STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


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NGSS Headstart

The final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards was released in April, so it seems like the perfect time to start thinking about how some of our favorite books can be integrated into lessons that support the performance expectations (PE)–what kids will be expected to understand at each grade level.

One kindergarten PE is: “Communicate and discuss solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.” Here are some books that would be perfect for addressing this concept:

Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Flemming

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

Dumpster Diver by Janet S. Wong

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Finding Home by Sandra Markle

Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Merwil Lamstein

Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! by April Sayre

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental

A Warmer World by Caroline Arnold

It isn’t too early to start thinking about how we can use some of the great books out there to teach STEM ideas in the future. Will that be one of your summer projects?

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STEM Friday

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Books for Left-brained Kids

On Wednesday, I wrote a post about the pros and (oh, yes!) cons of narrative nonfiction on my personal blog, Celebrate Science. It led to so much discussion on Twitter, that I thought I’d explore my evolving ideas a little more here.

So we all know that lately narrative nonfiction is getting a lot of buzz in the kidlit community. Editors look for it. Awards committees honor it. Teachers and librarians buy it. And yet, by and large, kids just don’t seem to be drawn to it.

Now there are lots of possible reasons for that, but today I’d like to talk about what kinds of nonfiction school librarians tell me elementary kids do love. They pick it themselves, and they read it enthusiastically.

#1 The Gunniess Book of World Records

#2 Anything like The Gunniess Book of World Records, such as the National Geographic’s Kids Everything books

#3 Any book on any topic they are interested in, whether it’s an award-winning book or not. All that matters is the topic—dirt bikes, snowboarding, spiders, dinosaurs, monsters, cars, UFOs, ghosts, swords.

These books generally don’t win awards. They aren’t the ones the adult kidlkit community gets excited about. And for the most part, they aren’t the books editors are actively seeking out. Why is that?

Frankly, I think the answer has to do with brain chemistry. Yep, I’m serious.

Think about it. Most editors and librarians and elementary teachers and kidlit advocates have brains that work in a particular way. They are naturally drawn to the arts and humanities and social sciences. They are right-brain thinkers.

But there is a whole different way of interacting with and experiencing the world. Left-brain thinkers are straight-line thinkers–scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. Logic, not emotion, rules in the land of the analytical.

Left-brain thinkers love reading and sharing The Guinness Book of World Records and other just-the-facts books because these titles are chockful of what they love best– data. Kids can use the information they gather in these books to learn about the world and its possibilities and their place in it. And that’s what they want more than anything.

IMHO, these kids aren’t drawn to narrative (fiction or nonfiction) in the same way that right-brained kids (and adults, such as most book editors and elementary teachers and librarians and kidlit advocates are). They don’t crave an emotional connection with the main character in a novel or a central figure in a biography. They want the data, and then they will interpret it for themselves.

But right-brained kids aren’t reading narrative nonfiction. They are perfectly content with novels. And so that leaves narrative nonfiction sitting on a shelf.

So here’s my take home message: I strongly believe that left-brain thinkers are currently being underserved by the kidlit community. We need to honor and nurture their analytical minds by:

–appreciating the value of existing books that meet the needs of these students

–purchasing more books that will appeal to them (even if they don’t appeal to us)

–creating more books that help them understand the world and its possibilities and their place in it.

If we want a strong STEM workforce in the future, we need to meet the needs of curious left-brained thinkers today.

Join STEM Friday!

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  • Write about STEM each Friday on your blog.
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STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

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A Must Read for Animal Lovers

A Must Read for Animal Lovers

By Melissa Stewart

Do you know someone who has a special kind of connection with animals? My niece, Caroline, is one of those people.

Animals just adore her. They trust her completely. Does Caroline have a future in veterinary medicine? Maybe. But that’s a tall order to put on a third grader, so let’s just say that interacting with animals is one of her special talents.

