The End of the Wild

The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget is a fictional, 4-6th grade middle school book on edible plants, fracking and family struggles.

Eleven-year-old Fern, lives with her stepfather and her two brothers in a small, rundown house, on the edge of a poor town. Near their home is a grove of woods, where she and her family hunts and forages for food. The woods are Fern’s life and she often goes their when things get tough–empty pantries, past due notices, letters from lawyers and child services.

When a fracking company moves into town, Fern finds out that they want to cut down her woods and put in a wastewater pond. Fern is devastated but also conflicted because the company will bring jobs to her neighborhood and could help keep her family together.

Fern is determined to save the woods but she also wants to keep her family together. What can she do when being tugged in two very different directions.

I decided to try this book for my STEM book club and I think it is going to be a good choice. The End of the Wild can help start a conversation on fracking, what it is and the controversies currently revolving around it.

I don’t know of anyone who will actually go out and actually make the recipes in this book, but they were need to see and added a neat creative element to the book. I liked that Fern was taught to provide for her family and you can definitely see how, even though she had to grow up quick, she is still just a kid.

A warning that I will be giving my book club kids, there is a dog who gets hurt in the book. This happens on page 150-158 in the hard cover version of the book, and does include somewhat of a graphic description. **SPOILER ALERT** although the dog does die, there is closer and new life springs from the death. **END SPOILER** Normally, I’d shy away from include books with hurt animals but this was handled well, so I think it will be OK.

Overall, this is going to make a great STEM book because not only can we discuss fracking and foraging, we can also talk about environmental sciences in general and other social issues like fostering, poverty and more. Now, I just have to find an “easy” STEM project to go along with it. This one gets 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

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STEM Book Club: Nick & Tesla

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder is a middle grade read for 4th-6th graders.

Nick and Tesla are extremely smart 11-year-old twins who like inventing and find trouble fairly easily. When they are shipped off to spend the summer with their eccentric Uncle Newt–an inventor and goofball–they expect to be bored out of theirs minds but find they are anything but.

When Nick and Tesla lose their rocket and the pendant their parents gave them, the twins are determined to get it back. Little do they know they are about to embark on a mission that includes dangerous dogs, Christmas light alarm systems, kidnappings and other makeshift contraptions. As the plot thickens will Nick and Tesla be able to use their inventor smarts to save the day?’

This is our December book for our STEM book club. First we start of with discussion. Here’s what I used as a guide:

  1. What is this book about? What themes do we find throughout? 
  2. Where did this book get its name? Why do you think the title is: “High-Voltage Danger Lab?”   
  3. Who was Nikola Tesla and why do you think the author named his main characters after him? 
  4. (Page 31) – “My laboratory is your laboratory. Go nuts!” What would you do if given free rein in this sort of situation? Jump right in like Tesla or proceed with caution like Nick? 
  5. Uncle Newt created an invention to compost garbage. What was it? What is composting and how do you think we could do it better than Uncle Newt? 
  6. (Page 63) – Why do you think being told “no” only makes us want to do the “thing” more?  
  7. What method would you use to distract the dogs? Any ideas other than what Nick, Tesla and their friends created. 
  8. This book contains quite a bit of foreshadowing. What is foreshadowing? Give some examples from the book. 
  9. What is going on with Nick and Tesla’s parents? Where do you think the book series is going?  
  10.  This book is technically a mystery. What traits make up an effective mystery? 

Then we get into our STEM activity:

Semi-Invisible Nighttime Van Tracker (page126) 

 Today we are going to experiment with a different kind of invisible ink. However, here are three ways you can create invisible ink at home! 

How-To-Invisible-Ink-Infographic-610x922

 The Science: 

 Black lights are not that different from any other type of light. The difference is that black lights emit most of their light waves just outside the range humans can perceive, in the Ultraviolet (UV) part of the spectrum. When a UV light wave hits an object containing substances known as phosphors, those phosphors will naturally fluoresce, and glow. Phosphors are present in many daily use objects like Vaseline, tooth whiteners, bank notes, laundry detergent etc. Oh, and highlighters! 

 Both lemon juice and Baking Soda/milk are mildly acidic and acid weakens paper. The acid remains in the paper after the juice or milk has dried. When the paper is held near, heat the acidic parts of the paper burn or turn brown before the rest of the paper does.

