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STEM Tuesday — Robotics and Artificial Intelligence– Author Interview

STEM Tuesday– Robotics and Artificial Intelligence — Interview with Author Darcy Pattison

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Darcy Pattison, author of A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol It’s a fascinating look at the use of artificial intelligence and how a common board game was used to demonstrate that, in some cases, a computer might possess superior skill levels.

Kirkus Reviews calls it, “An enthralling, contemporary tale of man versus machine.”
AI Cover






Christine Taylor-Butler: Darcy, you’ve been in the business for quite a while and you’ve written everything from science fiction and fantasy to contemporary stories and science. When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Were there detours along the way?

Darcy Pattison: I have always been a reader! In sixth grade, I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the Harry Potter of my day), and even then, I thought about being on the flip side of the story. I wanted to write stories that people love to read. But I also grew up questioning everything so science writing is a natural fit for me, too.

CTB: You’ve been published by a number of trade publishers. What lead you to create Mims House?

Darcy: In the last twenty years, publishing has changed because of technology. The introduction of ebooks and print-on-demand services means that publishing a book is a low-cost investment up-front. It meant I could publish the books that I was passionate about and bring them to market myself. I had a long history in the industry and knew what pitfalls to avoid and where to focus attention. It’s been a hard journey, but I’m thrilled to be still publishing books of my heart.

CTB: Long before STEM was a trend in children’s literature, you developed a track record for writing well received nonfiction. Where did you get the idea for writing about the board game match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol?

Darcy: A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol was written when I got interested in A.I. I’m always looking kid-friendly ways to approach a topic. When I realized this story featured a world champion board game player, I thought it would appeal to kids. This game was actually a pivotal game in the development of A.I Before this, programmers tried to write rules for artificial intelligence programs. For example, they might write a rule on how to identify a photo of a cat.

Sample rules:
A cat has a round face and triangular ears.
A cat has a tail.

It worked up to a point. But what if the cat is curled up sleeping? Or perhaps, it’s stretched out to run hard as it chases a rat? It required too many rules to deal with all the positions a cat might take, and all the exceptions to the rules.

Instead, artificial intelligence today works because we provide thousands of images to a computer program, a big dataset. Each image is labeled either CAT or NOT CAT. The program analyzes the images and creates its own mathematical formula for identifying a cat.

The AlphaGo program was the first time such an A.I. program was used to challenge a human in a complicated board game. Amazingly, it won four out of five times. Also amazing—Lee Sedol, the world champion, found a way to defeat the A.I. once. The series of games redefined our relationship to A.I.

Note to readers: A documentary about the AI program and the match with Lee Sedol can be found on Youtube: AlphaGo: The Movie.

Lee Sedol 1 Overhead of Go






CTB: The illustrations are so fun, as is the layout of the book. How did you find that illustrator?

Darcy: Yes, Peter Willis is amazing! He has illustrated ten books with me now because his distinctive digital collages are fun and funny for kids. I first saw his portfolio on, the Adobe social media program where artists display portfolios. Look for more about Peter Willis and his work here:

Meet the man





CTB: There’s a lot of concern now about AI eventually being able to do more than play games. But I love that you explain that even the phones in our pockets are partially fueled by AI technology. For example, I’m a frequent user of “Siri” and my Mac laptops as far back as OS9 were voice activated and had a digital assistant.  Did you have any “aha!” moments when researching this book?

Darcy: It was fascinating to dig into the discussion of A.I. technology. Understanding the difference in the two types of approaches to A.I. helps me make decisions about how I choose to use A.I. The rules-based approach was ultimately unusable because there are too many exceptions to any rule. When A.I. analyzes big datasets, though, it can mathematically account for exceptions. It’s a brilliant solution that means A.I. can tackle a wide variety of questions. For example, from a photo, it can predict if a mole is likely to be cancerous. Or, it can help create a chemical formula for a new medicine.

One problem with A.I. is that need for big datasets. Where will programmers find the data to feed into the program? Current lawsuits revolve around the allegedly illegal use of their copyrighted or patented information. Artists object to their copyrighted images being used to train A.I., and authors object to their copyrighted novels and writings being used to train A.I.

For me, that “aha” moment was understanding how current A.I. works. It’s easier to see how the programs can help my work or fit into a lesson plan when I understand that it’s trained on selected big datasets.

CTB: Your book ran into a roadblock at the US Copyright office. In scanning the text the office assumed the book was illustrated by A.I. rather than a real person. Can you tell our readers a bit about that experience? 

Darcy: The US Copyright has decided to check books to see if a book might include text or images created by A.I. I applaud this careful look at the books! However for my A.I. book, they asked if A.I. had been used to create the book. Just because the topic of the book is artificial intelligence doesn’t mean I used A.I. to create it! After I answered their question, they came back again and asked about this specific page of the book.

