Posts Tagged science

STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — In the Classroom


Earlier this year, I read a bunch of books about astronauts. For this month’s theme, I read about astronomical things. (Things related to astronomy, not enormous things – although many astronomical things are astronomical. But I digress…)

The books I read were:
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Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet
by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne J. Dyson (2019)

This book imagines what life will be like for the first astronauts and colonists to reach Mars. It looks at how people and things will get there, what their living quarters will look like, and what they might eat for meals. It has activities sprinkled throughout to help understand and think more deeply about different concepts.
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A Black Hole is NOT a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, Illustrated by Michael Carroll (2012/2017)

I had only a very general idea of what a black hole was before I read this book. It did a great job of explaining what a black hole is and how astronomers have learned about them – especially since they’re kind of hard to visit.

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Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More
by Mary Kay Carson (2013)

If you are curious about how human beings have come to understand what’s out in space, this is the book for you. It chronicles important astronomical discoveries and how they have shaped our understanding of Earth and its place in the universe throughout time. It’s packed with activities that help to understand and further explore different concepts.
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The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (2012/2017) by Elizabeth Rusch

This book tells the story of the Mars rovers named Spirit and Opportunity. This book does a lot more than follow the journey of these robots on Mars. It also gives a glimpse into the world of engineering, geology, and so much more.

 

As always, a great way to explore these books is to do some of the activities in those that have them and explore the back matter (the stuff at the end of the book). Each book recommends additional books and web sites to check out.

Here are a few additional ideas.

Do Some Star, Planet, & Satellite Gazing

Several of the books suggest this activity. It’s a great way to start getting curious about what’s out in space. All you really need is time and a place to sit and watch the night sky. If you want to see things in more detail, a pair of binoculars or a telescope can help.

Want to know what you’re looking at? Check out Sky and Telescope’s “This Week’s Sky At A Glance” (https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/sky-at-a-glance) or Astronomy’s “The Sky This Week” (https://astronomy.com/observing/sky-this-week) for guidance. You could also download an app like Google Sky or Stellarium. There’s a good list of sky watching apps here: https://astrobackyard.com/astronomy-apps-for-stargazing.

If you want to be more scientific and/or creative, keep a sky watching journal. Any notebook or collection of papers can do. Jot down the date, time, and location for each session. Note the weather and sky conditions – while the weather may be fair, there may be a lot of light pollution from nearby buildings and/or towns that make it difficult to see the planets and stars. Then write down what you see.

Where in the sky was it? (A diagram might help – especially if you can note its relation to known things like the Big Dipper.)
What color was it?
Did its light shimmer or hold steady?
Did it move quickly? (If so, it’s probably a satellite – or perhaps just an airplane.)

You can journal about whatever your thoughts inspire you to. What do you imagine you’re looking at? What if you were able to travel there? Does it inspire you to write a song or a poem? Go for it.

Get a Daily Dose of Astronomy

Even if you can’t get out to gaze at the night sky often, you can get a daily dose of astronomy. NASA posts an “Astronomy Picture of the Day,” often referred to as APoD: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html.

Every day, this site posts a picture related to astronomy, along with some kind of explanation. You can browse the archives or use the index or search features to see images of whatever celestial entity, person, or space tech you’re interested in.

Following the index to a topic gives a short list created by the editors as the most educational. Here is their list for Mars: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/mars.html. For a more thorough listing of photographs, go through the search feature.

Take It With You (?)

Imagine you were one of the first colonists traveling to Mars. In Welcome to Mars, Buzz Aldrin points out that NASA is figuring out what you need to survive and how to get it there. As for personal items, you will be allowed to take items that total up to 5 pounds (2.3 kg).

What would you take with you? Why?

Look at how much each thing weighs. This would be a good time to learn how to calibrate and use a scale. If you don’t have a scale, do a little research online to see if you can find a weight for your item. Or you could build your own balance scale, like the one here: https://www.thoughtco.com/kid-science-make-a-balance-scale-2086574. Then you just need to have items with known weights to compare with your objects.

Add up the weights of the things you want to bring. If you go over 5 pounds, you’ll have to let something go.

You thought getting into space was challenging? I think deciding what to take might be more so.

