Posts Tagged holiday

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.

Holidays are for Books: Nine Bookish Ideas for the Holiday Season

With the holiday season upon us, it’s easy to get busy and not make time for reading. Incorporating literature into the holiday season can create lasting memories for all involved and encourage a year-round joy of reading. Below are nine ideas for creating holiday reading traditions:

  • Read books aloud together. Find holiday-themed books, some mugs of hot chocolate, and read a little bit aloud each day during the month of December. Reading also can be turned into an advent calendar experience with a picture book to read for each day.



  • Re-read classic books. Whether its A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or something entirely unrelated to holidays, creating a ritual of reading the same book during December creates a sense of stability and is grounding. It also teaches the value of revisiting literature and learning or noticing new things upon each re-read. To take it a step further, you can create a bookmark that records the year, each child’s name, and their observations or reactions to the story. This can create a keepsake to pass down to the next generation.


  • Read to build empathy. As we all know, books encourage us to empathize with characters and thus allow us to see and appreciate different perspectives and diverse life experiences. The holidays can be a hard time for many people. Reading at least one book in which the main character comes from a very different background and life situation than your family can build greater awareness of the needs and perspectives of others.


  • Spark a love of reading by giving books. Whether it’s a book you’re ready to part ways with or something brand new, a thoughtfully given book during the gift exchanges of the holiday season feels personal to the receiver. Here’s a list of new books just in time for the holidays. A brief personal note from you, written on the book’s inside front cover with the date and why you think that they will enjoy that particular book, can make the gift even more meaningful.


  • Create decorations with old books. Do you have any books that are falling apart at their seams? If so, you can repurpose them into great holiday decorations. For example, a stack of green books can be made into a “tree,” cut-up pages from a book can be put into a clear round container to create a unique holiday ornament, and you can make a paper chain from pages of an old book.


  • Bring books to life. Pick an element of a book that you’re reading as a group or family. You may focus on recipes the main character enjoys, a tradition in the main character’s family, or a craft that the main character enjoys. Then spend an evening cooking, trying out a new tradition, or enjoying a new craft. You also often can find a book playlist on the author’s website and here’s a sample one from my website here. You might even decide to act out a holiday play together featuring a scene from the book your family is reading.


  • Library scavenger hunt. Make a game out of going to the library and searching for holiday books whose title begins with each letter of the alphabet. No computers to help. Just peruse the shelves and have fun!


  • Holiday book club! Pick a book to read as a group throughout the holiday season. On New Year’s Eve, you can discuss the book and pick some books to read in the coming year.


These are just a few ideas—you can bring reading more fully into the holiday season in many ways and I’d love to hear from you about the reading traditions that you create. I’m wishing you happy reading in the holiday season and beyond!

STEM Tuesday’s New Year’s Celebration — Part Two

Partie Deux (Translation…Part Doo.)

Recap: We last saw Mike Hays, our STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post expert, in the barnyard with his trusty sidekick, Dr. Bull Loney,  attempting to clean his boot.

The Look (M. Hays 2020)

“STOP! Stop this recap! What’s with this ‘trusty sidekick’ bit, Hays?” screamed Dr. Bull Loney.

I turned to my bovine friend. “Doesn’t it sound awesome? Our hero and his assistant out in the world solving the great mysteries of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics?”

“No.” said the good doctor flatly. 

“We could be international men, well, man and bovine, of mystery and intrigue. I see a Netflix series coming on.”

“You’re an idiot. Everybody knows I’m the brains of this dynamic duo.”

I sat down on a hay bale and started scraping the cow poo off of my boot with an old piece of barn wood.

“Besides, you got it all wrong. It’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” The tail swished back and forth impatiently. “That’s what STEM stands for.”

“Same thing that I said.”

“What you said makes SETM, not STEM.”

“Same thing.”

“Not at all.” Dr. Loney paused. “Hey, this brings up another problem. Precision.”

