Creating Children’s Science Books: A Lesson in Teamwork, Part Two

Handle With Care coverIn part one of this series (Creating Children’s Science Books: A Lesson in Teamwork), I wrote about the ways photographer Ellen Harasimowicz and I have worked together to create our most recent books, Handle with Care and Beetle Busters, both of which were selected as Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council. In this post, I’d like to share some insights into the ways other author-illustrator teams work together.

cover of the book Buried SunligthI found some great inspiration at George Aranda’s Science Book a Day blog. He’s recently interviewed author Liz Rusch and photographer Tom Uhlman about their creative process for the book Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives and also author Penny Chisholm and artist Molly Bang about their Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth. These interviews reiterate some of what I’ve already told you: creating quality science books for kids involves a lot of teamwork between authors and illustrators, whether those illustrators are artists or photographers. But something else stands out in these interviews, too: at the core of this teamwork, at least for books about the real world and how it works, is a focus on complete scientific accuracy.

For a little more insight into how teamwork and accuracy can guide the creation of a children’s science book, I spoke with author Kate Messner and illustrator Christopher Silas Neal, who collaborated on the 2012 OSTB title Over and Under the Snow. Their picture book, narrated by a fictional child cross-country skiing through the woods with her father, is not a work of nonfiction. Even still, says Kate, “We wanted to make sure the information young readers took from the story was accurate and true to the nature they might see in the woods.” Continue reading …

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Tinkering in preschool-grade 2

A cup of tea with a metal drink-coolerMy father called himself a tinker because as an engineer who was a metallurgist and a ceramicist he often applied new uses to the metals he worked with. A bar of aluminum became a tool for cooling coffee just the right amount and slices of copper piping were hammered into rings for his daughters. His habit of saving scraps of wood, leather, wire, and old bicycle tires meant there were always materials when we needed them to make a large rubber band, patch a leak in bucket, make a wire armature form for a clay sculpture or practice wood carving. 

I’ve just signed up for a massive online open course (MOOC) offered by the Exploratorium through Coursera, called “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning.”

Screen shot of the Tinkering Studio webpageHere’s a bit of the course description: “Working with learning scientists, we have identified a set of design principles and indicators of learning that can help you to integrate tinkering activities into your elementary and middle school science programs. This course will focus on key design elements of high quality science-rich tinkering activities, facilitation strategies, and environmental organization. Selected tinkering activities will be centered around circuits for this course. We will review the ways in which tinkering supports science learning through providing opportunities to deepen engagement, intentionality, innovation, collaboration, and understanding.”

I’m not planning on introducing circuits in my preschool teaching where tinkering usually happens when a child begins creating with classroom materials such as sticks, boxes, tape and paper, and more tape. The course focuses on elementary and middle school programs and I hope to learn how tinkering fits into science education (and vice versa), strategies that can improve my teaching, and have fun. 

Calder's Circus at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art

Calder’s Circus at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art

Pages on Pinterest, including early childhood educator Jenny Kabel’s “ECE Tinkering,” share views of tinkering. Some tinkering posts remind me of images of Alexander Calder’s workshop. His beloved Cirque Calder was one result of his vision and tinkering. Is his work too complicated to inspire preschoolers?  Watch the Whitney Museum of Modern Art’s video, “Conserving Calder’s Circus” for close-ups of his work in action.

What does “tinkering” mean in your early childhood setting? Museum educators share thoughtful responses to the question, “Do you think the current surge of making and tinkering spaces in science centers and museums is a temporary fad, or are they here to stay?” posed by The Association of Science-Technology Centers in their newsletter and a blog post. How can documenting and discussion help children learn science concepts through open-ended and child-led tinkering? What are shared tinkering and science education goals in your teaching? How does the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement on Early Childhood Education inform the tinkering in your program?

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International Day Coming to #NSTA15 in Chicago: March 11, 2015

Image showing a globe with butterflies and text saying "Could sharing our insights on teaching and learning cause a storm of discovery across the globe?"It is often said that “the wings of a butterfly can cause a storm on the other side of the world.” (That’s actually a simplistic description of Edward Lorenz’s chaos theory, but it is often used as an analogy for small actions that can have far-reaching effects.) Could a small child watching a butterfly have the same effect? Could sharing our insights on teaching and learning cause a storm of discovery across the globe?

