Posts Tagged writers

STEM Tuesday– Evolution– Writing Tips & Resources

The Gift of New Writing Approaches

It’s the holiday season, and soon we’ll usher in a whole new year. It’s a time filled with family and friends (hopefully), good food, and gift-giving. This year, as my present to you, I want to discuss the gift of trying new approaches with our writing (CCSS ELA Writing Standard 5).

This month’s book list contains an irresistible assortment of approaches to the same topic of Evolution. Skim the list, and you’ll find:

  • A graphic novel – Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, illustrated by Kevin and Zander Cannon
  • A modernized primary source – Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” adapted by Rebecca Stefoff
  • Evolution told through the lens of a single species (humans) – How to Build a Human by Pamela Turner, illustrated by John Gurche
  • A hands-on book loaded with activities – Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment with 25 Projects by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Alexis Cornell
  • A biography – One Beetle Too Many: Candlewick Biographies: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwinby Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
  • A narrative focused on a relationship (the Darwin’s marriage) – Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
  • A narrative focused on an event – The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez (to be released in March 2023)

As writers, part of the revision process requires us asking if we’ve accomplished the goals we had for our writing.  Did we make the point we wanted to make? Will our readers understand the story we are telling and the information we share? If not, could a new approach help?

Techniques to try

If you’re feeling stuck, try some of these techniques:

  • Flip the format: If you’ve written an informational or narrative piece could you add images and turn it into a comic?
  • Narrow your focus: If you’ve written a broad overview of a topic, what would happen if you rewrote your piece using a different lens focused on a single person, place, or thing?
  • Rethink your main character: Any person, place, thing, or event could be the center of a narrative. If you’ve focused on a person, could you refocus on an event or a relationship instead?

As writers, a flexible approach to our writing is key, especially when something’s not working. So give yourself a gift this holiday season – the freedom to try something new.

One more parting gift

If you’re looking for another way to reenergize your writing as we approach the New Year, you might try Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers, which begins Dec. 26. Teachers, you can sign up for the daily emails here and share the process with your students after break.

Per Julie’s site, the 12 Days of Christmas gives writers:

  • Exercises to evaluate and integrate their previous writing year so they are ready for the new one.
  • Tools to illuminate successes in order to go even further in their writing.
  • Inspriation for how to write through tough times.

I go through this process each and every year and love what it does for my writing life.

Wishing you and yours a safe and healthy holiday season!

STEM Tuesday– Evolution– In the Classroom

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and discovery of natural selection changed the way people viewed themselves and the world around them. The idea that organisms adapt over time to survive in their environment was groundbreaking. It contradicted what people had always assumed to be true. Many incredible books have been written to help students understand the importance of this discovery and how it influences our understanding of the world today. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.

 

cover of the book "One Beetle Too Many," featuring an illustration of Charles Darwin peeking through leaves at insects

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky and Matthew Trueman

This book does an excellent job of making Charles Darwin relatable to young readers. He was a child who loved all type of creatures, including insects and worms. He loved being outside and took great pride in his collections. Kids may see that they aren’t too different from Darwin, and that will keep them engaged throughout the entire book. The illustrations complement the text perfectly, and students will want to look closely to take in all the details.

 

 

 

 

Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman

Many biographies of Charles Darwin focus on his research and his time spent on the HMS Beagle. Charles and Emma, however, starts after that adventure is already over, when Charles is trying to decide if he should get married. The relationship between Charles and Emma was a loving one, but she, like many others at the time, had trouble accepting his Theory of Evolution. It completely contradicted peoples’ religious beliefs. This book explores Charles and Emma’s relationship and how that impacted his thinking and his work. Young readers will view Darwin through a different lens.

 

 

 

 

cover of the book "Evolution" featuring a multicolored chameleon on white background

Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment with 25 Projects by Carla Mooney and Alexis Cornell

In this book, STEM Tuesday’s own Carla Mooney makes evolution accessible to middle grade readers. She clearly explains what it is, how we think it works, and how this ongoing process will affect the future of our planet. The thought provoking essential questions and subsequent activities give students hands on opportunities to discover how and why animal adaptations occur.

The following two activities were taken directly from this book and are ones I think students will especially enjoy.

 

 

Activity 1 – Create Your Own Animal

In this activity, students will create their own animal with useful adaptations. They will begin by considering the following questions.

  • Where does the animal live?
  • How much water is in the area?
  • What is the climate and weather like in this location?
  • What does the animal eat? What predators threaten the animal?

Using these details, students will create their animal. What does it look like? How does it behave? Have them write a paragraph describing their animal and its behaviors. Draw a picture of the animal. What adaptations does the animal have to help it better survive in its environment?

Now try this: Have students design another environment. Imagine their animal in the new environment. What features are useful for the animal in the new environment? What features are not helpful? If the animal stays in the new environment, what new adaptations do you predict will arise during many generations. Why?

 

Activity 2 – Darwin’s Finches

In this activity, students will demonstrate how different adaptations can help different birds collect food.

  1. Gather several objects that represent different types of seeds a bird might encounter, including large seeds, small seeds, dried beans, rice. etc.
  2. Find or design several “tools” that they can use to pick up the seeds. Ideas include forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, tweezers, and straws. Students can also build their own tools.
  3. Using each tool, attempt to pick up each type of seed. Which tool works the best? What type of seed is the easiest to collect? Which tool is the least effective? Which seed is the hardest to collect? Do some tools work better with certain seeds and not others?

Now try this: Students will demonstrate the process of evolution by natural selection using the seeds and the tools. Using only one type of food, assign each of the tools to the students. Set a time limit and see how many they can collect with their assigned tool. After the time has expired, see which tools have collected the most food. Those that did not collect enough food will die out and be replaced by the top-performing tools. Have students repeat this process several times. What happens to the tools in the population? What was the role of natural selection in the outcome?

