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STEM Tuesday– Deserts — In the Classroom

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Deserts may seem dry and desolate, but they are thriving ecosystems filled with wildlife and plants that have adapted to survive harsh conditions. And even though school is out, these activities can help kids learn about the amazing desert and the unique life that thrive there.

Weird, Wild, Amazing! Desert: Exploring the World’s Incredible Drylands

by Tim Flannery; illustrated by Sam Caldwell

Welcome to the weird wildlife you might find in a desert, from ants to lizards, rattlesnakes to scorpions. Each of the seventeen animal profiles is filled with in-depth and sometimes bizarre facts that highlight issues like climate change and conservation or explain more about evolution and habitats.

 

 

 

Classroom activity: As students read through this fascinating title, tell them to create a comic book profile of one of the strangest animals described. They can use a notebook to record the animal’s name and basic information, and they can also record its “super powers”—its unique adaptations that help them survive in the desert. Students should give their creature a comic book character name, and then they share their desert superheroes with the other students.

Cactus Queen : Minerva Hoyt establishes Joshua Tree National Park

by Lori Alexander

What if you knew a place that was filled with thorny, spiny beauty and dainty wildflowers, but all other people saw was a wasteland? In the early 1900s that’s how people thought of the Mohave desert. But Minerva Hoyt saw the desert as a habitat worth saving, and she went all the way to Washington to let the Park Service know.

 

 

Classroom activity: Have you ever noticed the waxy coating on a cactus? What is it for? To help students understand, try this activity. Gather your materials: two sheets of paper towels, wax paper sheet a bit bigger than a paper towel sheet, and a cookie sheet. Wet the paper towels so they are slightly damp. Roll one paper towel and use a paper clip to hold it. Lay it on the cookie sheet. Lay the other paper towel on top of the wax paper, roll it, and secure it with a paper clip. Lay it on the cookie sheet. Leave the sheet in a dry place for a day and then check i. How damp are the towels now? Which one is wetter? The one wrapped in wax paper keeps the towel damp, trapping in the water just like the waxy layer on a cactus does.

A Walk in the Desert (Biomes of North America)

by Rebecca L. Johnson, illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff

A lower middle grade text, this book uses photographs, notebook-like illustrated sidebars, and an engaging text to explore various North American deserts and the ways numerous plants and animals have developed strategies to exist in these challenging conditions. It also explores the interconnected food web and provides ideas for further research.

 

 

Classroom activity: Tell students to imagine one of the creatures in this book is the main character of a story. Have them write about its day in the desert from morning until nighttime. What other creatures does I meet? What problems does it face? Encourage students to use details from the book and do further research if they’d like. When they are done, ask them to add a few pictures—either drawings or printed images of the desert. And also ask them to create an interesting title for their book. When finished, students can host an author reading and display their book to the class.

 


Karen 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. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com

STEM Tuesday– Survival Science — In the Classroom

 

When we talk about animals, we are usually talking about their biological make-up: How they look, what they eat, where they live, and how they interact with other animals. But this month we are focusing on a different topic. It’s more about how animals survive in the wild. This is an important idea and one that is a good to explore with your students. Especially because as climates change and humans move into their habitats, animals are needing to work harder to survive.

There are many great books to use in the classroom on our Species Survival  list this month. Here are a few activities that you can use in your classroom:

 

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change book

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival

by Sneed Collard

This book takes a look at whether animals are able to adapt to climate change to survive. The snowshoe hare is white because normally it is found in areas with a lot of snow. But if those areas have shorter snow periods, its white coat, which normally allows it to hide in plain sight, becomes a very big hindrance. So much so, that it makes itself stand out amongst the greens and browns of the trees, grass, and dirt. This is makes it easy prey for a predator!

 

 

Classroom Activity

What traits do animals have that allow them to blend in with their surroundings. Have the students do some research to discover three animals that use their colors as camoflauge  They can start with the snowshoe hare, but come up with two more. There are many of them to choose from. If they can’t think of any, prompt them with: Snake, shark, giraffe, tigers, etc.  Using these animals, have students answer the following questions:

  1. How does the color of the animal help them to blend in with their surroundings?
  2. Does this animal have a pattern that also helps? and if so, how?
  3. Do you think these colors and patterns help them during specific times of the year?
  4. Would their colors and patterns help more in particular seasons of the year or not?
  5. How would that change if the seasons were lengthened or shortened due to climate change?

