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Nick and Tesla Secret Agent Gadgets

Book 3 in the Nick and Tesla series offers great gadget-oriented science and engineering fun from the twins as they stay with their eccentric scientist uncle for the summer. This installment in the series is full of "spies like us" intrigue kids will love!

Science Twins Bring STEM to Life

The Nick and Tesla series is a wonderful and engaging STEM-based series for middle readers (and their parents!). The team of Science Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith have kept the energy level high for the twins, and each new book contains an exciting new story of intrigue—and the kid-based science that can help solve it.

See our reviews of Book 1 and Book 2.

In Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle, book 3 in the Nick and Tesla series (Quirk Books), the twins get paranoid. They think everyone is spying on them. Contrary to the first two books, book 3 keeps the action mostly close to home as the kids try and figure out which of the people visiting Uncle Newt's house—or living in the neighborhood—may be spying on them.

After receiving an aborted phone message from their mother that warns them that they are not safe (and really throws the soybean story out the window), the kids' paranoia grows faster than bacteria in a Petri dish. When the message is erased before they can let their uncle hear it, their fear spikes as they realize danger must be even closer than they suspected. As far as the kids are concerned, anyone and everyone could be the spy, from the cranky neighbor with the garden gnome to the nice one that gets hit in the face with a glider that flies better and farther than they expect when they test it out. Everyone.

With their fear kicked into overdrive, the twins start looking suspiciously at everyone they see. Filtered through their 11-year old imaginations, it is easy to see that Oli, wearing a trench coat and a fedora and looking for the jelly, might not really be a scientist apprentice for Uncle Newt like he says he is. Same for the cleaning crew ladies. And the bug exterminator. Or maybe the spy is Hiroko, Uncle Newt's scientist friend from book 2.

When Tesla's pendant, something she and Nick both wear and that they suspect serves as some form of protective tracking device, goes missing, the kids are convinced they are in imminent danger. They set out to try and uncover the spy by rigging a series of small science experiments and traps, including the Fingerprint-finder Powder and Evildoer Identification System, EGBQD OAAX Code Wheels (a simple encoding device made from foam cups), a Rube Goldberg-like spy cam, and a Booby-Trap Balloon Drop.

The fingerprint finder is a cool activity for budding forensics detectives and uses everyday materials (like a nail file, tape, and a pencil). After gathering fingerprints from the scene of the pendant crime, the twins get creative to collect fingerprints from the other people in the house for comparison. When their detective work goes unexpectedly awry, they attempt to set a trap to reveal the spy by laying some bait and rigging Tesla's room with a Ring-a-ding-ding Spy Exposure System alarm system made with a bicycle bell that they hook to a simple circuit and motor. Check out the diagram for the activity. It looks a lot like a mouse trap hooked to an alarm! Their next spy-trapping invention is a Spy-busting Invisicam that uses a disposable camera.

As the story unfolds, the kids hone in on who they think is out of place. With their Uncle's help, they set up a stakeout and the story spirals to its surprising conclusion.

The projects in book 3 feel less hard-core science and more spies-like-us mentality than in the first two books, but these are easy-to-rig gadgets kids will be eager to try. As in the previous books, directions for these science and engineering projects are included so that readers can try them out. All in all, book 3 is a great addition to the Nick and Tesla series, and with new information revealed at the end about their parents and space-based solar power, the groundwork is in place for more mysteries—and plenty more engineering and science innovation.

Book 4 (Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself) is already available, and we are looking forward to checking it out!



A lighthearted how-to guide puts students on a yellow brick road to setting up a website using basic HTML and CSS or a content system like WordPress.

Learn the Basics of Web Publishing by Following the Comic Adventures of Kim

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress helps teach new web coders the basics of HTML, CSS, and WordPress by following the story of Kim and her little dog Tofu as Kim creates her first website.

Computer Science Projects for Fun or School

Students interested in computer programming may enjoy the following science projects. Many of these projects use JavaScript, a scripting language that can be used with HTML pages:

For more about computer science and K-12 STEM education, see the following posts:

From Weebly to Wix, students (and teachers) today are building their own websites to go along with school projects and assignments. With a wide range of available tools that hide the code behind push-button GUIs, it is easy enough to stake virtual ground, and information that was once shared via a poster or a PowerPoint presentation is now often handled with a student-made website. While more students are putting up websites, they are not necessarily learning more than how to put content on the web in the most surface-level, drag-and-drop way—similar to how content is formatted and saved in a word processing program.

Knowing more about what's going on under the hood of a basic web page offers more control and the ability to better fine-tune a generic website. A graphic novel introduction from No Starch Press takes a Wizard of Oz approach to helping the main character learn about HTML, CSS, and WordPress (where the Wizard lives). The result is an engaging introduction to web coding basics as a stepping-stone approach to understanding, using, and controlling a content management system like WordPress.

Not Really 'Coding'

There are levels of code, scripting, and markup used to develop websites and web-based applications. The pages that users see when they visit a site are typically created using HTML and CSS. HTML (hypertext markup language) is used to tell the browser about the structure of the material (e.g., this is a headline, and this is a list). CSS (cascading style sheets) is used in conjunction with HTML to tell the browser what the content should look like (color, size, placement, etc.).

Once upon a time, coding for the web required working directly with HTML and CSS in a text editor. The "tags" you wrap around content when "coding" (or, more accurately, "marking up") information to show on a web page are interpreted by a browser, and only the content is shown to the viewer. (You can see what these tags look like by using the "view source" option in a browser to look under the hood of a web page and see how these tags are used to denote headlines, paragraphs, lists, and more.)

Today, many, many web sites are created using tools that simplify the process of preparing web content. These tools make it easy for people to create websites using front end interfaces that let you type (or paste) content directly into an online editor and format it much as you would using a word processing tool. The information is then automatically marked up by the system and each page (or entry) is stored in a database. Within these environments, you can also control the site's overall look and feel.
While learning to use HTML markup isn't necessarily "computer coding" in the sense that learning a language like Python, C++, or Java is, learning to use basic HTML is, arguably, a good way for students to begin working with text files that use a required syntax to make something "show up" in a computer browser. A basic HTML error won't necessarily crash a page, but learning to debug HTML or CSS issues is good practice and helps young coders develop good habits and testing skills.

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress, written by Nate Cooper and illustrated by Kim Gee, takes a yellow brick road approach to learning about website development, beginning with HTML, adding in CSS, and then introducing WordPress, a popular content management system originally developed to make it easier for non-coders to create blogs. Today, WordPress is used by people to easily and quickly create and manage a wide range of websites (not just blogs). Much of the "code" that runs a website created using WordPress is already in place to make it easy to customize a site and publish your own content. But knowing the basics of HTML and CSS will help you have more control of how your content is displayed.

The more you know, the more you can tinker, which is why Kim, in Build Your Own Website gets a literal crash course in HTML.

The Comic Format

Build Your Own Website is presented, partly, in comic book (or graphic novel) format. The book tells the story of Kim (the illustrator), a young woman who has signed up for an evening class called Web Basics 101 because she wants to create an online portfolio website to share her art. Kim's teacher is Nate (the author).

Pretty quickly, we see that Kim, who does yoga and has a dog named Tofu, is confused about what she is learning in Nate's class and needs, you guessed it, a Wizard of Oz dream sequence to give her web skills a jolt. There is no tornado in site, but Kim crash lands a spaceship and discovers an HTML guru who is "learned in the ancient language of HTML."

The storyline of Kim's journey to learning basic HTML, CSS, and building her site with WordPress is simple to follow, funny in a roll-your-eyes, I-see-what-you-did-there way, and does a good job explaining concepts in a pared down, straightforward manner that fits inside dialog bubbles. The humor, be prepared, can be a bit forced (A tag like a shirt tag?), but the approach may especially capture the interest of students who think coding isn't something they can do and draw them into the story.

Each chapter contains a comic portion followed by traditional how-to instruction, information, examples, and lots more background information. (You will need to read both the comic vignette and the textbook portions! Not everything is covered in the graphic novel sections.)

