Posts Tagged STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer–Interview with Author Heather L. Montgomery

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files 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 Heather L. Montgomery, author of SOMETHING ROTTEN: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, a recently-released book that’s stacking up starred reviews. School Library Journal says, “With wry humor, gory detail, and great enthusiasm, . . . this book is not for the faint of heart, but be prepared to laugh along the way and to learn a lot. . . Sure to be a hit among students. A top addition to STEM collections.”

Click the cover for additional information about the book, including research photos and a link to submit your own roadkill stories.




Mary Kay Carson: Why did you write Something Rotten?

Heather L. Montgomery: One day, when I was procrastinating writing a book about rattlesnakes, I went for a run. On my little country lane I came across a rattler who had lost his life to a tire. I had some questions, so I picked him up. No, you probably shouldn’t do that, but I did. And I spent the rest of the day learning from that marvelous guy, his fold-able fangs, his snorkel for when his mouth is crammed full of bunny, his non-existent lung!?! This was research at its best. And then I wondered: who else uses roadkill…

MKC: Care to share a memorable research moment?

Heather: Just about everything about this book has become a favorite moment. From plunging my hands into roadkill compost to talking to a kid who re-builds animal skeletons from roadkill, this research rocked. Another beautiful thing is that the research process became the book.

This might be my favorite part of it all: I had the opportunity to share with readers how questions drove me to slice open a skunk, how one sentence dropped in an interview lead me across the country to meet 400 roadkill professionals, how trusting inquiry carried me right down the road to jaw-dropping discoveries — can you say “contagious cancer”!?!   This book proved it: Inquiry is my life!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. The weirder, the wackier, the better. An award-winning science educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. During school presentations, petrified animal parts and tree guts inspire reluctant readers and writers.

MKC: Why do you write STEM books?

Heather: Um, Inquiry is my life. Once, I tried to kick the habit of asking questions. It made me sick. I do have a B.S. in biology, an M.S. in environmental education, and over 20 years’ experience teaching about nature, but really it’s just that writing, researching, and teaching about science is who I am at my core.

MKC: The book’s unique first-person voice and the clever use of footnotes are courageous style choices. Who was your audience when writing the book? 

Heather: For years at school visits or educator conferences I talked about dissecting that road-killed rattlesnake. Those audiences showed me the power of story. They taught me to play a game, balancing information and story. And, they laughed with me (this quirky lady asking oddball questions), not at me. Those audiences gave me the confidence to write the way I speak. That was a gift. I began to see that readers would follow me down this road, this rollercoaster of research. Thank you listeners, for showing me how to write this book.

MKC: Any suggested titles for fans of Something Rotten?

Heather: Any of the phenomenal nonfiction by authors Sy Montgomery, Sarah Albee, or Georgia Bragg. Page-turning fiction such as: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali BenjaminAdult readers might like books by Mary Roach. She showed me how to share my quest for information.

Win a FREE copy of SOMETHING ROTTEN: A Fresh Look at Roadkill!

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 this week is fellow skull collector Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday–Peeking into the Mind of a Scientist/Engineer — Writing Craft and Resources

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

Peeking in

This month we have been challenged to peek into the mind of scientists and engineers. How do we do that? It seems like such a scary proposition. How could we approach those aloof academics squirreled away in hermetically sealed laboratories, thinking about nothing else but their hypothesis?

Ummm. . .

#Fieldworkfails will give you a whole new perspective on those stuffy scientists. These are everyday folks making everyday mistakes. One researcher accidently glued herself to a crocodile, a field team had baboons steal their last role of toilet paper and string it up in trees, another group managed to get a drugged zebra’s neck stuck in the fork of tree.

This is peeking in!

And guess what – STEM Professionals are eager to share. In fact, many are almost shouting, jumping up and down, waving stadium-sized banners: “COME LEARN FROM US!”

There’s this growing field, science communication, and more and more practicing scientists are themselves becoming all about some SciComm. Go ahead, check out #Fieldwork or #SciComm or one of the bajillion other cool places these STEM nerds are sharing.

As a writer, I’m just as likely as the rest of the world to see scientists – especially those I adore – as remote individuals who don’t have the time for me. Once, I was in awe of this scientist – she gets to dive with manatees for her research – so I put off contacting her for months. When I finally did reach out, she invited me to join her next research trip to Belize! But the trip was in two weeks. I couldn’t get organized that quickly. I missed the opportunity of a lifetime because I had been nervous about contacting her.

Don’t miss out. Don’t let your students miss out.

Do reach out to the STEM community

But first, be prepared.

  1. Visit the scientist’s website. If they have videos, articles in popular magazines, or active social media accounts, they are eager to engage.
  2. Read about the research the scientist is conducting.
  3. Generate a list of your questions and then prioritize those questions.
  4. Contact the individual (I use email), letting them know:
    1. your purpose
    2. how you prepared for talking with them
    3. what exactly you are seeking (a phone interview, answers via email, a video chat)
    4. why you are seeking them out as opposed to another researcher.

