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stem books for children, reviews, and resources
A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman
Recently I have been working with a remarkable team of Kindergarten teachers. They take a great deal of time to design carefully the experiences that will make learning across the curriculum accessible to all their students. Among the many problems of practice they strive to address is how to harmonize productive discussion with collaboration in order to encourage all voices, value all ideas, take problem-solving a little deeper, instill reflection and inspire creativity. To illustrate, they just finished an engineering unit about Building Shelters that they chose to bookend with two full Paideia Seminars. This instructional avenue affords students many opportunities to fine tune skills such as listening, speaking, asking questions, exchanging ideas, considering others’ ideas, and building on not just their thinking but also their peers.
Bringing the unit to a close, the Kindergartens used A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman as the focal text for a Paideia Seminar. This text has a delightful rhythm, almost the lilt of a song. Betty Fraser’s illustrations accompany the verse is a manner that is captivating. Many of the pages are a tangle of objects and animals that seem to tumble off the page. This seminar was the perfect culminating event for Building Shelters. The text thoroughly explores what a shelter actually is, calling on the reader to question whether a barrel really is a “house” for a pickle or a bottle a “house” for jam. These notions about inanimate objects having a homes are juxtaposed with understandings about homes for animals and people. For K-2 there are many opportunities with this text to leverage all students’ background knowledge acquired both through the shared experience of engineering a shelter and those attained from personal experiences and interests of each student.
To celebrate the completion of the engineering unit, which navigated students through the entire engineering design process – ask, imagine, plan, create, improve – students had a gallery walk of the shelters they built. Accompanying their shelter models was the writing that students produced as a synthesis to the Paideia Seminar on the book. Their writing reflects not only what students took away from their close reading and thoughtful discussion of A House is a House for Me, but also what they understood about shelters as a function of building a model through the engineering design process.
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
A “we” culture in the elementary classroom is the cornerstone of a thriving collaborative learning community. Collaborating and cooperating are skills that are learned through modeling and repeated opportunities to practice. A House in the Woods by Inga Moore offers the science and engineering elementary teacher a rich text to begin to establish and reinforce 21st Century skills so critical to our students’ future success.
The beginning of the story riffs on the classic three little pigs. Inga Moore introduces two pigs, each very happy with their shelters, until they find that a large animal moves in while piggy is out, causing the tiny home to collapse. Drawing on ingenuity, problem solving, and collaboration woodland animals come together to create a housing solution. Charmingly, Ms. Moore has dedicated this book to beavers, “the best builders in the world…”
Beautifully illustrated, this book shows how community efforts, hard work and perseverance can manifest desired results. As engineering and science teachers we can appreciate the relevance of communication, critical thinking, brainstorming and idea generation to problem solving. This book lends itself to units on shelters, recycling and reuse, community jobs, and even fairy tales. A House in the Woods gives students insight into how roles within a collaborative group can help facilitate progress on a project. The strength of a “we” culture to think critically and creatively unfolds in the pages of this book giving students an shining example (albeit one ensconced in a “once upon a time” world) of what working collaboratively can bring to fruition.
Wild Ideas by Elin Kelsey
Problems of Practice and Phenomena – two big ideas the STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative explored during STEMergizing Saturday. Oddly, in my travels I have come across a picture book that embraces both concepts. While, clearly meant to inspire children, I found that Wild Ideas-Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking by Elin Kelsey spoke to me too. I found myself reading it as two people – teacher, always thinking how can I weave this into an engineering or science lesson and as my child-self which delights in kaleidoscopes of color, imagery that sparks the imagination and intentional text that brings out my wonder. The artwork by Soyeon Kim transports you, pulling you into the book, juxtaposed with the words that make you stop and say “hmm”. Soyeon Kim’s art is not only colorful and whimsical, but has depth, movement and texture.