From the guru, Kim learns about HTML tags and making, saving, and viewing files. With a few basic lessons from the guru, and armed with her site map, the Sword of Standards and Conventions (a few basic rules for file naming), and a healthy fear of the wild 404 dragon, Kim is sent off into the content forest to create her pages.

In Chapter 3, Glinda, the good witch, appears to teach Kim about CSS so that the site doesn't "look boring." With help from Glinda, Kim gets a look at how CSS can work with HTML to help her control the look and feel of her site.

In Chapter 4, Kim runs into Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow on her way to WordPress City. The man (a la Emerald City's Wizard?) at the entrance calls her HTML poppycock and says that WordPress City is a "modern, managed city that makes it easy to create web pages." Kim stays at the village inn, visits the library, learns about blogs, and sets up her first WordPress page. Later, she and the librarian "go shopping" in the Appearance Panel where Kim learns how themes work and how formatting can be taken on, off, and customized in WordPress (like an outfit).

In the end, Kim stumbles behind a curtain, and rather than finding the Wizard, she runs into the guru again, coming full circle and getting a reminder that HTML is still there, underneath it all.

With a supply of quarters to power her spaceship (rather than Dorothy's red shoes), Kim flies off, finds a host to set up her site, and puts what she has learned in action.

Build Your Own Website will appeal to a very specific audience looking to learn more about building a website, but for someone intimidated by the process, the book is a lighthearted and practical introduction. At the end of the book, a new web coder will have the skills needed to set up a free WordPress site and begin putting content in place and, if necessary, should be able to tweak the content directly using HTML and CSS.

Build Your Own Website cover



Nick and Tesla Explore Robotics

The science-savvy twins return in book two of the Nick and Tesla series. As their summer of intrigue and engineering continues, they find themselves in the middle of a small-town mystery and a bunch of robots. Along the way, they make their own—and you can, too!

Nick and Tesla Book 2: Robot Army Rampage

Fun with Robotics Engineering

Like many beginning robotics engineers, Nick and Tesla build their own robots using toothbrush heads. Follow along as they design their bots, try out the DIY build from the book, and continue the exploration with bristlebot projects from Science Buddies: Racing BristleBots: On Your Mark. Get Set. Go! and Build a Light-Tracking Robot Critter.

Book 2 in the Nick and Tesla series, Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself, picks up where the first book left off. Having solved the mystery surrounding the neighborhood mansion, Nick and Tesla have settled into their summer with their scientist uncle.

As Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Books) opens, Nick is experimenting with a homemade volcano, Tesla is working on a rocket, and Uncle Newt is tweaking a compost-fueled vacuum, which (of course) explodes, creating a smelly mess that sends them all running from the house.

The action in Robot Army Rampage moves from Uncle Newt's neighborhood to the town of Half Moon Bay. Escaping the fumes from the compost explosion, the kids and Uncle Newt head for pizza and catch their first glimpse of what turns out to be a wave of robots that have quietly taken up residence in businesses on Main Street. Inspired, the kids head to the local electronics and hobby store for parts to make their own robots.

At the Wonder Hut, a few new players enter the story, including Dr. Hiroko Sakurai (a former scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), a store employee, and a joystick-controlled robot modeled after the Curiosity Mars rover. Unfortunately, the shelves for robotics parts at the Wonder Hut are, mysteriously, empty.

With no new parts, the twins challenge each other to build a robot from what they can salvage out of their uncle's lab, and the robot engineering begins. Their first bots are also the first projects in the book that readers can make themselves—Nick's Do-It-Yourself PC Leftovers Wander-Bot and Tesla's Do-It-Yourself Semi-Invisible Bottle Bot. With coat hangers, an empty soda bottle, a cast-off fan from an old computer, and some basic hardware and electronics parts, readers can build their own bots and put them to the test.

Building and battling robots takes the kids' minds off of their parents (who have been mysteriously whisked to Uzbekistan), but when Tesla's bot is crushed under a set of bike wheels, a new mystery rolls in, and the story takes off.

Mystery on Main Street

The father of one of the neighborhood kids from book one owns a comic book store on Main Street. When a valuable collectible comic is stolen, the kids decide to try and help solve the case.

As the kids play detective, robots continue to appear in town and be interwoven in the story. Early in their investigation, Nick and Tesla decide to use robotic bugs to distract their first suspect. Again, the siblings have different ideas about the design of the bugs. One wants to use LED eyes. The other wants to incorporate grape jelly to make a gooey mess. They argue, too, about the body (housing) of the bugs, debating the merits of cardboard or bottle caps. Ultimately, they compromise on toothbrush robots with mini vibrating motors (which are suddenly back in stock at the Wonder Hut).

From the Wonder Hut store clerk, the twins learn that Dr. Sakurai has been giving robots to the businesses in town to help promote the store. What follows is a comedy of errors and a series of misreads and half information as the kids try and sort things out.

As the mystery begins to unravel, the robots in town take on sinister overtones. But Nick and Tesla are up to the challenge. During a final showdown, Nick improvises exactly the right tool to save the day. Read the book to find out how (scientifically) his Super-soaker Bot Blaster takes down a robot army!

Making Connections

Readers of Robot Army Rampage will delight in Nick and Tesla's second summer adventure. As they follow along, they will pick up general robotics vocabulary, information, and inspiration. Servo motors, actuators, hydraulics, pneumatics, kinematic functions, micromotors... it's all here! As in book one, Robot Army Rampage contains guided versions of some of Nick and Tesla's inventions as DIY activities for readers, including Nick's Do-It-Yourself PC Leftovers Wander-Bot, Tesla's Do-It-Yourself Semi-Invisible Bottle Bot, Homemade Robo-Bug, Replacement Angel Hoverbot, and the Totally Improvised Super-Soaker Bot Blaster.

Readers can find similar hands-on science and engineering projects at Science Buddies that extend the fun and encourage students to try out additional approaches to building and designing robots and hovercraft! See the following science project ideas, blog posts, and family science activities for more information:

On the Nick and Tesla website, students, parents, and teachers can watch videos of projects from the book. A great educator's guide is also available for parents and teachers. The guide includes vocabulary, chapter summaries, questions for discussion, writing/research suggestions, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) notes, and more.

Don't miss our in-depth look at book 1, Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself and stay tuned for our review of book 3, Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle! Book 4, Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself, is scheduled for release in October, 2014.

If you have a favorite science-themed book—for any age—let us know!



Twins Nick and Tesla launch a homemade rocket right into the heart of an unexpected mystery in book one of this fun science and engineering-themed series for middle readers. Sent to stay with an uncle for the summer, the kids quickly find their DIY spirit and engineering wits are going to be key tools in helping unravel what's going on—and keeping them safe from the jaws of some very unfriendly guard dogs!

When a book for readers in grades 4-7 starts out with a Danger! Danger! Danger! Danger! warning page, you know something is up. Four all-caps danger alerts on an all-black page can only mean that turning the page can not be a good thing, right? Of course not! For kids who pick up the first Nick and Tesla book by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Books), the introductory danger warning probably ups the ante tenfold in terms of anticipation of the story and projects that follow. Lucky for them, the story lives up to the ominous warnings, providing a fast-paced tale of intrigue, engineering, danger, and zany science. The plot may not be entirely believable, but the combination of exciting elements and innovative DIY projects in action yields a guaranteed pager turner.

Thumbs Up for Science and Engineering

When you meet Nick and Tesla in the opening pages of Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself (book 1 in the Nick and Tesla series), the 11-year-old twins have just landed in California and are on their way to stay with an uncle they barely know because their parents have suddenly been whisked away to work on an urgent science project (studying soybean irrigation) in Uzbekistan. Readers get their first glimpse of the twins through the eyes of a taxi driver who thinks something about the pair signals trouble. He notices that one of them is holding A Brief History of Time and one is holding Theory of Applied Robotics: Kinematics, Dynamics, and Control. He notices the black SUV that follows them from the airport to Half Moon Bay. He senses that these are no ordinary kids. Even so, he drops them off at a house where an automated lawn mower contraption is running amuck, and the first Nick and Tesla adventure begins.

