LAYLA AND THE BOTS: EMPOWERING KIDS IN STEAM, by Vicky Fang

On August 5, the second book in the LAYLA AND THE BOTS series will be released! I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I wrote these books and give you a sneak peek into Book 2, BUILT FOR SPEED.

Covers for Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws and Layla and the Bots: Built for Speed, by Vicky Fang and ill. by Christine Nishiyama (Scholastic, 2020)

Before becoming a children’s book writer, I spent 6 years at Intel and Google designing technology experiences for kids. Through that work, I learned some important things. 

For example, did you know that girls start doubting their STEM intelligence by the time they are 6 yrs old [Atlantic]? Or that Black & Hispanic students have lesser access and exposure to CS resources [Google/Gallup Report]? Or that computer literacy and computational thinking skills are critical for everybody, not just computer engineers? [CMU]?

These are just a few of the reasons I was inspired to write STEAM books for kids. I wanted to create engaging and accessible stories to promote computer literacy. I wanted to share my love for technology and creativity. I wanted to feature strong protagonist girls of color that would inspire and empower kids in creativity, coding, and technology.

In case you’re new to the series, Layla is a rockstar/inventor with a band of bots, Beep, Boop, and Bop. They work together to solve problems in their town with their awesome inventions.

Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2020)

In Book 2, they are performing at their local go-kart race and modify a go-kart for Tina, a girl who uses a wheelchair. As with every Layla and the Bots book, they embark on a product design mission, complete with investigation (research), ideation (brainstorming), implementation (building and coding), and iteration (debugging and revising). And as always, their inventions are fantastic and spectacular! But when the mayor refuses to allow the modified go-kart, Layla and the Bots must find a creative way to save the day – and Tina’s race.

Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2020)

This story explores accessible design and the user-centric design process through a fun, jet-pack-fueled story. I hope these books help kids to see the awesome, imaginative, and meaningful possibilities of technology—And inspire them to rock out on their own!

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. Her goal is for her books to inspire computer literacy for a wide range of kids—while letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities of technology! She is the author of INVENT-A-PET, as well as the LAYLA AND THE BOTS early chapter book series, and the I CAN CODE board book series. Find out more about Vicky by following her on Twitter at @fangmous or on her website at www.vickyfang.com.

STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: Catch A Wave Edition

Welcome to the MG Book Village bi-monthly blog feature, The STEM Tuesday Spin-Off. Members of the STEM Tuesday group at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors will share a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) post that ties middle grade STEM books and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders. 

We look around at the things in life we often take for granted. We peer behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing will be the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the spokes making up our wheel of discovery. As my STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources cohort, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components. 

Today, we will take a closer look at something that is always with us and is always affecting the life of the average 8-14-year-old.

Waves!

2010_mavericks_competition.jpg: Shalom Jacobovitzderivative work: Brocken Inaglory ([[User talk:Brocken Inaglory|talk]]) [CC BY-SA]

The Hub: Waves

Waves, dude! They’re awesome. Riding a wave, either on a board or by body, is exhilarating. Throwing a rock into a calm lake or pond to watch the wave patterns is pretty entertaining and tossing in another rock or two to watch the wave patterns interact takes it to a whole new level. 

Wave motion is pretty cool. The waves created by a sheet flapping in the breeze or the waves generated with a length of rope or a Slinky toy give us hours of entertaining observation. Waves provide both satisfaction from their aesthetic and their physical principles. In short, waves rock!

As cool as the above waves are, there are multitudes of waves in constant motion around us every day and we don’t even need to hit the beach to enjoy them. Some of these waves we notice, others we don’t. Yet these waves have a profound effect on our modern life every second of every day.  

In today’s Catch a Wave Edition, we’ll talk about these sound and electromagnetic waves and introduce some spin-off resources to learn more and to dig deeper into STEM. There are waves all around us, light waves, sound waves, radio waves, microwaves, other electromagnetic waves, and, may I add, waves of middle-grade academic enthusiasm.

Spoke 1: Sound Waves

Sound waves are mechanical waves created by the vibration of a source. The vibrations create longitudinal waves consisting of regions of high pressure and low pressure called compressions and rarefactions that mimic the source vibration. A sound wave must travel from one place to another in a medium and cannot move through a vacuum. 

Sound wave in a cylinder. via Wikimedia Commons.

