Posts Tagged resources

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Interview

I’m delighted to interview Julie Knutson for STEM Tuesday! Julie and I have worked together on three books and each time she impressed me with her super-thorough research and passionate curiosity of whatever topic she was writing about, whether that was globalism, World War I, or Marie Curie!

The Science and Technology of Marie Curie explores Curie’s life and work—not only the discoveries she made while working with her husband that made them both famous, but also the work she continued after his death. For example, did you know Curie developed a transportable X-ray that was used in World War I to help surgeons avoid unnecessary surgery on the battlefield?

Let’s learn more about this amazing woman who made great scientific strides during a time when women weren’t always respected (or funded) as much as their male colleagues.

 

Andi Diehn: What fascinated you about Marie Curie to write a whole book about her?

Julie Knutson: At the beginning of the research process, I came across personal details about Curie’s life that really drew me into her story. From her attendance at an “underground” Polish university at a time when women were banned from higher education to her embrace of the cycling craze of the 1890s, I came to see Curie as a complex, multi-faceted human with varied interests and commitments. This pushed me to want to learn more about her not simply as a scientist, but also as a person very much of her time and place.

Marie Curie book coverThe end result of that research? This book!

AD: Curie was making incredible strides during a time when women weren’t always welcome in the scientific community – why is it important for us to learn about her work and life now?

JK: Curie’s life offers us so many lessons, one of which is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who encourage and foster your interests and talents. Family, friends, mentors, teachers, classmates, her spouse: the “village” around her allowed her to defy the conventions and norms of her time and place. I hope this example encourages young readers to form and join their own networks rooted in shared curiosity!

Marie and her daughters

Marie Curie and her daughters

AD: Your book has lots of activities – why include activities in a nonfiction book for kids?

JK: Observing, questioning, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, drawing conclusions . . . these are the cornerstones of the scientific method. The activities in this book prompt readers to actively practice this process. This builds not only a “lived” understanding of complex topics like atomic structure, but also solid habits of mind that they can carry with them as young scientists.

WWI ambulance

A petit Curie, a portable radiology system used on battlefields during WWI.

 

AD: I was surprised to learn about Curie’s role during World War I. What do you think her work with portable X-ray machines shows us about her character?

JK: One of Curie’s guiding principles was “Science in the Service of Humanity.” Throughout World War I, Curie’s actions reveal her as a person who not just professed this mantra, but really lived it. At the beginning of the war—when Paris was invaded—she secreted a vial of radium from her lab to safety in a town 375 miles away, protecting this critical resource. After suspending her research, she coordinated a fleet of mobile X-ray units, which were used to identify the sites of bullet and shrapnel wounds, as well as broken bones.

Here, we see Curie identify a problem and use her knowledge and skills to solve it . . . in the process, saving countless lives in the process.

AD: If you could share one thing about Marie Curie’s life with everyone you know, what would it be?

JK: There’s so much more — beyond the Nobel Prizes — to learn from Curie’s life and story; I’d encourage readers of all ages to delve into it! She’s a figure of endless depths, who exceeds the honors and accolades for which she’s best known.

Marie Curie comic strip

***headshot of author Julie KnutsonJulie Knutson is an author and educator with a wide-ranging background in history and the social sciences. She holds an undergraduate degree in cultural studies from NYU, a master’s degree in Political Sociology from The London School of Economics, and additional post-graduate degrees in education and art history from Rice University in Houston. Julie’s passion for global citizenship, world history, and human rights stems from these formative academic experiences and from her time as a classroom teacher.

Julie is an active member of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), having served as the Chair of its Middle School Teacher of the Year Award in 2018. She also maintains membership in Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Andi Diehn***

Andi Diehn grew up near the ocean chatting with horseshoe crabs and now lives in the mountains surrounded by dogs, cats, lizards, chickens, ducks, moose, deer, and bobcats, some of which help themselves to whatever she manages to grow in the garden. You are most likely to find her reading a book, talking about books, writing a book, or discussing politics with her sons. She has 18 children’s nonfiction books published or forthcoming.

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Writing Tips & Resources

 

This month’s theme is nuclear/atomic energy. In searching for ways to bring the arts into STE(A)M, I found books for older readers that focus on the “politics” of energy and offer opportunities for activities. Certainly that is relevant in today’s world where what we know as good science is being questioned. It’s not new. Galileo went to prison because he said the earth rotates around the sun. Scientists make discoveries and then those discoveries go out into the world in various ways. Politics, religion, culture, and economics can influence their uses and interpretations.

Each book here focuses on past consequences of scientific discoveries. My books this month are for older readers and the STEAM activities are ones which would require the students to have research, writing, and visual communication skills.

 

 

 

Radium girls coverThe first is The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story Of The Poison That Made People Glow In The Dark (Young Readers’ Edition 2020, Sourcebooks Explore) by Kate Moore. This book is not for the faint of heart, with archival photos and heart-rending accounts. It is rich with content, bibliography, and story. While the discovery of radium was useful to mankind, abuse of the substance led to tragedy.archival photos

In 1917, there was competition for the jobs at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Newark, New Jersey, where the girls who worked in the watch studio made good money. They painted the numbers on watch faces with paint that glowed in the dark. Radium, discovered by Marie Curie, was a miracle of new technology. It was especially important because the watch dials could be seen by soldiers fighting in World War I.

