STEM Tuesday Spin Off: Let it Rain STEM!

StemLogo-SpinOff (1)Welcome to the latest addition of STEM Tuesday Spin Off, the every-other-month post that connects STEM to everyday objects, mundane happenings, and other regular stuff in the lives of middle-grade readers.

(Check out past STEM Tuesday spins on potato chips, school lunch, and social studies. )

Our aim is to provoke a “Huh, who knew?” reaction by revealing the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles behind the under-the-radar objects and events in kids’ lives. The hotlinked books suggested and embedded resource links provided endeavor to build an understanding of the world and its workings.

The STEM-related “spin-off” concepts invite readers to look closer, imagine, and think deeper about all we encounter, experience, and take for granted in our daily lives. Like? 

~ A Rainy Day ~

“It’s just a rainy day,” is what we say to our restless young dog who wants to go outside and play—but not in the rain. What does a rainy day make a kid think about? Cancelled sports practices and games? Wearing new puddle boots? Indoor recess? Getting out of mowing the lawn?

Rain is more than something to avoid when wanting to stay dry or a topic to complain about it. Let’s put a STEM spin on it.

SCIENCE   SCIENCE   SCIENCE   

Rain is precipitation, which means weather! By the middle grades most students have learned about clouds and weather basics. Why not tempt them to dig deeper into the complexities of the atmosphere with books about storms–really bad storms.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown is a great graphic nonfiction book.

Chasing the Storm: Tornadoes, Meteorology, and Weather Watching by Ron Miller is an exciting read, too.

There are a number of Scientist in the Field series books about natural disasters, including Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy Cherrix and The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms by Mary Kay Carson (me!)

As far as online sources about weather, precipitation, and storms goes… The National Weather Service: Weather Science content for Kids and Teens links to Jetstream, NWS’s online weather school, the severe storms lab, the young meteorologist’s program, and advice on staying storm safe.

TECHNOLOGY  TECHNOLOGY  TECHNOLOGY

Tracking rain, gathering rain, and keeping rain out has inspired lots of technological breakthrough. Explore some!

  • Gore-tex. For anyone (else) old enough to remember backpacking in the rain before Gore-tex, it’s not an invention to be taken for granted. Find out how Robert Gore did it and the tech behind a breathable waterproof fabric that stops incoming water.
  • Radar. RAdio Detection And Ranging has been around long enough that it’s a single word! Like many technologies, the necessity that mothered this invention was war. The Scottish physicist Robert Alexander Watson-Watt wanted a way to help airmen avoid storms. The Royal Air Force soon realized the blips on the screen showed up for enemy aircraft, too. Today’s weather radar does a lot more. How Does Weather Radar Work?
  • Green screens. What’s a TV weather forecast without a meteorologist pointing at a map that’s not really there!  How does a green screen do that?

ENGINEERING  ENGINEERING  ENGINEERING

Human beings have long attempted to mitigate and control rain at both its extremes–flood and drought. This has become even more urgent as our climate changes, bringing about more of both extremes.

Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World by Keltie Thomas takes a look at what will happen and the engineering challenges ahead.

Geoengineering Earth’s Climate by Jennifer Swanson presents research into how our planet’s thermostat can be reset. And while hurricanes are “natural” disasters, flooding is very often a result of engineering deficits or the failure of water control (dams, levees, etc.) systems.

An issue dealt with in Hurricane Harvey: Disaster in Texas and Beyond by Rebecca Felix. Houston is prone to floods not just because of geography, but history and the way it’s been developed and built.

MATH  MATH  MATH

If you think about it, knowing whether it’s going to rain (or not!) is all about math. What does a “20% chance of showers” really mean?  According to the National Weather Service, the Probability of Precipitation” (PoP) describes the chance of precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) occurring at any point in the given area. Forecasters calculate this with the equation:  PoP = C x A  with A representing area and C a measure of confidence that precipitation will happen somewhere within the forecast area.

The United States Yearly Average PrecipitationMap Rainfall Color KeyStatistics is another math realm that connects to a rainy day. A region’s average annual precipitation is based on data collected over decades. Statistics are important for tracking weather trends that indicate climatic shifts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. government agency that includes the National Weather Service, has an entire data center of Statistical Weather and Climate Information. Students can look up this month’s average rainfall and compare it to the Average Annual Precipitation in the county they live in.