These kids may have gotten ditched by their parents for the summer (the details remain mysteriously murky), but they have clearly landed in a wonderland of science and engineering, the kind of no rules, no parents, and junk food galore summer break scenario of which some kids dream—with a fully stocked science lab and workshop at their disposal. The doorbell at their Uncle's house chimes before they touch it, and although they debate about the possibility of a motion detector, they poke around and track down a pressure sensor plate. As they walk into Uncle Nick's house, they enter a world of chaos, something that sounds like an engineering junkyard, science lab, Petri dish, and compost bin combined, all guarded by a cat that has clearly licked the icing off of their "welcome" cake.

The zany scene only gets crazier when they hear someone calling for help and go to the basement lab to discover their uncle is trapped in a blob of orange goo—a spray on clothing experiment that still has a few kinks to be worked out.

Mentos and Diet Coke Explosion science project

Continue the Exploration

Kids who are inspired by the hands-on science and engineering activities in the Nick and Tesla books can find more great activities and science projects at Science Buddies. Projects that tie in, nicely, with Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab include:

Other projects students might explore after experimenting with wrapping their own electromagnet coils and triggering some soda-based chemical reactions include:

Christmas lights, an Easy Bake oven, Petri dishes, burners, saxophones, soldering irons, mattresses filled with compost... it's all here, as is a waif-like girl who appears to be trapped in the mansion down the street, guard dogs, burly bad guys, a town with a lackadaisical police force of one, and the kind of kids-hang-out-in-the-neighborhood vibe that feels like something from the past. The difference is that these kids may be hanging out in the neighborhood, but they are not just riding bikes and skipping rocks as they wile away their summer exile. Instead, they end up embroiled in a mystery that requires ingenuity, science acumen, and engineering to solve. Luckily, they have a bunch of ideas up their sleeve and are up to the task.

Nick and Tesla's first project in the book is the Low-tech Bottle Rocket and Launcher from PVC Pipe. This one may just be a boredom buster for the twins, but it effectively launches them right smack in the middle of intrigue. The nice thing about the projects is that these are not simply paper plate projects. These are DIY projects that have a bit of oomph to them, and while there are some ordinary materials in the mix, readers will need some specialty parts (and possibly a trip to the hardware store) to complete some of them. Even so, with a bit of adult assistance, these projects feel "doable" by kids. The projects are also nicely woven into the story. When the PVC pipe rocket flies over the fence, and their initial attempts to retrieve it are foiled by a pair of dogs, the pair whips up a RoboCat Dog Distractor, a clever adaptation (on wheels) of the classic Mentos/Coke reaction.

With the stage set, the story continues to unfold as the kids work to solve the mystery of the abandoned house, the ghostlike girl, and a lost pendant. They spout Occam's razor even as they design their Christmas-is-over Intruder Alert System for peace of mind. And in the end, when they really are stuck exactly where they should not be, with seemingly no way out, their resourcefulness again pays off as they scrounge together the parts for the Do-it-yourself Electromagnet and Picker-upper and put it to surprising but good use as part of a last-ditch escape plan.

As the book wraps up, all the kids safe and sound and plenty of food in the house, you know that summer has just started.... Stay tuned for our in-depth look at book two! If you can't wait, check out Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself, Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle, and Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself (coming this fall).

Highlight on a Good Read

For the parent reader, the story verges into the lane of far-fetched, especially when the kids decide to trail the pseudo-construction workers' van. The gizmo they use, however, is undeniably nifty. Nick and Tesla set up a low-tech Semi-invisible Nighttime Van Tracker using a highlighter and a black light. Though you don't want to think of kids trying to follow bad guys with a contraption like this (much less on bikes and at night), the concept of the tracker is cool. This is certainly a simple and low-tech project the kids might try at home for other reasons. (You can see the project, and others from the book, in action in Bob Pflugfelder's videos on the Nick and Tesla site.)

More Summer Science Reading

If you have a favorite science-themed book—for any age—let us know!

Update: See our in-depth look at book 2, Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself!



This great guide and collection of family-friendly activities lets kids explore the history of robotics and put robotics engineering concepts to use with hands-on projects at home.

Introduce Students to Robotics Engineering

Robotics: DISCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE with 20 PROJECTS is fast-paced and full of fascinating and inspiring robotics information, history, trivia, and try-it-out activities.

In the world of student science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), robotics is blazingly hot. Television, movies, games, and books abound with examples of robots, both ones that mimic the kinds of robotics technology that already exists and ones that envision a future populated with robots. Kids of all ages have lots of exciting and innovative ideas about what robots are and how robots may be in the future.

Luckily, getting started with hands-on robotics projects isn't difficult! Parents looking to do fun engineering activities with their students at home can easily wile away an afternoon helping kids create simple bots—ones that use electronics and ones that do not. The Science Buddies Robotics area offers several projects that are great for students to do independently or fun for families to do together.

For families with students hungry for more robotics ideas and information, Robotics: DISCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE with 20 PROJECTS (Nomad Press), written by Kathy Ceceri and illustrated by Sam Carbaugh, is a great choice. Robotics offers up a really accessible nuts-and-bolts and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-about-robotics resource aimed at students and families—no prior experience or expertise required. In addition to being chock full of information, history, trivia, tidbits, facts, and STEM concepts related to robotics, Robotics contains 20 do-it-yourself projects that put robotics concepts to use, encouraging students to learn by active exploration with DIY projects that use readily-available materials.

Robotics 101

Robotics does a great job presenting a ton of historical and scientific information in a really accessible, fun, and easy-to-read format. Pages are broken up with plenty of call-out boxes that define "Words to Know," offer "Fun Facts," highlight additional robot trivia (like what the LilyPad Arduino is and how fashion designer Shannon Henry used it to make the Skirt Full of Stars), or tell a side story related to the main text (the story of Dean Kamen's Segway, for example). Readers will find reference to all kinds of robot tidbits, like the Roomba (and how developers hacked it to do other things), Turtle Robots, Google's self-driving car, Honda's ASIMO, biomimetic robots, robots built with legs made from Tinkertoys, ones built from rubber bicycle tubing, and more. Though the book is black and white, there are plenty of fun illustrations scattered throughout Robotics.

Overall, the format is fun and invites readers to read straight through or to pick the book up and hone in on some of the discrete boxes of information. No matter what page you open to, you can find standalone boxes to read. Ceceri does a great job setting a rapid pace that offers readers lots of information, and lots of explanation, and yet keeps the tone accessible and engaging. This is not a book readers will need to slog through, but be prepared to jot down some notes because Ceceri moves quickly!

Robotics Then and Now

The history of robotics engineering probably dates back much farther than you think, especially if your first thoughts of "historical" robots stem from something like Star Wars or classic science fiction like Arthur C. Clarke's (novel) or Stanley Kubrick's (film) 2001 A Space Odyssey.

In Robotics, Ceceri does a nice job first setting up common definitions of what a robot is, based on what she defines as the "Sense-Think-Act" cycle, a cycle which dictates that a true robot senses (takes in information), thinks (processes info to determine what to do), and then acts (does something based on the info). Readers are then challenged to use the Sense-Think-Act model criteria to see how many things around them qualify as "robots." A handy "Robot... Or Not a Robot" flowchart makes a scavenger-hunt game of the activity and gets kids thinking about their remote controls, game controllers, garage door openers, and other household devices and electronics in new ways.

[Note: Not all scientists agree with the Sense-Think-Act cycle though, a fact that Ceceri notes. Many of the robots described in the book or included in the book's projects are, in fact, not ones that fit the formal and "brains"-dependent definition.]

After setting the stage for how to think about "robotics" and "robots," Robotics takes readers traipsing through a star-studded history of robotics engineering, including automata (familiar to Hugo readers/watchers), seemingly magical music-making theremin, and big names like Leonardo da Vinci, Ada Lovelace, and Tesla. The history tracks a progression of invention that leads to modern robotics and also underscores the diversity of robotics engineering. Robotics come in all shapes and sizes and appear in all fields, including the arts, medicine, military, space exploration, and business.

Robotics Engineering from Head to Toe

ArtBot robotics project

Robotics: DISCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE with 20 PROJECTS includes steps for building a simple ArtBot. To expand the project, see Science Buddies' Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art project. After building the robot, students explore how attaching different weights to the motor changes the way the ArtBot draws.

