STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Experience the World of African Elephants in the Illustrated Travelogue of Ted Lewin & Betsy Lewin

Elephant Quest, from Adventures Around the World series, Lee & Low Books, 2014 (paperback)

Elephant Quest, from Adventures Around the World series, Lee & Low Books, 2014 (paperback)

Elephant Quest (nonfiction, travelogue) Interest level: grades 1–6

written and illustrated by Betsy Lewin and Ted Lewin

Caldecott Honor winners Ted and Betsy Lewin combine their distinctive artistic styles with captivating text to relate their adventure to see majestic African elephants in Botswana. Along the way they encounter a full range of African wildlife: hippos, lions, leopards, wildebeests, giraffes, wild dogs, baboons, and more. Elephant Quest is one of six illustrated travelogues in the Lewin’s Adventures Around the World series.

Honors include:

  • Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students, National Science Teachers Association/Children’s Book Council
  • John Burroughs Award for Nature Books for Young Readers, American Museum of Natural History

Themes: Biodiversity, Animal Adaptations, Habitats & Environments, Human Activity & Impact, Sustainability, Geography

Discussion Questions:

  • Describe the physical and behavioral adaptations of the elephants. What do they need to have or be able to do to survive in their environment?
  • How do Ted and Betsy Lewin and other humans that appear in the book demonstrate respect toward the animals they observe?
  • Why do you think Ted and Betsy Lewin choose to focus on the African elephants? What makes this species unique or interesting compared to the other animals in the habitat and country?
  • What is a reserve? Why do the elephants live in a reserve? What reasons might people have for creating a reserve? Do you think people have a responsibility to protect animals or the environment? Why or why not?
  • Ted and Betsy Lewin are tourists at the reserve and in Botswana. List the consequences (positive and negative) of the Lewins’ trip on the animals, habitat, people of Botswana, and young readers around the world. Do you believe wildlife tourism is beneficial, harmful, or something else to the animals and habitat? Why?

elephant (3)Activity Suggestions:

  1. Have students research the geography of Botswana. What are the physical features, climate, and seasons? Which animals and plants are found there? What culture(s) are found there? What makes the region unique from other parts of the world? How might the region’s geography make it attractive to elephants and ideal for the Moremi Reserve?
  2. Elephant Quest was originally published in 2000. Encourage students to research the status of African elephants today. If the Lewins were to write an update to their travelogue, what might they include about the species and the challenges they face? Explore the conditions of African elephants with the World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic Kids.
  3. If the Lewins were to come to your community, what animal species should they search for and write a travelogue about? Ask students to write a letter to persuade the Lewins to visit this place and study an animal species of their choosing. Describe the species where you live. What does it look like? What does it eat? What are its predators? What challenges does it face?
  4. Encourage students to design and create a travel poster advertising the Moremi Reserve. Persuade tourists to visit this region based on facts about its climate, animals, and geography found in the book. Think about the time of year that would be best to visit this region. Students may wish to study examples of travel advertisements in newspapers, magazines, or online travel sites for inspiration.
  5. Ted and Betsy Lewin choose to use watercolor paint to convey their experiences. How do watercolors help them tell the story and capture their observations? How do watercolor illustrations compare to photographs (check out the photo galleries of Moremi from Expert Africa and Botswana Tourism for examples)? Contrast Ted Lewin’s realistic images to Betsy Lewin’s field sketches. How do the Lewins use watercolors differently from each other? If possible, have students practice painting a scene with watercolor paints. Have students reflect on the material, time involved, and process of painting with watercolors. Have students hypothesize whether the Lewins painted during the trip or after they returned to their studios. Then show them a video interview with the Lewins in their studios.
  6. Home-School Connections: Encourage students and their families to participate in Wildlife Watch, the National Wildlife Federation’s national nature-watching program created for people of all ages. Students and families share the details of the wildlife they see in their communities to help National Wildlife Federation track the health and behavior of species.

stemfriday.tinyIt’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Copyright © 2015 Jill Eisenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrate and Learn About Water

World Water Day is March 22!


Water Rolls, Water Rises, Children's Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2014

Water Rolls, Water Rises, Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2014

Water Rolls, Water Rises/ El agua rueda, el agua sube (nonfiction, poetry) Interest level: grades 1–6

by Pat Mora, illustrated by Meilo So

In a series of poetic verses in English and Spanish, readers learn about the movement and moods of water around the world and the ways in which water affects varied landscapes and cultures.

Themes: Water & Hydrosphere, Human Activity & Impact, Human Relationship to Water, Geography, Cultural Diversity

Before reading

Ask students what they know about water. What do you know about the water cycle (local vs. global scale)? Describe water using each of your five senses. How do people use water? How is water important to life on Earth?