AI Example page

Here, the illustrator Pete Willis is demonstrating that some common objects are or are not based on A.I. programing. We know that artificial intelligence can be used for some cell phones, robots, and video games. But cats, ice cream and board games are not based on A.I. The US Copyright office specifically asked, though, if the images labeled “A.I.” had been created using an A.I. program.

“No,” I answered, “Peter Willis illustrated the entire book, even those labeled A.I.”

They accepted my answer and the book’s copyright was approved without any further questions.

CTB: I love that you call yourself, “Queen of Revisions” in your biography. Do you have any advice for young writers who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Darcy: Over the years, I have learned that I need to revise many times. When kids ask me how many revisions I do for a project, I answer, “Until it’s right.”

It’s not a matter of getting it right in three tries. It’s getting it right that matters.

If you want to write, read! Read everything you can, putting information and language into your memories so that when you need it, the words are there to draw upon.

CTB: Thanks for being such a gracious guest. What’s up next? Any projects or books you’d like readers to watch for?

Magnet coverDarcy: Peter Willis and I are collaborating on a new book, MAGNET: How William Gilbert Discovered that Earth is a Great Magnet. The story goes back to the middle of the 1600s when scientists were first figuring out what a magnet was. Gilbert gathered lodestones, natural magnetic stones, from around the world: from Greece came red and black lodestones; from Spain came white lodestones; Chinese lodestones were dark blood-red, while Ethiopian lodestones were amber or yellowish.

We follow the natural phenomena of stones that attract other stones as scientists start to unravel and make sense of the strange properties of the stones. Look for the book in April, 2024.



Darcy headshotDarcy Pattison is the author of science books for kids, writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction books for children. Five books have received starred PW, Kirkus, or BCCB reviews. Awards include the Irma Black Honor award, five NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books, three Eureka! Nonfiction Honor book (CA Reading Assn.), two Junior Library Guild selections, two NCTE Notable Children’s Book in Language Arts, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, an Arkansiana Award, and the Susannah DeBlack Arkansas Children’s History Book award. She’s the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature. Her books have been translated into ten languages. Always active, before her tenth birthday, she (almost) climbed the Continental Divide, turning back at the last twenty yards because it was too steep and great climbing shoes hadn’t been invented yet. She once rode a bicycle down a volcano in Bali, Indonesia and has often hiked the Rockies. She recently hiked New Zealand’s backcountry for a taste of Kiwi life, and then strolled the beaches of Australia. On her bucket list is kayaking the Nā Pali Coast of Hawaii and eating curry in Mumbai. Follow her: @FictionNotes on Twitter and @DarcyPattison on Instagram.

author christine Taylor-butler

Photo by Kecia Stovall

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, a graduate of MIT and author of Save the… (Tigers, Blue Whales, Polar Bears)  with Chelsea Clinton and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM-based middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Christine was appointed as an MLK Visiting Scholar for the 2023-2024 academic year at MIT focused on STEM and children’s literacy. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter/X, @ctaylorbutler on Bluesky or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram. She lives in Missouri with a tank of fish and cats that think they are dogs.

STEM Tuesday — Robotics and Artificial Intelligence– In the Classroom


Not long ago, robots and artificial intelligence were the imagination of science fiction books and movies. Yet every day, advances in technology, robotics, and engineering are making them a reality! The book suggestions this month put a spotlight on the history of robotics and artificial intelligence and are a great starting point for classroom discussions and activities.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBots! Robotics Engineering: With Hands-One Makerspace Activities
by Kathy Ceceri and Lena Chandhok

This book explores how robots play a vital role in our world. It details the history and theory of programming and robotics, and includes many hands-on robotics projects that help children learn design, engineering, and coding. It is beautifully formatted and fun to read.

Classroom Activity
This book is full of activities that can be adapted for the classroom. One activity asks students to build a simple tilt sensor with LED lights. It can be made with household objects such as an index card, aluminum foil, tape, 2 LED lights, and a 3-volt battery. Students can build and test the sensor. Then have them decide what, if any, improvements they would make to the sensor design? How could a sensor like this be used in the real world?


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgNational Geographic Kids Everything Robotics: All the Photos, Facts, and Fun to Make You Race for Robots
by Jen Swanson

Robots don’t simply occupy the space of fiction these days, as they have infiltrated everyday life. Robots can fix aircrafts, dance, tell jokes, and even clean your carpet! Swanson gives a great history of robotics and adds a section of the future of robotics. Fantastic writing along with eye catching visuals.

Classroom Activity
Many times, scientists have turned to nature to come up with unique robot designs. Now it is your turn. Have students design and sketch their own robot inspired by nature. What part of nature inspired their robot? What problem does it solve or job does it do?


