Posts Tagged homeschooling

STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Writing Tips and Resources

Look Up

“We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan

 

Orion Nebula, By NASA, JPL-Caltech, J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech) – NASA JPL, Public Domain

Estimates calculate our speed traveling on Earth through the universe to be around 492,126 miles per hour. That’s fast! Under such conditions as our tiny planet races through the heavens, our very existence on Earth seems against all odds. We are improbable beings. Nevertheless, we exist. We occupy our tiny niche on our tiny planet revolving around a tiny star inside a tiny galaxy.

There are times, though, when our world seems to be spinning out of control. We drift farther away from each other at the very moment we need each other the most. At times like these, it’s good to step back, take a deep breath, and remember the gift of having our place in the universe. We need to remember humans are designed to explore, discover, create, and share. This holds true not just for STEM but across the spectrum of existence.  

We are improbable beings, yet here we are. Why not make the most of this improbable existence?

This STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resources post will seem a departure from the usual fabulous content delivered by Heather Montgomery and Kirsten Larson. The Writing Tips & Resources tip for this month’s Planets & Stars theme (and all year!) is simple and yet often forgotten.

Look up.

Be awed. Explore. 

Be curious. Discover.

Be inspired. Create. 

Be humbled. Share. 

Look up.

Creation. Sistine Chapel. Public Domain.

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 www.coachhays.com 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.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month has its origins in my childhood fascination with space. It’s fueled by my recent STEM writer’s interest in electromagnetic waves which, in turn, led back to space and the study of our place in the universe. In short, all roads lead to the rabbit hole of curiosity and inquiry.

The Cosmos Series

This family of TV shows, originally by Carl Sagan and revived by Neil deGrasse Tyson, are some screen time I definitely need to catch up on and revisit.

Speaking of Neil deGrasse Tyson…

               

Starts With a Bang

I’ve been reading Ethan Siegel’s stuff for a few years on Medium and recently found out he has a podcast too. Highly recommended by me!

Down to Earth (Netflix)

To say I was skeptical about this Zac Ephron documentary series would be an understatement of galactic proportions. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and despite a bit of pseudosciencey stuff, I learned and/or realized a great deal about our interactions with the planet. It was also my first introduction to superfood guru, Darin Olien, which has been a good thing. My single favorite lightbulb moment was in Episode 2 about the changes Paris has made about their water supply and access to it. After years of water quality issues, followed by the years of generating mountains of plastic waste with the bottled water “solution”, Parisian officials did the most Occam’s Razor thing possible. Instead of continuing to create more problems by solving the basic problem of poor water quality, they simply invested the capital in producing and distributing better quality water. A touch of brilliance I discovered in the most unexpected of places…from the dude who starred in that Disney movie my kids used to love to watch.

I guess there’s a hidden lesson there also –> Look up/Pay attention.

Down to Earth with Zac Efron | Netflix Official Site


STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Book List

This has been a busy year for space exploration. In February, NASA launched a solar orbiter. Late May saw SpaceX launch their Dragon, followed by three different missions to Mars. And China is planning to send a rover to the moon. We hope these books will inspire our next generation of Space Explorers!

Our Solar System and Beyond

Absolute Expert: Space, All the Latest Facts from the Field by Joan Marie Galat

This book starts with the question, “where does space begin?” and takes off to explore our solar system, stars, the big bang, and even communicating with aliens. Every chapter includes Space Watch (things you can see without needing a telescope) and Space Labs (hands-on experiments).

 

Dr. Maggie’s Grand Tour Of The Solar System by Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Dr. Maggie is a space scientist and in this book she takes you on a journey around our solar system. There’s a stop at every planet: a hike up Olympus Mons on Mars, a visit to the red spot on Jupiter, and some quick tours to a few moons. What’s fun is that she includes a “ship’s database” at the back filled with facts and statistics.

 

The Daredevil’s Guide To Outer Space by Anna Brett, illustrated by Mike Jacobsen

A Lonely Planet guide of a different sort! Cartoon characters blast off to explore our solar system and beyond. Text is presented in panels and text boxes as well as through dialog. Readers visit the International Space Station and meet other spacecraft throughout the journey.

 

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System by Bethany Ehlmann and Jennifer Swanson

Dr. Ehlmann has an out-of-this-world job: she’s a planetary geologist AND she helped drive the rover, Curiosity on Mars. But she wonders what it would be like to zoom around the solar system. The comics are fun, the science is real, and there are some “try this” activities. There’s even a handy guide for likely places to find alien life.