The Bristlebot kit in the Science Buddies Store contains the electronics parts needed to make an Artbot and to explore other simple robots using Science Buddies Project Ideas.

The central chapters of Robotics are broken down to logically cover robotics engineering concepts and approaches that robotics engineers take and think through when designing robots:

  • A chapter on "housing" covers the exteriors or bodies of robots and raises questions about size, hardness, flexibility, and more.

  • A chapter on "actuators" covers how engineers make robots move. This chapter gives readers a mini crash course in electronics, including motor basics, circuits, and current. Principles like force and torque are covered, as are concepts like servo motors, hydraulics, pneumatics, solar energy, and more.

  • A chapter on "effectors" covers how robots "do" things using arms, tools, speakers, grippers, and other elements that engineering design to enable robots to perform tasks. The discussion includes degrees of freedom (the different directions in which a robotic part can move).

  • A chapter on "sensors" covers how robots can tell what is happening or how they take in information. This chapter includes discussion of levers, photoresistors, emitters, ultraviolet sensors, sonar, radar, and lidar.

  • A chapter on "controllers" covers how robots think. This chapter includes a summary of if-then programming logic, subroutines, and procedures. Ceceri provides an overview of Logo and three hands-on activities that let kids experiment with basic Logo commands. A cool Binary Bead Jewelry project lets kids use ASCII code to spell out words using beads and paperclips.

Exploring Robotics with DIY Projects

Embedded throughout Robotics are 20 robotics activities that can be done at home with easy-to-find materials. The activities are fun, fast, don't require many specialty items or electronics expertise, and let kids begin exploring how different parts can be used, combined, and housed in various exteriors and frameworks to accomplish different goals. The first building project in the book is the Art-Making Vibrobot. (A version of this robot appears at Science Buddies, too, in the Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art science fair project idea!)

Other projects in Robotics include:

  • Frubbery Robot Skin (a non-Newtonian fluid made from water and borax)

  • BEAM-Type Solar Wobblebot (made from a solar panel mounted on top of a clear lid from a drinking cup, mounted on top of a CD, all balanced on a pencil eraser that moves around)

  • Passive Dynamic Mini-Walker (no motor or power source)

  • Robotic Hand (made from straws, cardboard, and string)

  • Robotic Arm (made from cardboard, paper towel tubes, and needleless syringes to provide hydraulic power)

  • Soft Robotic Gripper (made from a soda bottle, sugar, and a balloon)

  • Rolling Ball Tilt Sensor (tilting triggers a greeting card sound device or other small motor or LED)

  • Pressure Sensor (made from index cards, watch battery, an LED, and yarn)

Each project contains a simple materials list and numbered directions to guide the build. Illustration of the steps is limited, but these are simple enough projects that you should be able to follow along—and the building is the goal, not the testing of multiple variables (as you might in a science fair project). Even so, if you are a visual learner, you will probably wish there were a few more illustrations to show some of the assembly steps in action. But the range of projects is still fun and a nice mix of concepts and ideas to give young robotics engineers the satisfaction of building small robotics systems that "do" something and "work" when finished.

One for the Shelf

Overall, I was very impressed with the scope of Robotics: DISCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE with 20 PROJECTS. There is so much packed into this book, and the format combined with Ceceri's excellent tone really work. That many of the concepts in Robotics match up to Science Buddies projects was also great to see. The "Uncanny Valley" is there, as is a brief discussion of theremin music devices. Discussions of hydraulics, soft robots, solar circuits, and more can also be paired with related projects at Science Buddies to extend the hands-on learning.



In honor of World Diabetes Day, we review a compelling autobiography by Phil Southerland, founder of Team Novo Nordisk. Phil didn't start out to change the world's view of diabetes or inspire others with diabetes, but his path on one bike after another led him to exactly that. Today, Phil and his team are making a difference around the world, raising awareness about Type 1 diabetes, and providing important role models for people with Type 1 Diabetes of all ages. Not Dead Yet, his story of how he got there, is an amazing read.

World Diabetes Day blue circle

Shining a Light on Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month (#NDAM) and today, November 14, is World Diabetes Day. Throughout the month of November, Science Buddies has been making daily updates at Twitter to highlight hands-on student science angles for students hoping to experiment with subjects related to diabetes.

Thanks to support from Novo Nordisk, Science Buddies has numerous Project Ideas that specifically deal with diabetes. In addition, many other projects and resources may also be relevant for a student who wants to undertake a diabetes-related science investigation. Understanding diabetes, its symptoms, treatments, and risks is something important for all individuals—not just those with diabetes.

A few of our tweets from NDAM appear below:

  • @JackAndraka developed pancreatic cancer test at 15. What might a student #science project discover for #diabetes? #NDAM #T1day @NovoNordisk
  • Sucrose, Glucose, Fructose, Oh My!: not all foods turn to glucose at same rate #science @NovoNordisk #diabetes http://ow.ly/qkSiW #NDAM
  • How Sweet It Is!: investigate fruit/juice glucose concentration. Student #science @NovoNordisk #diabetes http://ow.ly/qkRRd #NDAM #STEM
  • Student #science idea: video game playing count as exercise? Tweak to investigate blood sugar changes #diabetes http://ow.ly/qkSqd #NDAM
  • "How Many Sugars are in Your Smoothie?" - student #science project #diabetes @NovoNordisk http://ow.ly/qkSLO #NDAM
  • Student #science "Modeling the Chances of Getting an Autoimmune Disease" with candies and dice. #STEM #NDAM #diabetes http://ow.ly/qAkIU
  • Student #science: Visualize the sugar in non-diet soda using a hydrometer. http://ow.ly/qkT5G #STEM #NDAM
  • Does the ripeness of the fruit change the carb count? Student #science #diabetes http://ow.ly/qkT9k #NDAM
  • Hands-on student #science: Analyze blood sugar data with range, variance, and standard deviation. #NDAM http://ow.ly/qMHEJ #diabetes

To follow all of our updates, please join us at Twitter.

Hands-on Science Project for Students Interested in Diabetes and Health

Students wanting to learn more about diabetes—or wanting to explore aspects of their own diabetes with a hands-on science project—can get started by considering one of these Science Buddies Projects Ideas:

I don't know much about cycling. Other than the big names that probably everyone has heard of in the context either of sports victory, health-related comeback, or, unfortunately, circuit scandal, I am pretty clueless about the world of professional cycling. Other than the really big circuit races, I don't know one Tour de from another. And, a year ago, like many, many others, I didn't know Type 1 diabetes (T1D) from Type 2.

When I wrote about Team Novo Nordisk over the summer, I found myself unexpectedly caught up with the all-Type-1 cycling team, with what they stand for, with what it must be like to ride at that level and successfully manage T1D, and with the positive message they send to everyone they roll past on their bikes—diabetes doesn't have to stop you.

After reading the team's story and learning more about its grass-roots origins, I picked up a copy of Phil Southerland's Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease: From Diagnosis to Dominance. From online reviews and the book jacket, I expected the book to be about the trials and tribulations of managing T1D and being a professional athlete at the same time. I expected the book to be about diabetes, about winning against the poor odds doled out by doctors when he was first diagnosed with T1D as a child thirty years ago.

Not Dead Yet surprised me.

As I read Not Dead Yet, I learned about levels and intricacies of professional cycling (and of road racing versus mountain racing). I read, and I recognized in Phil qualities familiar to anyone who has lived in the "south." I read, and I found myself charmed, surprised, inspired, and amazed, time and time again by Phil, by the story, by the incredible amount of detail he recalls about countless races in the last two decades, by his persistently positive perspective on his diabetes, and by his transformation from an adolescent riding with buddies in his hometown to the founder and CEO of what has evolved into Team Novo Nordisk, a global sports organization.