Who knew how interesting a rainy day could be! Those drops of water falling from the sky are connected to an atmosphere that supports life, including people inventing ways to stay dry, others tracking how much rain fallen, and  some predicting when it will stop. Speaking of which, the dog needs a walk before it starts raining again. Go STEM!

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Mary Kay Carson is a STEM Tuesday blogger, Hands-On Books blogger, and author of more than sixty nonfiction books for young readers, including six in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: Potato Chip Edition

StemLogo-SpinOff (1)It’s time for another edition of STEM Tuesday Spin- Off! In this relatively new addition to the MG Book Village, members of STEM Tuesday (blogging for From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors) examine everyday items in a middle-grader reader’s life from the perspective of science, technology, engineering & math.

Picture a wheel. The common, everyday item will be the “hub” or main idea of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the STEM spokes in our wheel of discovery. We’ll peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for STEM connections, and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. According to STEM Tuesday contributor Heather L. Montgomery, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

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STEM Tuesday Spin-Off:  Potato Chips

This month author Patricia Newman takes a closer look at snack foods, particularly POTATO CHIPS. Who doesn’t love potato chips, right? Their crispy, saltiness opens a Pandora’s box of STEM concepts.

 

Hub:  Potato Chips

Spoke 1:  Where Food Comes From

Do potato chips really start with potatoes? What are those other ingredients on the label? This spin-off gets kids thinking about where food comes from (before it arrives in the grocery store, that is). Everything we eat has its own story. Where are our apples grown? Did the salmon on our plates ever swim in the ocean? What pesticides are on our veggies? Let’s Eat: Sustainable Food for a Hungry Planet by Kimberley Veness uncovers the secret lives of our food (think the science of agriculture).

Establishing a small garden is another great way to reinforce the science between food and the environment. Start with The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book. This title also introduces the idea of composting (think decomposition) to reduce the impact of food waste on the environment.

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Spoke 2:  Palm Oil

Virtually all snack foods are made with oil. Palm oil is the most popular variety in the world. But palm oil plantations destroy rain forest habitat, which endangers its inhabitants such as orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Who knew eating a single potato chip could ripple all the way to the rain forests of Asia (think food chains and human impacts on the environment)?

In the “Treetop Teachers” chapter of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I follow Dr. Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Meredith studies how habitat loss affects orangutans. Her stories, both fascinating and tragic, make us wonder if we really need that potato chip after all.

Mission Tiger Rescue by Kitson Jazynka brings readers up close and personal to tigers–their habits, the challenges they face, and how we can help them.

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Spoke 3:  Cooking

Eating too many snack foods can lead to childhood obesity. But why is snack food more fattening? What is a healthy diet (think human biology)? And by golly, how can I make vegetables taste as good as potato chips?

Cooking is an excellent STEM activity (think chemistry and math) to make healthy food more exciting. For ideas, consider the global focus of Food Atlas: Discover All the Delicious Foods of the World by Giulia Malerba and Febe Sillani. Or perhaps you want to jump to the kitchen with simple home cooking. Kid Chef  by Melina Hammer includes many healthy eating suggestions that kids can prepare themselves.

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Another way to emphasize healthy eating is to uncover the dirty secrets the fast food industry uses to reel us in. Eat This! How Fast Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk by Andrea Curtis and Peggy Collins approaches STEM from a different perspective—the science of persuasion.

Spoke 4:  Trash

Once our chips are gone, we throw away the bag. But where is “away?” Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash with Environmental Science Activities for Kids by Donna Latham and Tom Casteel does a great job answering this question (think processes and engineering solutions).

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Releases March 2019

Your chip bag is most likely made of plastic. In many cities, including my hometown of Sacramento, only rigid plastic containers may be recycled. Soft plastics such as chip bags goes to the landfill (if they don’t blow out of the trash truck and onto the side of the road first). But what happens during recycling anyway? And why can’t ALL plastics be recycled (think different kinds of plastics and upcycling vs. downcycling)?

Spoke 5:  Marine Debris

You might wonder why I didn’t include marine debris in the Trash spoke. I want to emphasize that all pollution is ocean pollution. What gets tossed out on land (especially if it’s not in the proper waste can) makes its way to the ocean via our watershed.