And if you want to watch a show that imagines the journey to Mars, there is a TV series called Mars – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/mars – that does so. It is currently available on Disney+ and Netflix; it may be available on other streaming services, too.

Make Some Celestial Art

It was pretty clear from reading these books that art plays a big role in astronomy – even if it’s only to convey ideas to the general public. Many of the images we see are “false colored.” There is a great explanation of this on NASA’s Earth Observatory web site: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/FalseColor/page1.php, and another one on the Hubble site: http://hubble.stsci.edu/gallery/behind_the_pictures/meaning_of_color/index.php. Computers translate sensor data into an image we can see. There is a more advanced explanation, with links to other resources, here: https://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/blueshift/index.php/2016/09/13/hubble-false-color.

Now it’s time to get creative with an astronomical spin.

Add Your Own Color

Print out a black-and-white image of something celestial. Here are a few, or you can search around for more:
https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/299819main_hs-2005-35-b-print_full.jpg
https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0514b
https://arasteo.blogspot.com/2016/11/helix-nebulangc-7293ha-5nm.html.

Add your own color, using colored pencils, markers, or paint. Try out different color schemes and/or different media.

Create Your Own Starry Night

This blog post – https://artfulparent.com/sticker-resist-starry-night-cards – has instructions for making “starry night” cards. It uses stickers and a salt-watercolor technique. Instead of stickers, you could color in the “stars” with white crayon. The watercolor paint will not adhere wherever the crayon is.

You could use this technique to make cards of different constellations. (There is a set of free printable constellation cards here: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/constellation-activities.)

To learn more about the salt painting technique, there’s a detailed tutorial here: https://www.scratchmadejournal.com/blog/painting-with-salt-watercolor-tutorial or look around for others.

And if you want to explore Vincent VanGogh’s Starry Night, there are lots of things out there, including this printable: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/starry-night-for-kids.

Listen to Space-Inspired Music

Lots of artists have been inspired by space and the planets. One of my favorite musical compositions is The Planets by Gustav Holst. Look it up on your favorite streaming service or check a copy out of your local library. There’s a neat listening guide for this piece on ClassicFM: https://www.classicfm.com/composers/holst/pictures/holsts-planets-guide

Composer Eric Whitacre was inspired by the Hubble Telescope’s Deep Field Image. You can listen to the music while watching the images that inspired it here: https://youtu.be/yDiD8F9ItX0.

What do you think of Holst and Whitacre’s interpretations of outer space?

To learn more about how Eric Whitacre’s piece came about, listen to SolveItForKids podcast Episode 5: How Do You Compose Music That’s As Big As the Universe? https://solveitforkids.com/podcast/episode-4-how-do-you-compose-music-that-is-as-big-as-the-universe. (And while you’re there, check out the other space-themed podcast episodes.)

Explore Your Universe!

I could go on, but then we’d all never get on with our days. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas that will inspire you to explore the universe in different ways. Have fun with your explorations!

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Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children, including many about science-y topics. While she doesn’t do a lot of stargazing, her husband is an astronomy buff. In 2017, Janet and her family traveled to Nashville, TN to see the solar eclipse. This picture shows their viewing spot (along with Janet’s husband and her older son). Although clouds got in the way of a good view of the totality (the full blocking of the sun), the experience was still pretty amazing.

To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com.

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.

Teachers, You Inspire Us

On this Labor Day Holiday, it only seems appropriate to give a huge shout out thank you to all the teachers. You INSPIRE US!

According to the Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

While many workers fulfill that particular requirement, teachers do that every day by inspiring their students. Teachers aren’t just the ones who work in the classroom, but also are paraprofessionals,  coaches, librarians, and yes, even parents. Everyone who works with students has the ability to have a positive affect on them. Sometimes you see it right away, and sometimes it doesn’t happen for many years. Regardless, some teaching moments and teachers in particular stay with us our whole lives.

That happened to me. I truly believe that I would probably not be a science author if I hadn’t had some amazing teachers in my life.

Here is my story:

 

I have always loved science! It captured my attention and imagination from a very young age. Luckily, I had parents who encouraged my love of science. Oh, and we also had a creek in our backyard. I spent many wonderful days exploring that creek, knee-deep in water, mud, and yes, sometimes frogs.