Questions during reading

  • Describe how water connects humans across cultures and continents based on Water Rolls, Water Rises.
  • Study how people in the book interact with the water around them. What states of water are most useful to people? Why? What are the benefits of living near water?
  • What does this book teach us about humans’ place in the natural world? What does this book teach us about the water cycle?
  • The author, Pat Mora, has spent most of her life in the Southwest desert region of the United States. How do you think living in that environment influenced her to write a book about water?

World Water DayActivity Suggestions:

  1. Pair Water Rolls, Water Rises with another title to learn about various ways humans use and rely on water. What suggestions do these books offer to take care of water environments?
  • Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming
  • Everglades Forever: Restoring America’s Great Wetland
  • The Woman Who Outshone the Sun
  • I Know the River Loves Me
  1. Have students research the water cycle. How does water travel from one part of the world to another? Now take a look again at Water Rolls, Water Rises. Which verses and illustrations demonstrate precipitation? Evaporation? Collection? etc.
  2. With students, try some of the in-class science experiments about water that the American Museum of Natural History created for its “Water: H2O=Life” exhibit.
  3. Provide students with a world map. (An outline of a Robinson projection world map can be downloaded here for reproduction.) Ask students to mark on the map the location of each place featured in the book. In addition, have students identify and label the seven continents, five major oceans, and the largest lake and river on each continent. Students should also mark their location on the map. Discuss what a compass rose is and the purpose it serves on a map. Students may also build their own maps at National Geographic Education’s MapMaker 1-Page Maps.
  4. Have students with their families make a list of all the things that they do in a day that require water. If you suddenly didn’t have water at your home, where could you go to get water? Estimate how much water you use in a day and reflect on what you would do if you had to live without running water.
  5. Imagine an alien from a planet without water is visiting your classroom. Have students describe, in a letter to the alien guest, what water is and the features of water. How do humans use water? Where do humans get water? What makes water special? What would happen to people, plants, animals, and weather if Earth didn’t have water?


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

Copyright © 2015 Jill Eisenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrate and Learn About STEM on International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, explore STEM concepts with students through the lens of environmental science and conservation. Students can read about women-led conservation movements in Kenya and India.

Seeds of Change, Lee & Low Books, 2010

Seeds of Change, Lee & Low Books, 2010

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace (nonfiction/biography) Interest level: grades 1–6

written by Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman—and first environmentalist—to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004) for her work planting trees in her native Kenya. Blazing a trail in the field of science, Wangari used her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and help save the land, one tree at a time.


Aani and the Tree Huggers, Lee & Low Books, 1995

Aani and the Tree Huggers, Lee & Low Books, 1995

Aani and the Tree Huggers (fiction) Interest level: grades 1–4

written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto

Based on a true event in northern India, Aani and the Tree Huggers presents an enduring message of environmental action. Aani acts with quiet, instinctive heroism to save not only her special tree, but also the village’s beloved forest.

Themes: Ecology, Environmental Science, Conservation, Activism

International Women's DayBefore reading:

  • Ask students what they know about Kenya and India. Help students locate these countries on a map or globe.
  • Ask students what they know about deforestation. How do trees help people and ecosystems? What are examples of ways people depend on trees?

Questions during reading:

  • How do these women respond to the destruction of trees in their communities?
  • What causes deforestation in these communities?
  • What do these texts teach about interdependence?
  • How are we responsible for our environment? What suggestions do these books offer to take care of the world around us?
  • How do these books demonstrate the value of conservation?
  • What risks do these women take for their goals? Why do you think they took these risks? What are their motivations to act?
  • How do these women empower other women? How do these women demonstrate perseverance and leadership?

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Create a Venn Diagram comparing the central figures, Aani and Wangari Maathai, or the books, Aani and the Tree Huggers and Seeds of Change.
  2. Encourage students to research the Chipko Andolan movement (Hug the Tree Movement) in India or the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. What events took place? What was the purpose(s) of these movements? What were the results?
  3. Study the history of a nearby state or national park. Who was involved in its establishment? What challenges did people face in its creation? What makes this place unique or significant? Show students how to find a state or national park near them. Visit the National Park Service’s Find a Park web page.
  4. Have students identify the trees in their neighborhood. Check out the Arbor Day Foundation’s step-by-step Tree Identification guide. Help students study one of these species. Describe its physical features, including trunk, leaves/needles, and roots. Where is this species found? What types of animals live near, in, or among this species? How do people use this tree species? What survival challenges does this species face today?




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

Copyright © 2015 Jill Eisenberg. All Rights Reserved.