**Adult supervision required**

Source:

https://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-Invisible-Ink-3/

https://www.muminthemadhouse.com/after-school-fun-lets-be-a-spy-leave-secret-message/

https://www.kidzworld.com/article/3844-making-invisible-ink-appear

How’d it go:

Miraculously, I was right on time with my scheduling today. We finished exactly on time, which almost never happens. I did have to alter my STEM activity though. After several, failed individual attempts to heat up my lemon juice ink, I nixed it and decided to use grape juice to reveal our baking soda messages. This worked well but made for too quick of an experiment and the kids were left somewhat wanting. Otherwise, everything went great.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Fuzzy

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

When Max—Maxine Zealster—befriends her schools newest student, a robot named Fuzzy, she totally did not know what she was getting herself into. Max has been recruited to help Vanguard One Middle School’s new Robot Integration Program, by showing Fuzzy the ropes. Together they navigate hallways, eat lunch, attend class and all the usual middle school activities… including getting in trouble.

Little do Fuzzy and Max know but BARBARA, the school’s digital student evaluation system, has it out for them. The more Fuzzy learns, the more “human” he becomes and as he and Max become friends, Fuzzy realizes he has a more important mission then the robot integration program… Help Max.

Will Fuzzy and Max make it through sixth grade intact?

I really enjoyed this one. So much so, that I chose it as my November book for my 4th-6th grade STEM book club. This one was meant to be a little easier than our book last month. It was a quick read and I think one that you could pull morals and themes out of with it still being a lot of fun.

I think the kids will enjoy the futuristic aspects of the book and deciding just how much technology is a good/bad thing. Overall, this was a fun one that works perfectly with my STEM theme.

For this STEM club we have 10 discussion questions and then we are going to create our own paper circuits. We’ll see how it goes!

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

2. Fuzzy uses “fuzzy logic,” what is fuzzy logic and why does this make Fuzzy a good robot?

3. Fuzzy begins to act more and more “human” each day. What are two examples of Fuzzy’s humanity?

4. Fuzzy takes place in a technologically advanced future. Computers and robots are used for everything. Are there pros and cons to this?

5. If you could pick one “thing” for a robot to do for you what would it be and why?

6. What would you do if your school assigned dTags and required Constant Upgrading like Max’s school? How would this hurt and/or help your education?

7. Page 173 – <Max> I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… Let’s cheat! – What do you think of Max’s decision to cheat? Was she right, wrong? Can you think of another way they could have handled this situation?

8. Page 224 – That’s like killing him. The Fuzzy we know will die. – How did you feel when you found out the government was going to delete Fuzzy’s memory? Do you agree that it is the same as killing him even though he is a robot? Why?

9. Why was Barbara a better candidate for the exploration of Mars than Fuzzy?

10. Do you think you would make friends with a robot? What qualities of a good friend might a robot have?

Creating Paper Circuits

Supplies: Card stock paper; Copper tape, ¼ inch wide and double-sided conductive; Scissors; 3V lithium button battery; 5mm LEDs; Clear tape

Instructions:

  • Take your button battery and one of your LEDs. Find the positive and negative side of both by sliding the button battery between the prongs of the LED. Did it light up? Try flipping the battery. Once it lights up you will have found your positive and negative connections. Remember, positive connects to a negative, negative to a positive
  • Fold your card stock in half so it looks like a card. Put it aside
  • Take your smaller square of paper and using the copper tape, follow the template, lay down your circuit.
  • When you get to your light spread the prongs apart and make sure they are fully covered by the copper tape. Remember your +/-. If you attach the wrong connections your LED won’t light up. Use clear tape if needed.
  • Continue running the tape on the other side of the light following the template. You need to make this as smooth as possible without ripping.
  • Attach your button battery negative side down. When you fold over the corner and touch the beginning end of the tape to the top of the battery your LED should light up.

* **Note** You may need to be careful taping the button battery. If you cover the battery completely the connection is harder to make. Try just taping the edges.

  • Did it light up? Check your connections, do you have them the right way? Are there any gaps in your copper tape?
  • Once you have your light working, lay it inside of your cardstock to see where the light will shine through. Make a mark on the front of the cardstock.
  • Create your card/picture/etc. Remember where the light shines through and draw your picture incorporating the light.
  • Put it all together and see what you get!

Observations:

-What observations can you make about your circuits? What worked and didn’t work? Why?

The Science:

-Electricity is a type of energy that can build up in one place or flow from one place to another. For an electric current to happen, there must be a circuit. A circuit is a complete path around which electricity can flow. It must include a source of electricity, such as a battery. Materials that allow electric current to pass through them easily, called conductors, can be used to link the positive and negative ends of a battery, creating a circuit.

