STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


Karl, Get Out of the Garden!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Catherine Stock
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Karl decided to get things organized. He planned to bring order to the chaos and give everything a clear and simple name. 

Karl’s parents wanted his nose in a book. He’d rather have it in a flower or near a striped insect. How to compromise? With plants being an important part of medicine, Karl begged to attend medical school, and pass on being a lawyer or a minister, so he could spend plenty of time outdoors. As he tried to cure ailments, Karl ran into the same problem again and again. There was no consistent agreement on the names of plants. People would have several different names for the same plant. He also noticed that this conundrum applied to animals as well, so Karl set out to develop a more organized system. Dividing the plant and animal kingdoms, he created classes for plants and gave each plant and animal a name with only two parts. An important aspect of Karl’s research was observation. He traveled north to Lapland to find wildflowers. Whether climbing high to gather pine cones or checking the mouth of a bat, Karl thought, “Truth ought to be confirmed by observation.” In addition to his work in classification, Karl also was a teacher. The outdoors was a classroom where discoveries would literally be trumpeted in celebration. This paid off as his students went out into the world. With the help of specimens sent to him from his students, he “created a new language of science.”

If you told me, “Hey, I have a picture book about the history of taxonomy”, I might be classified as bloggerus runtheotherwayis. But this is a really interesting picture book biography about the father of taxonomy. I like how it’s framed as a story of someone who thought differently and went against the grain. Karl is a problem solver and eager to take up challenges. I also like the extra information attached to the lovely watercolor illustrations. It could be a quote from Karl or examples of his classification work. That’s like finding an extra flavor in a delicious dish of food. Karl, Get Out of the Garden would be a terrific addition to a biography or science unit.


Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire

Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire
written by Cindy Neuschwander; illustrated by Wayne Geehan
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

“They’re Fracton numbers, my lady,” the woman answered. “They are used to measure equal pieces of something, such as this beautiful cloth.”

Lady Di of Ameter and Sir Cumference are visiting a fair with their friend the Earl of Fracton. In Fracton, you can buy a whole item or pieces of it. Lady Di spies a bolt of red fabric, but while she is getting a lesson on numerators and denominators from the seller, the fabric disappears. Meanwhile, Sir Cumference and the Earl are craving a snack so they chat up the cheese monger. He provides a lesson on equivalent fractions, which disappoints Sir Cumference because he, like an overeager second grader, thought choosing a large number for the denominator would guarantee more cheese. When the cheese monger turns to cut from the cheddar wheel, it’s missing too! In fact, all of the vendors are missing items. Momentarily flummoxed, the Earl decides to think like a thief which allows him to devise a fracton-like plan to catch the stealing stinkers. Through the medium of a puppet show, a reward of one valuable gold coin is offered to the customer that can find the largest fraction written on pieces of paper distributed throughout the fair. The Earl surmises that only a visitor to Fracton would be delighted with a low numerator and a high denominator. Sure enough, a motley crew leader boasts of having found 1/32 and is outwardly annoyed when his fraction is not declared the winner. Case closed.

Fractions are one of the hardest topics for math students in grades 2-5. So when an engaging resource can be found to propel their learning, there is mathematical mirth to be had. The concepts are explained in an enlightening way both textually and visually. You also get the added bonus of fun wordplay, which is a hallmark of the Sir Cumference book series. All hail this new addition to a venerable math series!


Plants Can’t Sit Still

Plants Can’t Sit Still
written by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illustrated by Mia Posada
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Some plants sleep at night, leaves nodding, flowers folding.

With apologies to R.E.M.

That’s great, plants start with a wiggle, squirm and reaching for the light.
I think this book is out of sight.
Creeping and slithering underground
Crawling through grass all around.
Up a fence, up a wall
Opening up as night falls.
Rolling around as a tumbleweed
Erupting in the air with its seeds.
Ride a bear, ride a fox,
Sticking on your dad’s socks.
Whirl like a copter,
Float as a seed,
Here are the origins of a tree.