Have a discussion with the class. Maybe even have the students draw their animals in their original habitat before and after climate change effects to see the difference.

 

History Comics: The American Bison: The Buffalo’s Survival TaleThe American Bison book

Written and illustrated by Andy Hirsch

While some may be familiar with the history of how great herds of bison roamed across the plains, it might come as a surprise that these creatures not only benefited Native Americans, but also the land on which they lived. This book explores the fascinating ecologicial “triangle” relationship between bison, the prairie grasses of the West, and the Native Americans that lived there. The graphic novel form makes this book easily accessible and fun for kids to read and offers great imagery for teachers to use in their classroom.

Classroom Activity

How can animals actually benefit the environment in which they live? Bison used their own mucus (or snot) to reseed grasses across the prairie. Read the book to learn more about this fascinating trait that allowed bison to also digest the grasses and eat them. Without the bison, the prairie grass had a difficult time growing and expanding across the land. How did the Native Americans help? They provided places with lots of grass for the bison to graze. Discuss how this worked for that environment.

  1. How exactly did the bison use their mucus to eat food?
  2. How were the microbes in the soil beneficial to the bison?
  3. What is cellulose and why is it so hard to digest?
  4. How did the Native Americans use the grasses to bring bison to their area?

Have a discussion with the class about what they have discovered. Can you think of other animals that might have a similar relationship to their own environment?

 

The Nocturnals Explore Unique Adaptations of Nighttime AnimalsUnique Adaptations of Nighttime Animals

Written by Tracey Hecht

This book takes a look at species survival from the point of view of nocturnal animals. But it presents lesser known animals like the pangolin, woylie, tuatara, aya-aye, and jerboa. It not only features facts but also includes narrative stories about each animal so children can learn about the animals’ nocturnal habits and special adaptations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classroom Activity

Have a discussion about nocturnal animals and how they interact with their environments. The cool thing about this book is that it allows for a discussion about nocturnal animals that students may not be familiar with.

  1. What traits make an animal nocturnal?
  2. How are nocturnal animals different from diurnal or crepucular?
  3. Why do you think it might be more difficult for an animal that comes out at night to survive?
  4. Learn about two or three unusual nocturnal animals that you may not have known

Have students pick one nocturnal animal, unknown to them, and draw it, give 3 clues about its habitat, and discuss how it might survive. Have them present their animals to the class. You could even do this as a “Name that animal” type of game and have the student give clues while the other members of the class guess what it is.

 

The other books in this list all lend themselves to wonderful discussions in the classroom about how animals survive in the wild. Many of these authors also have more information on their websites. So be sure to check them out! This is a great topic for getting your students excited about animals, and getting them to explore unusual environments as they consider how they have a impact on the world.

 

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Jennifer Swanson author

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of 50 books for kids. She is passionate about STEM/STEAM and is the creator of  STEM Tuesday, STEAMTeam Books, and the Solve It! for Kids Podcast. Her views on writing are “For me, writing STEM/STEAM books is about having a conversation with a young reader. It’s about getting them excited about the topic so that they get curious, ask questions, and want to explore more on their own.” www.jenniferswansonbooks.com

STEM Tuesday– Survival Science — Book List

June 2024 – Species Survival

How do animals and plants survive Earth’s most extreme conditions? This month’s book list explores the unique challenges and adaptations that species face amid wildfires, polar ice, climate change, and more.

 

Extreme Survival: How People, Plants, and Animals Live in the World’s Toughest Places

Written by Ben Lerwill & illustrated by Daniel Long

 

Reading like an adventure guide, this book takes readers on a tour of the most extreme habitats our world has to offer. Each destination features facts and stories about the people and animals who live there, as well as practical tips for survival. STEM connections range from biology (animal adaptations) to earth science (climate and weather) to engineering (igloo-building), and more!