-In an open or broken circuit, there is a break along the line, and the current stops. In a closed or complete circuit, electric current can flow. When electric current flows, it can be used by electrical appliances, such as light bulbs.

**Adult supervision required**

https://sciencekiddo.com/paper-circuit-cards/ https://www.dkfindout.com/us/science/electricity/circuits/

*Safety Note* Button batteries are very dangerous if they are swallowed. Please be sure that the children making paper circuit art are old enough not to put objects into their mouths. After the paper circuit cards are complete, please instruct the children not to leave them in a location where a younger brother or sister can get to them.

How’d it go:

Well, we had to reschedule this one because of snow, so we had a much smaller crowd then we usually do. But that’s OK because we could have used 5 of me to help instruct the activity! The paper circuits definitely needed more than my allotted 30 minutes. We had a few successfully make circuits but most of them didn’t get it on their first try but by the time we left, they seemed confident that they could actually do it from home. And because we had such a small group, I let them all take home enough supplies to do a second paper circuit.

In terms of the discussion, I was floored when the majority of my group told me that deleting Fuzzy’s memory was NOT the same as killing him. We had a lot of discussion about this, which was neat.

Overall, I think it went well. Hopefully, no snow will get in the way of December!

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

Eye of the Storm

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

In the near future, massive storms systems devastate the world. People no longer ride bikes, go for long walks or play outside. Every home has a storm shelter and a devastating tornado could hit at any second.

In this world of fear is a tiny community called Placid Meadows, built right in the heart of the tornado belt and yet no storms ever touch it. Jaden has been sent to spend the summer at Placid Meadows in order to attend the prestigious Eye of Tomorrow summer camp and to get reacquainted with her MIA father, the creator of the community and all Storm Safe technology.

Here, Jaden makes friends and learns more about her father’s work. But something isn’t right. Observant and quick-witted, Jaden can tell that things don’t add up. Why don’t tornadoes hit this sleepy community? She knows her father is hiding something but will Jaden be brave enough to uncover the secrets that might break her family forever?

This is actually the second book I picked for my STEM Book Club, which started in September. We will be discussing this one in October.  I will admit, perhaps this one is a little tough for fourth grades but I really enjoyed it and I can definitely see the kids getting into it.

The pace of the book was great. It was slower as we were gaining background and it picks up speed as the plot does. By the time our characters are running from storms you start to feel the excitement too. Messner does a great job of getting you to feel like the characters do, through her writing.

For this STEM club we have 10 discussion questions and then we are going to do a few experiments. We’ll see how it goes!

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

2. What is Meteorology? A major part of the book was this idea of weather manipulation. What do you think about this?

3. This book takes place in 2050. What makes this book “futuristic?” Can you see us getting any of this technology in the next 30+ years?

4. Page 18 – Jaden’s dad would always say that, “pretty words never protected anybody from a storm.” What do you think about this? Let’s think of other situations where words might be stronger than actions…

5. What did you think about The Eye of Tomorrow? If you were put in charge of a science camp where kids try to solve the world’s biggest problems, what would you choose to work on?

6. On page 33 we learn that storms literally never hit Placid Meadows. Why did you think this was? When did you realize what was really going on?

7. Page 147 – “If you don’t look, it won’t hurt.” When Jaden and Risha get stuck in the storm, Jaden shuts her eyes tight. Is it easier to face something scary or hide? Why?

8. One of Jaden’s biggest internal conflicts in this book is deciding between family and doing the right thing. Why do you think this is so hard?

9. Page 219 – How did you feel when Alex and Jaden looked up and realized that the three storms were merging into one? Did the narrative get you excited, scared, etc.?

10. Did you think Jaden’s dad’s punishment was fair? Do you think Grandma Althea is alive?

For my experiments we are going to create our own mini tornadoes and do an electricity experiment.

Create Your Own Mini Tornado

Supplies: Glass Jar; Water; Dish Soap; Glitter; Food Coloring

Instructions:

  • Fill your glass jar about 2/3 with water.
  • Add in a drop of dish soap, a drop of food coloring and some glitter.
  • Tightly put the lid on your jar.
  • “Shake” your jar in a circular motion, you should begin to see a funnel form. The glitter, soap and dye are all meant to help you see the funnel as it forms.
  • Try out different methods. What happens when you swirl the water before flipping, etc.?

Observations:

  • What do you see?
  • What is happening to create this vortex in the bottle?