If you have someone like Caroline in your life, then here’s the perfect holiday gift: Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue by children’s book author Peg Kehret. This wonderful memoir describes the many animals Mrs. Kehret has cared for—pets, strays, foster cats, and even wild creatures—with brief mentions of how some of them played a role in her novels.

Like Caroline, Peg Kehret, clearly has a way with animals, so I can’t wait to share this lovingly written true story with my niece.

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STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

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Awards for STEM titles

Each year, two organizations call attention to fantastic STEM books for children–the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association.

What do they recommend for 2012? Take a look:

AAAS

NSTA

Join STEM Friday!

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Top Awards for STEM Titles

Top Awards for STEM Titles

By Melissa Stewart

While I was presenting at the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but ask my audience a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time: Why don’t STEM titles seem to win the BIG awards in children’s literature as often as social studies titles? One person in the audience was so intrigued by my question that she asked me to lunch. Needless to say, we had quite a discussion.

When I tossed out that question on the spur of the moment, I didn’t have any data to back me up. (I know what you’re thinking. What kind of scientists am I?) But recently, I’ve looked back over past winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Sibert and tallied the nonfiction winners.

The Newbery was created in 1922, and the Caldecott was created in 1938. I reviewed the medalists and honor winners since 1995. The Silbert was created in 2001, so I tallied the winners since its inception.

Here are the results:

Newbery
Medal
Caldecott
Medal
Sibert
Medal
Total
biography 0 2 6 8
history 0 1 5 6
STEM 0 0 1 1
Newbery   Honor CaldecottHonor SibertHonor Total
biography 3 10 16 29
history 7 0 9 16
STEM 1 3 7 11

I have to admit that when I’ve read through these lists in the past, I came away with the impression that history titles had STEM beat hands down. But a closer look shows that history is only the clear leader among Newberys. Biographies are the big winners overall with a total score of 37 (8 medalists, 29 honors) overall. While history (22 overall) and STEM (12 overall) trail behind.

Then I took a closer look at the people featured in the biographies. It turns out that 23 are key historical figures and 8 are scientists. The rest are artists or musicians.

So why don’t STEM boosk win their fair share of accolades? What do you think?

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STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

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The Role of Art in STEM Titles

By Melissa Stewart

I recently received the sketches for a picture book schedule for publication in 2014. This book, which I’ll call FEATHERS doesn’t have an agreed upon title yet.

For this book, I’m working with a new illustrator, Sarah Brannen. Sarah’s artwork isn’t new to me, though. We’ve been in the same critique group for . . . well, I can’t remember how long, but I’m going to guess 8 years. We were introduced to one another by a librarian at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury, MA. (Hooray for librarians!)

I visited Sarah’s studio, saw her work, and got really excited. There were paintings of insects everywhere, and she even had a taxidermied insect collection. How cool is that?

When Sarah pulled out her children’s book portfolio, I was gobsmacked. It was wonderful. I told to my critique group and we HAD to ask her to join. It turned out another member also knew Sarah and heartily endorsed her. And Sarah has been part of my life ever since.

Her picture book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding came out the same season as my book When Rain Falls, and we did a lot of events together. It was a blast. And it’s been a pleasure to see Sarah grow professionally, from an unknown name to an artist with a steady stream of children’s book illustration work.

So back to my new book—FEATHERS. I worked on the manuscript for four years. Each time I brought it to my critique group, Sarah said how much she loved feathers. Some weeks she brought feathers she’d collected during walks in the woods.

About two years into the revisions, Sarah started painting feathers. Then she painted an illustration to go with one of my spreads and gave it to me. It’s been hanging in my office ever since. (It’s interesting to note that nothing in that spread remains in the final book.)

When the manuscript was accepted and the editor asked me if I had any ideas about who might illustrate it, you know what I said. Sarah.

The editor and I talked about a concept for the art, and I was happy with it. And then I found out they had, in fact, hired Sarah as the illustrator. Hooray!