Read these two books to understand the way ocean currents work to transport trash and how bad ocean plastic really is.

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Spoke 6: Activism

The previous spokes also lead to this last spin-off—the idea that reading about STEM topics can inspire us to change our behavior. After all, what’s the point of all this learning if we don’t reach our potential? Challenge kids to try the following:

  1. Your groceries make a difference. Buy food that uses sustainably sourced palm oil. Either download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil app to your phone or check out this chart of orangutan-friendly foods.
  2. Download the #ProtectOurWorld Challenge posters.
  3. Download the 30-Day Plastic Challenge.
  4. Audit your trash either at home or in the classroom. Brainstorm ways to reduce your single-use plastic consumption.
  5. Find out what kinds of plastic your community recycles. What’s left out? Are there any alternatives where you live? Check this website for recycling some soft plastics (but unfortunately NOT chip bags).
  6. Potato chips aren’t the only way we impact the environment. Read several of these books on the STEM Tuesday All About Conservation book list.
  7. Create a piece of art with waste plastic to raise awareness of our single-use plastic epidemic. Check out Washed Ashore for some amazing ideas.

Wrap Up

STEM is synonymous with inquiry and kids are natural question factories. Questions lead to discovery and discovery leads to learning. Challenge the kids in your life to ask questions and find connections. I’ll wager those connections will lead to science, technology, engineering, or math—and learning that engages as it empowers.

patricia newmanConnect with Patricia Newman on Twitter (@PatriciaNewman) or online (www.patriciamnewman.com).

Other stuff you might want to know about Patricia:  Her award-winning books show kids how their actions can ripple around the world. She is the author of Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; as well as NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book; Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; and Neema’s Reason to Smile, winner of a Parents’ Choice Award. Newman hopes to empower kids to think about the adults they’d like to become.

 

STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: School Lunch Edition

Today kicks off a new guest blogger addition to the MG Book Village blog, The STEM Tuesday Spin-Off. On a bi-monthly basis, 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, resources, and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders.

We’ll look at the things in life we often take for granted. We’ll 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 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.

For the inaugural post, we will take a closer look at something near and dear (and sometimes feared) by the average 8-14-year-old.

School Lunch!

The Hub: School lunch

Spoke 1: Nutrition & Menu Design

Contrary to popular belief, school lunch just doesn’t happen by accident nor is it a random offering of what foodstuffs are on hand. Believe it or not, even that turkey tetrazzini or the mystery meatloaf is part of school lunch by design. Over the past several decades, the spotlight on the importance of school lunch has garnered a bounty of attention. Heath, brain development, wellness, and food insecurity are now vital components of the one place in a school that is often taken for granted—the school cafeteria.

Performance nutrition

Spoke 2: Cafeteria Design & Engineering

The days of bland, boring, and institutional cafeterias and lunchrooms may be behind us. The cafeteria as a place to relax, unwind, refuel, and socialize is happening. And it’s pretty darn awesome. So awesome, I may have to re-enroll in elementary school to make up for all the brown bag bologna sandwiches I endured back in the day.

Spoke 3: Food Preparation Science/Food Disposal Science

Making good food is fun. Making good food for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of school kids safely is a challenge day after day after day. After all the food is prepared, served, and consumed, then something has to be done with all the waste, right?

Culinary Arts

Food Safety

I’m a microbiologist. I could probably bore you to tears with talk of Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7, Aeromonas hydrophila, and other food pathogens. Wait! You’re already crying tears of joy reading this post? (I guess I should shelf the microbial talk and get back to business before I get booted from the MG Book Village.) Food safety is important. Food touches so many people in so many positive ways but it can also affect people negatively by causing illness. Take the case of cook Mary Mallon and the spread of Salmonella typhi in 1907 as an example of the importance of safely serving food.

Food Disposal/Recycling

Spoke 4: Food Production

Where does all that food come from? So much in the life of everyone depends on safe, nutritious, and tasty food finding its way onto the tables in homes and in school cafeterias everywhere.

Production Resources

  • United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service: Food and beverage manufacturing
  • I could watch this Most Amazing Food Processing Machines video over and over.