Transverse Waves

The remaining Spin-Off Spokes are all transverse waves of the electromagnetic spectrum. One of the amazing things about electromagnetic waves is they are a single physical phenomenon that can be separated into types by the characteristic properties associated with their frequency and wavelength.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is em-spectrum-nasa_-wikimedia-commons.jpg

Electromagnetic wave shape is the more familiar wave shape of crests and troughs, called a sine wave. Transverse waves of the EM spectrum travel at the speed of light in a vacuum.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is longitudinal-and-transverse-waves-1.png

Spoke 2: Radio Waves

We are all familiar with radio. Turn it on, crank it up, and dance down the hallway on the way to the lunchroom. Radio rocks! Let me tell you, that box that plays our favorite tunes is only a mere sliver of the pure awesomeness of radio waves. Radio waves are the do-it-all, blue-collar, workman of the physical world. Sound, data, video can be pulsed (modulated) onto a radio wave carrier, transmitted great distances through an antenna and received by another antenna. A receiver then separates (demodulates) the original signal from the carrier wave and transmits it to an output device.

Let’s say I want to play my wicked new Dick Dale-esque surf guitar solo I’ve been working on to a friend who lives six hours away. First, I create the sound into a microphone by playing my new jam. The microphone transforms the vibration of the longitudinal sound wave from the guitar strings into an electromagnetic wave which then gets pulsed/modulated onto a radio wave or microwave. The message on the carrier wave is sent by my antenna great distances at the speed of light until it reached my friend’s antenna. The antenna catches my message, the electromagnetic wave is decoded/demodulated from the carrier and sent to a speaker where it is transformed back into a sound wave. Next thing you know, my friend is rocking out to my surf guitar solo. All is good in the world.

A low-frequency message signal (top) may be carried by an AM or FM radio wave.

Look around your school or classroom, there are probably devices on the ceiling or on a table all around that are constantly modulating and demodulating data for your computers and Wi-Fi networks. MOdulating and DEModulating, MOdulating and DEModulating, MOdulating and DEModulating. (Isn’t “modem” an exceptional portmanteau of “modulator-demodulator”?) Did you know that’s what your modem does? Radio waves and microwaves are the carriers of modern life. Technology literally doesn’t go anywhere without them.

Spoke 3: Microwaves

Microwaves do more than make popcorn or heat up that frozen burrito. With higher energy and higher frequency wave than a radio wave, a microwave can penetrate obstacles that radio waves can’t. Some of the non-food functions of microwaves overlap with the functions of radio waves and the daily utility of these may surprise you. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, satellite radio, amateur radio, weather radar, and some broadcasting and communications transmissions, to name a few, are all microwaves. See what I mean? Microwaves make life better, and the bag of popcorn popped in two minutes is truly a bonus.

A satellite dish receives satellite television over a Ku band 12–14 GHz microwave beam from a direct broadcast communications satellite in a geostationary orbit 35,700 kilometres (22,000 miles) above the Earth

Spoke 4: Infrared Waves

Infrared is such a cool sounding word, science fiction level cool in my book. In reality, though, it simply means “below red”. Infrared waves are often associated with heat, especially the longer wavelength end of the spectrum. These heat waves are given off by fire, heat lamps, and the sun. On the opposite end, the shorter infrared wavelengths don’t give off much heat but do function in one of mankind’s greatest inventions—the remote control! Automatic doors, heat sensors, and night-vision technology are just a few ways we interact with infrared waves in our daily life. Now, where did I put that TV remote?

IR thermography helped to determine the temperature profile of the Space Shuttle thermal protection system during re-entry.

Spoke 5: Visible Waves

We are all familiar with the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves. They’re the ones we can see and account for the rainbow of colors detected by our eyes. The different frequencies of visible waves are either absorbed or reflected by an object. If the reflected waves are at the longer wavelengths of the visible spectrum, 625-740 nm, the light is red. If the reflected waves are at the shorter end of the spectrum, 380-450 nm, the reflected light is violet. Everything we are able to see and the multitude of colors originate from the electromagnetic waves of the visible spectrum. You may also have heard about fiber-optic cables used for communication. Fiber optics contain light waves that carry data much like radio and microwaves. Without the visible wave spectrum, we would spend most of our time in the dark.

Spoke 6: Ultraviolet Waves

If the word “infrared” wasn’t cool enough for you, may I present “ultraviolet”? In reality, it’s just an awesome way to say “beyond violet”. Besides the level of word coolness, ultraviolet waves themselves are pretty dang awesome. UV waves are emitted by high-temperature objects, like stars, and help astronomers learn more about how the galaxies are put together. Just as “beyond violet” suggests a deeper shade of purple, ultraviolet waves have their own dark side. UV rays emitted by our sun are the cause of sunburns and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause cancer by changing our DNA.

