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

When I first proposed Dog Science Unleashed: fun activities to do with your canine companion to National Geographic, they came back to me with the instructions that I should prepare an outline for a paired book on cats. I balked.

“A book of activities for kids to do with their cats? Really? I’m not sure the cats are going to be on board with this plan.”

Cat Science Unleashed book

They assured me they always did pet books in pairs, and that I would think of something.

When working on my dog book, I would have various dogs come spend the day with me. The dog had a playdate, and I did research, a win for everybody. But it was a whole different deal with the cats. Most cats are uncomfortable outside of their territory, so there would be no dropping them off at my house. I had to go to them.

The first three cats I went to see refused to come out from under the bed for the entire hour and a half I was there. The next pair I visited were willing to tolerate my presence, but turned their nose up at every treat and activity I had brought. The cats that followed were quite clear on what activities they would not do, what they would only do if they thought I wasn’t watching, and what they might do with their owner, but only if I stayed away.

It turns out that cats do NOT respond differently to silhouettes of angry cats versus friendly cats (no matter how many hours you spent carefully drawing and cutting the pictures

There are lots of guides to interesting activities to do with dogs. There are not very many for cats. I had to start from scratch with almost every activity Cat Science Unleashed. I would start with an interesting fact about cats, and then work to find a way to use it in an interesting way. Gradually, I began to develop a list of useable activities.

If it suits them, cats can be lured to show off their balance beam skills.
Or express their displeasure that you have moved the furniture.

I hope students will see that even the “failed” research taught me something. It was only through the activities that didn’t work that I was able to develop the ones that did. In that sense, there were no failures. Only one more fun day with a cat.


Jodi Toppen-Wheeler

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Cat Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. Visit for more information on her books and staff development offerings.

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