As I read, I got glimpses of T1D, but not in the way I expected. Instead, surprisingly, though Phil was conscientious, always, about managing his diabetes, his diabetes runs almost as an undercurrent or side-story to his development as an athlete. There is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich he ate from another student's lunch in kindergarten when he was low. There is a cupcake moment he recounts this way: "At six years old, I became the CEO of my body." There is the fear of blindness, a common complication of uncontrolled diabetes, that underwrites his story and his acute attention, always, to his A1C number. There are slivers of diabetes throughout, but the bulk of Phil's story focuses on the growth and development of a kid looking for a father figure, a kid capable of incredible focus and determination, and, oh yeah, a kid with Type 1 diabetes.

That Phil's mom galvanized and educated an entire community of friends and neighbors when faced with the realities of Type 1 diabetes should not go un-noted, and Phil is quick to credit with his mom for how she handled his diagnosis and the management of his diabetes when he was young. In many ways, her approach to his diabetes seems to have set the stage for the story to come because, no matter what the sport or challenge, Phil didn't grow up thinking that diabetes should stop him. Early in his story, he writes: "At this point you might also be thinking that my childhood was a horror. Puking, injections, seizures, suppositories, divorce, and sibling guilt. A real barrel of laughs. Well, here's the other side of that story. These and a few other episodes stand out in my mind vividly, in part because they were the exceptions, not the rule. While some people find this hard to believe when I tell them, most of my childhood was... well, it was great." (47)

Recalling his early elementary school years, Phil writes: "I guess I was determined: determined to prove anyone wrong who thought I was not capable of doing what any other kid could do, and maybe doing it better. Determined not to let the diabetes rule my life.... Determined to excel, to succeed (although at what, I wasn't sure). Determined to get on with life and to do what had to be done. Above all, though, determined to be a kid—albeit perhaps a slightly more mature one. (52)

By chapter 3, 11-year old Phil has us following along as he spends time on the racquetball courts, determined to develop the skills and techniques needed to win against another boy about his age. With racquetball, Phil first begins a training regimen and pattern of determination that will recur again and again in his story, even as the sporting focus changes. On the way to developing his racquetball skills, he was told by a mentor to practice 50 shots a day of each of seven common racquetball shots. A couple of hours, every day, day after day. Phil was on his way and, with each shot and each new match, he was seeing in action a lesson that stuck with him: "hard work produces results."

Growing Up on a Bike

Although Phil recalls always riding something, it is when he was about 12 that he remembers things changing. With a new mountain bike, he and his friends would ride and ride and ride. And sometimes the ride would end with a Snickers bar, all that exercise allowing an insulin-free indulgence. The next new mountain bike put him in touch with a group of older riders at a local bike shop, Revolutions.

Slowly, first through mountain biking and then, later, through a transition to road racing, we see the development of Phil as an athlete, and as an adolescent approaching adulthood. There is a wonderful freshness to Phil's story. As an autobiographical account of growing up in the 90's, there are moments of teenage angst, moments of adolescent exploration, examples that stand out as tally marks on the quest for identity. When Phil goes to watch his first Twilight Criterium, he shaves his hair into a Mohawk, dyes it red and green, and pours Elmer's glue over it—"so that my single hedgerow of hairs stood up like bristled in a brush."

Candid and unexpected moments like these jump out and grab a reader time and time again in Phil's story. And as Phil's development as an athlete continues, there are moments when you might be tempted to forget that diabetes is the understory and insulin his lifeline. Mentions of a high blood sugar reading or, more frequently, the need to bolster a low blood sugar, dot the landscape of Phil's ride from one race to another. There are a few frightening tales of extreme lows, stories that reinforce the importance of friends being well-informed about diabetes and what to do if a problem arises. But racing, not diabetes, was Phil's platform as he began his years at the University of Georgia.

Then Phil meets Joe Eldridge, another cyclist with Type 1 diabetes. As he and Joe become friends, Phil realizes that not everyone with diabetes is as diligent about managing the disease as he is. He challenges Joe to a series of blood sugar checks, with the loser paying the tab for burritos. As Joe's approach to his diabetes changes, Phil realizes that he has something to offer—and realizes that he wants to connect with other diabetics and to help ensure others realize that diabetes is not easy, "but once you figure it out, everything else in your life becomes easier." (185)

Phil's story continues, and readers learn both of the injury that sets him back as a rider and of the kindness of a stranger at a coffee shop that helps him take a business idea from paper to reality. Team Type 1 is born, and Phil, who had practiced making conversation with people while working in a grocery store as a kid, begins dividing his time between pitching and growing Team Type 1 and his own training. There are corporate sponsorships which helped pave the way in the early days, and there are people and supporters who made the first Race Across America (RAAM) (and the second) possible. There are changes, challenges, hypoglycemic lows, nutritional experiments (and mistakes), logistics planning (and oversights), and successes and setbacks.

In Not Dead Yet, Phil takes readers along for the exciting ride.

It is a ride that continues to evolve, a ride that Phil and other members of Team Novo Nordisk, formerly Team Type 1, continue to chart as they manage their own diabetes and help show others with Type 1 Diabetes that taking control of diabetes is imperative and, once you do, you can do anything.

Note for Parents: Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease: From Diagnosis to Dominance is an amazing, real-world coming-of-age story, one that readers with an interest in sports or an interest in diabetes may especially enjoy. The book does include themes and subjects typical of many adolescent stories, so use parental guidance with your readers.

Novo Nordisk
Science Buddies Project Ideas that support student exploration of diabetes and other global health issues like hemophilia and nutrition are sponsored by Novo Nordisk.



Video games and comic books team up against the Dark Wizard in this hands-on how to book for kids. As the main characters tackle fun quests, kids learn programming fundamentals—and have fun making their own video games.

Note: a new version of this book is now available that covers Scratch 2.

Sparking Interest in Programming

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! introduces kids to Scratch's drag-and-drop building block environment with a combination of fun comic narration and thorough step-by-step instruction.

Update: a new version of this book is now available that covers Scratch 2.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games
By The LEAD Project (Learning through Engineering, Art and Design)

Months ago, when I originally pulled this book for review, Scratch 2.0 hadn't yet been released. I flipped through the book, was very impressed, and put it aside for a more intensive read-through and highlight during the long summer weeks when many kids, like my own, have plenty of downtime that, with a nudge, may be converted from game and app playing to game and app building.

Between then and now, Scratch got a fairly major overhaul. Super Scratch Programming Adventure! was written for version 1.4, a downloadable application. The fresh new Scratch 2.0 is an online development environment. For Scratch developers, this change offers portability and convenience. No matter what computer you sit down at, you can log into the Scratch website from a browser and work on your project. Scratch 2.0 also introduces exciting new functionality, like a sound editor, video sensing, and custom (procedure) blocks

Despite the changes in Scratch and the difference in versioning numbers, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is still a Scratch book to be reckoned with and is still the Scratch book being used in my house, right now, for some deep-down, dive-right-in, Scratch immersion this summer. Bottom line: A new version of Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is scheduled for release later this fall, but if you have a student ready to learn Scratch now, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is a great choice.

Cartoon Quests and Hands-on How To

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! takes a fun approach, turning the core hands-on tutorial into an engaging learning adventure. Each chapter contains a fun programming challenge that is framed with a short comic book-style introduction at the beginning of the chapter. There is an overarching storyline, but the mini-story and challenge in each chapter differs. The characters remains the same, so kids follow along as Mitch, Scratchy (the cat), and a crew of "Cosmic Defenders" face up against the Dark Wizard and the Dark Minions in quests like Defend Hong Kong's Technocore (Chapter 4) and The Secret Treasure of Giza (Chapter 9).

Mitch and Scratchy meet up in Chapter 1 after a solar flare lands Scratchy (from cyberspace) in the home of Mitch (a programming student). There is little time to spend pondering Scratchy's sudden appearance though because their legs are inexplicably and instantly immobilized. They are then handed a "secret manual" with instructions to follow the instructions before the black tornado swallows them.

With this introduction, they—and a programmer of any age following along—are off!

The screenshot above is from a game created by a twelve-year-old student using the Super Scratch Programming Adventure! book. Following the quest directions in Chapter 4, the coder built a game that has a classic Super Breakout feel to it. (Note: this creator, working in Scratch 2.0, used a different background and created his own sprites rather than uploading assets referenced in the book.)

