 

STEP 3:   WRITE the manuscript!

So now that you’ve sold the book. Yes, I skipped over the hardest part, selling it.  It can take awhile or in the case of this book, it was relatively short. An editor happened to be looking for a book on this topic at just the right time that my proposal was ready. Pretty great, huh? That does not happen all the time. But let’s face it, part of this career is just plain luck, right?

Anyway, as I began writing, I knew I wanted this book to be different. First of all, it had to have  a cool kid-friendly voice. Here are the first few sentences:

If you picked up this book, it’s probably because you like sports. Maybe you want to see if it has tips for how to improve your game (it does), or how to become more fit (it has that, too), or just because you want to learn more about different types of sports (also there). But wait, the title says, the Science of Sports. That means that this book also teaches you about science. What does a sports book have science in it? Those two subjects seem so different. It’s not as if sitting in a science class can teach you more about your sport than practicing it. Actually, it can.       

©Jennifer Swanson, Secret Science of Sports 

 

But most of all, I wanted kids to USE this book. After all, science is best when it’s in action. So, I as I wrote about the science and STEM, I had the readers DO activities like these:

Secret Science of Sports book page

 

 

Secret Science of Sports Book page 25

I also included images that showed the readers how the STEM was actually happening.

Secret Science of Sports Book - Soccer pages

 

 

Again, my editor was totally on board with all of these ideas, thankfully. When you add in the amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio it is really COOL! Readers get their own STEM sports-tastic view of the world!

So, THAT’s how I created my latest book. It was tons of fun and easy to write. For me, it was simply a trip through my sports-filled life. My hope is that readers of all ages find this book interesting, exciting, and useful. I want this book to get taken outside, sloshed through the mud-filled soccer fields, have sports drinks from tennis and football players spilled on it, and yes, even get a little wet from being beside the swimming pool.

It’s also a  PERFECT companion for those of you that will sit down to watch the 2021 Summer Olympics

Sports Book with Olympic rings

Finally, there NEEDS to be more STEM Middle grade books in the world, consider writing one. Kids of all ages will love you for it. GO STEM/STEAM!

I am giving away one copy of my Secret Science of Sports book. Leave a comment below with your favorite sport or favorite sports memory to be entered. 

 

 

STEM Tuesday: Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer Book List

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

During the month of November, we feature a list of fascinating books about famous scientists and how they think. As an extra layer, we’d like you to consider this list from the nonfiction authors’ points of view as well. What parts of these scientists lives did we focus on? What did we leave out? What do you think interested us the most? Whether you realize it or not, every nonfiction story has an angle–something that connects us AND our readers to the topic. See if you can find it in the books listed below as you dive into the minds of these scientists who have shaped their fields.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery; illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

Readers will meet up with a scientist searching for a cancer cure, a boy engaged in animal anatomy, and citizens joining together to save an endangered species, with the help of roadkill. A great title for kids who enjoy a little gore with their science.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heligman

Delve into the complex world of the Darwins in this award-winning title that introduces readers to the relationship of this famous couple.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure

Read about the growing mind of one of the world’s greatest scientists in this award-winning nonfiction narrative of Isaac Newton. A wonderful read for budding scientists.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lisa Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling

A fascinating look at two groundbreaking and mostly unrecognized scientists who contributed to the science of nuclear energy and the race to build the atomic bomb. Readers might be more familiar with the work of Curie’s famous mother, Marie, but she was important in her own right.  A terrific read for Women’s History Month and every day after.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scouts to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

An inspirational memoir about a Latina rocket scientist whose early life was transformed by  her membership in Girl Scouts. Acevedo is currently the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Google It! A History of Google: How Two Students’ Mission to Organize the Internet Changed the World by Anna Crowley Redding

Discover how two college students came up with an idea that has changed our world.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery; photographs by Nic Bishop

Noted nonfiction author debunks the stereotypes of hyenas in her latest Scientists in the Field title focused on scientist Kay Holecamp.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Think Like a Scientist in the Gym by Christine Taylor Butler

In this title, the readers are the scientists testing their scientific thinking by performing a series of fun experiments using basic gym equipment. Consider asking students to record results in a science notebook.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: His Life and Inventions, with 21 Activities by Mary Kay Carson

This 2019 finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Hands-on Science is a perfect title for budding inventors. Readers will learn about Alexander Graham Bell’s many inventions and have the opportunity to try their hand at creating some of their own.

 

FICTION PAIRINGS about kids thinking like scientists:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Lost Tribes series by Christine Taylor Butler

Christine Taylor-Butler is a trained civil engineer, and she creates smart science-centered characters in this adventure-mystery series. Five friends team up to find their missing parents, who they discover are on a secret science mission. The friends must solve puzzles, crack codes, and think logically as they race against time to find their parents and save the universe.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Readers of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate will enjoy this next tale of young, inquisitive Calpurnia. A wonderful fiction title to pair up with one of the above informational books.

 

 

 

***** And Finally, we’d like to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!! STEM Tuesday is celebrating our ONE YEAR Anniversary!! Thanks to all of our readers who have followed us faithfully the past year. We couldn’t do it without you. YAY for STEM/STEAM Middle Grade Books!!***

 


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her Crystal Kite award-winning title, Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel, which delves into the study of cognition, both animal and human.  Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips with students during her author visits. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as a Regional Advisor for SCBWI. Her 2018 title is Back From The Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction. www.nancycastaldo.com

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. Her Sibert Honor-winning Sea Otter Heroes dives inside the mind of marine biologist Brent Hughes as he solves a food chain mystery. Other titles include:  Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College Best Book and Plastic, Ahoy!, a Green Earth Book Award winner. New in 2018:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation. Educators describe her author visits as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.” Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

STEM Tuesday Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them – In the Classroom

Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them

For this In the Classroom feature, I’m taking a broad view of the idea of “invention,” and including similar processes, such as discovery (science) and engineering, although each is unique.I’ve also tried to give a broad range of possible activities–some of them hands-on STEM experiences, others more literary, imaginative, or whimsical, to help you ignite the type of passion and curiosity that your students will be reading about in this month’s books.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMind Your (and Your Students’) Metaphors
You can explore metaphors and our perceptions of discovery, while learning about a whole range of innovators, with Joyce Sidman’s Eureka! Poems about Inventors (illustrated by K. Bennett Chavez).