 

Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (publishes June 25, 2024)

Written by Jessica Stremer and illustrated by Michael Garland

Did you know that goats can help fight wildfires? Or that charcoal beetles lay their eggs under the bark of burned trees? This fascinating book offers a multidimensional look at the science and history of wildfires. Stremer explains not only the natural adaptations that allow animals and plants to survive wildfires, but also the important role humans can play in managing forest fires and rehabilitating injured animals. The text is accompanied by “Fire Fact” boxes, photographs, and gorgeous illustrations.

 

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue

Written by Patricia Newman & photographed by Annie Crawley

This book takes a fresh, environmentally conscious look at zoos. It not only presents a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to care for zoo animals, but it also presents readers with three different zoo scientists at three different zoos and the endangered species they work with. Each chapter is filled with facts and amazing photos.

 

 

Clever Creatures: How Animals and Plants Use Science to Survive

Written by Steve Mould

Imagine a corpse flower that smells like smelly socks in order to attract insects to pollinate it! Author Steve Mould takes readers on a fun journey filled with scientific facts but also laced with humor. This book takes a look at species survival based on amazing animal adaptations.

 

 

Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice (Science Comics)

Written by Jason Viola and illustrated by Jack Giallongo

From First Second’s Science Comics series comes an entertaining and informative graphic novel about a polar bear mom teaching her two cubs how to survive. Each chapter features a key survival “lesson,” like hunting, building a den, and surviving climate change. As they follow along with the cubs, readers will learn about polar bear life cycles, behaviors, adaptations, and conservation.

 

 

The Nocturnals Explore Unique Adaptations of Nighttime Animals

Written by Tracey Hecht

This book takes a look at species survival from the point of view of nocturnal animals. But it presents lesser known animals like the pangolin, woylie, tuatara, aya-aye, and jerboa. It not only features facts but also includes narrative stories about each animal so children can learn about the animals’ nocturnal habits and special adaptations.

 

 

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival

Written by Sneed B Collard

Climate change presents unique challenges for animals whose coats change colors with the seasons. Due to rising temperatures and earlier snowmelts, such animals have become particularly vulnerable each spring; though all the snow on the ground has melted, their coats are still white, so they are not protected by camouflage. This book, a Junior Library Guild Selection, follows biologist Scott Mills as he conducts research to understand the effects of climate change on snowshoe hares’ survival.

 

 

History Comics: The American Bison: The Buffalo’s Survival Tale

Written and illustrated by Andy Hirsch

Children will love this graphic novel that’s fun to read, with engaging illustrations, but that also educates. In the early 18th century, nearly 30 million bison once roamed the American prairie―until they were nearly driven to extinction. But a century later, they vanished. This book takes a look at what happened to these herds of bison and how to bring them back.

 

 

Bringing Back the Wolves

Written by Jude Isabella Illustrated by Kim Smith

This book takes a look at species survival from the point of view of the wolf and how one animal can make a huge difference in an ecosystem. In 1926, gray wolves began to go extinct. The government reintroduced them to Yellowstone National Park. Over time, animal populations stabilized, waterways were restored and a healthy ecosystem was recreated across the land. It shows how much animals and their ecosystems are deeply connected.

 

 

Animals Lost and Found: Stories of Extinction, Conservation, and Survival

Written by Jason Bittel & illustrated by Jonathan Woodward

Each beautifully illustrated spread of this book features a different animal species: some lost to extinction, some fighting for survival, and even a few that have been rediscovered after being presumed extinct. Its bite-sized paragraphs are easy to digest, and Bittel’s hopeful tone empowers readers as they learn about conservation efforts around the world.

 

This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Author Lydia Lukidis

 

Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children. Her titles include DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024), DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023) and THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award. A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books. Another passion of hers is fostering a love for children’s literacy through the writing workshops she regularly offers in elementary schools across Quebec with the Culture in the Schools program. For more information, please visit www.lydialukidis.com.

 

author Callie Dean

 

Callie Dean is a researcher, writer, and musician living in Shreveport, LA. She writes stories that spark curiosity and encourage kids to explore their world. Her first picture book will be published in 2026. For more information, please visit https://calliebdean.com.