STEM Book Club: Spin the Golden Light Bulb

This is our last STEM Book Club until after the summer. I plan on reevaluating and seeing what worked and didn’t work and then picking back up in the fall. That being said, I got some snacks and tried to pick a fun project for us this time. 

Spin the Golden Lightbulb by Jackie Yeager is the first book in a new elementary series called The Crimson Five.

Every year, eighth graders all over the country compete in the Piedmont Challenge in order to win a golden lightbulb and earn a place at PIPS, The Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia Krumpet is determined to be one of only five winners chosen from her state. And when she learns that just winning a golden lightbulb may not be enough to secure her place at PIPS, she is even more determined than before.

Kia, along with the four other winners, must compete at Camp Piedmont in a challenge that will test all of their ingenuity, brains, strength and heart. Does Kia have what it takes to make it to Nationals? Or will her insecurities cost her big time?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes? 
  2. In this futuristic world, kids are “programmed” into a single category of study, which will follow them throughout adulthood. What do you think about this? Could there be anything good about this placement method?
  3. The Crimson Five are singled out for coming from the same school. Do you think this is fair? Should they be held at a higher standard?
  4. At first, Kia isn’t sure about working with a team. Why can working with a team be so much harder? Why can a team help you to excel?
  5. To complete their task, the team must “include elements from each of the six academic categories—Art Forms, Communication, Earth and Space, Human History, Math and New Technology.” Why do you think Kia sees this as an impossible task?
  6. Ignoring the sparkly dust, rotating bunk beds, robotic monkeys and all the other cool tech gadgets, this book is about teamwork and friendship. What are some examples of how the Crimson Five were able to work together as a team in order to do better? 
  7. Each of the member of the Crimson Five have some character trait to overcome. Name a character, their trait and how they overcame it?  
  8. What role does Grandma Kitty have in the story? What does her character contribute to the plot? 
  9. Prediction time! This the first book in a series. Any predictions on where it could be heading? Did you see any instances of foreshadowing? 
  10. Invention time! Kia has more than 67 inventions swirling around in her head. Your turn! What invention would you create that would make the world a better place? 

 Team Building Challenge

 Supplies: sturdy string, solo cups, one rubber bandcup-stack-10

Setup: Tie four, arm length, pieces of string to your rubber band. Place a stack of ten solo cups next to the rubber band and string.

The Challenge: Working in teams of four, students must build a tower of cups using only the string/rubber band tool. Students may ONLY touch the string.

See which team can build their cup tower first. You can also give them different challenges, depending on how quickly they go. Encourage communication and teamwork. It’s harder than it looks!

 Army Man Challenge

 Supplies: one cup, one army man, one spoon, six Popsicle sticks, two rubber bands two feet of tape 19fa68de2a53fdbd737823dee6d19a80

Setup: Give each student a cup with the supplies inside of it.

The Challenge: Working individually, each student will attempt to make an army launcher. They have only the materials in their cups to complete the task. We will then take turns using our launchers to see who can shoot the army man the furthest.

*Adult Supervision required for all STEM activities*

Sources:

https://theardentteacher.com/2015/05/26/a-week-of-stem-activities/ 
http://mssepp.blogspot.com/2014/05/teamwork-cup-stack-take-2.html

How’d it go:

This was a super low key, fun last STEM club of the season. We had snacks, did a little book discussion and worked on our two challenges. I was actually pleasantly surprised that the kids really liked the teambuilding cup challenge. I totally have to keep that in mind for next time. As for the army men, it was interesting. We got a little crazy shooting our men and at times… each other :-/

I’m glad this club went well for our first round. Till September STEM Club pals!

That’s all for now!

-M-

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STEM Book Club: The Nebula Secret

For this months STEM book club, I decided to go with an action adventure book all about explorers.

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit is the first book in a new juvenile adventure series.

Cruz is one of 24 kids across the globe that has been chosen to attend the elite Explorers Academy. Taught by leading researchers, wildlife experts, survivalists and conservationists, Cruz and his fellow explorers are training to become the next generation of great explorers.

But for Cruz this is more than just a dream, this is his legacy. When his mom died when Cruz was just a boy, he knew he would follow in her footsteps at the academy. But no sooner then he receives his acceptance letter, do weird and dangerous “coincidences” seem to dog him.