In order to get a good point on the paint brush, so as to paint the tiny numbers, the girls used their lips to make a fine point on the brush. Some of the girls were concerned. Their clothes glowed in the dark. They got sores in their mouths and acne.

The personal stories in the book are engaging and thought provoking. Also sad and direct. Some of the photos are shocking. At over 700 pages, the book is a comprehensive collection of materials, including bibliography, archival photos, and reading group guide.

 

 

 

Radium Girls play cover

I first heard of the Radium Girls when I attended the play in 2018 at Lasell University. The young actors performed the sad and informative story with deep feeling. (https://the1851chronicle.org/2018/04/26/radium-girls-turns-the-dial-towards-feminism/).

In order to bring the A into STEAM, writing or performing a play is a great way to create a multidisciplinary educational experience for any topic. Having to explain a concept to others always helps students to a better understanding of a topic themselves. A full length script for Radium Girls is available through Dramatic Publishing.( by D.W. Gregory https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/radium-girls)

If you think of writing a play and that intimidates you (it would me!), I found a number of resources on the Teachers Pay Teachers website (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com). You can search for “writing a play” and you have many options. I haven’t used any of these but the materials I have ordered from them in the past have been useful in my teaching.

 

 

Fallout coverAnd looking to continue the theme of including art, it amused me to think of atomic rhyming with comic. So I selected Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Slizard, and the Policial Science of the Atomic Bomb ( Jim Ottaviani (Author), Janine Johnston (Illustrator), Steve Lieber (Illustrator), Vince Locke (Illustrator), Bernie Mireault (Illustrator), Jeff Parker (Illustrator), Jeffrey Jones (Illustrator) by GT Labs. This is for older readers and I think some previous knowledge of the development of the atomic bomb will help the reader to follow the story.

The comic platform, with its countless illustrations, brings the characters to life. We can feel the emotional conflicts of the scientists, especially facing the demands of the war interests. To me, the black and white drawings were reminiscent of film noir and helped to place the time frame pre-1960. It is especially valuable for reluctant readers who can get visual cues from the pictures.

To be clear, the book is more about political science (a branch of social science) and it does include information about the development of the bomb. It’s always good to bring in the humanity aspects of science to keep it in perspective.

 

 

 

There are studies about the effectiveness of comics in education. Comparing Effectiveness and Engagement of Data Comics and Infographics, downloadable from https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3290605.3300483. They say Our results suggest participants largely prefer data comics in terms of enjoyment, focus, and overall engagement and that comics improve understanding and recall of information in the stories. (by Zezhong Wang, Shunming Wang, Matteo Farinella, Dave Murray-Rust, Nathalie Henry Riche, Benjamin Bach).

free downloadThe Center for Cartoon Studies (https://www.cartoonstudies.org/) offers a free downloadable book called The World is Made of Cheese, The Applied Cartooning Manifesto, as well as other materials on comics. The materials are user friendly and you don’t have to be an “artist” to make a comic. Most published comics are collaborations anyway, so find a partner. And the goal is to create a page or book that tells a story (fiction or nonfiction) communicates ideas, and provides the satisfaction of being creative. In my experience, students enjoy making (and reading) comics and there are more choices available every day.

 

 

 

 


Kaleidoscope front cover

Margo Lemieux draws, paints, reads, and writes all the time. And, following her own advice, she is doing a cartoon assignment in the spring for her university class. She also does editing and publishing. Her most recent project is an anthology for her long-time witers’ group, The Magic Storymakers, titled Kaleidoscope.

Beyond Personification – Using (and Teaching) More Complex Literary Devices in MG Writing

I hope everyone’s year is off to good start!  Depending on your climate and interests, hopefully you are getting just the right amount of snow, rain, sun, or beach days. No matter the conditions, winter is a good time for bringing newness—new year, new plans, new lessons, new pages. I’m happily revising a MG historical right now and looking for new ways to enliven the narrative while staying true to plot and character. At the same time, I’m analyzing some new-to-me MG books for my editing job, and I thought I’d share some (hopefully) useful insights on three literary devices you might not immediately associate with MG writing.

You probably know these devices well, but since they don’t necessarily go hand in hand with middle grade curricula, you might not think of them in connection with MG. Generally, middle grades get a fair amount of similes and metaphors, imagery, personification, foreshadowing, and maybe a little situational irony; beyond those, many other literary techniques may not be covered in depth until later junior high/high school, even though examples appear in MG literature all the time.

You probably are already including the following lit devices in your MG writing because they are naturally graspable concepts for most middle grade readers—even though readers may not know the names. Recognizing these literary devices and elevating them as a strategy for revision might bring some fine, original moments to your MG writing—along with a breath of that newness we tend to crave in a project we seek to improve.