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRobot
by Lucy Rogers

Get up close and personal with more than 100 different robots, from automata to androids. This browsable book from DK is divided into sections based on different jobs the robots perform, like rescuing people after natural disasters, packing food in factories, and taking care of hospital patients. Each spread features captivating, full-color photo illustrations as well as essential statistics and facts about each robot.

Classroom Activity
Robots are all around us. What robots are in your daily life? Have students make a list of the robots they encounter every day – at school, at home, at the mall, and more. What jobs do these robots perform? What are the benefits of these robots? What are the drawbacks? Have students brainstorm ideas for a new robot at school. What would the robot do? What would it look like? How would it help students and teachers?

More Robot Fun

Want to watch a few robots in action? Take a look at these videos:

Warehouse Robots at Work

Robot Ai-Da Creates Art

Robot Dancing


Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. Find her at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.


Worldbuilding for MG Writers

It’s back-to-school time for ELA classrooms soon! While we as teachers, parents, homeschooling families, and librarians might hear occasional moans and groans from students reaching the end of summer break, the advent of the new school term also brings so much eagerness and anticipation for new and different activities. This can be an especially exciting time with middle graders, who have learned some autonomy with their studies, are capable of more decision-making and logical thinking, and who love a creative challenge. Kicking off the school year by providing middle grade writers with some imaginative and unusual writing assignments will inspire them to pursue other reading and writing ventures throughout the year.

As writers, we recognize the importance of establishing a setting and developing it through details. This kind of worldbuilding not only immerses the reader in the time and place of the narrative but also allows the writer to carefully control what the reader sees and hears regarding the story’s location. For the young writer, worldbuilding employs the imagination, promotes pride of authorship, and provides an opportunity for critical thinking and the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. From a curriculum perspective, worldbuilding as an assignment provides the instructor with a chance to fulfill standards by reviewing or introducing connected literary devices and techniques such as:

  • Description
  • Sensory imagery
  • Metaphor and Simile
  • Personification
  • Atmosphere and Mood
  • Tone and Voice
  • Point of View

Having students review these literary devices and focus on each or on a combination of elements in a piece of their own authored writing makes for a richer, more personalized learning experience. Here are some ideas, prompts, and examples for exploring the worldbuilding concept as an assignment with your MG writers.


Worldbuilding Components for Middle Grade Writers

In reviewing story elements during a short story or novel unit, you might go beyond the typical definitions and examples for setting and instead allow writers to create their own setting. Try a graphic organizer for these and other components (and lots of space for details, brainstorming, and descriptions). Or use poster-sized paper for visual images or maps, and offer this list to inspire connected labels or captions:

Living on the Land: Geography, landscape, weather, climate, ecosystems

Living with Others: People, animals, and creatures; homes, habitats, and shelters; societies, neighborhoods, and cities

Getting Along: Communication; government; laws; technology; social institutions like education; relationships like family and marriage; economy and money systems; transportation and infrastructure (roads, bridges)

Surviving: Food and agriculture, tasks and working, earning wages or trading, keeping healthy, protection

Dangers and Threats (i.e., Conflicts): Enemies, nature, wildlife, discord, war or battle, illness

Don’t Forget the Place Name: Borrowed or original; symbolic meaning, allusion

Once students have had a chance to think through these and other elements of worldbuilding, writing projects on the topic might expand to include prompts and activities.


Prompts for Worldbuilding with MG Writers

Three Characters in Search of a Setting:  Provide students with three character identities, including for each traits, goals, motivations, conflicts, and relationships. The writer’s job is to determine a world that would serve the characters well in terms of suspense, tension, and continued potential for conflict. Student writers can add maps with labels, bulleted descriptions, brief histories, and artwork to convey the setting more fully.

Time Travel: Students choose a real place for the setting for a simple, conflict-rich storyline and detail its basic concerns; then they choose whether to move the time period up (into the future) or push it back (into the past). Pushing a setting back at least 60 years, for example, offers a chance to investigate the history of a place and incorporate its time-period specific details (what were computers like in 1960, anyway?). Moving the time period into the future allows for more speculation based on the location’s current characteristics and needs.

Genre Swapping:  Take a familiar setting from a favorite book or class novel study and re-imagine the time and place by changing the book’s genre. For example, what if a modern comedy like Gordon Korman’s Unplugged was actually a high fantasy? Or if Lauren Wolk’s historical Wolf Hollow was contemporary? Build this “reset” world, keeping premise details in mind.

No Swapping Allowed: Choose a story for which the setting and worldbuilding is inherent to the narrative, and detail the ways in which the plot relies on the setting to hold together.

Narrative Nonfiction Worldbuilding: Apply worldbuilding analysis to a work of narrative nonfiction as a way to glean factual detail and comprehend the setting’s full impact on the tale, especially one in which the setting seems distant or almost otherworldly, like Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E.F. Barone.

I hope an idea or two here suits your classroom goals, and that you find the notion of worldbuilding to be an interesting and useful writing workshop activity! Good luck to everyone this school year.