In my last blog post (NSTA and ASE: creating pathways to better international cooperation in science education), I affirmed that “the world is flat.” I was not on a time trip to the Middle Ages, but my sense is that many pathways to greater international cooperation in science education might be easy to access. We know that children all over the world are eager to explore the natural world, and their teachers are ready to guide them. Differences in culture and language—which we must acknowledge—add richness to our international conversations and the potential for cooperation.

Global Conversations in the Windy City

Many of these paths toward stronger international partnerships will cross at the heart of our nation next month as thousands of science educators meet in Chicago for NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education, taking place March 12–15. For the tenth year, our International Committee has organized a special day of tours and discussion forums to support stronger links among educators across the globe. Events to support international collaboration are scheduled for Wednesday, March 11. Guests from around the world will join U.S. science educators to discuss issues that have piqued the interest of science educators in the past year. The Global Conversations in Science Education Conference will begin with a discussion of 10th Anniversary Milestones by Frank Owens and the impact of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Continue reading …

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Science and literacy

Every teacher is a literacy teacher. Each discipline, including science, has a language and strategies for communicating both verbal and nonverbal information. As the TST journal editor notes: “…it turns out that reading and writing comprise over half of the work of practicing scientists and engineers.” Reflecting this reality, Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information is one of the Scientific and Engineering Practices in the NGSS. The two secondary journals this month focus on communication and literacy in science, while the elementary journal has ideas for studying (and communicating about) energy and matter.

Science Scope: Science and Language Arts

This month’s Guest Editorial Our Science Story: When inquiry meets the Common Core describes how a middle school uses science journaling as a means of integrating science and literacy. Using Disciplinary Literacy Strategies to Enhance Student Learning illustrates strategies such as concept maps and summarization. Science Haiku Art provides examples of a non-traditional way for students to communicate their learning. And if vocabulary is a challenge for students, take a look at Tried and True: The many faces of word walls in middle school science classrooms.

Here are some additional SciLinks that provide content information and suggestions for additional activities and investigations related to this month’s featured articles:

Continue reading …

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Meet Me In the Middle Day: Coming to #NSTA15 Chicago, March 13, 2015

colored pencils showing featured sessions at Meet Me in the Middle DayCalling all middle school teachers! If you’ll be attending the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, then please join me at the Meet Me in the Middle Day on Friday, March 13 from 10:00 am-4:00 p.m. This “conference within a conference” is brought to you by the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association and the NSTA Committee on Middle Level Science Teaching who have partnered up to bring you a day full of fun and learning.

Those of us who teach in the middle know that it is education’s best kept secret–it’s hard not to have fun when surrounded by energetic kids who are starting to be able to grasp abstract concepts. We also know how challenging it can be at times to find lesson that are perfectly aligned to the age level we teach. Meet Me in the Middle Day (MMITM Day) will feature a dozen sessions geared towards meeting the middle school science teacher’s unique needs. This Who’s Who in Science Education will feature Page Keeley, Christine Royce, Ken Roy, Michael Bowen, Dick Moyer, and many more. You’ll also have an opportunity to learn how to make foldables from Dinah Zike’s organization and learn about engineering practices in middle school chemistry from the American Chemistry Society. We’ve carefully selected some fabulous presentations for you, including:

  • Formative Assessment
  • Merging Literacy and Science
  • Science Safety
  • Data Literacy
  • Building Better Partnerships with Your Administrator
  • Foldables
  • Everyday Engineering
  • Engineering Practices
  • Science on a Shoestring
  • NGSS and You
  • NSTA Learning Center

Be sure to also check out the Round Table discussions that will run from 10:15-10:45 a.m. and 11:00-11:30 a.m. Round Table discussions offer you a chance to sit down and interact with table leaders on a variety of topics.

We’ll end the day with a bang as nearly 100 presenters eagerly to share their ideas during the Middle Level Share-a-Thon from 2:00-4:00 p.m. in Vista S406a. We’ll have lots of yummy treats and dozens of door prizes that include a microscope, educational software, NSTA books, NSTA memberships, and an iPad. Author Nicolas Nicastro (author of Circumference) will also be on hand for the event.

This day-long celebration of middle school science is brought to you with generous support from Carolina Biological, It’s About Time, Lab-Aids, and PASCO.

For additional details about the event, please go to Be sure to plan on attending from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, March 13 in McCormick Place (Convention Center) at Vista S406a. I look forward to seeing you there!