Vignettes

A vignette can refer to a short, standalone piece of writing; it can also mean a standalone performance, like one of a series of monologues or scenes in a nonlinear play. But vignettes appear all the time in narrative storytelling as well; look for them as brief sketches or descriptions that don’t contribute to the plot directly but work to more fully convey characterization, setting, or mood.

Vignette derives from the French word vigne (vineyard), which probably brings images of connected, trailing, spreading vines. MG vignettes, like literary sketches, are all of those: connected to the story, but leading the reader’s imagination a few steps down a path for a quick glimpse from a new perspective, like in this moment from Lisa Yee’s Maizy Chen’s Last Chance:

The Ben Franklin Five and Dime smells like apples. The handcrafted jewelry and glass jars crammed with colorful candies make me feel like I’ve walked into a treasure chest. A dig bald man in a nubby orange sweater sits at the soda fountain counter. He looks up from his banana split, but when our eyes meet, he turns away, almost shyly. (Chapter 6)

The lens on the story or character (or both) is adjusted and refocused with this descriptive little sketch, but no passage of time or plot event occurs. Think of a vignette as a time-standing-still moment in which you get to take a good look around. Sometimes the author stops time to build suspense or prolong and heighten emotion, like in this moment early in Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight:

Besides the traitorous leaves, Stella could hear a pair of bullfrogs ba-rupping to each other, but nothing, not a single human voice from across the pond. She could, however, smell the charring pine, tinged with …what? She sniffed deeper. It was acid, harsh. Kerosene. A trail of gray smoke snaked up to the sky, merging with the clouds. (Chapter 1)

In the time it takes to sniff the air, the author fills the moment with tone, sensory imagery, foreshadowing, and the hint of danger. Vignettes are powerful, swift tools in MG.

Allusions

Allusions are brief references to something that exists outside the scene, typically calling to mind some recognizable name or element from mythology, history, religion, culture, or another story. They are layered with meaning and rely on the reader “getting” the content based on their general familiarity with the topic. They are a quick and punchy shot-in-the-arm of interest for the reader who recognizes them, too, making them perfect for MG—middle graders enjoy coming across an unexpected mention of some bit of knowledge they already know. And you can communicate a complex idea with just a mention of an allusion—sometimes more easily than in explanation.

Think younger with MG allusions; favorite childhood characters, fairy tales, ideas, and stories that have stood the test of time and appear across multiple works or iterations might work well. If you want to get across the idea of an overbearing, oppressive, authoritative character, don’t call them a Big Brother; maybe call them an Umbridge. Ask if your allusions represent only one time period, culture, religion, or group. Consider cultural figures whose renown has crossed cultural divides.

Of course, allusions also offer a great opportunity for an MG writer to sneak-teach readers a new bit of history or culture when the reference might be not-so-recognizable. In Jennifer L. Holm’s Full of Beans (which takes place in Key West in the 1930s), the allusion to the town’s “resident writer” offers the chance to investigate Ernest Hemingway; and in Brenda Woods’s When Winter Robeson Came (set in 1965), protagonist Eden’s piano teacher mentions Margaret Bonds and Julia Perry, Black female composers.

Juxtaposition

The tricky-sounding word belies its simplicity. Juxtaposition is simply the setting up of contrast between two elements (characters, settings, ideas, emotions, really anything) for the sake of highlighting one or both involved. Middle graders are keen on comparison (this is why we introduce and review metaphor and simile so frequently at early middle grades) and with juxtaposition, the meaningfulness is simple and elemental—thinking about what’s dissimilar between two sides speaks to just the right developmental skills of middle grade.

Many MG novels start off with a juxtaposition between the way the protagonist thinks the week (holiday, school day, morning, etc.) will go and the strange, unexpected, or shocking events that really occur. Juxtaposed characters can show a host of contrasts; opposing traits might appear in dramatic foils.

Juxtaposition of setting is key if a protagonist leaves their Ordinary World for another place. Think of how effectively Neil Gaiman sets up the difference between Coraline’s real home and the otherworldly home of her “other mother.”

In a more recent example, Brian Young uses juxtaposition to set the stage in his Healer of the Water Monster, starting with the Navajo legend revealed in the Prologue (the gentle Water Monsters who keep the waters “tranquil” and “nourishing” become violent and destructive when Coyote kidnaps one of their infants) and continuing with protagonist Nathan’s big change in summer plans from bonding time with his father on a trip to Las Vegas to—instead—a long stay with his grandmother Nali in her mobile home in the desert. Even the chapter headings show juxtaposition of language with the number first in Navajo, then in English.

If you teach middle graders, they might be ready for some brief introduction to these and other lit devices that go beyond the usual study of personification and foreshadowing. They might look for examples of allusions in their class novels, and talk about why the author chose the reference they did. A handy chart or table in their reading journal can be used to compile examples of juxtaposition. And vignettes present an excellent opportunity for creative writing in the classroom; students might try their hand at short character sketches when a “walk-on” character in a class novel inspires description.

Happy writing in this year – I wish you all the best with everything new!