Clear Instruction

The authors of Super Scratch Programming Adventure! have done a great job creating fun and engaging challenges that will interest kids of varying ages. The cartoon introductions are followed by excellent step-by-step directions for working with Scratch's block-style programming elements. The layout of the book is, fittingly, block-like, and the style is bright, easy to follow, and clearly annotated. Each chapter notes in a set of call-out boxes the "focus" of the chapter (what skills will be covered) and the "game" that will be created. The chapters are actually labeled as "stages," keeping the game mentality intact. Both worded instructions and screenshots of the logic blocks, as well as annotated screenshots of the program being developed, make the book easy to follow. All the information needed to create the program is there, but there is also room to grow. At the end of each chapter, there is a challenge that gives kids something to modify or customize on their own, or an idea that may spark a new program.

With each chapter inSuper Scratch Programming Adventure!, kids learn to incorporate specific kinds of information or logic into a program and build a standalone game. Finish one chapter, and you have the satisfaction of having completed a video game.

Progressive Programming

The skill-building in Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is cumulative, and in the final chapter, everything comes together and the student is challenged to use everything she knows about Scratch to tackle "The Final Fight ... In Dark Space." Requiring multiple characters, each with unique fight moves, custom health counters, and more, the final project lets students show off what they have learned. In the end, they realize they now know enough programming building blocks in Scratch to create almost any game they can imagine!

For a full rundown of the chapters inSuper Scratch Programming Adventure!, see the information page on the No Starch Press site.

What About 2.0

Any time a new version of a piece of software is released, existing instructional material suffer, at least a bit. In this case, the controls in Scratch 2.0 remain, by and large, the same as in Scratch 1.4. This overview of Scratch 2.0 describes the new features. (More information about Scratch versions is available on the Scratch Wiki.) One difference students using a book like Super Scratch Programming Adventure! will run into involves assets—the backgrounds, music, and sprites that go along with the examples. These will need to be uploaded individually to the Scratch 2.0 environment when working on the projects from the book. (Alternately, kids using either 1.4 or 2.0 can make their own new assets as they work through the materials or use other assets already available in the Scratch 2.0 environment. Chapter 2 teaches kids how to make their own graphics using Scratch's built-in editor.)

Making Connections

Students interested in learning to program with Scratch can find Project Ideas at Science Buddies that range from introductory-level explorations (teach a sprite to draw a shape) to robust interactive projects that use real-world feedback (like a drum set or a spinning pinwheel). See Science Fair Project Ideas Using Scratch and the Scratch User Guide: Introduction to get started.

See our "Playful Programming and Cool Code: From Tech User to Tech Creator" post for a look at the current push to get more kids excited about and inspired by programming and coding and for a list of Science Buddies resources for Scratch-based projects.

Note: Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Covers Scratch 2.0): Learn to Program by Making Cool Games is now available!

Note: The standalone Scratch 1.4 is still available for download. Programs created in Scratch 1.4 can be imported to Scratch 2.0; programs created in Scratch 2.0 can not be opened in Scratch 1.4.



Math Riddles for All Ages

A new book brings math into the realm of bedtime stories. Whether you read it with your kids at night or during the day, Bedtime Math encourages families to talk about math every day—and to have fun doing so!

Talking About and Doing Math with Your Kids

We use math every day in countless ways. Don't be afraid to turn ordinary moments into math moments with your kids. It is good for them to add, subtract, and think about numbers and how they relate to real-world scenarios—and doing it as a family can be fun!

"The U.S. ranks 25th out of 34 countries when it comes to kids' math proficiency. One New Jersey parent wants to change that by overhauling the culture of math. An astrophysics graduate and mother of three kids, she started a ritual when each child was 2 years old: a little bedtime mathematical problem-solving that soon became a beloved routine. Parent friends began to bug her to send them kid-friendly math problems, too. Now Bedtime Math is gaining fans among children and math-shy parents around the country."--NPR

Do your kids love numbers, puzzles, and the challenge of a good brain tickler? Do you make it a point to incorporate math into everyday activities and scenarios with your kids so that the real-world application of basic math skills is tightly woven into things you do? When math is about more than rote memorization, many kids find it fun. Practicing math skills is always important and can help boost your student's number savvy and their number confidence.

A new book from Macmillan aims to help parents boost math awareness at home with fun and engaging math-based puzzlers for all ages.

Bedtime Math, written by Laura Overdeck and illustrated by Jim Paillot, offers parents clusters of related math puzzles, which Overdeck refers to as riddles, targeted at different age groups: wee ones, little kids, and big kids. With the three-legged approach to each story and set of math problems, Bedtime Math offers ease of use for parents (and teachers) and, in some cases, room to grow. Each riddle group shares the same general story line, but each difficulty level presents a new math question. With a multi-age group of kids or siblings, you can ask the riddles by age, or, with older kids, start with the "wee ones" riddle and then move on sequentially to the harder ones. They may find the "wee one" very easy. You might even get an eye-roll or two, but the stories are still fun, and by starting with the easy riddle, your kids may build momentum as they progress to each new level of difficulty.

Chapter 1 is titled "Exploding Food." Intrigued? The Bedtime Math video trailer (below) offers a glimpse into the book's fun style, clear language, engaging layout, and colorful illustration. You can view additional pages from the book at Amazon.com to get a sense of the clever stories Overdeck has crafted to draw students in. How many bites of Habañero peppers before you can't stand the heat? How many kids are screaming on the roller coaster? How many LEGO® bricks do you have left if the roof took x bricks from your starting number?

In addition to Bedtime Math (the book), Overdeck offers a free daily newsletter from (sign up on the Bedtime Math website) that delivers a tiered daily math challenge to your inbox. With kids home over the summer, you may find the newsletter, book, and Overdeck's blog, an easy and entertaining way to add a routine dose of math to your days and family time—or bedtime reading.

More Ideas for Family Math

How do you and your kids keep the math flowing during summer break? Check our "Making Room for Math" post for tips and suggestions for infusing summer days with easy doses of math. See also, "Weekly Spotlight: M&M Math" and the math area of the Science Buddies library of Project Ideas for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Science Buddies Project Ideas and resources for hands-on math are supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.



Birds, frogs, ladybugs, and butterflies—these are a few examples of species in which growing waves of scientists are helping contribute to a global knowledge base. You and your family can, too!

Image: University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science describes ongoing research projects that invite collaboration, often around the world, between networks of professional scientists and interested members of the general public. These projects often rely upon the contribution of firsthand observation or findings from participants that enables widespread collection of global data on the topic. Citizen science projects may emerge in any field of science, and while nature-, environmental-, and zoology-oriented projects are common, citizen science is not limited to the outdoors. FoldIt, for example, is a game-based citizen science project where players are helping solve "puzzles" related to protein folding.

Get Involved in Science

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard is full of photographs, diagrams, checklists, first-hand stories, historical notes, and resources designed to encourage kids (and their parents) to become active participants in ongoing field research. Citizen Scientists is an inspiring and engaging choice, one families will enjoy and, hopefully, be motivated by. When you send in your first ladybug photos, let Science Buddies know! And next winter, if you participate in a bird count, share your totals with us, too. We would love to hear your stories.

Searching for Ladybugs

In Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard, ladybug hunting is highlighted as a summer seek-find-and-identify activity (although where you live will determine which activities are possible and at what time of the year). If ladybugs are common in your area, consider getting involved! The Lost Ladybug Project website contains many helpful resources for ladybug hunters, including a printable field guide (2 pages) that describes some of the most common ladybugs you might find in North America.

For more information about citizen science, see Citizen Science at Scientific American.

Have you or your kids spotted a ladybug recently? You may have watched your student observe the ladybug as it crawled around in her hand. Maybe there was even a small observational habitat created, for a half hour or so to see if the ladybug might eat a leaf (albeit a leaf a hundred or more times its size). When no gargantuan bites appeared in the leaf, maybe the ladybug was gently released and sent on its way. But what kind of ladybug was it? Did you know that there are more than five hundred species of ladybugs in North America and more than 4,500 species of ladybugs in the world? So what kind of ladybug did you see? Maybe it was one of a handful of species considered rare and once feared "lost" in the U.S. Don't you wish you had stopped to take a photo, make a drawing, and spend just a bit more time with the ladybug?