Can Cruz handle the pressures of Explorer Academy and can he find out who is out to get him and why?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1.  What is this book about? What are the main themes?  
  2.  What do you think about Explorer Academy? Would you like to see an institution like this? How would a place like this help in today’s environmental struggles? 
  3.  Explorer Academy is extremely competitive, but Renshaw tells Cruz, “My brother says … everybody helps everybody else. The teachers encourage that.” [Page 40] How do you feel about this—knowing that with your help, another student might succeed over you? In this kind of environment, would you hesitate to help a classmate? Why? Why not? 
  4. We saw a lot of different “tech” in this book—some of it real and some of it embellished. What was your favorite technology in this book and why?  
  5. The young explorers are required to wear their OS bracelets at all times. What if the band was available to the general public? What would the benefits be to the health and well-being of the people wearing it? What if people were required to wear it? In what ways could this seemingly beneficial device be abused by an agency responsible for viewing and using its data? 
  6. Why is it so important for Explorer Academy students to study “the characteristics of humanity—why different cultures eat, speak, dress, think, believe, live, and act the way they do.” [Page 111] How will knowing this enhance their experience as explorers? 
  7. The CAVE is a major part of the explorers training. What did you think about this method of training? How far away do you think current technology is toward this goal?  
  8. What is “Cryptography?” Give a few examples of how cryptography was used in this book. 
  9. MAV was Cruz’s robotic honey bee. If you could design your own MAV what would it look like and why? 
  10. This is the first book in a seven book series. Do you have any predictions about where this series could be heading?  

 DIY Cipher Wheel

kids-cipher-wheel

Supplies: Cardboard; Scissors; 1 brass tack; markers; template; glue.

A cipher wheel is an enciphering and deciphering tool developed in 1470. It consists of one stationary wheel and one “moveable” wheel. A cipher wheel can code and decode messages as long as one has the cipher key. There are many variations of cipher wheels but today we are going to do a basic substitution cipher.

How To:

  • Using your template, cut out the two circles.
  • Trace your circles on cardboard and cut them out as well.
  • Glue or tape the template to the cardboard.
  • Place the smaller circle atop of the larger one. Carefully using a scissor or pen, poke a hole in the middle of each circle.
  • Take your brass tack and secure the two cardboard circles together. The circles should still be able to move.
  • Your cipher wheel is ready for use.
  • To use your wheel, decide which letter on the smaller circle will be your cipher key. Let’s use “R” as an example. Turn your wheel so that the letters A, on the big wheel, and the letter R, on the smaller wheel line up.
  • You can now write your messages in code and give the cipher to those you want to read it.

Observations:

  • You could also create a cipher wheel with symbols on the smaller wheel.
  • How else could you use a cipher wheel?
  • Can you think of other ways to decode and encode messages?

Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/books/pdfs/explorer-academy-1-ed-guide.pdf
https://www.savvyhomemade.com/making-a-cipher-wheel/

How’d it go:

This one went pretty well. It was a “cleaner” and easier STEM activity then some of my others, so I wasn’t scrambling to help 20 kids at once. We finished a little early, but overall it was a successful program.

That’s all for now!

-M-

STEM Book Club: The End of the Wild

This month, I decided to go in a whole different direction with my STEM Book Club. Instead of science fiction, I went with some realistic environmental fiction. The book I chose was: The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget.

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.

Here are our discussion questions for this book:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. What is fracking and why is it so controversial? Why is Fern worried about fracking?
  3. What is an ecosystem? How can they be threatened?
  4. What is deforestation? How could deforestation affect an ecosystem?
  5. (Page 163) Fern says, “Toivo thinks I don’t understand the constant itch of being poor, how it’s always a bug biting your back in a place you can’t reach.” How does her family’s poverty affect Fern? How does Fern use foraging to help?
  6. (Chapter 8) A major theme in this book is forgiveness and acceptance. What do you think Toivo means when he says, “One of these days, you’re going to have to cut the duck from Millner’s neck, too”?
  7. Fern has many responsibilities for an eleven-year-old. Do you think she deals well with these struggles? How do you deal with difficult situations or stress?
  8. (Page 193) – Toivo tells the social worker that the kids will struggle with him, “but it is an honest kind of struggling.” What does he mean here? With this in mind, would you rather a hard life or an easy life?
  9. Fern often seems to be stuck between “a rock and a hard place.” Give some examples of times when Fern gets caught in the middle between two points of view, and discuss how she tries to resolve these issues.
  10. A book like this gets us thinking about the environment and what we can do to protect it. Let’s reflect on this a bit…

Then we get into our STEM activity:

DIY Water Filter

Supplies: Water Bottle, Scissors, Coffee Filter, Sand, Charcoal, Dirt, Gravel, Water

How To:

  • Ask a grownup to help you cut off the bottom of your bottle. Should be about 2-3 inches. Put aside for later.
  • Take a cup of water and add a small amount of soil. Water should look dirty but does not need to be thick. Put aside for later.
  • Twist off the cap of your water bottle. Turn it so the drinking side is facing down and the side you cut off is facing up. Take a coffee filter and push it down toward the bottom, so it is just about coming out the bottom. You may need to trim your filter to fit.
  • Next, start layering your materials. Start with a layer of crushed up charcoal. On top of that, add your layer of dirt. Then sand. Then gravel.
  • Once you are satisfied with your layers, stick the whole bottle inside the piece you cut off. This piece will catch your water as it goes through the bottle.
  • Finally, take your dirty water and pour it into the bottle. The water will travel through each of the materials we placed until it catches in the bottom.
  • You just made a water filter!

