GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020
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Linking Literacy with boy holding book.

Kids I meet when I speak at schools love to ask me, “What is your favorite children’s book?”

Since the age of 9, my favorite children’s book has been Charlotte’s Web. You won’t find this beloved story of friendship and the power of words in the categories of science or engineering, but maybe it belongs there as well. E. B. White was meticulous about factual, scientific details of spiders in Charlotte’s Web, and used these details to help spin his fictional, emotional story. The webs Charlotte weaves in the book are marvels of science and engineering—today, real spider webs inspire and inform biologists, nanotechnologists, chemical engineers, biomedical researchers and STEM pioneers in many other fields.

I have to admit I didn’t notice the science in Charlotte’s Web as a child. I was an insatiable fiction reader, and no one I knew was a scientist. For me, the book was a journey of imagination to a place much bigger than my own small world. Now as an author of STEM books, I try to create journeys of imagination for children to places where they can explore big ideas in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Weaving STEM and literacy takes many forms; my favorite form for bringing STEM work to life is picture books, especially using photographs of and by scientists. Children reading or looking at my book Scientists Get Dressed get to “meet” real scientists at work in places children cannot actually go, like floating out in space, clambering over a live volcano, and more. And through the book’s unique lens of what scientists wear, children—who love to dress up—can even imagine themselves as scientists and engineers making discoveries, saving lives and saving the planet.

Jane Veltkamp, biologist/educator who cared for Beauty
Raptor biologist Janie Veltkamp protected by puncture-proof, kevlar-lined gloves while handling Beauty the bald eagle (Photo: Glen Hush, (c) Jane Veltkamp)

Scientists Get Dressed was inspired by real scientists and science educators I have known and worked with closely. After coauthoring the book Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle with raptor biologist/educator Janie Veltkamp, I found myself thinking not just about the STEM content of Janie’s real life work, but about the clothing she must wear to do it. To protect herself from the powerful, ripping beaks and talons of wild birds of prey, Janie wears arm-length, puncture-proof gloves lined with Kevlar which is stronger and lighter than steel. Meanwhile my friend Dr. Marian Diamond, world renowned brain scientist and STEM education pioneer, wore a crisp, white coat for her life’s work in the laboratory, and tight lab gloves to handle human brains in the lab and classrooms.

The immediate spark for the book came when my 9-year-old grandniece showed me a photo of her water chemist mother, Dr. Lucy Rose, wearing chest waders in an icy stream. I knew her mother did research on freshwater pollution, but I suddenly realized I had NO idea how her mother did her work, or what she wore to do it. “That’s what Mommy does?” I asked in astonishment. Then began my own research to bring to life, in a book, how scientists do their work whether they’re collecting freezing snow samples on a glacier or burning lava samples on a volcano, being hoisted by a harness from a wheelchair to the high forest canopy, or snorkeling with massive, endangered whale sharks.

Cover of Scientists Get Dressed
Astronaut Mae Jemison getting dressed for spaceflight with help from spacesuit safety expert Sharon McDougle (Photo: NASA)

Christine Royce, author of the “Teaching Through Trade Books” column in NSTA’s Science and Children journal, has recognized that “While the scientists in the book include pioneers in their fields and environmental heroes, Scientists Get Dressed captures the important fact that scientists work everywhere, and are everyday people children might encounter.” One of those everyday people is Sharon McDougle, former spacesuit safety expert for NASA’s Space Shuttle, who appears on the book’s cover helping astronaut Mae Jemison prep for her historic space mission.

Author Deborah Lee Rose
Water chemist Dr. Lucy Rose wearing waterproof chest waders and gloves to test for pollution in an icy stream (Photo: Ethan Pawlowski, (c) Lucy Rose)

In an interview titled “Suiting Up for Space and STEM,” on the National Girls Collaborative Project blog for National Mentoring Month (January), McDougle looks back on her own experience and ahead at the future of STEM work. “Space exploration is not just about astronauts. There are all kinds of space-related jobs that kids can imagine themselves doing, and end up actually doing when they’re grown up,” she says. “As space exploration technology continues to develop, new STEM jobs are being created all the time. So a child today might someday work in a job that doesn’t exist yet!”

McDougle exemplifies how Scientists Get Dressed connects to the NGSS standard Science is a Human Endeavor. Read my full interview with her at https://ngcproject.org/blog/suiting-up-for-space-and-stem-qa-with-sharon-mcdougle-former-space-shuttle-crew-escape-equipmen). You can also find more resources connected with the book, including the hands-on Scientists’ Glove Challenge STEM Activity in the free educational guide to Scientists Get Dressed at www.deborahleerose.com.


Deborah Lee Rose, author
Deborah Lee Rose, author

Deborah Lee Rose is an internationally published children’s author and national STEM book award winner, including the AAAS/Subaru Prize and the Bank Street College Cook Prize for Beauty and the Beak, and the DeBary Award for Scientists Get Dressed. Her newest STEM/literacy book Astronauts Zoom! will be published in fall 2020, for the 20th anniversary of astronauts living on the International Space Station. Deborah was also senior science writer for UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, where she worked with science educators, scientists and engineers to create groundbreaking STEM education projects like the national, NSF-funded STEM activity website Howtosmile.org. Her website is www.deborahleerose.com.  

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