Then, once you’ve made contact, let the questions begin. Do let the professional share in a way that is comfortable to them. Some prefer lots of questions; others love to tell stories. Have fun with them and don’t forget to send a thank-you.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Peek Into the Past

But don’t think this peeking in is limited to living folks. Books on this month’s reading list give you prime opportunities to wander around in the world of geniuses such as Charles Darwin. Take a look at Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, by Deborah Heiligman. You’ll get a look into the inner workings of his mind:

  • Reading Charles’s list of marriage pros and cons
  • Seeing that after years of work he worried that “all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed,”
  • Watching him grapple with a child’s death and the realization that natural selection was playing out in his own life.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFiction can show us the inner scientific mind as well. Consider The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.  Young Callie Vee posts questions in her notebook, “What shapes the clouds?” She observes a weather vane and documents her ideas. She builds an anemometer, and just like the contributors to #FieldworkFails, she discovers that STEM endeavors aren’t always easy. Her great anemometer blew apart. Fortunately for Callie Vee, she has a mentor eager to share the thrill of design, but wise enough to let her learn through failure.

I encourage you – students, writers, educators – STEM lovers reach out and peek in!





Nonfiction author Heather L. Montgomery peeks into the lives of scientists in her recent book Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill. A scientist who pulls parasites from snake lungs? A kid who rebuilds animal bodies bone-by-bone, a researcher who finds contagious cancer? Don’t you want to know how those folks think? Heather also peeks directly into roadkill herself. Dissecting a rattler, skinning a fox, her hands stay busy discovering answers to questions her brain keeps pumping out.  



O.O.L.F (Out of Left Field)

How can students connect with STEM professionals? Here are some good opportunities:

Before they were scientists is an interview series that asks scientists what they were like in middle school.

Skype-a-Scientist matches scientists with classrooms for 30-minute Q & A sessions.

Melissa Stewart’s “Dig Deep” series looks at the inner lives of nonfiction writers who often write on STEM topics.

STEM Tuesday — Not-So-Scary STEM Books

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files



image from DavidArsenault


It was a dark and stormy night…which was just perfect for curling up with one of these Halloween-ish STEM books.





The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson (HMH books for young readers, 2013)

There are so many creepy bat books, but this one talks about something even creepier: a killer fungus that threatens the bats’ very survival. Meet Dr. Merlin Tuttle and his team of researchers and learn about their work uncovering white-nose syndrome and searching for ways to protect the bats.



Mummies: Dried, Tanned, Sealed, Drained, Frozen, Embalmed, Stuffed, Wrapped, and Smoked...and We're Dead Serious CoverMummies: Dried, Tanned, Sealed, Drained, Frozen, Embalmed, Stuffed, Wrapped, and Smoked…and We’re Dead Serious by Chris Sloan (National Geographic Kids 2010)


Travel the world to check out thousands of years of mummified history. Learn the science of how these mummies were preserved in the past and the tools and technology used to search for their secrets in the present .





Oh, Rats!: The Incredible History of Rats and People, by Albert Marrin (Puffin, 2014)

Biology, ecology, epidemiology, and history–it’s a winning combination. Real rat history is as terrifying as a ghost story. Plus, there’s an ominous picture of a rat on the front cover.





Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell (Albert Whitman, 2000)

No Halloween reading list would be complete without a pumpkin book. Unfortunately, while there are a lot of interesting pumpkin picture books for young readers, the pickings are slim for older readers. Therefore, I’ll suggest Pumpkin Jack for a read-aloud or a quick reading “snack.” It uses a fictional story frame, but follows the  life cycle of a jack-o-lantern as it rots, goes to seed, and regenerates for a new Halloween celebration.


Monster Science: Could monsters survive (and Thrive!) in the real world? By Helaine Becker (Kids Can Press, 2016)

This is a silly look at six  monsters and the serious scientific questions they raise. Can a jolt of electricity really bring a person (or Frankenstein) to life? Could two species blur to form a werewolf? When is a corpse like a vampire? Everything you ever wanted to know about the real-life possibilities for Frankenstein, vampires, Bigfoot, zombies, werewolves and sea monsters.

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley (Bloomsbury)

This award-winning book for reluctant readers is a fascinating collection of remarkable deaths–and not for the faint of heart.

Over the course of history, men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess–especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. From King Tut’s ancient autopsy to Albert Einstein’s great brain escape, How They Croakedcontains all the gory details of the awful ends of nineteen awfully famous people







How They Choked  by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley (Bloomsbury)

The team behind the bestselling How They Croaked shines a light on the darker sides of history’s most famous failures, perfect for reluctant readers!

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, epic failures even lead to super successes . . . sometimes they become deep dark secrets. But remember–to fail is human, to laugh about our shortcomings divine. From Montezuma II’s mistaking a conqueror for a god to Isaac Newton turning from science to alchemy to J. Bruce Ismay’s jumping the lifeboat line on the TitanicHow They Choked knocks fourteen famous achievers off their pedestals to reveal the human side of history.



******* Have you entered our CoSTEM Contest?? There’s still time! Entries are due Midnight November 6th, 2018*************

See the details here

Enter NOW to win these prizes!

1st Place —  Receives 5 autographed STEM Books from our STEM Tuesday team + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift card

2nd Place — Receives 3 autographed STEM Books from our STEM Tuesday team + $15 Barnes & Noble Gift card

3rd Place—   Receives 2 autographed STEM Books from our STEM Tuesday team  +$10 Barnes & Noble Gift card



Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. For Halloween, she plans to dress like a harried mother of young children.