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: Recess Edition

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Today we continue the  STEM Tuesday Spin-Off guest blogger addition to the MG Book Village blog. As you will recall, 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  STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources contributor, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

For this second post, we will take a closer look at something that hopefully every middle grader gets to experience once a day and why it’s important:

Recess!

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The Hub: Recess

Spoke #1:  Get Outside/See the World

School is a great place to learn all kinds of interesting things about STEM. Topics might include how earthquakes occur and how mountains are made (plate tectonics), information about the newest Mars Lander, and even a peek into the world of nanotechnology. But sometimes the best type of learning for STEM is hands on. Recess is a great way to experience science up close and personal.

Take a look at the ecosystem around your school. How would you classify it? Is it a forest? A grassland? A swamp?

Here is a great resource to check what you find:

Type of Environmental Ecosystems by Sciencing.com

Check out this book for information, too.

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The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth by Rachel Ignotofsky

To get more info about the science outside that is all around you (and above you), maybe try one of these books:

Spoke #2: Being Healthy

Being active means being healthy. Moving about and exercising is a great way to stay active. Recess is the perfect time to run, jump rope, do cartwheels, or just walk around. When we exercise, our heart rates increase and blood pumps just a little faster throughout our body, giving us energy and increasing our lung power. Movement allows your muscles to stretch and bend, keeping them toned and fit. Exercise creates lots of chemical interactions within your body, which of course, is part of life science.

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Website resource:  The Many Benefits of Exercise on KidsHealth.org

Other books that might inform/inspire you to exercise:

 

Spoke #3: Sports and Games

Let’s face it, recess is all about the games! Whether you play soccer, volleyball, or even tag, you are moving about and having fun.  Studies show that many kids love playing sports. Sports teach us a lot about how to interact with others. It helps with coordination and fitness, and sports are just plain fun. What is your favorite sport to play?

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Website resource: Sports Illustration Kids

Sports books that will fascinate you with fun facts and cool kid athletes

 

 

Spoke #4: Olympics

If you want to take the sports topic even further, take a look at one of the ultimate worldwide sporting competitions: The Olympics! These athletes spend their entire days training for their specific event. It might be running, skiing, sledding, or even table tennis. Working hard to meet and athletic goal is a great quality. And you’d be surprised how much science goes into all that training (or maybe not. After all, you probably understand by now that science is ALL around you!)

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Here’s a great resource for those interested in the science behind the Olympics

Science of the Olympic Winter Games by NBC Learn

Check out these books for more about the science and the people behind the Olympics:

Spoke #5: Helps You Relax

Even if you can’t get outside for recess, because of the weather, it’s still good to take a break during the day. I find myself writing for hours at the computer. Then when I get up, it’s hard to move because my muscles have been still for so long. Moving about, even if you aren’t running or jumping, is still a good thing. But recess, is not just good for your muscles, it’s also good for your brain to take a break. Maybe you just stretch in place. Or perhaps you do some yoga poses. Give it a try.  Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take a deep breath and let it out. Do you feel yourself relaxing? You should.

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Website resource: Science Shows the Meditation Helps Children’s Brains and Behaviors 

Spoke #6:  Physics/Forces and Motion

Movement at recess is related to one of the most basic ideas in the universe: physics. Physics, specifically forces and motion, comes into play every time we move. Remember Newton’s Laws? Those three statements that tell you how every object behaves? They totally apply to recess. You get on the swing and start moving your legs back and forth. That causes your body to go forward and backwards. Yep. That’s Newton’s Law #3, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Why do you keep swinging when you stop moving your legs? Newton’s First Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.  I told you, science, is EVERYWHERE.

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Website Resource: A whole host of blog pages on how Forces and Motion work by Physics4Kids.com 

A fun look at physics and how it affects us:

Wrap-Up

As we can see by taking a closer look at an everyday event like recess, STEM is ALL around us. Next time you go outside, walk down the hallway, or just sit in your classroom take a look at your surroundings. I bet you will find TONS of science, technology, engineering and math in your sight. You are even sitting on an object created by STEM right now (hint: your chair!)

So Be Curious.. and observe… and you will see that STEM is EVERYWHERE! Don’t forget to check out STEM Tuesday for more great STEM book and activities ideas!

Jen Author Photo-2017 Jennifer Swanson is the creator and administrator of STEM Tuesday blog. She is also the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for kids. When not writing, she spends her day at the beach, chasing her dog in the waves and looking for science amidst the sand. You find more information about Jennifer and her books on her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com