Of course, there are also the UV rays of lower frequencies emitted from a blacklight bulb which we all know make the school dances spectacular events for white clothing clad individuals.

NASA image of Mira’s bow shock & hydrogen gas tail in ultraviolet, rendered in blue-visible light.

ROUGE WAVES?

There are two additional wave types in the electromagnetic spectrum. These waves, however, are ones you really don’t want to expose yourself to on a regular basis. 

X-rays are high energy waves naturally produced by high-temperature sources, like the sun’s corona. We may be more familiar with medical imaging equipment that uses the power of x-rays to view bone structure. There’s a good reason the radiology technician wears a lead apron for protection while performing x-rays—too much exposure to x-rays can cause serious health problems.

The second waves to avoid are gamma waves. Gamma waves are such high frequency/short wavelength they can pass through the empty space of a single atom! Unfortunately, they can also destroy living cells. Gamma waves are mainly formed by high energy objects in space and are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. Lightning, nuclear explosions, and radioactive decay are sources on Earth that can produce gamma rays.

Franquet T., Chung J.H. [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

Wrap-Up

The final waves needing recognition are the waves of middle-grade enthusiasm and, in particular, the waves of middle-grade enthusiasm for STEM. Keep riding the STEM wave and asking questions about how our world works.

Hopefully, I’ve given you at least six good reasons to appreciate the physical phenomenon of waves. They may not be the easiest thing in the world to understand but they are absolutely fascinating.  

Next time you switch on a radio or the TV or get your sprained ankle x-rayed at the hospital, think about all the invisible and visible waves swirling around us every second of every day. Appreciate the STEM-tastic wave. Have a great school year and remember this:

Be curious. Think about the world around you. Figure out what makes it tick and work to make it a better place.

CATCH A WAVE!!!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

STEM Tuesday Spin Off: Oh, Those Summer Nights Edition

StemLogo-SpinOff (1)

Today we continue the STEM Tuesday Spin Off guest blogger addition to the MG Book Village blog. It’s time once again for a member of the STEM Tuesday group at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors to share a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) post tying middle grade STEM books, resources, and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders.

We look at the things in life we often take for granted. We peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing is the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” are the spokes making up our wheel of discovery.

This image is a graphic representation of the content of the STEM Tuesday Spinoff for Summer Nights. A wheel-like form is shown. At the hub is the label, Summer nights. Six spokes radiate to the rim of the wheel, each ending at one or more pictures representing each topical "spoke", or theme in the text:. Separated by 30 degrees, and beginning from top, or 12:00 positino, they are: (1) owl and bat representing creatures of the night; photo of a starry night sky  with the Milky Way, representing looking up with wonder; a sea turtle on the beach at dusk and an illuminated light bulb against a black background represent not so dark nights; a non-detailed world map represents summer and the world at large; a young girl being splashed in the face by water, arms up, eyes closed, and a tight-lipped smile represents classic summer games; and a bowl of sauerkraut, the top of an ice cream cone with ice cream in it, and a toasted marshmallow represent summer cookout.

In this month of August, STEM author and educational consultant Carolyn DeCristofano brings us the “Oh, Those Summer Nights” edition of the STEM Tuesday Spin Off. She takes us from a summer evening to books highlighting several themes: creatures of the night; looking up with wonder; not so dark nights; summer and the world at large; classic summer games; and summer cookouts.

When I was a child, nothing seemed to thrum with magic more than a summer evening. While I’m sure most nights probably were simple, ordinary events of which I took no special note, those that stick in my memory were sublime. These are the ones that define my image of a summer night. If we are lucky, a summer evening might grace us with subtle sensory detail, a connection to nature, and a link to the human community around us and the ones that precede us. And so much of this relates to the stuff of STEM!

Creatures of the Night

Cover of Mark Wilson's book, OWLING, linked to the book's p[age on the publisher's web site, https://www.storey.com/books/owling/

Mark Wilson’s Owling : Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night takes us on a journey to get to know owls, offering detailed facts about these beloved birds and explaining the parts of their anatomy and physiology that make them so successful. Did you know that owls’ ears are positioned asymmetrically, and that this gives them a unique ability to hone in on their prey? This also helps explain the head-turning habit of these birds of prey. (See Page 15.) A series of two-page spreads continue to examine the features of the owl that contribute to its owliness, and its ability to hunt so well. Other sections address owl lifestyles (not all are nocturnal), various species (!), and, most connected to our outdoor experience, ways of spotting evidence of owls nearby. A favorite section of mine is the set of tips—and rules of owl etiquette—for responsibly carrying on a conversation with your owl neighbors. And in case the reader is inspired to dive more deeply into exploring these amazing creatures, Wilson includes a section that highlights specific individuals and their owl-oriented careers. Helpful diagrams and stunning photos round out the adventure.