Patty McGinnis (; NSTA Middle Level Science Teaching Division Director

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Answers and questions

11093465225_95df3e80fa_mMy middle school students have lots of questions in class, which is not a problem. But I’m torn between trying to provide the answers (sometimes I feel like a live version of Wikipedia with lots of empty entries) and telling them to figure it out for themselves (which discourages some students). Do you have some suggestions for helping students to learn to think and find information for themselves?   —K., Ohio

Teachers need to walk a fine line between helping students and enabling them. Part of the art of teaching is knowing when to provide a straightforward answer and when and how to encourage students to think and explore on their own.

Some students become dependent on teachers, especially during an investigation or unfamiliar task, constantly asking procedural questions for verification: “Is this correct?” “Is it OK if I…?” If what they’re asking about could lead to a dangerous situation, a straightforward answer is best: “I will show you the correct way to…” or “Yes, you must wear eye protection.”

After you’ve gone over directions for an activity, it’s frustrating when students raise their hands and ask, “What are we supposed to do?” If you repeat the directions, they learn they don’t have to pay attention. If you say, “I already told you. Figure it out,” students may assume other kinds of questions will get the same response, or they may do something potentially dangerous on their own . Model how to review the printed directions, ask a partner, or refer to the rubric and encourage them to do so.

Continue reading …

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Challenging Perceptions in the STEM Classroom

graphic saying Challenging PerceptionsAs a female STEM graduate myself (geology), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to encourage more women and minorities to get involved with STEM classes and potential careers. I was fortunate that my first job out of college was at the American Geosciences Institute, editing their database of journal articles from around the world. I have never had to deal with gender bias in my career, unlike many female scientists.

There are a number of factors in the under representation of women and minorities in STEM fields, and the reasons pile up long before people start STEM careers. In elementary schools, teachers may have unconscious biases that they transfer to their students. These biases can result in young girls’ feelings that science and math careers aren’t for them. These same kinds of unconscious biases can be stacked against people of color. Often, these unconscious biases are reinforced by teachers’ own feelings of anxiety with respect to science and math. One study found that undergraduate elementary education majors have high levels of math anxiety that they may transfer to students.

Dislodging Unproductive Beliefs

By the time students get to your middle and high school classrooms, you’re inheriting a number of unproductive beliefs that they may hold. Your female students have been exposed to the message that girls aren’t interested in STEM. Your minority students have heard similar messages. There is increasing evidence that these messages are just plain wrong. For example, a longitudinal study has found that globally, girls outperform boys in reading, math, and science. It’s important to try to change these beliefs, because the participation of all people is needed to come up with innovative solutions to pressing challenges. Continue reading …

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First-Timer Tips for #NSTA15 Chicago

Program PreviewAre you attending the 2015 NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Chicago March 12–15? At this point, you should be registering, making arrangements for lodging and transportation, and thinking about your lesson plans for the substitute (if you haven’t done so already).

If this is the first time you’ve attended the national conference, it can be overwhelming at first. Here are some suggestions to consider before you go, updated from last year:

  • Consider attending the first–timers session on the first day. This year, Bill Badders is hosting the session Is This Your First NSTA Conference? on Thursday, March 12, 8:00–9:00 AM in the McCormick Place W183a/b. It’s worth the time—you’ll meet people to share the conference with, and there will be great door prizes.
  • NSTA Past President Bill Badders at a first-timers sessionAdd the NSTA Conference page to your bookmarks or favorites. Be sure to check out the Conference Newcomer’s information.
  • Decide what you’d like to focus on at the conference: What information do you need about the Next Generation Science Standards? What content, practices, or crosscutting concepts do you want to know more about? What topics do your students struggle with? Are you looking for new digital resources, textbooks, or equipment? Get suggestions from your colleagues, too. Ask your students what you should learn more about (related to science, of course!).
  • Then go to the conference website and use the Session Browser/Scheduler to look at the session descriptions. You can print out a personal schedule or add the session information to your smartphone calendar (mine is getting full already). Pick a few sessions for each timeslot, in case the rooms are full. There are several conference venues (the conference center and several hotels), so allow travel time between sessions. 
  • Image showing the conference appAfter March 5, download the NSTA conference app to your smartphone or tablet. Search sessions to build a schedule that integrates with your calendar; access maps of the convention center, hotels, and exhibit hall, share the play–by–play with social media, complete session evaluations, and more.
  • Preview the Conference Transcript section on the conference site to access online session evaluations and tools to track your professional development.  This is a great way to show your administrators which sessions you attended—my principal was always impressed that I was at sessions all day into the late afternoon and on Saturday and Sunday!