Observations:

  • What happened to the dirty water as it went through our layers?
  • Do you think you could organize your layers differently for a better result?

The Science:

Your filter is like one of the stages in cleaning water in a water treatment plant. Particles of dirt in the muddy water become trapped in the layers of materials, which help to clean the water. The finer the material the water runs through, such as the crushed charcoal and fine sand, the more dirt particles are trapped, making the water even cleaner. We’re basically straining our water until it is clean enough to drink.

*Adult Supervision Required – DO NOT DRINK THE WATER*

Sources:

https://www.csfphiladelphia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/The-End-of-the-Wild-Discussion-Questions.pdf

http://keepinggeologyalive.blogspot.com/2014/06/jello-fracking-experiment.html

https://longisland.madscience.org/news/Water-problems-494.aspx

How’d it go:

Not going to lie, I did not get a chance to practice this STEM activity beforehand. Mostly because this wasn’t one where you can get small amounts of tester supplies. At first we didn’t think my tester worked because nothing was draining out, so everyone tried something differently with theirs. Turns out mine worked the best, because it was draining the slowest. We think folding the coffee filter up is what did the trick.

This was a fun, but messy, project. The kids also told me that they prefer futuristic or science fiction to the realistic fiction of this book. It was good feedback to have for the future.

Finally, we did have to have a little chat, as one eventually must with 4-6 graders, about taking the club seriously. So hopefully, the weather clears up and we won’t be as stir crazy next month.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Spin the Golden Lightbulb

Spin the Golden Lightbulb by Jackie Yeager is the first book in a new elementary series called The Crimson Five.

Every year, eighth graders all over the country compete in the Piedmont Challenge in order to win a golden lightbulb and earn a place at PIPS, The Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia Krumpet is determined to be one of only five winners chosen from her state. And when she learns that just winning a golden lightbulb may not be enough to secure her place at PIPS, she is even more determined than before.

Kia, along with the four other winners, must compete at Camp Piedmont in a challenge that will test all of their ingenuity, brains, strength and heart. Does Kia have what it takes to make it to Nationals? Or will her insecurities cost her big time? 

I picked this one as the last book for my 4-6 grade STEM book club. What’s more STEM-y than inventions and coming up with your own ideas.

One of the things I really liked about this book was that it encourages teamwork and thinking outside the box. Each of our Crimson Five have character flaws to overcome and you can see their transformation by the end of the book.

This book is futuristic in a realistic way and really gets you thinking about where the world is going… where it could go. Spin the Golden Lightbulb could be a really great book for getting kids thinking about STEM.

I’m not exactly sure what STEM project I will do with this one though. It could be anything really. I could even put out of bin of random stuff and let the kids go nuts with their own creativity. I’d really like to borrow a VR set because that would be so fun for the last meeting, but we’ll see.

A fun book and one that would work for 4th-6th graders easily. This one gets a very high 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit is the first book in a new juvenile adventure series.

Cruz is one of 24 kids across the globe that has been chosen to attend the elite Explorers Academy. Taught by leading researchers, wildlife experts, survivalists and conservationists, Cruz and his fellow explorers are training to become the next generation of great explorers.

But for Cruz this is more than just a dream, this is his legacy. When his mom died when Cruz was just a boy, he knew he would follow in her footsteps at the academy. But no sooner then he receives his acceptance letter, do weird and dangerous “coincidences” seem to dog him.

Can Cruz handle the pressures of Explorer Academy and can he find out who is out to get him and why?

This is a new juvenile book to our library and one I thought would work nicely for my STEM book club. The writing style was fun and the book has some nice graphics and the adventure aspect will work out nicely for my kids. I enjoyed this book but it is definitely the first in a series. There is a lot of build up that sets the stage for what’s to come.

The series itself looks like it is going to follow a fairly popular set up… a school for kids that teaches them something awesome; a student in trouble/needs to fight the bad guy… The whole school thing is very familiar and relatable for children, so we see it a lot. BUT this story feels unique in that it is about explorers and the kids are getting training and are going on missions to explore, understand and preserve our world.

There is so much here that could be used as a STEM activity but there is one point where Cruz and his friend decode a cipher and I think creating or even decoding our own ciphers, could be a neat activity. But we will see.

A neat read but definitely in need of a sequel to do any more solid judging. This one gets 3.5-4 stars from me. Probably a solid 5th grade read.