Score With Sports Math

Score with Sports Math series

by Stewart A.P. Murray

Grades 3–4

Enslow Publishers, Inc. 2013

Wondering how you can score big with math students? First and foremost it’s important to find your reader’s interest. Do they love to play soccer? Maybe they like to watch football? Who is their favorite baseball team? Maybe they participate in track and field events at school. What about basketball? Have they ever been to the racetrack? What they might not realize is that lots of math is used in sports!


How many points is a field goal? Even batting averages involve fractions and decimals. Enslow’s new series, Score with Sports Math, gets students warmed up and ready to tackle sports word problems which include addition, multiplication, division, subtraction, fractions, and decimals.

Each book begins with an introduction to the sport with some history and stats.


Subsequent chapters are filled with word problems that include illustrations to keep these problem solvers interested. Each word problem is preceded by informational text that the reader will need to comprehend and analyze in order to solve the word problem that follows.

Sports Math Spread 20-21

As far as Common Core State Standards, this is a home run! These books not only present informational text in a fun and unique way, word problems promote reading comprehension and critical thinking while additional text combines history and sports biographies with math. Score ! Everyone wins!

We invite you to join us!

STEM Friday

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

Write about STEM each Friday on your blog.

Copy the STEM Friday button to use in your blog post.

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 © 2013 Enslow Publishers, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.


The Chiru of High Tibet

One of the things I love about picture books is the growing trend right now towards creative nonfiction stories. Real stories that are brought to life in colorful, easy-to-read, and narrative ways. The Chiru of High Tibet by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter, is one of these books.

I found this book, published in 2010, to be a perfect meshing of fact and narrative. The story has an arc, has suspense, has characters we care about, all the while giving us information on an animal species most of us probably have never heard of, and a region of the world that we probably will never go to. Some of the facts are woven into the story, but there are also subtle side boxes to give us even more.

Chiru are deer or antelope like animals, living live in the mountainous Chang Tang region of Northern Tibet, whose fur is extremely soft and luxurious. The chiru migrate through the mountains each year to an unknown location to birth and raise their babies. People did not know where this area was, but when they discovered that the fur made a wonderfully warm wrap, they were quite able to kill the adults in their summer lands.  Eventually, like many other species in a similar situation, this population began to lessen. The crux of the book asks “In the wide, unpeople plains, who would care if the chiru disappeared?”

Who cares, is what the rest of the story is about. It tells of one man who tried to find and protect the chiru calving grounds, but failed. Then there was the expedition of four explorers who took up that quest to protect the chiru. They trekked across Tibet through harsh conditions to follow the chiru to the calving grounds, and find a way to protect this land.

This book is nonfiction, done in a creative way. I may never see a chiru in high Tibet, but this picture book made me care about them, made me wonder just how soft that chiru fur is, and made me quickly turn each page to find out what happens next in their story.

Join STEM Friday!

We invite you to join us!

  • 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!)

Site Meter Copyright © 2013 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.


Do you know Scratch?

If you don’t know Scratch, you don’t know what you’re missing!  Developed at the MIT Media Lab, with financial support from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Google, Iomega and MIT Media Lab research consortia, Scratch is an easy, open source  programming language that can be used to program almost anything the imagination can conjure!

To give you an example — several years ago, without any help from me, my son drew a picture on MS Paint, and used Scratch to animate it.  The picture is below. If you click on it, you can view the image in Scratch and watch the man take a bite of the hamburger, chew, swallow, drink soda, swallow, and return to smiling.

Scratch Project

Click to view the project on Scratch, then click the green flag to animate it!

Fast food

The colored lines in the left frames are the lines of code required to animate the drawing.

My son created this by himself while in elementary school.  Imagine what he could have created if the following book had been available!

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! Learn to Program by Making Cool Games!  LEAD Project, 2012, No Starch Press.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is part instruction manual and part graphic novel. Mitch and Scratchy are trapped in a battle with the Dark Wizard and his Minions. You, the reader, can extradite them from predicaments using Scratch.  The story may not be engrossing, but it is a novel and entertaining way to introduce step-by-step coding instructions.  The reader is simultaneously creating video games and inhabiting one.  By the end of each of the book’s ten chapters, the reader will have a fully functioning game created from scratch (both literally and figuratively), with each chapter building upon knowledge from previous chapters.

The game I was creating with Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is lost to a pre-Superstorm Sandy computer, however, I can attest to the fact that it was fun, easy and satisfying.

The book is available in print or ebook (PDF) format.

Click here for a sample chapter from Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Classroom teachers may not have the available time to devote to programming with Scratch, but they should certainly become familiar with it. Computer club advisers, homeschoolers, scouting groups, and parents of young “tech geeks” should not waste a minute in checking out Scratch’s infinite possibilities.  Suggested for ages 8 and up.

A sample of the games that can be created using Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

From the Scratch website:

“Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web. As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

Join STEM Friday!

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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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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!

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!)

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