What to Take?

  • conference packing checklist infographicAn empty bag—preferably one with wheels—if you know you can’t resist picking up any brochures, handouts, and session materials you encounter (resistance can be futile), although many presenters and vendors are now posting their handouts online.
  • Address labels are handy for sign–up sheets and marking your program and other materials.
  • If you don’t have any business cards, get some or make your own. Be sure to include your e–mail address, twitter name, and what and where you teach. These are great to hand out when you’re networking with other teachers, presenters, and exhibitors.
  • A camera is handy to take pictures of equipment, displays, speakers, and new friends.
  • Have an envelope or other system for keeping receipts and other documents. Expenses not reimbursed by your school might be tax deductible (check with your accountant).
  • Chargers and adapters for your electronic devices.
  • Above all, take comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for the Chicago weather!

Continue reading …

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Take 10% off all #NSTA Kids Books thru 2/23/15

NSTA Kids books are all on sale through February 23, 2015! Take 10% off the items below when you use promo code GIVEBK when you purchase these in the NSTA Science Store.

Next Time You See a SeashellNext Time You See a Seashell
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
Bonuses for this book are available, including O-W-L chart + seashell anticipation guide

Next Time You See a SunsetNext Time You See a Sunset
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
* A 2014 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12
* 2014 Winner of the REVERE Award from PreK-12 Learning Group, Association of American Publishers

next time you see a firefly book coverNext Time You See a Firefly
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
READ a free sample chapter for this book: Firefly sample chapter

Next time you see a pill bug book coverNext Time You See a Pill Bug
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
“Especially designed to be experienced with an adult—be it a parent, teacher, or friend.”

Next Time You See the Moon book coverNext Time You See the Moon
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
WATCH: Fans of this book will also love this Moon Phases Demonstration on YouTube, produced by author Emily Miller.

Next Time You See a Maple Seed book coverNext Time You See a Maple Seed
(soft cover, e-book, mixed-media set, and library editions all included in the sale)
READ a sample chapter: Next Time You See a Maple Seed sample

image showing Next Time You See BooksSet of all six Next Time You See books paperbacks or library editions
WATCH the Next Time You See – NSTA Book Trailer on YouTube for these books and let author Emily Miller tell you how to wake up children’s natural sense of wonder!

What Can an Animal Do?What Does an Animal Eat?
(e-book and mixed-media set included in the sale)
Read a sample chapter: What Does an Animal Eat?

How Tall Was Milton? book coverHow Tall Was Milton?
(e-book and mixed-media set included in the sale)
Read a sample chapter: Milton the Giant: I Wonder Why Continue reading …

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Effective partnerships

4610711363_ef368a1309_qMy school has been approached by a university to form a partnership to apply for grants for elementary science and math. What factors should we consider regarding this offer?  —L., California

This could be a great opportunity to supplement or enhance the professional development, materials, programs, or technology in your school, especially if you have a tight budget. Before you agree, representatives from your school (including teachers and administrators) should meet with the university staff to ask questions, share ideas, and develop a project that will benefit all of the stakeholders (especially the students). I’ve been involved with several K-16 projects that had various interpretations of the word “partnership,” so from the beginning it’s essential to collaborate on a shared definition of terms and agreed-upon expectations for responsibilities and outcomes.

For example, in one very traditional project, the teachers attended workshops or courses conducted by the university during the school year. Teachers updated their content knowledge and became more familiar with technology and lab equipment. If you participate in this type of partnership, it is important to describe and assess not only what the teachers will learn, but also how this new knowledge will influence their classroom instruction.

In another project, university professors worked with teachers in hands-on activities over the summer on special topics aligned with the state science standards. During the school year, the professors visited the schools to interact with the K-6 students. Spending time in an elementary school was a new experience for them. They learned what challenges the teachers faced, including the variety of students (and size of the classes), the obligation to address state science standards, the type of equipment available in the schools, and the emphasis on testing in reading and mathematics. But they enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the students and were impressed by their questions and interest. The students had the opportunity to meet and work with real scientists. The disadvantage of this type of project is a “special event” atmosphere can occur. For any lasting impact, this should be an ongoing collaboration between the teacher and the professor, not just a few gee-whiz demonstrations by the professor while the teacher watches from the sidelines.

Continue reading …

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