 

Peppered Moth Simulation

In this online game, students will see how camouflage protects moths through the eyes of a predator. Click here to access the game.

 

Speciation Video

Further explore the idea of speciation by having students watch this video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click here to access the video.

 

Hopefully, these books and activities will help students understand the Theory of Evolution and how it influences our understanding of the world today.

 

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Jenna Grodziki

Jenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at www.jennagrodzicki.com.

 

 

 

 

 

STEM Tuesday — Fungi — Author Interview with Sue Heavenrich & Alisha Gabriel

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

Today, Andi Diehn interviews Sue Heavenrich and Alisha Gabriel, authors of Funki Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More! Sue is a writer and educator who also hosts a book review blog at Archimedes Notebook. Alisha is an elementary music teacher and writer of fiction and nonfiction elementary through middle grade. They teamed up to bring the wonder and magic of fungi to kids through lots of hands-on STEM projects!

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AD: What inspired you to write about fungi?

Alisha: I’ve always found mushrooms and fungi fascinating! There are so many shapes and colors, and new varieties being discovered each year. Every time I turn around there’s something more to learn about fungi.  Funky Fungi book cover

Sue: My interest was piqued when I interviewed mycologist Kathie Hodge about an insect-infecting fungus for an article in a local newspaper. She took me on a fungus-looking walk, and showed me her workspace at her lab. That article never got published, but it made me think about fungi in a different way. A couple years later I met Alisha at a Highlights Foundation workshop on nonfiction writing. While out on a nature walk, we stopped to look at some interesting fungi and got to talking about potential book ideas. I ended up shelving my idea, so when Alisha asked if I wanted to collaborate on a book I said “sure.”

 

AD: There’s such a huge variety of fungi out there! How did you decide what information to include in your book and what had to be left out?

Alisha Gabriel examines fungi

Alisha finds some funky fungi!

Alisha: When the editor liked our pitch and asked to see a proposal, Sue and I jumped into the research feet first. First, we determined how to break up the chapters by topic. There are certain types of fungi that had to be included in each chapter and simply couldn’t be left out of the book! After that, it became much more difficult to narrow down.

 

AD: What do hands-on projects add to the reader’s experience of your book?

Alisha: This book is part of the Young Naturalists series from Chicago Review Press and all of the titles include 30 activities. The activities are important to help readers extend their learning, and to gain even more enjoyment, as they discover more about fungi!

Sue Heavenrich examines fungi

Sue gets hands-on with fungi!

Sue: As a science teacher and, later, homeschooling parent, I know that many kids learn best by doing. That’s what this book addresses. By design, it incorporates activities throughout the chapters as an integral part of exploring the topic. I mean, how can you read about mushrooms and not want to cut one open to see inside?

 

AD: Some of the projects focus on an art or language activity – why is the A in STEAM so important?

Alisha: Everyone learns in different ways. In education, there’s a huge push for STEM topics, but the artistic aspect of learning isn’t always valued as highly. Sketching a mushroom, or even creating their own, will help readers focus on the minute details. And writing a poem about a mushroom can help a young reader utilize vocabulary and scientific terms, while accurately describing it and its surroundings.

Sue: Art and language are part of science. Scientists in the field often make sketches in their field journals alongside their notes – whether it’s fossils or insects. I feel that drawing a mushroom or other fungus helps develop observation skills. So does writing haiku and poetry. I think there’s a lot in science that inspires art, and art that inspires science.

 

AD: You mention a lot of different people who work with fungi or have made discoveries about fungi. Why did you include these brief biographies in your book?

Sue: Science is a human endeavor. When I was a kid, I loved reading the stories about people who discovered things: Fleming and penicillin, Jenner and the smallpox vaccine. We want to show readers that people are still discovering things about fungi – and maybe some of those readers will see that they could be scientists, too.

 

AD: There are fungi that do beneficial work and fungi that do detrimental work. Why is it crucial to our understanding of fungi to learn about all aspects of the fungal world, not just the ones that help humans?

Alisha: It’s true that some fungi attack our crops or cause human diseases, but other kinds of fungi are used to counteract them. All types of fungi play a role in the environment, even those that are yet to be discovered.  It’s important to show readers the great diversity of fungi because we never know how or when new discoveries will be made. Alisha Gabriel photographs fungi

 

AD: If you could choose a state fungus, what would it be?

Alisha: In an interesting twist, I live in Texas, which is the most recent state to adopt a state fungus! It’s Chorioactis geaster, often called the Texas Star Mushroom, because it’s only found in some parts of Texas and Japan. At first this mushroom resembles a small cigar, but when the spores mature, they burst forth with a popping sound and the sides crack open into a star shape.

Sue: I personally like the Stinky Squid fungus – it looks like an orange squid or chicken claws reaching up through the soil. Its stinky smell attracts flies that will spread the spores. But there is actually a bill in the New York State legislature to name Peck’s milk-cap (Lactarius peckii) as our state mushroom. It’s a pretty orange gilled mushroom and not stinky in the least. And it is named for Charles Horton Peck, New York State botanist from 1867 to 1915, who described and named more than 2,700 species of fungi in North America.

Want more fun with fungi? Check out Funky Fungus Friday photo posts at Sue’s Facebook page!

And Alisha’s #FungiFriday posts on Twitter!

 

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her backyard and around her neighborhood—inspire her writing.

Alisha Gabriel is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor who has written several fiction and nonfiction books for children, from preschool to middle graders.

Today’s host, And Diehn, is an editor and marketer at Nomad Press and has published 11 nonfiction books.