When reflecting on problems of practice, just like our students, teachers can feel frustrated or uncertain. This book offers wisdom about the opportunities that problems bring. “Problems are like sticker burrs. The poke. They prick. They nag…but sometimes, problems spark marvelous ideas. Zzzip!” When we came together during STEMergizing Saturday it became clear that brainstorming how to tackle problems of practice together as a professional community, was energizing. Ruminating on our vexations together helped us find the Zzzip. Similarly, this text read in our classrooms, presents our students a new way of viewing problems and how to work with others to solve them. It lends itself beautifully to collaborative discovery work in science and in engineering.
There are many ways to work this book into your lesson, day, unit…unleash your imagination. It is one to leave leaning on the ledge of your white board for a student to be drawn to. Bring it to your art, music or P.E. teacher and brainstorm ways to leverage the wonderful visuals and the feelings of movement that come with the art to enhance your students’ experience of the text. Even if this book never makes it to your classroom, Wild Ideas is a wonderful read, not just for your students, but it is a treat for you too.
Dreaming Up by Christy Hale
Whenever possible I try to integrate literacy into STEM activities. It is a way to support and expand on the phenomena our students are exploring. Recently, Alison and I had the pleasure of test-driving STEM bins in five different grades. To build on our students’ experience I searched for a book that could be used K-5 as a means of stimulating discussion. I eventually landed on the book Dreaming Up by Christy Hale. An illustrated poem, this text is rich with sensory words that bring the words alive for our students and highlight the many ways children rise to a design challenge. With each turn of the page, the readers grow with the child, their design experiences illustrated. Through photographs, the author ties the child’s creations to global structures mirroring similar design principles. Many of the STEM bin materials are reflected in the images, making it easy as a teacher to connect our classroom design adventures to problem solving around the world. The last four pages of the book revisit the photographs of the structures, giving an overview of both the structure and architect, further emphasizing design as a global endeavor and providing students an opportunity to find a face that looks like them rising to the design challenge.
Oscar and the Bird and
Oscar and the Cricket by Geoff Waring
I recently searched for books that would fit neatly into either the Engage or Explain part of a science lesson. I found the Next Generation Science Standards Interactive Read Alouds website to be a treasure trove. This comprehensive book list compiled by Masters candidate, Courtney Woods at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, is organized by grade level Next Generation Science Standards.
So many books I have not met before! It is hard to know where to start. So, for this month’s literature exploration I selected a series. As a K-2 teacher it is challenging to find science texts that are developmentally appropriate, yet do not hold back on the science for the Explain portion of my lessons. A Start with Science Book series written and illustrated by Geoff Waring meets the demand. This series stars a kitten named Oscar. In each of the five books by Waring, Oscar makes a friend that helps him understand key scientific concepts.
Oscar and the Bird draws you in just looking at the cover. The sweet face of the grey and white kitten chatting with a bird is featured against the backdrop of electrical lines and wind turbines surrounded by a bright yellow setting. The subtitle of the text is A Book About Electricity. It is always refreshing to me when science texts take into account the developmental space of a child without underestimating what they are capable of learning. In this book, like a well thought out science lesson in the classroom, Oscar’s meaning making begins with a phenomenon. As Oscar plays in a field he comes across a parked tractor. Being a curious cat he climbs in and accidently switches the windshield wipers on. This begins Oscar’s learning journey into what electricity is and how it works.
While I have focused this text on being beneficial in the K-2 classroom, not because there is a matching NGSS standard but because electricity is a wonder young children often have, this should not preclude 3-5 science teachers from using this book also. In fact, the correlating NGSS standard is in 4th grade. Many of you have been introduced to and used the wonder boxes in the STEM TLC lending library. This book puts me in mind of the circuitry wonder box. Oscar and the Bird helps students make sense of how circuits work and then goes on to explain how electricity is generated.
More aptly paired with K-2 NGSS are Oscar’s adventures in force and motion. My friend Alison often points out that a phenomenon doesn’t always need to be phenomenal. In this spirit our intrepid hero, Oscar, finds a still ball to be a marvel in Oscar and the Cricket, launching the curious kitten into another exploration. With the help of a delightfully bright green cricket Oscar engages with many concepts of force and motion including push, pull and stopping. Worth mentioning, are the last pages of each of Waring’s books in which a reader can find a form of illustrated glossary and an index for referencing scientific concepts found in the book.