At our critique group’s annual Christmas party in 2011, Sarah started talking about the sketches. She said just enough for me to realize she wasn’t doing what the editor and I had discussed. So I literally put my fingers in my ears and sang la, la, la, la. Sarah stopped talking, and we agreed not to discuss what she was doing. I knew anything I might say at that point could stifle her creativity, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.

I was nervous, but I trusted Sarah and I knew how passionate she was about the book. And I knew that my editor and art director had approved Sarah’s concept. So I waited and waited. I hoped I’d like what she was doing because I wasn’t sure what would happen if I didn’t. Would the publisher say tough noogies to me? Would I lose a friend? I just sat on my hands and hoped for the best.

So it was with trepidation that I opened the package of sketches from my publisher. My hands might have been shaking, just a little, as I opened the oversized sheets of paper. And then I took a look. Wow! They were beyond my wildest dreams.

Sarah’s sketches had brought the book to a whole new level. She hadn’t just drawn art to match my text, she’d added a whole new layer–a strong, compelling narrative thread, a backstory that simultaneously provides context for my words AND expresses what I’m all about as a writer and a human being. Simply put, I was blown away.

I wish I could tell you more about what Sarah did, but for now it must remain a secret. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final book. Too bad 2014 is so far away.

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  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

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Why I Write STEM Books for Kids

Why I Write STEM Books for Kids
by Melissa Stewart

It was 1996. My first children’s book had just been accepted for publication, and I was headed to East Africa to do research for a second book. Life was good—or so it seemed.

As friends and family heard about my success, I received a flood of phone calls. They congratulated me, of course. But they also asked some unexpected questions.

“So now are you going to write a real book? You know, one for adults.”

“It’s nonfiction? That’s great. But wouldn’t you rather write fiction?”

These questions confused me. They made me wonder and worry. Was I headed down the wrong path? Was writing for children a waste of time? Was nonfiction less important than fiction?

Luckily, my journey halfway around the world gave me the perspective—and the answers—I needed.

One night around a campfire at the edge of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, Ann Prewitt, an anthropologist and educator from the American Museum of Natural History, said she was fascinated by aha moments—seemingly small experiences that change the course of a person’s life. She asked the circle of scientists if they could recall such events from their own lives.

When my turn came, I described exploring a wooded area in western Massachusetts with my dad and brother when I was eight years old. As we hiked, my dad asked lots of questions:

“Why do stone walls run through the middle of the woods?”

“Why do sassafras trees have three kinds of leaves?”

“Why don’t chipmunks build their nests in trees like squirrels?”

He wanted us to think about our surroundings, and he knew a guessing game would be more engaging than a lecture.

As we reached the top of a hill, my dad stopped and scanned the landscape. Then he asked if we noticed anything unusual about that area of the woods.

My brother and I looked around.

We looked at each other.

We shook our heads.

But then, suddenly, the answer came to me. “All the trees seem kind of small,” I said.

My dad nodded. He explained that there had been a fire in the area about twenty-five years earlier. All the trees had burned and many animals had died, but over time, the forest had recovered.

Why was that an aha moment for me? Because I instantly understood the power of nature. I also realized that a field, a forest, any natural place has stories to tell, and I could discover those stories just by looking.

As the firelight flickered across the African savanna and I described my childhood insights, heads nodded all around me. I was among a new group of friends, kindred spirits who understood my fascination with the natural world.

They knew why I didn’t write fiction.

They knew why children were my primary audience.

And suddenly, so did I. It was another aha moment.

Now, 16 years later, I’ve written more than 150 children’s books about science and nature. Some people still ask me why I’ve never written a book for adults. Others want to know if I’ll ever write a novel. But these questions no longer bother me.

I know that my personal mission, the purpose of my writing, is to give today’s children their own aha moments in the natural world—the same gift my dad gave me on that special walk through the Massachusetts woods.

Join STEM Friday!

We invite you to join us!

  • Write about STEM each Friday on your blog.
  • Copy the STEM Friday button to use in your blog post.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

Site Meter Copyright © 2012 Melissa Stewart All Rights Reserved.