Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

For the next two weeks, I'll be taking a break from Celebrate Science to cook and clean and celebrate the season. I'll be back on January 6, 2014. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

A housefly will eat almost anything. If the food is liquid, the fly just sucks it up. But if it’s solid, things get a bit more complicated. After all, a fly doesn’t have teeth.

The fly ejects a mix of saliva and digestive juices from its stomach. The vomit breaks down food from the outside in. Then the fly mops up the meal with its sponge-like mouthparts. That’s something to think about the next time you see a fly on your food.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Behind the Books: The Perfect Ending

Since next week is Christmas, this is my last Wednesday post of the year. So it seems like the perfect time to talk about endings.

Endings are hard for me.

When I was in journalism school, we were taught to frontload our articles because in the world of newspapers, it’s very common for editors to lob off the last few paragraphs of a story at the last minute. In other words, there was no reason to spend tons of time trying to tie everything up with a pretty little bow. Snip. Snip.

But books are an entirely different beast. Authors don’t have all the space in the world, but if length is an issue, cuts will probably happen in the middle of the piece, not at the end. Editors demand that we craft a satisfying, if not neat, ending.

So I’ve had to adapt.
 
Sometimes, I get lucky. I manage to get it right in the very first draft and it stays the same throughout the revision process, at least in spirit if not in actual word choice.  

But if that doesn’t happen, finding just the right ending usually turns into a long, tortuous process. I flounder around for weeks, months, occasionally even years. And more often than not it is the sage advice of my editor or someone in my critique group that sets me in the right direction.

Why are endings so hard? I have no idea, but I remain hopeful that one day something will suddenly click in my mind and I’ll have a moment of clarity in which I suddenly understand how to craft the perfect ending.
 
You never know. It happened with Sudoku.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS1-1, Part 5

1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. [Clarification Statement: Examples of human problems that can be solved by mimicking plant or animal solutions could include designing clothing or equipment to protect bicyclists by mimicking turtle shells, acorn shells, and animal scales; stabilizing structures by mimicking animal tails and roots on plants; keeping out intruders by mimicking thorns on branches and animal quills; and, detecting intruders by mimicking eyes and ears.]

We’ve looked at this PE in a whole bunch of different ways over the last few weeks, but the trickiest part of all is the engineering component. Some of you say, “Why are second graders supposed to look at this content through an engineering lens?” It’s a god question, and I don’t have a good answer. If I were writing standards, I wouldn’t have done this, but when given lemons . . .

Here are a few books that really can help you make lemonade, so to speak:

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty

Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff

Baby Brains and RoboMom by Simon James +

How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by  Rosalyn Schanzer

Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Flemming

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Baretta

Mining the Book
After reading Winter's Tail, work with r class to create a table that focuses on the problems the team faced while designing and building the prosthesis and how they dealt with each challenge. The table might look something like this:
 
Problem  
Solution
No tail joint for attaching the prosthesis
Made a mold of her tail stub and created a sleeve that fits her body perfectly
Worried about irritating Winter’s skin
Developed special silicone gel that made prosthesis comfortable
The prosthesis must mimic real tail movements
After several tries, developed a design with two sleeves
Winter might not like wearing the prosthesis
Trainers worked with Winter

Then ask the following questions:
·   How did the people in this book solve Winter’s problem? (They designed a prosthetic tail and trained Winter to use it.)

·   How did Winter’s prosthetic tail mimic, or work in the same way as, a real dolphin tail? (It powered Winter through the water by moving up and down.)

Turn to the backmatter section entitled “Kevin Carroll and Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics.” After paraphrasing the information in this section in student-friendly language, ask the following questions:
·   Was Kevin the only person from Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics involved in solving Winter’s problem?

·   What do you think are the advantages of working as part of a team?

Now write the following steps on a chart paper and let your class know that they represent the steps scientists and engineers usually follow when designing and building something new:
1. Identify a Problem
2. Identify Challenges
3. Share Ideas
4. Design
5. Build
6. Test
Compare the steps to the process described in Winter’s Tail. How are they similar? How are they different?

Activity
Divide the students into five design teams and assign each team one of the following design tasks:
  • You need to water a vegetable garden, but the garden hose is full of holes and you can’t get to the store to buy a new hose.
  • You need to clean up a wad of gum stuck to the ceiling before your mom gets home.
  • You need to get a bouncy ball trapped under a dresser. 
  • You need to clean up a spill, but you don’t have paper towels or a sponge.
  • You need to find your way around a dark place without a flashlight, candles, or anything else that produced light.

Let students know that to solve their assigned problem, they will design a gadget that mimics, or works in the same way as, one of the plant or animal body parts in the data table below.

Plant/Animal Part and Use Data Table


Plant/Animal Part

How It Is Used

Tree trunk


Carries water from the tree’s roots to its leaves

Tree roots

Soaks up water

Mole nose

Has sensors that help a mole avoid getting lost in underground tunnels

Anteater tongue

Sticks way out to catch food

Gecko feet

Can walk up walls and across ceilings, so a gecko can find food and escape from enemies

 Ask students to review the six-step design process one more time. Explain that since they now know the problem (Step 1) and the challenge (Step 2), each team should brainstorm to share ideas on small, handheld whiteboards (Step 3) as they develop a design. Encourage the children to use their imaginations for this activity. Let them know that that even though the people in Winter’s Tail built and tested their designs, the class’s final step will be to draw a visual model (picture) of their group’s design (Step 4).

When the students have finished the activity, invite the groups take turns sharing their visual models with the class. As the children present, encourage them to explain their designs and how they mimic the actions of their assigned plant or animal body parts.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: Why do bacteria like fourth grade math?
A: They love to spend their time dividing.

