Posts Tagged teachers

STEM Tuesday — Women Who Changed Science — Author Interview with Kirsten W. Larson

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

Today we’re interviewing Kirsten W. Larson, author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane. “This inspiring work shines a light on a lesser-known inventor who was the first woman to design an airplane,” says School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your book Wood, Wire, Wings. How did you come to write it?

Kirsten Larson: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak, is the true story of early airplane designer Emma Lilian Todd. Todd was the first woman to design a working airplane on her own, which flew in 1910. That’s only seven years after the Wright Brothers, and she worked during the same period as the Wrights as well as Glenn Curtiss and other notable early aviation pioneers!

The idea for that book came straight out of the pages of the best-selling picture book, ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts. The book contains a timeline of female firsts in aviation towards the end, and there was Lilian’s name. I had never heard of her even though I’ve lived and worked around airplanes my whole life. I knew I had to tell her story, especially when I found out how few people had heard of her.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book? 

Kirsten: Writing picture books is always a balance. I always keep my reader in mind, primarily students ages seven and up. That means I have to think carefully about what students know and what they need to know to understand the story. And then there’s always the question of what can be shown in the illustrations, because often pictures say things far better than my words ever could. Yet because picture books are designed to be read by an adult to a child, especially for younger students, I can often use richer language than you might find in very early middle grade like chapter books.

MKC: Did you chose a particular angle or slant or the book? Why?

Kirsten: When I’m writing a book, I try to think of all the ways it might appeal to different readers and fit into school curriculum. In the case of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, the narrative of the book closely follows the engineering design process, from Lilian’s to initial design to testing, tweaking, and testing still more. That was deliberate. I wanted to book to be able to be used to teach the engineering design process. I also wanted readers to realize that few inventors or engineers get things right on the very first try. Instead, it’s 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, as Edison supposedly said. In other words, it’s about persistence. I felt that was a message readers needed to hear.

MKC: What other books for kids about women who changed science would you recommend?

Kirsten W. Larson is also the author of A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023) is her first graphic nonfiction. Kirsten lives with her family near Los Angeles. Find her on social media @kirstenwlarson or at Kirsten-w-larson.com.

Kirsten: I could rattle off at least a hundred. I appreciate that STEM Tuesday has included my picture book here, as many picture books, especially biographies, are for the upper elementary age group. A few of my favorite Women Who Changed Science picture books include Teresa Robeson’s QUEEN OF PHYSICS, illus. Rebecca Huang, Laurie Wallmark’s HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, illustrated by Katy Wu, and HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman.

In terms of non-picture books suitable for middle grade readers, I am a huge fan of Joyce Sidman’s THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES, Martha Freeman’s BORN CURIOUS: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists and Tonya Bolden’s CHANGING THE EQUATION: 50+ U.S. Black Women in STEM.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Kirsten: I think I gravitate to STEM books for a few reasons. First, I do have a background in STEM. For many years, I worked in public affairs at NASA, which gave me a crash course in STEM communication. I’m also intrigued by how scientists and engineers go about their work; I find so many parallels between STEM processes and the process of writing and publishing books. STEM and writing are deeply creative fields that require deep observation, a willingness to revise ideas, and dogged persistence. Finally, I gravitate to underdogs and people who turn traditional notions on their heads. That means I often write women’s stories, whether they are in STEM or other fields, or even fictional characters like Wonder Woman.

 

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (Calkins Creek, 2020) by Kirsten W. Larson and illustrated by Tracy Subisak.

Download a complete educator’s guide and access other teaching resources on the author’s website. You’ll find all the resources here.

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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Women Who Changed Science — Writing Tips & Resources

 

I’ve always been fascinated by the way the minds of scientists and engineers work. Maybe that’s why I write about them so often, especially women in these fields. One thing that always amazes me is that artists’ minds often work in the same ways, which is our topic for this month.

Arts and Sciences: Not Mutually Exclusive

Of course, many scientists and engineers are artists in their own right. For example, Einstein was an accomplished musician As his second wife said, “Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. …He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.” Einstein also was know to carry his violin, Lina, with him practically everywhere.