Spoke 5: Seed Science and Genetics

The science of food has been with us as long as we’ve been hanging around on this planet. Producing better crops, livestock, fruits, and vegetables have led to some of the greatest scientific advances of humanity. Production improvements and protection are vital to our future food security. Farmers and researcher are now using high-tech methodologies, satellite imaging, advanced weather and soil sensors, genetic data, performance data to predict and refine agriculture.

Seed Science Resources

Spoke 6: Hunger & Taste

At the end of the day, when you talk about school lunch, you got to talk taste. Hungry kids love the food but truthfully, how many sixth graders have you seen be excited about a sticky scoop of overcooked white rice plopped into their bowl? Food that tastes good = happy kids. Happy, healthy kids = a better world.

Can we talk about food and leave out dessert? NO WAY!

  • Author Interview: CHOCOLATE: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg

 

After researching this post on school lunch, my TBR pile has ballooned to a record high level. Some of this information I’ve read, some I am looking forward to reading ASAP. Dear trusty, MG Book Village reader, can you add additional books, comments on the listed books, and/or resources to any of the STEM Tuesday Spin-Off School Lunch spokes? If so, please do! We need all the details we can get our inquisitive hands on.

Wrap-Up

The true power of STEM doesn’t reside in the formulas, pathways, measurements, lines of code, or the blueprints we often associated with science, technology, mathematics, and technology. STEM lives and breaths in observation with an eye toward understanding and innovation. STEM is a way of looking at the world around us.

As we can see by taking a closer look at something ordinary like school lunch, STEM is all around us every day! There are multiple STEM stories around virtually every, single thing we interact with during the course of our day. There are also STEM books and resources to help explain most of these STEM stories we encounter.

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

I want to read that story!

All this talk of school lunch has made me hungry. Now, where did I put that bologna sandwich?

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! STEM Tuesday is hosting a CoSTEM Contest to celebrate one whole year of STEM Tuesday blogs. The CoSTEM Contest is a mash-up of literacy and STEM costumes. So drag out your favorite books, take a good look at the theme, then create an amazing, one-of-a-kind, spectacular costume. Most important, there will be book prizes! Yes, book prizes! Check out the details HERE.

 

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 will be included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books release later this month. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 

Interview: Jennifer Swanson on STEM Tuesday

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Today we welcome Jennifer Swanson to the Village! Jennifer is an award-winning author of over 35 (!!!) nonfiction books, and also the creator of, and a regular contributor to, STEM Tuesday, a weekly feature hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Learn more about Jennifer and STEM Tuesday below, then head over to the site to catch up on old posts — and make sure you don’t miss future STEM awesomeness every Tuesday at From the Mixed-Up Files!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Welcome to the MG Book Village, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by to tell us about STEM Tuesday. Before we get started, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers who don’t already know you?

I’d be happy to, Jarrett.  I have loved science my whole life, which makes sense when you know that I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. I studied chemistry in college and have my masters degree in science education. When I decided to try my hand at writing, it only made sense that I start with something I know. Eight years later, I’m the author of over 35 books for kids–mostly about science, with a few history books thrown in, too.  What I hope to do with my STEM and STEAM books is to share my passion for the topics and get kids excited about all aspects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. That’s why I focus on exciting, interesting, and unique subjects. Helping to inspire a new bunch of future scientists and engineers is ultimately what all of us STEM writers hope to do.

STEM Tuesday is hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Can you tell us a bit about that site?

The Mixed-Up Files blog has been around for eight years. It was started by Elissa Cruz and is still going strong. We focus on all things middle grade: book topics, new release middle grade books, teacher tips, diverse books, and even writing tips for aspiring writers. With almost 30 published middle grade authors contributing, we aim to get the word out to teachers and librarians about fabulous middle grade books and also throw in some info about what’s going on in the publishing world with regard to middle grade books. As I said, all things middle grade.

Now, STEM Tuesday. What is it?

STEM Tuesday was an idea that I had for quite awhile.  You see, every time that I spoke about STEM middle grade books, teachers and librarians were asking me how they could find them. There is a lot of information about STEM picture books out there, but not a lot about middle grade ones. Then I read a post that librarian extraordinaire Betsy Bird wrote for her Fuse #8 blog. She talked about what would go into a great STEM blog that would be most helpful to teachers and librarians. I used her list as my blueprint for STEM Tuesday. Two years, and a lot of hard work and planning, and STEM Tuesday was born.