Especially with older students, you can begin by conducting the survey described and discussed in Kristen C. Elmore and Myra Luna-Lucera’s work, article, “Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius,” which examines how specific metaphors about discovery influence our perceptions of the not just of the process, but, perhaps surprisingly, of the discoverers and value of their achievements. After students respond to the survey (resources are provided in the article), let them in on the whole study and discuss their own responses in light of the researchers’ findings.

Then crack open Eureka! While enjoying the poems and thinking about the inventors, also of looking for the ways in which design, discovery, and invention are portrayed. In any poem, does Sidman seem to see the inventor’s experience as  a “light bulb moment” (as the book’s title suggests), or as a process of  “nurturing seeds?” Perhaps something else? Overall, does Sidman’s view of invention seem to favor one metaphor or the other? (Keep in mind that you can continue this discussion with respect to other books from this month’s list.)

Of course, after students read the stories in Eureka! it makes perfect sense for them to write their own poems about:

  • Their own experiences of discovery or engineering insight
  • Other innovators featured in this month’s books–Elon Musk or Isaac Newton, for example.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDream Big—Really Big (and Then Maybe Engineer Something)

Readers of Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk & the Quest for a Fantastic Future will surely notice something that really makes Elon Musk stand out: his mission-driven ambition.

This guy dreams big.

Many people– including engineers and inventors–hope to make the world a better place; Musk wants to save humanity. This kind of high-impact calling can be a great motivator for future engineers and other innovators. Capitalize on the excitement of the Musk’s vision with one or more of these ideas:

Encourage Daydreaming!

  • Invite your students to take a cue from Musk and envision something that would be really important to the well-being of people around the world. Begin a discussion with a grand question: If you could invent anything to make the world a much better place for everyone, what would you invent?

 

  • Follow through with a brainstorming session around this question, encouraging students to think about ideas that might not seem realistic or possible right now. (If the class has already read the book, you can remind students that Musk’s ideas might not have seemed feasible at first, and, in fact, that lots of people have scoffed at his ideas.)

 

  • Keep a running dream-list posted in the classroom and return to it from time to time. Invite students to keep “Dream Books,” where they focus on one or two ideas (or more) and write and sketch about how the dream might become a reality through some technology.

 

  • You can expand on this idea by holding your own school version of the National Academy of Engineering’s “E4U” contest—minus the $25,000 grand prize– which (apparently) was last held in 2016. While the national contest is not open now, students can follow the contest rules to create 1-2 minute videos that aim to highlight a mega-engineering project related to one of their big dreams and, in the words of the contest guidelines, “expand the way people think about engineering and how it is involved in solving large-scale global challenges.” Check out winning entries, guidelines that you can use or adapt, and an explanatory (if outdated) video at the E4U contest site. Whether you run this as a contest or a showcase, this is a creative way to help students connect to Musk’s work and the importance of STEM in our world

Join Musk on His Mission (Sort Of)

For a more concrete experience, lead your students through engineering projects with connections to SpaceX rockets and Tesla’s electric cars, such as those featured in these resources from Design Squad Global:

Musk is all about the future. But there’s plenty of excitement in the past. Just check out the likes of Isaac Newton, whose experiences can add a bit of magic to how we think of early science and engineering.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgExplore a Little Magic with Isaac Newton

From the outset of Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d, author Mary Losure explains to readers that in Isaac Newton’s time, some of what we now understand through science, such as chemical reactions and optical effects,  seemed a lot like magic.

They still do.  Have fun with this idea and explore the magical effects of our everyday world!

 

  • Adapt additional resources to create inquiry-based, surprising, and delightfully magical lessons. (Notes: I named these activities to spice things up; you won’t see these activity names in the resources. Also, see the safety reminder, below.)

Spirit Writing?

Cast a Colorful Spell (magic trick begins at about the 7-minute mark)

Cast a Colorful Spell 2

Refraction Action: Disappearing Coin

Liquid Refraction Action 2: Liquid Invisibility Cloak!

Vanishing Glass (See Item 1 in the linked resource.)

 

  •  Finally, to continue the science-is-magical theme, and for a bit more fun and a creative literacy extension, you might have students write and perform scripts for a magic show, each student team building a story or act that uses one of the chemical reactions to create the “magic.”

As I find every month when I contribute to STEMTuesday, the books on the list inspire many more lesson ideas than space will allow. What inspires you? Leave a comment sharing new ideas or comments on what you see here!


*Safety Reminder: The magic/science activities are generally safe, but in the classroom, you should always be sure to follow the guidelines for safety and for modeling safe use of all chemicals. Check with your local science curriculum coordinator or the National Science Teachers Association Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops.


portrait of author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofanoSTEM Tuesday–In the Classroom contributor, author, and STEM education consultant Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano writes about science and technology/engineering for kids.  Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work? –a book for early readers released this month–celebrates the innovative spirit and challenges behind engineering solar technologies, and received a starred review from Kirkus.