 

Mars Missions

Mission to Mars by Mary Kay Carson

Humans will go to Mars someday. What will it take to get them there? Will there be water on the planet? Martians to greet us? This book looks at what we’ve discovered in previous Mars missions, and the technology and training for future exploration.

 

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Scientists in the Field Series) by Elizabeth Rusch

At 13 years old, Steven Squyers watched astronauts land on the moon. Two decades later, with a degree in geology, he started thinking what a mission to Mars might look like. He proposed sending rovers – and in these pages readers follow along as he and his team design, build, and launch the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet by Buzz Aldrin & Marianne Dyson

Treating the reader as a Mars Mission crew member, the book examines the preparation, travel, and early residency involved in settling Mars. Each chapter includes both early and ground-breaking science, political and scientific history, facts, and numerous hands-on activities.

 

 

Looking into Deep Space

The Hubble Space Telescope: Our Eye on the Universe by Terence Dickinson, with Tracy C. Read

After discussing Edwin Hubble, the intricacies of the Hubble telescope, and providing a glossary on the universe, this book looks at the remarkable images Hubble has revealed and the advances in scientific knowledge and understanding of star clusters, gorgeous nebulas, the milky way, and distant galaxies that it has provided.

 

Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More (A History with 21 Activities) by Mary Kay Carson

Examining the scientists and their contributions to our increasing knowledge of stars, planets, and other galaxies (from prehistory to 2010), this book invites readers to recreate their discoveries and the tools that the scientists developed to explore our solar system and the universe. It includes a glossary and great additional resources.

Visual Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Milky Way and Beyond by National Geographic, with a foreword by Chris Hadfield (Astronaut and Former Commander of the International Space Station)

Combining stunning photographs with illustrations and graphics, this book explores our galaxy and planets. Then it expands into deep space to look at the creation of stars and galaxies, how the universe fits together, and possible exoplanets. It includes information from space missions and a glossary.

Wormholes Explained by Richard Gaughan

If we haven’t seen them, can they exist? Using engaging, accessible text and beautiful images, this book distills a wormholes’ description, scientific theories of gravity & relativity, and the mathematics involved as it offers the data and evidence scientists currently have about wormholes and space.

 

 


STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter inspired her first article for kids. When not writing, she’s committing acts of citizen science in the garden. She blogs about science for kids and families at archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com.

 

 

Maria Marshall is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com/blog.

Family Book Club: Middle Grade Books That Can Be Enjoyed by ALL

As I write this I am preparing to leave New York where we’ve been for the summer and return to London (where we live during the year) in time to quarantine for 14 days before school starts. I am kind of freaking out about what I am going to do with my kids in quarantine, but probably like most people with children or who are around children, the theme of this summer has certainly been “unstructured time.” My kids are currently 15, almost-12, 9.5, and almost-6. And thinking back to lockdown, one of the things that worked well was spending some time a few days a week listening to an audiobook while we colored or just relaxed. Okay, the 15-year-old did not involve herself in this, but for the rest of us it was nice. And when I would be reading a middle grade book to the 11 and 9 year old before bed, she would often casually come in and listen, or if we were discussing a book she’d read or I’d read to her when she was younger, she would happily weigh in.

How about a Family Book Club, in whatever shape that might look like to you?

So, for other people struggling with how to fill the last weeks of kids’ summers with something other than screens and devices, I thought I’d make a list of middle grade books that family members of different ages and genders would all enjoy reading (or listening to) and could then discuss.

I’m thinking middle grade books that work on a number of different levels—understood even by little ones not quite reading chapter books to themselves, hit the sweet spot of middle grade readers (either to be read out loud to or to read themselves), might interest your teen if they’ll deign to participate (boredom works in interesting ways), and sophisticated and nuanced enough to be truly enjoyed by adult readers too. 

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea—this moves quickly because of short chapters narrated by different voices. The classroom dynamics are realistic and I found it wise in a way that I, as an adult, have taken the subtle lessons, for example how to handle a “girl wars” bully. There are now 3 additional sequels.

 

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo—written deceptively simply, this one is funny and moving and heartwarming—an all-round winner for everyone every time I’ve read it. I’d say ANY Kate DiCamillo is a good choice for family book club: as Ann Patchett writes, some people like the magic animals ones (her) and some the realistic childhood ones (me) but they all “crack you open and make you a better person.”

  All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor—written in the 1950s about a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, this one just never, ever, feels dated. We are working our way through the sequels now.