It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
And I feel fine!

Option #1 – I ask students to predict and talk/write in pairs about why this is the title of the book before reading.
Option #2 – Pull out a big ol’ piece of chart paper and ask K-1 students how plants can move. Then I revisit the chart paper after reading the book.
Option #3 – A P.E. or classroom teacher can do a brain break by having students move like a plant in the different ways shown in the book. “Float like seed!” “Now, tumble, tumble, tumble like a weed.”
Option #4 – Use four or six pages and identify the vivid verbs.

This is a terrific book that marries science and vivid verbs better than a Vegas chapel full of Elvis impersonators. And the back matter rocks with in-depth information about each of the plants in the book. Plant this book in your read-aloud collection.


Super Gear

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up
written by Jennifer Swanson
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Nanotechnology is the science of things at the nanoscale. It deals with microscopic particles called nanoparticles. Nano- means “one-billionth,” so a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

Bigger is not always better. With nanotechnology, the little guy is the winner. Two key quotes from page four of the fascinating book Super Gear explain why. Smaller particles fit more tightly together than large particles, increasing the strength of the material and Atoms within a smaller particle also attract one another with greater force, resulting in stronger atom-to-atom bonds. The tighter bonds make for a much more durable substance. The manipulation of these nanoparticles has created gear in the sports world that puts Pierre de Coubertin’s quote, Swifter, higher, stronger, on its head. But you can’t talk about the super suits in swimming before you understand the why. Author Jennifer Swanson gets this so she explains in the first chapter how all of it works. Scientists are able to move nanoparticles with the use of a laser beam from an optical nanotweezer. What are the results of this work? Swimsuits that produced such fast times in the pool that the technology had to be curbed. The nanotech suits cut down on the drag from the water. This also works in track and field, cutting down times by as much as two hundredths of a second. That’s enough to separate winners and losers. Other sports equipment that has been enhanced by nanotechnology includes baseball bats, golf clubs, and tennis racquets. Think about the changes in what we wear to play our games. It’s no longer enough to slap on a sport gray t-shirt. Your 5K time will be slower than the runner who has the cool sweat-resistant shirt. Before you talk about sports “back in my day” and chase kids off your lawn, it’s not just the reduction of time or increase in distance that nanotechnology has affected. It’s also making sports safer with better helmets and running tracks that cut down on injury.

Speaking of little spaces, it’s almost impossible to include all of the cool details from Super Gear in this blog rectangle. It will change the way you look at your favorite sport. I’m watching Chiefs-Raiders right now and thinking about helmets and uniforms instead of my beloved fantasy team. Wonder why we have so many highlights of great catches by receivers? Is it the gloves, money? In children’s literature, we have a lot of biographies of sports figures, but not very much in the way of sports science. This interesting mix of science and sports will hopefully lead to more texts like Super Gear in the near future.


Ultimate Oceanpedia

Ultimate Oceanpedia
written by Christina Wilsdon
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Close your eyes and imagine that you are deep in the sea. It is dark and cold, and you hear the sound of whales coming from miles away. 

Chapters: Oceans, Ocean Life, Ocean in Motion, Wild Weather, Underwater Exploration, Along the Coast, When People and Oceans Meet

Dear Ultimate Oceanpedia,

You complete me. You took me on a trip to all of the oceans, introducing me to wild places like the Seychelles Islands which are made of granite. I met your wild friends, such as the Bathykorus Bouilloni or as you lovingly called it, the Darth Vader jellyfish since it has the helmet look of the bad man from space. You had me at the detailed diagram on page 41 that shows the layers of the ocean. In the Midnight Zone, you told me that only the female anglerfish has the lighted lure on its head and beard to go with it. Why use a razor to shave when you have razor sharp teeth? I felt a wave of emotion in Chapter 3 as you explained how waves work and the powerful energy that they contain. I learned about Mont-Saint-Michel, which is an island off the coast of France. Or is it? Depends on the tides as they go back and forth, covering and exposing a land bridge that connects the island to the coast.