Book cover for Temple Grandin

Inventor Temple Grandin also felt an early connection to the arts. As she writes in the preface to Sy Montgomery’s TEMPLE GRANDIN: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (from this month’s book list), “Before I started my career with animals, I was one of those kids who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd. … What saved me and enabled me to succeed were my love of making things and creating art.”

Common Characteristics

NO BOUNDARIES coverSo what are some common traits that make scientists and artists, including writers, successful? Another book on this month’s list, NO BOUNDARIES: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice by Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar, is rich with examples. Here are a few.

  • Curiosity – For most scientists and writers, it all starts with curiosity. As Dr. Danielle N. Lee, an American mammologist and outreach scientist writes, “The questions I asked as a child were kind of the same questions I’m asking now. … I was always very curious.”

 

  • Training – Wasfia Nazreen, a mountaineer and activist from Bangladesh, would never attempt to summit a mountain without training physically. Likewise, writers must train too. They study the craft of writing in workshops, ready and study books by authors they admire, and most of all, practice writing as much as possible.
  • Courage to take risks– Ecologist Dominique Goncalves of Mozambique emailed a brand-new science lab out of the blue to ask if they offered internships. She was told no. But eventually the director emailed her back to find out why she was so interested. That email changed her life and led to her career. Goncalves’ advice? “If you see an opportunity, take it. But even if there is no opportunity – make one.” Authors take risks every day, trying new formats and approaches, for example. A fiction writer may try out nonfiction writing. Or an author who normally writes with a lyrical (poetic) voice, may try out a humorous voice. Such risks can lead to new writing opportunities. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Perseverance – Egyptian archaeologist Nora Shawki notes the importance of perseverance when working toward a career in science. She says, “Even if you get rejected, be persistent, become resilient, and stay focused. Rejection will mold you and push you and make you grow.” Guess what? Authors experience different types of rejection all the time. Perhaps they get unfavorable feedback on a manuscript. Or an editor decided not to publish their next book. Yet that rejection could lead to a better book or opportunities with a new publishers.

Challenge

What other traits to you think successful writers and artists need and why? Do scientists share that trait? Why or why not?

headshot of Kirsten W. LarsonKirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA and now writes about women in science and much more. Her books include the WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak and A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illus. Katy Wu. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com.

STEM Tuesday — Women Who Changed Science — In the Classroom

Most people have learned about famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton. But what do you know about Emma Lilian Todd, Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, Mae Jemison, and Grace Hopper? These incredible women in science have been pioneers in their fields and inspire future generations of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. This month’s STEM Tuesday theme is Women in Science. Here are a few activities to help students learn more about these extraordinary scientists.

Create a Living Museum

Make history come alive in the classroom with a living museum. Start by having students read through these books and choose a scientist to research. They can work individually or in pairs or small groups.

Science Superstars: 30 Brilliant Women Who Changed the World by Jennifer Calvert, illustrated by Octavia Jackson

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgExploring the spark of curiosity and the joy these women found in science, as they each persevered despite any barriers – even wars, this book presents factually & visually interesting entries of many well-known women scientists, as well as Ynés Méxia (Botanist), Janaki Ammal (Botanist/Cytology), Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (Chemistry), Jane Cooke Wright (Oncology), and Sau Lan Wu (Particle Physics). It’s an excellent book for encouraging students to think about the many possible science careers and pursue their own interests.

Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFrom early trailblazers to the present, these stories highlight black women who have made contributions as surgeons, inventors, mechanics, forensic scientists, engineers, physicists, geneticists, architects and more. Each of three sections put the women’s contributions into the context of U.S. history. This is a book that could inspire a girl to think “maybe that’s something I can do!”

 

101 Awesome Women Who Transformed Science by Claire Philip, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA great resource for any STEM-girl, this compendium highlights women’s scientific and technical achievements from 2700 BCE to the present. Short biographies introduce women in math, botany, physics – even astrophysics. There are women in paleontology, engineering, computer science, and my favorite, entomology. Readers also meet women inventors and astronauts. Four spreads focus on women in astronomy, medicine, computing, and chemistry.