 

 

Fudge books, in particular Superfudge by Judy Blume—laugh-out-loud funny and relatable about 6th grader Peter and the antics of his irrepressible 5-year-old brother Fudge. (My teen daughter’s suggestion was Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great).

 

Fortunately The Milk, by Neil Gaiman—madcap storytelling that’s fun for all ages.

 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White—honestly, I hadn’t read this since I was a kid and pretty much remembered nothing from it. Reading it to my almost-6 year old this summer, the writing blew me away as well as the story. Garth Williams’ illustrations are a delight for everyone. A classic for a reason.

 

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary—again, funny and relatable situations that make moving drama out of everyday circumstances and relationships. These have been a big hit over and over again and provoke great discussions about relationships and difficult situations. My personal favorites are Ramona and Her Mother and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

 

All of the above are available as audiobooks too. And speaking of audiobooks, a special mention for How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell narrated by David Tennant because on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group someone queried if people had recommendations for an audio book for a long car ride with an 8-year-old that everyone else in the car would enjoy, and this was the overwhelming favorite.  

An important note:

When I looked at my list above I realized that it had no real diversity or POC in it. While many of the books we’ve enjoyed as a family do (see below), I couldn’t think of one that worked as well with my criteria of working for young children too—please, if anyone has any suggestions please add them in the comments.

 

Books next on my own family to-read list that I think will work well:

George by Alex Gino

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Babysitter’s Club, the original books by Ann Martin—I loved this piece in the New York Times recently about boys reading these and my sons have devoured the graphic versions, not to mention that all of us are LOVING the fabulous Netflix series. Thought this might work well for us in audio. The first 5 are narrated by Elle Fanning.

 

Family Book Club for Middle Grade Readers and Up:

Graphic novels abound with moving stories and are great for reluctant readers or for kids ready for sophisticated themes but aren’t at a reading level for more advanced MG novels. They don’t work as well for the littlest members of the family, but if that’s not your situation, these books sparked lots of conversation and good book discussion in our family recently.

New Kid by Jerry Kraft —code switching and discomfort in either world when middle schooler Jordan changes schools, but instead of art school where he’d wanted to go, his parents send him to a prestigious academic school where he is one of the few kids of color. My kids have each read this several times and have asked a lot of questions sparking great discussion.

 

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed—family love, education, and a Somali refugee’s story as told to graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson. Both my sons devoured this. My 9-year-old described it as about “a boy with a brother who can’t speak. Really sad but really good.”

 

Other MG books on my (older) Family Book Club list:

One Crazy Summer trilogy—The first book, the story of 3 sisters joining their estranged mother in tumultuous 1960s San Francisco, has been a big hit with all my kids over the years and coming late to the party I’ve just discovered that there are two sequels which I can’t wait to try.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—“Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.” I can’t recommend this book highly enough—I think my boys will be ready for it this year and really look forward to reading it with them. I also gave it to my older daughter’s best friend who loved it and I hope my daughter will read it too!

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson—this just won the prestigious Waterstones Book Prize in the UK and I’m excited to read it with the kids. 

If mysteries are your family’s thing, check out some of these.

 

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. I just finished this and want to hand a copy to everyone I know. In a portrait of contemporary Jewish life, this book explores self-image, grief and friendship and is a wonderful, wonderful, thoughtfully-written debut.

Middle Grade for All

In truth, minus needing to encompass a little one’s needs, to me the perfect Middle Grade book is written in a way that absolutely resonates on many levels and to many ages. My list includes a lot of obvious ones–classics and award-winners. But there are thankfully untold numbers that are amazing for a Family Book Club. In addition to the ones mentioned above, here are some suggested by friends of mine who said these worked well for different-aged readers in their families:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (for fans of The Westing Game)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds (have just ordered this for myself)

Born a Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, adapted for young readers edition

And Finally, In Her Own Words:

One of my favorite middle grade readers, who was in a neighborhood mother-daughter book club with her mom, recommends these (and her mom endorses them too 🙂

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Jennifer Choldenko

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

 

Happy Reading, Everyone!

Let me know how you get on with any of these, and please write more Family Book Club suggestions in the comments. With fears of a second Covid-19 wave and another lockdown looming (and who knows what will be with school), we all might have a LOT of time on our hands. But I can think of worse things than spending it reading and discussing great children’s books. Stay safe and Happy Reading! 

 

All books can be bought on MUF’s Bookshop.org affiliate program or wherever fine books are sold.