Of course, with the weather warm a lot of us head outdoors, some of us trekking away from the city; some others just stepping outside into our own backyards. And being outside in the evening gives us an opportunity to tune in to creatures of the night—the nocturnal beasts that hunt, hide, sing, and soar all around us, whether we notice or not. Look up at dusk and you may see swooping bats. Listen carefully and you might hear owls hooting.

Cover of THE BAT SCIENTISTS, with link to book page on publisher's site: https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/The-Bat-Scientists/9780544104938

Tom Uhlman’s photographs serve up a visual treat in Mary Kay Carson’s The Bat Scientists, featuring these nocturnal mammals and those who study them. For example, Page 42 features a close-up photo of a hibernating tri-colored, iridescent, tiny droplets of water coating its fur. The text and pictures give the reader a sense of tramping through caves to investigate these creatures alongside the scientists whose work is to know these animals up close and personal. Much more than a naturalist travelogue, this book digs into the serious science of bats. For example, she explores the “great white plague”, or white-nose syndrome, which threatens the survival of bat populations. It would be fun to read Owling and The Bat Scientists together, comparing and contrasting these nocturnal flyers through the scientific lens.

Cover of MOSQUITO BITE with link to book's page on publisher's website.

Of course, you might not want to get up close and personal with all of the critters hanging around on a summer night. Mosquitoes, for example, are best studied from afar. Unless you happen to be zooming in on them in Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel’s Mosquito Bite. Featuring Kunkel’s stunning (and now classic) scanning electron microscopy, the book provides a great example of how technology can extend our ability to study the world around us.

Looking Up with Wonder

Cover of DOT TO DOT IN THE SKY, with link to book's page on the publisher's website.

Of course, on a summer evening, the world around us includes the night sky. If you are lucky enough to be in a dark-sky area on a clear night, you can’t help but look up and revel in the night lights. Stars take center stage and, if you are like many people contemplating the night sky, you will start to try to pick out the patterns of stars that have been recognized and named for millennia. Dot to Dot in the Sky: Stories in the Star (Joan Marie Galat) provides a primer to the (mostly Western culture) northern star patterns and their lore.

Cover of ULTIMATE SPACE ATLAS, with link to book's page on author's web site.

If you find yourself wanting to know more about what you see in the night sky, you might want to check out my own National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas, which features facts and figures on what you might spy in the sky—stars and constellations, the Milky Way’s glow, some planets, comets, meteors, and satellites, a galaxy or two–as well as features we cannot observe, even with a backyard telescope, such as the Oort Cloud, most dwarf planets, exoplanets, and countless distant galaxies. This book gives some attention as well to the mathematics of the scale of the universe as well as the technologies that help us explore it.

If sky gazing puts you in the mood to contemplate our universe’s beginnings, you might enjoy Big Bang! The Tongue-Tickling Tale of a Speck that Became Spectacular, which combines Michael Carroll’s fabulous illustrations with (my) verse and prose to introduce readers to the Big Bang.

Not So Dark Nights

Cover of DARK MATTERS, with link to book's page on publisher's web site.

Of course, the ability to revel in cosmic beauty or enjoy nocturnal creatures depends on the night being dark. And dark nights are, alas, falling prey to bright lights that we humans use to illuminate parking lots, buildings, streets, back yards, and more. Night pollution has become a problem in many communities, albeit one that many fail to notice. That’s why Joan Marie Galat’s Dark Matters: Nature’s Reaction to Light Pollution is such an interesting read. Parts are like a memoir of Galat’s relationship to the night sky and her journey from a child playing in the dark to a graduate with an ecology degree, making it easy for the reader to relate to the core topic of the book. Galat shares with us the biological and physical ramifications of having so much human-created light infiltrating the night. She shares how sea turtles, fireflies, bats, frogs, birds, and humans struggle with the effects of artificial lighting, and explores how some of this may be addressed. It’s a unique take on experiencing a summer (or winter) night.

Cover of THOMAS EDISON FOR KIDS, with link to indiebound purchasing site.