Spending that extra time immersed in searching for, observing, identifying, tracking or tagging, and chronicling the appearance of different species is exactly what Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard aims to inspire—in even the youngest of scientists, your children.

Ready, Set, Seek, and Find!

Some kids are fascinated, from the start, with insects, birds, frogs, lizards, and other creatures that turn up underneath a rock, in the trees, or after a hard rain. But even those who shy away from certain kinds of animals or insects benefit from hands-on activities and projects that reveal the rich diversity and wonder of the natural world. Citizen Scientists takes things one step further and shows that kids are already in position to help scientists and be scientists themselves!

This large-format book is a treasure trove of inspiring stories, ideas, facts, and motivation for young naturalists and their families. Written by Loree Griffin Burns and illustrated by Ellen Harasimowicz, Citizen Scientists does an amazing job drawing in readers of all ages. Burns' writing is clear, engaging, and accessible, and her enthusiasm about the fact that even kids can get involved and take an active, hands-on role in global field science—from home—is palpable.

Citizen Scientists covers four different citizen science activities. Because the prime time for each of these activities differs and varies throughout the year, the book is organized by season: Fall Butterflying, Winter Birding, Spring Frogging, and Summer Ladybugging. In other words, you can't pick up Citizen Scientists and expect to immediately run out and begin tagging Monarch butterflies simply because the book gets you and your kids jazzed about the possibility of catching, examining, and labeling butterflies in hopes someone else finds them at the other end of their annual migration. Your ability to dive in with one of the covered species depends on where you live, what time of year it is, and what species are common in your area. You might not live somewhere, for example, where frogs are all that common!

Don't let this dissuade you from Citizen Scientists, however, and the mission and possibility of citizen science. Citizen Scientists may be a source of get-off-the-couch and out-of-the-house inspiration at any time of the year. Each section of the book is introduced with a wonderfully-crafted first-hand account that puts you, the reader, right in the middle of the action, standing in the cold on the morning of a bird count, sitting in the dark at night listening for frogs, or barely breathing as you wait for a butterfly to land so that you do not startle it away. Once you are part of the story and hooked, Burns offers more detail about how tracking is being done and why, about how the different species move or migrate, and about how people, including kids, around the world are pitching in to help scientists learn more.

The book is full of great photographs, diagrams, checklists, first-hand stories, historical notes, and resources to help kids find out more and get involved. Readers (and listeners and lookers) will enjoy the time spent with the book, and the book may catalyze family or student interest in either joining a large-scale project (like FrogWatch) or in creating your own small-scale nature-based investigation—just because.

No matter what species your family decides is of most interest, there is likely a great deal to learn. Starting at the wrong time of year, in fact, might be a good thing! With frogs, for instance, learning to decipher the different calls can be a huge challenge for citizen scientists, and there are resources you and your family can use to start familiarizing yourself with those calls, just as you might practice another language!

Encouraging budding naturalists to begin keeping notes, recording their observations, questions, and hypotheses, and even sketching what they see—either in the backyard or as they peruse field guides and reference material—is a great way to catapult kids into the role of active observers of the natural world and participants in global science.

After reading Citizen Scientists, you and your kids may, rightly, feel that you not only have a place in the world of science but have a mission and a responsibility to take a closer look at what is around you. Grab your gear, make some lists, and get started!

Making More Science Connections

If you enjoy Citizen Scientists with your students, you may also enjoy some of these outdoor and zoology-inspired science projects and activities this summer. Making a bug catcher is a great way to get started and see exactly what's out there in terms of backyard insects, but young birders will also find many ways to turn newfound or renewed enthusiasm for birds and other animals into hands-on science investigations, too:

  • Bug Vacuums: Sucking up Biodiversity: how many different species will you suck up in your homemade collector?
  • What Seeds Do Birds Prefer to Eat?: different birds prefer different types of seeds and even different types of feeders. This project can guide and inspire a family's backyard science experiment even if you don't build a feeder from scratch.
  • How Sweet It Is! Explore the Roles of Color and Sugar Content in Hummingbirds' Food Preferences.: hummingbirds seek out the sweetest flowers as food sources. Do they see the color of a flower as a clue about the sweetness? Put it to the test by making and offering different colors of hummingbird nectar in this zoology science fair project, perfect for a backyard where hummingbirds are frequently spotted.
  • Can You Predict a Bird's Lifestyle Based on Its Feet?: get in the habit of close observation and recordkeeping by doing a survey of bird feet in your area. Whether you are watching in the backyard or at a local park or pond, see how many "feet" styles you can spot, identify the birds using a bird guide, and talk about what the feet tell you about the birds.
  • The Swimming Secrets of Duck Feet: different kinds of feet help different species of water birds perform different tasks related to their lifestyle and habitat. Your kids may not put simulated duck feet to the test as a family project, but after reviewing a bit about the different ways water birds use their feet, you might look at ducks at the pond differently next time and with greater appreciation of what their feet tell you about them!

Related blog posts that support science parenting and naturalist family science projects and enthusiasm:

More Science-themed Titles for the Read Aloud Crew

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas, written by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Jos. A. Smith, is a beautifully told and rendered story of the life of Gregor Mendel. This book chronicles Mendel's years of study and his becoming a friar, a move that enabled him to further his studies and to engage in scientific discussions of the time, including the quest for understanding patterns of heredity. As the book turns to his now-famous experiments with peas, Bardoe goes into detail explaining both Mendel's preparation for his cross-breeding experiments and the results, over several years, of his observation of subsequent generations. She does a nice job, too, of couching her summarization of Mendel's pea plant investigations firmly within the scientific method. Though accompanied by plentiful full-color illustration, this account of Mendel's experiment, procedures, and findings will engage older elementary and middle school readers and listeners as well with its story of a scientist who, in the first year of creating hybrids, pollinated close to three hundred pea flowers by hand and went on to grow more than 28,000 pea plants! Sadly, Mendel's achievements were not recognized during his lifetime, but this book does a nice job presenting his story and work—and some introductory genetics—for a young audience.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, tells the story of Maria Sibylla Merian, a naturalist and artist in the late 17th century. That, alone, marks Maria as unusual, but the context of scientific belief in 17th century adds to the mix. Maria was fascinated with insects and butterflies (some of which were then called "summer birds") at a time when insects, moths, and butterflies were thought to spontaneously generate from mud. Maria's careful observation and drawings helped reveal the pattern of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Summer Birds is a short read, but will certainly encourage lively discussion!

See also: "Sparking Interest in Science and Science History for the Read Aloud Crowd" and "A Picture Book Look at the Engineering Spirit."



The desire to invent, innovate, tinker, make and build is not something limited to boys or girls, but that has not always been the case. This picture book story, based on the life of Margaret E. Knight, a female inventor and holder of one of the first patents issued to a woman in the U.S., paints a wonderful picture of a female engineer.

Empowering Future Female Engineers by Example

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor is a great and very well-crafted story about Margaret E. Knight, a woman who began inventing things at a young age and went on to file many patents for her innovation designs and solutions! The image below is a sketch filed with Margaret's patent for her paper bag-making machine.
What do you know about the history of paper bags? Maybe not so much. Have you ever thought about how bags are mass-produced? About how a machine spits out zillions of bags over time? About the fact that before there was a machine, there was someone with a pencil, some paper, and an idea for that machine?

In the case of paper bags, the "box"-bottomed bags familiar to us are the result of engineers improving upon paper bags that had to be held open to be filled. Bags that stand open are much easier to use, and the story of the race to develop a machine to mass-produce those bags intersects with the story of a female inventor and engineer, the story of Margaret E. Knight.

Growing Up During the Industrial Revolution

I had never heard of Margaret E. Knight when I first picked up Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, and at first glance, with its soft, almost vintage watercolor illustration, I wasn't sure this book would make my list. You know what they say about judging a book by its cover. I was very, very wrong and am very, very glad I have now read this book, know the story of Margaret E. Knight, and have added another wonderful title to my virtual shelf of "women in science" books for girls.