At the age of 9, I decided that I wanted to become a pediatrician. I didn’t really know how to do that until I stepped into my 7th grade science class and met a woman that would change my life. Her name was Susan Roth. And to this day (over 40 years later) I still remember my first day in that class. She had a full skeleton model in her classroom. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

 

And then there was Mrs. Roth, herself, a very outgoing, happy, encouraging teacher who was EXCITED about science. And most of all made science EXCITING for us!  She used the textbook only as a guide, but instead we focused on the most amazing experiments in her classroom. She encouraged me to study the creek water, really look at it. I did reports with my classmates on the microscopic creatures that we found in it. We mapped the entire creek throughout our little town. We studied its levels, how it moved, and discussed erosion affects from the floods we had occasionally.

We also worked with that skeleton, of course, studying all of the parts of the human body, the systems, and I  could even name all 206 bones!

The best part about Mrs. Roth was that she always encouraged everyone. This was in the 1970’s and it was unusual to have a female science teacher where I lived. Yet she fit in so well. I remembered one day telling her that I wanted to be a pediatrician and she didn’t laugh. She didn’t stop to say, um, that is a difficult road. Instead, she said, “Awesome! I know you’ll be great. You can do anything.”  Those words stuck with me.

In fact, about ten years later when I was nervous about applying to the U.S. Naval Academy, where I would eventually go to college, I remembered Mrs. Roth’s words. They gave me the courage to apply, get in, and pick chemistry as my major. After all, that was the degree you’d need to go to medical school back then.

Being a chemistry major is not easy.

Those of you that have taken even 1 chemistry class in college can probably agree. When you add the requirements of 2 years of math classes, 3 years of engineering classes, plus all of the naval ship classes, it’s a lot. I got bogged down in all of that work, and my grades were about middle of the road. My dream of becoming a doctor was slipping away.

And then I had another teacher, Dr. Joseph Lomax, he was my chemistry teacher at USNA. He knew how hard I worked in the class and that my grades didn’t always reflect the amount of effort I was putting in. He took the time to talk to me and to listen to my dreams about becoming a doctor. Having had it for almost 12 years, it was a tough dream to give up. He didn’t shrug it off, instead, he told me how I could take my gifts and use them in a different way.

He told me that  I had a gift for explaining difficult things in a way that students could understand. That I could take complex science and engineering ideas and turn them into easily understandable concepts. It was something not everyone could do, and that I’d make a wonderful teacher some day. He was right.

Those words Dr. Lomax said to me carried me a long way. In fact, you might say that they helped me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. At only 24 years of age, I could never have envisioned– all these many years later– that I would end up here, writing STEM books for children.

But when I look back, it makes total sense. I feel like I spent my whole life moving in this direction. Taking complex and unique STEM topics and turning them into exciting books for kids which, hopefully, will inspire them to love science and STEM as much as I do. I am very lucky to have a job I love. And I do it in the name of my teachers.

I’ve dedicated two of my books to my teachers. For Mrs. Roth, I dedicated my Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System book

 

“To Susan Roth, my 7th grade science teacher, who opened my eyes to the amazing intrigue and adventure that the world of science has to offer. She is my true Science Super Hero.”

 

 

 

 

And to Dr. Lomax, I dedicate my new chemistry book, ” Thank you for believing in me and helping me to see how my gifts in STEM can be used to inspire others as yours have done for me.”

 

 

 

 

In fact, all of the amazing things I’ve been able to do as a STEM author can be traced back to their encouraging words. I wouldn’t be there without them. (And my AWESOME family, too, of course).

     

 

I realize that this year is particularly difficult for all who are teaching. Unusual circumstances have changed the way things normally work.  And yet, I know you are all doing your best to continue to make those personal connections. Students won’t forget that.  When they reach a time in their life when they need a voice to tell them, “You can do it”, it just might be that of a special teacher who believed in them.

HUGS to all of the amazing teachers out there and THANK YOU for what you do for us. We appreciate it!

Enjoy your holiday. You deserve it.

 

And in honor of my two amazing science teachers, I am offering a giveaway of these two books as a pack.

 

I’ll pick 3 winners. To be entered, leave a comment below about a teacher who inspired YOU. OR if you are a teacher, let us know about the kids YOU inspire every day. 😀