Posts Tagged Olympics

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — Interview with Author Janet Slingerland

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 Janet Slingerland, author of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology?  

Janet Slingerland: The book looks at sports-related cutting-edge technology through the years. Like its name implies, these were the 12 break-through technologies that I thought had the biggest impact on the world of sports. It’s written for middle-grade readers (ages 8-12), but hopefully it engages readers outside that range, too.

MKC: Do you play sports or are you a big sports fan?

Janet: My father was a gym teacher and track coach, so it’s probably not surprising that I played sports. My favorite sport to play, by far, was volleyball. I’ve always enjoyed playing more than watching, although I have enjoyed watching a wide variety of sports over the years. I especially love the Olympics, where we see sports that are more difficult to watch on a more regular basis.

MKC: What was challenging about writing the book?

Janet: I found trying to select the 12 “biggest” breakthroughs to be challenging. To make the decision, I considered how many people the breakthrough impacted and in what way. Some made the sport more accessible to people. Others were geared toward elite athletes, but are life-saving. Yet others make sports more enjoyable (and understandable) for fans to watch.

MKC: This book is packed full of facts! Would you like to share a favorite research discovery?

Janet:  I think the thing that amazed me most was how long ago sports science originated. The study of how exercise changes the human body started when gladiators were fighting in the Roman coliseum. It may actually go even further back than that, but there are detailed records from gladiator times. Realizing the first indoor ice skating rink was built before electricity is a little mind-blowing, too. Here’s a really interesting article on the first skating rinks.

Janet Slingerland studied electrical engineering and programmed computers before deciding to share her love of STEM (and other things) with children. She has written more than 20 nonfiction books for grades K-12. Visit her at

MKC: What inspires you to write about STEM subjects?

Janet:  My background is in engineering and embedded programming (writing code for microchips that go inside things). I’ve always been fascinated by how science explains so many things that seem like magic. The puzzle-lover in me drew me to engineering. I started writing STEM books so I could share these loves with kids (and parents/teachers).

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about how everything is interconnected. So many people think they don’t like STEM, but it’s tied to everything. We hear music thanks to the physics of sound and the biology behind how our ears work. We see rainbows and blue skies thanks to the physics of light, the chemistry of the air the light passes through, and the biology behind how our eyes perceive color. Everything in our lives has ties to STEM.


Win a FREE copy of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology!

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!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — Writing Tips & Resources


Title Talk

A good title can do a lot of work for both the reader and the writer. Of course the title conveys the subject of the book but it has many more jobs to do. It conveys the tone of the book. It gives clues to the scope of the book. Most importantly, it must hook a reader. All of that in just 1-5 words (and sometimes a subtitle).

Our STEM Tuesday book lists are a great place to study what titles can do. Take a look at just the titles of this month’s STEM in sports books:

Sports Science & Technology in the Real World

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up

The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology

STEM in Sports: Engineering

Learning STEM From Baseball: How Does A Curveball Curve? And Other Amazing Answers for Kids!

STEM In Sports

Science Behind Sports

The Secret Science of Sports: The Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering Behind Every Grand Slam, Triple Axel, and Penalty Kick

STEM Jobs in Sports

Sports Medicine: Science, Technology, Engineering

The Book of Wildly Spectacular Sports Science: 54 All-Star Experiments

Start asking questions: Why were those specific words chosen? The word “sport” is used frequently but in different positions. How does word placement matter? Who chooses the titles? Surprisingly, in many cases the title/subtitle are developed by the marketing team, not the author. Why might that be?

Here are a few ways you can look at what titles can do.  In the nonfiction area of the library, sit down in front of one shelf. Find a section of 5-10 books that are all on a closely related topic. (For this exercise it is best to not use a series of books). Write down all of the titles and subtitles in a list.

A Reader’s Reaction

  • Which titles draw you in? Why? Is it the subject or some other element?
  • Looking at your title list, are there any particular words that hook you?
  • Skim the books. For each book ask: Did the title/subtitle give you an accurate idea of what was inside the cover?

More than The Subject

Search for how the titles  subtly or not-so-subtly convey more than the basic subject. Consider these elements (and add your own):

  • Subtopic: Does the book focus on one specific topic within the subject?
  • Angle: Has the author selected a unique angle from which to approach the topic? Can you determine that from the title?
  • Tone: Is this book humorous? Academic? Lyrical? Does the title convey that?