The Science:

  • A vortex is a type of motion that causes liquids and gases to travel in spirals around a centerline. A vortex is created when a rotating liquid falls through an opening. Gravity is the force that pulls the liquid into the hole and a continuous vortex develops. If you swirl the water in the bottle while pouring it out, it causes a vortex to form. That vortex looks like a tornado in the bottle. The formation of the vortex makes it easier for air to come into the bottle and allows the water to pour out faster.
  • Look carefully and you’ll be able to see the hole in the middle of the vortex that allows the air to come up inside the bottle. If you don’t swirl the water and just allow it to flow out on its own, then the air and water have to essentially take turns passing through the mouth of the bottle, thus the glug-glug sound.

Create Your Own Lightning

Supplies: fluorescent light bulb; rubber balloon

Instructions:

  • Turn all of the lights off in the room. (The darker the better!)
  • Rub the balloon on your hair for several seconds.
  • Then hold the statically charged balloon near the glass end of the light bulb.
  • Without touching the bulb, swish the balloon (the end your rubbed your hair with) just over the end of the bulb. This should illuminate the bulb.
  • Repeat the demonstration as many times as desired.

Observations:

  • What is happening? What is making the bulb light up?
  • Having trouble? Maybe the room isn’t dark enough. Maybe your hair is too dirty. You can try rubbing the balloon on a wool blanket instead of your hair. Troubleshooting is part of science!

The Science:

  • When you rub the balloon on your hair, the balloon builds up an electrical charge (static electricity). Touching the charged balloon to the end of the fluorescent light bulb causes the electrical charge to jump from the balloon to the bulb. This is what illuminates the light bulb.
  • Lightning is an electrical discharge within a thunderstorm. As the storm develops, the clouds become charged with electricity. Scientists are still not sure exactly what causes this, but they do know that when the voltage becomes high enough for the electricity to leap across the air from one place to another, lightning flashes! Lightning can spark within a cloud, from one cloud to another, from a cloud to the ground, or from the ground to a cloud.

How’d it all go: This was a much more successful STEM activity then the last one. Everyone thought the lightbulb experiment was neat and we had a pretty good discussion. I think I need to do a little get-to-know you activity next time because it took awhile for the kids to warm up to each other. Other than that, a success.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder is a middle grade read for 4th-6th graders.

Nick and Tesla are extremely smart 11-year-old twins who like inventing and find trouble fairly easily. When they are shipped off to spend the summer with their eccentric Uncle Newt–an inventor and goofball–they expect to be bored out of theirs minds but find they are anything but.

When Nick and Tesla lose their rocket and the pendant their parents gave them, the twins are determined to get it back. Little do they know they are about to embark on a mission that includes dangerous dogs, Christmas light alarm systems, kidnappings and other makeshift contraptions. As the plot thickens will Nick and Tesla be able to use their inventor smarts to save the day?

This is an older middle grade series and one I just happened to overlook. I’ve known about it but I never actually read any of them. After taking a peek, I thought this one would be perfect for my STEM Book Club as a night and easy December read.

Ultimately I enjoyed the book. It was a quick read but still had all that STEM-y goodness I was looking for. The story move quickly and the characters are entertaining. Especially Uncle Newt; you just know there is more going on there then meets the eye.

This one also made choosing a STEM activity to go with my book club really easy, as there were about 4 or 5 different “how to” projects based off of what Nick and Tesla did in the book. And I also enjoyed the mystery of the book and how the rest of the series is setting things up for Nick and Tesla not only to help other people but where they will eventually have to help themselves.

I think this one is going to be perfect for my 4th-6th graders as a light, easy, fun read before the holidays. This one get 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

The Jamie Drake Equation

The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge is a 4-6th grade science fiction book.

Jamie Drake is your average boy with one big exception, his dad is an astronaut on the international space station and he is part of a big mission to find life in outer space. Jamie is very proud of his dad but he misses him a lot, especially with his birthday coming up and his dad missing it.

When Jamie stumbles upon a rouge scientist at a dilapidated space observatory, he accidentally downloads something to his phone and starts receiving weird signals. Where could this signal be coming from? Could it really be aliens?

With his dad gone, Jamie doesn’t know who to turn to and decides to investigate himself. But when something goes wrong with his dad’s mission, Jamie knows it is up to him to save his dad from space and all of it’s dangers.

The Jamie Drake Equation was one I was considering for my 4-6th grade STEM book club. It was a good read and would have given us a lot to talk about but I just didn’t think we had enough copies in our library system to make it work.