Of course, we wouldn’t have light pollution without artificial lighting, which brings a lot of convenience and good to people, despite its negative impacts. Why not explore one of the key players in the technological revolution of lighting and electricity? Thomas Edison for Kids: His Life and Ideas, by Laurie Carlson, provides a substantial historical and experiential exploration of the inventor’s life and the technologies he developed.

Summer and the World at Large

Cover of MAPPING AND NAVIGATION with link to book's page on publisher's website.

Of course, as we sit outside on a summer evening, losing ourselves in our own world and the cosmos beyond, somewhere else it’s wintertime. Lest we stay lost in that personal bubble, it’s time to stretch out and think abut the world at large. Cynthia Light Brown and Patrick M. McGinty’s Mapping and Navigation: Explore the History and Science of Finding Your Way can help us open our eyes to the world around us, recalling how big it is—and also providing another example of how deeply technology has changed human experience and the world at large. Chapter 7, “Space: Navigating the Final Frontier,” makes a perfect bridge from summer stargazing to navigation and map making, and Chapter 4, “Mapping and Satellites: GPS and Landsat,” reminds us that the little blips of light that slowly slip across the night sky are up there doing something—sometimes helping us map the world on which we stand.

Classic Summer Games

Cover of WHOOSH! with link to book's page on publisher's website.

And in the summer, the world on which we stand is sometimes hot. Very, very hot. It’s nice to cool off with a sweet treat—ice cream, anyone?—or maybe a frolic with water. Super-Soakers are always great fun. So is the story of the man behind their invention, as told in Chris Barton’s  Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. The super-soaker is a summery example of the lighter side of technology, but Lonnie’s tale reveals some serious thinking and hard work. The child who created his own rockets became the teen who constructed his own sound systems for summer parties and the engineer who figured out how to keep a steady power supply going on the Galileo space mission. In his quest for a better air conditioner, he came across another cool idea—a super-soaker water gun. Now in the heat of summer, we can stop and thank Lonnie for the entertainment and the relief from the heat.

Summer Cookouts

Cover of EDIBLE SCIENCE: EXPERIMENTS YOU CAN EAT with link to book page on author's web site.
Cover of 30-MINUTE EDIBLE SCIENCE PROJECTS, with link to book's page on publisher's website.

Summer games and star gazing are part of summer fun, yet many a summer evening wouldn’t be complete without a cookout. Enter Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Carol Tennant’s Edible Science: Experiments You Can Eat and Anna Leigh’s 30-Minute Edible Science Projects. You won’t just be whipping up Wheeler-Toppen and Tennant’s Orange Mayonnaise recipe for a unique twist on a coleslaw; you’ll be emulsifying liquids (as well as finding out what that means, and how it works). You can tap into osmosis to create a perfect fruit syrup to serve over homemade ice cream–with recipes, projects, and explanations of what’s going on when you make that cream chill out, courtesy of both books. Leigh also offers recipes for homemade marshmallows to compare from a materials science perspective. If you have extras, you might want to use them in Wheeler-Toppen and Tennant’s “Inflatable Marshmallow” activity. Wash it all down with one of the beverages from Leigh’s “Make Your Own Soda” project.

If it rains on the big night of the cookout? Cook in. Both books provide plenty of food and food for STEM thought to while away a summer evening. Then curl up or get active with any of the great books featured in this installment of STEM Tuesday Spinoffs. No matter where you are, no matter what books you read, no matter where your own thoughts take you, see if you and your inner child can awaken to the magic of a summer evening.

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is the author of nationally acclaimed STEM-themed books for kids from 3 to 13 and up. In addition to National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas and Big Bang! The Tongue-Tickling Tale of a Speck That Became Spectacular (mentioned above), her middle grade book A Black Hole is NOT a Hole is a popular favorite. Her books for younger kids include Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work? published in 2018 by HarperCollins Children. Carolyn is also a STEM education consultant whose work has contributed to several National Science Foundation – funded curriculum and exhibit projects. She is a warmly received, accessible professional development provider (has bags, will travel), and recently co-launched a new educational research company, STEM Education Insights. She has been a blogger for STEM Tuesday since its inception. When she’s not immersed in thinking about STEM, she might be found trying her best to keep up at an Old Time jam session, running her own edible (not necessarily science) experiments in the kitchen, or, if the season is right, enjoying the magic of a summer evening.

Image of girl being splashed by water in Spin Off wheel diagram is “Sploosh!” by Monkey Mash Button and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped). All other images in the Spin Off wheel diagram are courtesy of Pixabay.