Show me the ocean!! And you did, with beautiful photographs and diagrams that explain what goes on underneath. Continents shifting and tsunamis blitzing. A mountain range that is almost nine times longer than the above ground Andes Mountains of South America. Around twenty thousand underwater volcanoes exist, but we are just learning about many of them so that number will increase. Our journey finishes with brave explorers combing the depths of the ocean and other scientists who are fighting to keep our seas in good shape. You leave with good advice about how I can care for our saltwater superstars.

Thank you for taking me around the seven seas and back again.

Yours Truly,

The Reader


Seed to Sunflower

Seed to Sunflower
written by Camilla de la Bedoyere
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When spring comes, the seeds that are in good soil begin to germinate. They will grow into new plants, and the whole life cycle will begin again. 

There may not be a flower that is more fun to grow than the sunflower. They are a no fuss bloomer that can grow to twice your height. It’s also one of the easiest seeds to use with young children who love to fill a plastic bag with dirt and wait for the magic to happen. My previous class planted seeds on Earth Day and now the plants are ten feet tall! Now if you’re going to do this, you should have a literacy tie-in. Seed to Sunflower tells the story of the humble sunflower as it sheds its seed coat and climbs to greatness. Three things stand out about this informational text. First, it’s loaded with text features that are just right for the K-1 crowd. Lots of labels here with diagrams that illustrate the process of the life cycle. Second, the photographs are dazzling and huge which makes it perfect for the primary crowd. Third, it’s loaded with science vocabulary. Young readers, with the proper scaffolding, will enjoy using these words to impress their parents and friends.

Seed to Sunflower, besides being a good science book, would be a great source for teaching sequence. You can take one of several two page spreads and use it for a mini-lesson. Students can also use this book to compare the plant life cycle to other life cycles such as animals and humans.

*Check out more of Jeff’s ramblings at NC Teacher Stuff


Jump! Books

Jump! Books
(Review copies provided by the publisher.)

I like Minnesota. My favorite band, the Jayhawks, hails from Minneapolis. You may be familiar with a couple of other local musicians named Dylan and Prince.  I’ve always thought that the Vikings uniforms were some of the best in the NFL. So I’m not surprised that I am enthusiastic about a couple of imprints from the Star of the North. Jump! (Is David Lee Roththe editor?) has been around since 2012. They aim to provide high interest nonfiction books for readers in the K-2 range. This is like the best chocolate in that you can’t have enough of these kinds of books. The first imprint, Bullfrog Books, is for K-1 readers. I have a copy of Painting, from the Artist’s Studio series, next to me. My first impressions come from the photographs. Bold colors in the pictures and background catch my eye. There is very little white space here as opposed to the books of my youth that sometimes looked like a snowstorm broke out. You can see the brush strokes on the canvas because the views are up close. The people in this book don’t all look the same. That’s great! I want my students to be able to see themselves in these photographs. So what about the text? A mix of short sentences with challenging Tier Two words sprinkled throughout. You’ll want to review a few words before reading with K-1 students, but that’s a good thing. Beginning readers love to learn new words and try to connect them to their world.

The second and newer imprint is Pogo. These books are STEM related and written at a second grade level. In Paper Airplanes and other titles from the Early Physics Fun series, you get the text features that you expect. Bold print, diagrams, fun facts, labels, and procedural text all take a bow. What I really like about this particular title is that it explains the science behind why a paper airplane is able to fly and in second grade language. That’s not easy! Like Bullfrog Books, the photography is spot on. The books are the right size too. Easy for smaller hands to grip with the right amount of text to read. If Goldilocks reviewed nonfiction, she would say the text is just right.

You need these kinds of titles in your public and school libraries. They play a big part in getting kids excited about their world and serve as a gateway for learning how to do research. With many attractive features, you might as well Jump! and find these books for your students.