Make it Visual

Upload your title list into a word cloud generator and see what other discoveries you can make.

  • Do one or more words dominate the titles?
  • If so, are there any titles that do not rely on those words? How are those titles unique? How are those books unique?

Compare and Contrast

  • Do the titles on your list vary drastically or are they all fairly similar? Some things to analyze: content, length, specific words, presence of a subtitle, etc.
  • In a new section of the library, pick a subject area which is very different (for example if your first list is about space, maybe go to the art section).
    • Create a new title list. Repeat one or more of the above exercises.
    • In what way is your new list similar to/different from your previous list? How much do you think the book’s subject affects that?
    • Separate your books into two piles based on main purpose: to entertain or to inform. In what ways might that impact the choice of title?

Titles can do a lot of work for the reader and the writer.  Enjoy taking a closer look at all the titles in your future!


Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. Studying titles and subtitles in the library helped her create a few fun ones of her own:  BUGS DON’T HUG, SURPRISING SCIENCE FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER, and SOMETHING ROTTEN. You can learn more about here wacky titles at


Here are some ways to add some STEAM into your work with titles:

  • Pick one book from your list and create at least 3 alternate titles.
  • Using your stack of books, create a spine poem. Feel free to add other books to your pile as needed.
  • Using your title list(s), create a blackout poem. Is it easier to do with one list than the other? Why might that be?

New to spine or blackout poems? Kristen W. Larson explains how in this post:

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — In the Classroom

While school may be out, there are plenty of sports science activities that kids can try at home. After reading the books on this month’s list, try some of these activities (or ones found in the books) or check out the list of resources to learn about drag, body fat, torque, sports medicine, and much more!


Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up by Jennifer Swanson

Nanotechnology and sports? Using a fun voice, easily understood analogies, and great graphics, this book explores the molecular properties of nanoparticles and the amazing developments that scientists have made in using harnessing them to improve the clothing, shoes, and equipment of athletes. Side bars and “Science in Action!” experiments help demonstrate and explain this cutting-edge science.


Do some historical research on sports equipment of the past versus modern equipment. Look at the first footballs, old tennis rackets, and tennis balls. See if you can find some old sports equipment at an antique or thrift store, or check out an online museum gallery (such as the National Museum of American History Sports &. Leisure collection: Make an evolution timeline of a certain piece of sports equipment, noting how the materials have changed and why. Use images to illustrate how much that piece of gear has changed over time.

Check this out!

Super Gear Discussion and activity guide:


Sports Science & Technology in the Real World by Janet Slingerland

Discover how scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are using science to help athletes – and how this same technology is being used in everyday applications. This book provides a peek into the cutting-edge technology being developed and includes primary source sidebars and discussion questions.



Technology is designing better gear to protect athlete’s bodies. You can try too–design a better bike helmet! Analyze your bike helmet: what kind of padding does it have? How is it shaped? How do you think it could be better? Read about how bike helmets work too (try this article: Draw your dream bike helmet, labeling all the ways it can better protect your head.

Check this out!

ABDO Booklinks, Sports Science & Technology:


Learning STEM From Baseball: How Does A Curveball Curve? And Other Amazing Answers for Kids! by Marne Ventura

Numerous sciences play a role in baseball. From physics to virtual reality, engineering to woodworking this book does a great job of introducing many of the ways science, math, and technology have interacted throughout baseball’s history. The in-depth endnotes offer great resources for further exploration.



Baseball is all about physics—with the right force, you can get motion—a fast pitch or a home run hit! But gravity is always pulling down, so angle matters too. Try seeing how far you can throw a baseball by adjusting the angle you throw it. You need a baseball, objects to mark where the ball lands, a measuring tape, and a notebook/pencil. First throw the ball straight forward as hard as you can three times. Mark where it lands and measure the distance. Record the results and average the distances. Then try this with a slight angle upward three times. And then with a steep upward angle three times. Why method of throwing made the ball go the farthest? Why do you think that method worked best? How do you think that gravity affected the ball with the different kinds of throws?

Check this out!

Exploratorium, Science of Baseball:

Further Resources

Check out these sites for more fascinating and fun STEM sports resources:


author Karen Latchana KenneyKaren Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at