 

Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAuthored by a Black woman of science (Dr. Pellum is a veterinarian), this book invites girls to explore the possibilities of STEM careers. She presents 15 biographies, beginning with Rebecca Lee Crumpler, a medical doctor at the end of the Civil War, and showcases black women in aviation, nutrition, computers, rocket science, genetics, and forensic science. Hands-on activities at end of each chapter.

 

Hidden No More: African American Women in STEM Careers by Caroline Kennon

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAttempting to counter the continued stereotyping of black women in STEM careers, this book traces the accomplishments of female African American scientists and inventors through the 19th and 20th centuries – from Bessie Coleman to Mae Jemison, Marie Daly to Joan Owens, Rebecca Crumpler to Alexa Canady, Ruth Howard to Jeanne Spurlock, and Bessie Griffin to Valerie Thomas. It includes source notes and additional resources.

 

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWomen have been studying and practicing medicine, science, and math since before recorded history. We cannot afford to ignore the brain power of half the population, says the author, and she highlights contributions from women in STEM fields. There are timelines and a great sidebar on statistics, using graphs and pie charts to show the percent of women in STEM fields. Also, a fun spread showing a variety of lab tools.

Activity

Once students have selected their scientists, have them research and learn about them. When did they live? What was their life like? How did they get interested in science? What contributions did they make to science? What challenges or obstacles did they face, and how did they overcome them? Students can prepare a short presentation about their scientist for museum visitors using this information. Encourage them to be creative in their presentation. They might want to dress up as their scientist and/or use props and prepare a speech or skit. They might choose to prepare a PowerPoint, short video, or slideshow to help visitors learn about the scientists. When ready, invite another class or parents to visit the living museum and learn about women in science.

STEM Careers Today

More women than ever before are studying STEM subjects and working in STEM careers. Have students look through these books and identify some exciting STEM careers.

No Boundaries: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice by Gabby Salazar and Clare Fieseler

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAn engaging look at women around the globe on the frontlines of ecology, archeology, conservation, citizen science, astronomy, mountaineering, photography, vulcanology, bioengineering, and many more areas of science and exploration. Each biography contains “must-have” and “inspiration” sidebars, stunning photographs and diagrams, as well as a fun activity or additional scientific information.

 

Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Engineers – With Stem Projects for Kids by Diane C. Taylor

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEngineering is a huge part of our everyday life. The buildings we live and work in, the computers and phones we use – even the dishes we eat from – were designed by engineers. This book contains biographies of five gutsy girl engineers: Ellen Swallow Richards, an environmental engineer; Emily Roebling, chief engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge; Catherine Gleason, mechanical engineer; Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and industrial engineer; and Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer. There are plenty of text-boxes, short bios of other engineering women, and hands-on “field assignments” at the end of each chapter. Other books in the series include Paleontologists, Programmers, and Astronauts.

Technology : Cool Women Who Code by Andi Diehn, illustrated by Lena Chandhok

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis is one of ten books in the “Girls in Science” series. It begins with an introduction to technology, and how it has evolved from wheels and steam engines to current tech. Each of three chapters focuses on a woman in technology: Grace Hopper (math, science, computers); Shaundra Bryant Daily (coding, technology & movement); and Jean Yang (computer science and programming languages). Text boxes highlight cool careers in technology, sidebars provide short biographies of six more women in technology, and there are plenty of “try-it’s” and questions sprinkled throughout. Also in the series: books about women in Astronomy, Engineering, Forensics, Marine Biology, Aviation, Archaeology, ZoologyMeteorology, and Architecture.

Activity

Ask students: “Where do you see yourself in STEM?” Have them think about what types of STEM jobs and careers interest them. Then, they can identify a STEM career that they find most interesting and learn more about it. An excellent place to learn about careers is the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What does a typical day look like for someone in this career? What responsibilities do they have? What type of education do they have? Where do they work? What are some similar jobs? Have students prepare a short presentation about what they have learned and share it with the class.

Hopefully, these activities and resources will get your students excited to learn more about women in STEM!

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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. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.