Q: Why was it hard to weigh ancient fish?
A: They didn’t have scales.

Q: What did Earth say to the Sun 450 million years ago?
A: You’re the light of my life!

Q: What did the prehistoric spider say to the ancient dragonfly?
A: Don’t bug me.

Q: What happened when Compsognathus tripped on a branch?
A: It got a dino sore.

Looking for more super silly jokes from long, long ago? Check out Dino-mite Jokes about Prehistoric Life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Behind the Books: 10 Ways Authors Can Help Educators

Common Core is in the news almost daily. A lot of people don’t like the new standards, or at least the standardized testing that comes along with them. But the fact is that CCSS has been adopted by most of America, so teachers have to address the new standards regardless of the political frenzy swirling all around them.

So the best thing we can do as authors of nonfiction as well as fiction is help them. With that goal in mind, I thought I’d share some general strategies for authors who would like to guide educators in using their books to meet the Common Core standards.

1. Write discussion questions that help students identify a book’s main idea and key details.
Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple
 
2. Develop a teacher’s guide with activities that help students build vocabulary; understand connections and relationships between key ideas, events or individuals in a book; and examine a book’s structure.
David LaRochelle
 
3. Offer writers’ workshops that focus on such topics as structure, voice, and word choice.
Barbara O'Connor
 
4. Write blog posts that describe your intentions or writing process for a specific book.
Jo Knowles

 
5. Write blog posts, create videos, or develop school visits that deconstruct specific aspects of your writing .
    Jeannine Atkins
6. If you write picture books or photo-illustrated books, write blog posts, create videos, or develop school visits or classroom materials that highlight the connection between pictures and words in your books.
    Steve Jenkins
7. Speak at local and national conferences for teachers and librarians about specific aspects of writing craft.
8. Develop worksheets and visual aids that educators can use to teach specific aspects of writing craft.
9. Create lists of fiction and nonfiction titles that have a connection to your book, so students can compare the texts.
10. Provide links to related media on your website, so students can compare them to your book.
Loree Griffin Burns
 
Do you have other ideas about how authors can help educators address the goals of Common Core? I’d love to hear them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS1-1, Part 4

1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. [Clarification Statement: Examples of human problems that can be solved by mimicking plant or animal solutions could include designing clothing or equipment to protect bicyclists by mimicking turtle shells, acorn shells, and animal scales; stabilizing structures by mimicking animal tails and roots on plants; keeping out intruders by mimicking thorns on branches and animal quills; and, detecting intruders by mimicking eyes and ears.]

So far, we’ve looked at three ways of addressing the animal portion of this PE, but don’t forget the plants. There aren’t as many great plant books out there as I’d like, but here are some suggestions for a lesson that focuses on how a plant’s parts help it live, grow, and make more plants.

Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole
 
Plant Secrets by Emily Goodman
 
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Activity 1
Invite your students to create visual acrostic poems that describe how a plant’s parts help it survive. Here’s an example:

P [picture of a pea flower]

L  [picture of leaf collecting sunlight]

A  [picture of an apple cut in half to show seeds]

N  [picture of nut]

T  [picture of water moving up the trunk of a tall tree]

When the students are done, you can post their poems on a bulletin board.

Activity 2
Use Google Images to find an illustration of a plant that has lovely flowers and an extensive root system. Divide the class into two groups. Group A will pretend to be the plant’s flowers. Group B will pretend to be the roots. Encourage Group A to act as though they are proud of being so beautiful. Ask them what they think of the roots? Are they as lovely or important? Invite Group B to try to convince the flowers that a plant’s roots are just as important as its flowers. As the groups converse with one another, encourage them to back up their statements with evidence from the books they read. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

At mating time, a female fieldfare builds a neat nest near the top of a tree. After laying her eggs, she works hard to protect her home. Know what happens if an enemy gets too close? BOMBS AWAY! The devoted mama poops on the predator.

After the chicks are born, their dad gets in on the action. He and his mate take turns feeding the little ones and showering scat on enemies.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Behind the Books: Conceptual Scaffolding

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that, I think of the cumulative text in my picture book No Monkeys, No Chocolate as a book-long example of conceptual scaffolding. This was a new term for a lot of readers, so I thought I’d look at the idea of conceptual scaffolding in more detail.

Conceptual scaffolding is an extended passage that explains a complex idea or process by meeting readers where they are and then leading them down a path to understanding. In addition to providing pertinent background information, it may involve dispelling preexisting misconceptions.

 When employing this technique, it can be really helpful to begin with a universal experience. From there, authors can provide readers with the building blocks they will need to slowly assemble a clear, logical explanation in their own minds.

Here are some recent books that make excellent use of conceptual scaffolding to explain very difficult scientific ideas in ways that young readers can really understand:

A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Island by Jason Chin

Zombie Makers by Rebecca L. Johnson

Can you think of others? I’m searching for more.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS1-1, Part 3


1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. [Clarification Statement: Examples of human problems that can be solved by mimicking plant or animal solutions could include designing clothing or equipment to protect bicyclists by mimicking turtle shells, acorn shells, and animal scales; stabilizing structures by mimicking animal tails and roots on plants; keeping out intruders by mimicking thorns on branches and animal quills; and, detecting intruders by mimicking eyes and ears.]

We’re still working our way through PE 1-LS1-1. Here are some books and activity ideas for addressing how animals protect themselves from predators.

What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott
Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins
Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter
Where in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy

Activity 1
Invite students to choose one of the animals described in What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? and act out its defense strategy. Can other members of the class guess which animal the child is pretending to be?

Activity 2
Create a bulletin board with the title: How Do Animals Protect Themselves from Predators? Provide art materials and time for each student to create a representation of how one of the animals they’ve learned about protects itself from being eaten.