That’s all for now!

-M-

STEM Book Club: The Jamie Drake Equation

Hi Guys,

Oh man, I meant to post this one on Friday morning but between sick baby, sick husband, sick mommy and a library comic convention to run… let’s just say, I am beat! Anyway, here you go!

For this months STEM Book Club, I decided to go with a sci-fi/astronomy theme. We will be reading/discussing: The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge.

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.

 Here are our discussion questions for this book:

  1. What is this book about? What themes are found throughout? 
  2. (Page 39/179) – What is the Jamie Drake Equation? Why do you think the author used this at the title of the book?
  3. (Page 2) – What is the Goldilocks Zone? How does earth fit into this zone?
  4. In 1977, NASA’s Voyager launched the Golden Record. Do you know what this is? How would you attempt to reach out to intelligent life?
  5. (Page 5) – “Invent an Alien.” This was Jamie’s school assignment. Take a minute and think about what type of Alien you would invent and why?
  6. How would you deal with a famous parent/sibling? Jealousy, admiration… what could be potential issues? What issues did Jamie have?
  7. (Page 88) – What is the Fibonacci Sequence? What do you think about this?
  8. What did you think of Buzz, the aliens in this book? What about their Hi’ive mind? Have you ever thought about there being aliens like this in the universe?
  9. How did Jamie save his dad? Is there a lesson here? 
  10. Jamie had this idea of a Goldilocks family—the perfect family structure? What might be wrong about this idea? Is there such a thing as the perfect family? 

 Then we get into our STEM activity:

DIY Spectroscope 

Supplies: 1 paper towel tube; two 4”x4” and two 1”x3” squares of aluminum foil; Masking tape; 1” diffraction grating square;  

Instructions: 

  • Take one of the 4″ × 4″ pieces of foil and tear or cut a small hole in the center of it — a hole that is smaller than the square piece of diffraction grating. 
  • Being careful to handle the diffraction grating only by its edges, tape it over the hole. Tape only the edges of the grating, not across the middle. 
  • Center this foil-mounted grating over one end of the tube, taped side in, and tape it to the outside of the tube at its edges. Look at the room lights with the grating installed, to see the effects of the grating before the spectroscope is finished. 
  • Assemble the slit end on the table. Take the other 4″ × 4″ piece of foil and make a hole in the center as before. The diameter of the hole should be smaller than the diameter of the tube, to avoid gaps and tears. 
  • Carefully fold each of the two smaller strips of foil (the 1″ × 3″ pieces) in half along the length. Make a sharp crease at the fold of each. Lay them over the hole in the larger piece of foil so that their creased edges face each other with a very small gap between them (no more than the width of a toothpick, or the thickness of a coin). Tape the two creased pieces of foil in place over the hole, and make sure not to cover the slit with tape. 
  • Place the foil-mounted slit over the open end of the tube, taped side in, and wrap the foil around the end of the tube to hold it in place. Don’t tape the slit end to the tube, but you may secure it with a rubber band if you wish. 
  • Align (precisely adjust) the spectroscope. We want to align our slit with the diffraction grating so that we get a wide spectrum, which will be easy to see. 

spectroscope

session_5_spectroscope_diagram

  • Hold the spectroscope so that you can look through the diffraction grating end (the plastic square should be about as close to your eye as your glasses’ lens or as close as you would put a microscope). Point the slit end of the spectroscope towards a light source – this can be a light in the room or if you are outside, at the SKY, but NOT the SUN! Look for a rainbow in the spectroscope, probably a little bit off to the side or up or down (you should be able to see regular light from your source coming through the slit, but the rainbow will be off center). 
  • Never look directly at the Sun with the spectroscope or your naked eye! It can result in permanent eye injury! 
  • While still pointing your spectroscope at the same light source and holding the tube steady, twist the slit around until the rainbow is as “fat” or “tall” as you can make it. (Conversely, you can twist the tube while holding the slit end steady – either is equally effective.) Once you are satisfied, tape the foil of the slit end into position. That is it! 

**Adult supervision required**

The Science: 

The diffraction grating in the spectroscope separates light into the different wavelengths (colors) that the light is made of. The Sun’s (or the incandescent bulb’s) spectrum shows all the usual colors of the rainbow. Sunlight is white light, meaning it includes all wavelengths of visible light. The different colors seen inside the tube represent different wavelengths of light, but all are in the visible range.

Sources:

https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/educators/programs/au/docs/sessions/Session_5.pdf 

How’d it go:

I was so excited for this STEM activity and it went really great. I’ve got a few kiddos who don’t like to follow along with the group and needed a lot of help. But other than that were all able to successfully create our own spectroscopes. Wooo!

That’s all for now!

-M-

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-