That being said, this book was full of fun STEM-iness. We learn about the Jamie Drake Equation, we learn about the fibonacci sequence and more space science. But there is also the sci-fi element of the alien’s and Jamie’s interactions with them.

This book is very emotional for a middle school read. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s this almost Armageddon feel to the end and I really don’t want to make the kids cry! We also deal with serious themes like divorce and separation, moving, fear and more.

This is a read I would recommend a caregiver reading with their child. But I think any 5th-6th grader could get through it alone. In terms of being full of STEM goodness, this one rocks!

I think this one gets a 3.5 from me. Good but not quite what I was expecting/looking for.

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

Fuzzy Mud: Book Club

Fuzzy Mud again! Yes, ma’am! Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar is the first book I chose for my 4th-6th grade STEM Book Club.

Once a month I am going to be hosting, at the library, a STEM themed book club. This club is for 4th-6th graders as we will be reading challenging, yet fun, elementary school reads. The book we read each month will have some sort of STEM theme–weather, coding, geology, etc. The meeting will consist of 30 minutes of guided discussion about the book, including the STEM theme. And then we will do 30 minutes of a STEM activity that goes along with the theme of the book.

I chose Fuzzy Mud as my first book because it’s a fun read and a solid 4th-5th grade level book. I also chose this one because many of the elementary aged students might have read this book last year. It was a nominee for the Maryland Black Eyed Susan Award and a lot of the elementary schools read the nominees. This way, any last minute sign-ups might already be exposed to the book. Figured this would be a good thing for a first meeting.

I decided to create a hand-out with guided discussion questions. This way the kids have something to take home to further think about the book and we also have some things we can go off of if we have trouble getting started. Here are the discussion questions I came up with:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes found throughout?

2. Why would we consider Fuzzy Mud, a fictional book with STEM themes?

3. On page 15, Tamaya remembers something her teacher once said, “Courage just meant pretending to be brave.” What does this mean? Do you agree?

4. Ecology is a main theme of this book. What is Ecology? How does this book incorporate/involve Ecology?

5. On page 131, Tamaya says, “No one’s all bad.” Do you agree? Can someone who does bad things be a good person?

6. Although, Biolene isn’t real, scientists are looking for clean, renewable energy sources. What is renewable energy? What are some examples?

7. When Marshall and Tamaya were lost in the woods, Marshall kept scolding himself for saying things he didn’t mean. Why do you think Marshal was doing that? Have you ever taken your feels out on someone who didn’t deserve it?

8. (Page 62) – Professor Alice Mayfair was more concerned with population control then the potential danger of Biolene. Let’s talk about this. What are some ways we can replace the resource we consume?

9. (Page 68) – “The worst part was the waiting.” Why is this? Why do you think waiting for something to happen is worse than the thing itself?

10. On page 144, Tamaya starts to lose her sight. What would you do if you suddenly lost one of your sense?

11. Page 177 – What was Hobson’s Choice? Why does the Committee on Energy and the Environment thing they’ve been presented with a “Hobson’s Choice?” What are the choices and can you think of another that might be better?

Also on the handout is an outline of the activity we are going to do. This week we are going to make out our fuzzy mud but creating magnetic slime.

Supplies: 1 (4oz) bottle of school glue; 1 tbls of baking soda; 1 tbls of contact solution; 1 tsp+/- iron filings; Neodymium magnets; big bowl; craft sticks.

Instructions:

  • Combine the glue, baking soda and iron filings in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  • Once mixed, add contact solution. Mix well.
  • Once you start to see a slime-like consistency—it will be less sticky now that the contact solution is added–remove the slime and knead it with clean, dry hands. **Wash your hands immediately after playing with slime or wear gloves**
  • Your slime should be ready! Grab a strong magnet and see what happens!

Observations: Imagine our slime is a living thing and the magnet is the environment or an outside force acting upon it (remember the definition of ecology!). What observations can you make about the slime itself and the changes that occur when the magnet is introduced?

How’d it go: We had 13 kids show up for the book club and I think it went really well. The discussion part pretty much went like I thought it would. The kids needed to be prompted with questions but once I started asking questions, they really responded well. Our slime “experiment” was another story. I swear the experiment worked at home!!! But only two of my kids got their slime to be actual slime. But it was fun and we got to experiment with different binders. Hey, scientists don’t always get it right the first time!

It was, however, really messy. Even the kids were like wowwww. The parents came in at the end and were laughing. But fun was had and I think this is going to work out really well!

That’s all for now!

-M-