“I thought you are supposed to be introducing ‘Cow Poo’ as your STEM Tuesday 2021 theme?”

“I’ll get to that but this is important. Precision is important for not only doing proper STEM work but in presenting the STEM message to others.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You think so? What good are discovery and innovation if all that discovery and innovation stays in the head of the discoverer/innovator?”

“Not much, I guess.”

“Right. The real value of discovery and innovation, the real value of STEM, is spreading that information to others and putting it into practice.”

“Makes sense. But where’s the precision part fit in?”

The bull lit up like a firework on New Year’s Eve. He was in his element. He was on a roll. 

“Precision, my friend, is the trust part of science. We all know consistency in your data builds trust in the data. However, precision is also important in the messaging side of things too. Without precision in presenting and teaching your information, trust devolves into confusion.”

“So when our message lacks precision, we can create more confusion than trust.”

“Precisely. It’s SETM vs. STEM. You only work to confuse people with SETM rather than the accepted acronym, STEM. Nobody really likes confusion except, perhaps, pigs.”

“Now I get it. That’s kind of like what we do at STEM Tuesday and what the great community of nonfiction kidlit writers does. Spread information through precision in messaging. Getting the best information that we can to the readers.”

“Hays, I think you are coming around. There’s hope for you yet.”

I fought the urge to flick the stuff from the bottom of my boot at him. “Can we  get around to your 2021 STEM Tuesday announcement now?”

“Of course. And you don’t have to be so snappy about it. You done cleaning that shoe off yet? I feel this is an announcement best suited for the sunshine and wide-open space of the pasture.”

We moved through the gate and into the brown grass of the pasture. We stopped on a rise overlooking the corn stubble fields stretched below us. The sunshine felt good and the beauty all around me on this late December day made me forget all about my boot mishap.

“Dr. Bull Loney, this is the perfect spot to make your announcement. But first, tell me why you think “Cow Poo” not only represents 2020 but is also the perfect word for 2021?”

“It’s simple. It’s a circle of life thing.”

“Wait!” I said, looking around at the pastoral setting with images of animated musical animals popping into my head. “You’re not going to start belting out one of those Disney songs, are you?”

“Not a bad idea, but no. Circle of life. The grass grows and the grain grows. We eat the grass and the grain. We absorb the nutrients and then we get rid of the rest in the form of poo. The poo fertilizes the soil and provides nutrients to the grass and the grain. See? Circle of life stuff.”

“What about methane gas?”

“All part of the process. There are positives and negatives to everything under the sun. We can’t ignore the fact that hardly anything in our universe is 100%. That’s why we have statistics.”

“Okay, you’re saying “Cow Poo” needs to be our 2021 word just because it’s fertilizer?”

“After the Cow Poo year of 2020, don’t you think a little fertilizing is needed in our future?”

“You have a point.”


“Okay Dr., make the announcement.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I propose ‘Cow Poo 2021’ as the STEM Tuesday theme for the New Year. Keep the STEM faith as we navigate these tough and difficult times. We wish you the best and can’t wait to see what you’ll create fueled by your own means of fertilizer. Happy New Year from the MUF family and the STEM Tuesday team!”

As the wisdom of Dr. Bull Loney sunk in, I looked around at the beauty of nature surrounding me. With the challenges we face in 2021, a little fertilizer in our future is not a bad thing at all. We need it for our creative life. We need it for our discoveries. We need it for our innovation. We need it to make our world just a little bit better today than it was yesterday.

I only suggest we pay attention to what’s under our feet so we don’t accidentally step in something we don’t have to scrape off our boots. Also, I recommend checking out some books on poop (including a few titles below from STEM Tuesday contributors). It’s fascinating stuff! 

Who Gives A Poop? Surprising Science From One End To The Other by Heather L. Montgomery (2020)

Building With Poop by Jennifer Swanson (2018)


Happy New Year! May your life be fertile and productive in 2021.


Anya Adora [CC BY 4.0 (]

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 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.