The official description is: STEM books ENGAGE. EXCITE. and INSPIRE! Join us each week as a group of dedicated STEM authors highlight FUN topics, interesting resources, and make real-life connections to STEM in ways that may surprise you. #STEMRocks!

Whose behind STEM Tuesday? Is there a team of contributors?

While I was the creator, I could not do any of this without my amazing team of contributors. I have gathered some of the top middle grade STEM authors in the business and asked them to help. They are: Nancy Castaldo, Heather Montgomery, Mary Kay Carson, Patricia Newman, Michelle Houts, Carolyn DeCristofano, and Mike Hays. We work together as a team to keep STEM Tuesday relevant and up-to-date with the newest books and activities. This team is really fantastic!

What are your goals for the weekly feature?

The goal of this blog is to highlight middle grade and YA STEM books. To help teachers not only find them, but learn how to use them in their classroom by providing actual activities for them to follow. We want to shine the light on the amazing and exciting STEM books that are being created for middle grade readers right now. They are truly amazing and unique and deserve attention!

What can readers expect from the posts?

We start with a monthly topic, say for example: space and exploration. The first Tuesday of the month is a list of middle grade STEM books about that topic.  We try to have a mix of new and old books, because sometimes it’s tough for teacher to get brand new books. The second week is called “In the Classroom,” which features actual activities that teachers can do with these books in their ELA classrooms. Yes, STEM books CAN and DO work in an ELA class! The third week is called “Writing Craft & Resources.” It’s sort of a mash-up of techniques that STEM authors use to write their books, STEM topics in the news, and also an Out of Left Field section. You never know what will end up there, but be sure it’s some unique bit of information about STEM. The last week includes an interview with a middle grade STEM author and a free giveaway of one copy of their book.

Why is it important for young readers to have books about STEM?

Love of science starts at an early age. Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best: “Every kid is a born scientist.” YES! Kids are curious and want to know how things work. By giving them a STEM book, you will extend that curiosity, feed it with fun facts, and allow it to grow into a passion for all things STEM in the future. A STEM book invites readers to open their minds to the world around them, encourages them to embrace diversity of thought and culture, and allows them to figure out how they can help take care of our home, the Earth.

There has been a profusion of wonderful and exciting non-fiction MG books coming out in recent years, and it seems like more and more authors are using their talents to tell true stories. What do you attribute this to? What can non-fiction offer readers that fiction can’t? 

Nonfiction offers FACTS. And while that may seem boring, understanding facts is anything but that. One of the most popular TV shows is Jeopardy, which is all about trivia–fun facts. One of the best-selling kids books of all time is still the Guinness Book of World Records–also facts. I do love fiction and it definitely has its place, but nonfiction, for me, allows me to explore the possibilities of real-world things. It helps those kids who have a burning desire to know how things work and how they are made, and how they interact, to get the answers they need. It encourages deep-thinking, collaboration, and inclusion of many different backgrounds, but most of all, ACTION. That is how scientists and engineers learn–by doing things. And that is one thing that this world needs right now.

Before you go, can you share a few past STEM Tuesday posts so readers can get a taste?

I would be happy to. I’m including the link here, but you can find STEM Tuesday at

https://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/stem-tuesday/

A great place to start is a Highlights of STEM Tuesday blog that I just wrote. It sums up all of the topics that we’ve covered so far and shows the book of the month:

https://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2018/05/stem-tuesday-highlights/

This month’s topic is Shining the Light on Technology, Engineering, and Math. You can find the book list here:

https://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2018/06/stem-tuesday-shining-light-engineering-math-technology-book-list/

We invite everyone to stop by STEM Tuesday and check it out. We’d love to hear from you, too. If you have suggestions for topics or comments or even kudos to pass on, just email us at stemmuf@gmail.com.

Awesome! Thanks again for stopping by, Jennifer!

Thanks so much for having me, Jarrett!  Go STEM/STEAM books!

Jen Author Photo-2017.jpgScience Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017 and an NSTA Outstanding Trade Book 2017. Jennifer’s book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner Books) received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. She has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, and also the World Science Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.