This is a fantastic picture book for introducing girls to the world of engineering and to a fairly obscure woman in science history. Written and beautifully illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, the book does an excellent job weaving documented biographical details into an illuminating and inspiring story of a female inventor in the mid-20th century.

Born in 1938, Margaret was, according to McCully's story, an inventor from an early age. She lives with her mother and two brothers, and though the family is poor, "Mattie didn't feel poor. She had her father's toolbox."

Her father's toolbox.

With this introduction, the stones are cast. The author immediately signals that this is not a typical story of a typical girl from the mid-1900s. This is the story, from page one, of a girl who keeps a notebook of her ideas and sketches—her inventions. This is the story of a girl who uses her engineering mind to devise all kinds of wonderful solutions for her family, including toys for her brothers, an admirable kite, and a sled that is so successful on the winter hills and so popular with neighborhood kids that she makes and sells them for a quarter each.

The Engineering Design Process in Action

Mattie's life is not easy. When Mattie is twelve, she goes to work in the mills in New York. She works long and hard factory days, and yet the story focuses not on her hardship but instead on Mattie's perseverance, her optimism, and her persistent interest in machinery, engineering, and innovation.

An accident one day in the mill injures a worker. Faced with a problem (a shuttle flew off of a machine and hit someone in the head), Mattie thinks through the way the machine is supposed to work, what happened, and why. By approaching the problem analytically, she resolves to find a solution, something that could be used as a safety device to keep shuttles from flying off of looms when a thread breaks. And she succeeds. "A machine was an invention and could always be improved," the story tells readers.

McCully's attention to details supporting Mattie as an engineer are evident throughout the book and do a wonderful job highlighting steps of the engineering design process. A successful invention often involves numerous prototypes and lots of trial and error. When Mattie's kite is mentioned, readers are told that Mattie first sketched out various designs, picked the one she thought would work best, and made it. The emphasis on the iterative cycle of engineering design appears again and again throughout the story as Mattie works on a design, tests it, troubleshoots, and builds again. Readers see this same process again later when Mattie is developing her paper bag machine.

At eighteen, Mattie leaves home to work in other factories. She ends up working in a factory that makes paper bags, an early version. The race was on, however, for the development of an improved method. The story that unfolds is a story of an engineering design process that took many years, a great deal of ingenuity, and even more perseverance as Mattie fights to defend her design and claim to a patent in court.

One to Share and Talk About

Margaret Knight received more than twenty patents and developed many more original inventions. Posthumously, she was inducted into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. McCully's story fills in and fleshes out the story of this woman in science history, giving new life and color to someone who might otherwise remain largely overlooked.

That Mattie's design sketchbooks play a big part in her story is a reminder to young engineers about the value of record keeping and the role and importance of keeping a design notebook. McCully's watercolor illustrations are beautifully balanced, throughout the book, with sketchbook engineering designs. As a supplement to the book, readers and families can look online at some of the sketches from Margaret's patents.

Mattie's story is one to read with all of your children—girls and boys alike. The story of a girl and then woman who was an engineer during when many people didn't believe women could be engineers is important. We live in a different world today, but kids need to know, at all ages, that a toolbox can be a treasure trove of inspiration and invention for both boys and girls.

Machines are still machines, and they can always be improved upon.

More Science and Engineering for Girls

If you are looking for another excellent book on girls and engineering, be sure and take a look at Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. See oiur blog coverage of it in the "Encouraging and Inspiring Female Student Engineers" post.

See also: "Sparking Interest in Science and Science History for the Read Aloud Crowd" and "Calling Naturalists of All Ages: Citizen Science Projects for the Whole Family."



When reading to your children, look to the great range of science-inspired titles to infuse your read aloud time with exciting science themes and people from the pages of science history.

Summer Reading with a Science Twist / Science-themed book lists for the read-aloud crowd

Children of all ages love to be read to, and reading to your students, and encouraging older students to read every day, is especially important during summer months. Library and bookstore shelves are full of wonderful and imaginative titles, and picture books to share with the youngest of audiences blend rich illustration with lyrical narration designed to bring the words and stories alive for readers and listeners. This includes stories about science, technology, engineering, and math—and the people who have worked, innovated, and made discoveries in those areas!

As young listeners begin to follow and understand longer stories, sometimes the true stories are the ones that create the most excitement, stories that are incredible and awe-inspiring because they really happened. Is she real? Did that really happen? She spent all of her days doing that? He lived his whole life thinking of numbers? These stories often simplify biographical details, but in making a scientist accessible to young readers, they offer examples of what it means to be a scientist.

As you make your reading lists for summer (and anytime) reading with your children, consider adding some of the titles below to the mix. Each tells the story of a person in science history, someone who was once a child, once had a question, a dream, a hobby, an interest in tinkering, or an insatiable curiosity. As you share these stories with your students, you might find you learn something new about these familiar figures as well!

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci
From pineapples to shells to the centers of an apple, the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence surround us. But it took the curiosity and persistence of one mathematician to make the world begin to see the ways in which the pattern of numbers recurs over and over again in nature. That mathematician was once a boy, and as this quasi-biographical account of his life suggests, he was a boy with a head for numbers and a love of counting, but a boy that many people overlooked and discounted—hence the nickname "blockhead." Though the book, written by Joseph D'Agnese and illustrated by John O'Brien, offers an imagined account of many of the details of Fibonacci's life, it does a great job of introducing and illustrating the discovery of the Fibonacci series and the prevalence of the pattern in the world around us. This is a charming title for a young mathematician and a good introduction to an important concept in math history for middle readers.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps
The Watcher, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter , introduces children to Jane Goodall and her fascination with animals and the natural world from the time she was a child. The story follows Jane to Gombe where she searches and waits for the chimpanzees that she hears but, for many months, never sees. Jane's fieldwork, and slow acceptance by the chimpanzees, is depicted in sparse text that accentuates the solitude of the story and the work. The importance for Jane of documenting her story and the chimpanzee behavior is highlighted in the book, and one image shows Jane surrounded by years and years of notes. When Jane leaves the forest to go and speak to the world on behalf of chimpanzees, readers of all ages feel the separation and her desire to be back in the place she calls home—the forest. (Older readers may enjoy Goodall's autobiography aimed at a young audience: My Life with the Chimpanzees.)

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau
This story about Jacques Cousteau, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Éric Puybaret, begins with Cousteau's childhood interest not only in water but also in engineering and movies and then follows his life as he first finds a way to see underwater, develops a way to breathe underwater, reconditions a ship, and begins making movies of underwater life. The story ends with Cousteau's growing awareness of the impact of pollution on marine life and a call to readers of all ages to be aware of environmental problems—to help save the sea.

Odd Boy Out: Young Albert
This story of Albert Einstein, written and illustrated by Don Brown, begins with his birth—and everyone's dismay at the size of his head. As the story shows, Einstein's childhood didn't follow all typical expectations. He was a late talker. He was temperamental. He was not a great student. But when it came to things of interest, he was focused and determined, a point the book illustrates beautifully. When he discovers math, the world opens up for Einstein in new ways. The story moves quickly through Einstein's life, only touching in the final pages about the contributions he goes on to make to understanding of space, time, and energy. The focus here is, largely, on Einstein's isolation and difference, his outsider status. To some extent a sad story of one of the world's greatest minds, it is touchingly told and illustrated and helps bring to life one of the world's most pivotal thinkers.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
On a Beam of Light, written by Jennifer Berne, author of Manfish, and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, also chronicles the story of Einstein. With whimsical illustration, On a Beam of Light traces Einstein's development from early childhood to adulthood, years in which his curiosity continued to drive and guide him. Einstein's famous question about what it would be like to travel on a beam of light, a question inspired by a ride on a bicycle, is wonderfully depicted. As with Odd Boy Out: Young Albert, students will find the scientist come to life in this book.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12)
This book about John James Audubon, written by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is an instant classic for anyone with a soft spot for birds and a love of art. The story starts when Audubon is eighteen, recently sent to live and learn in America, and has discovered an empty pewee bird nest in a nearby cave. Audubon waits and watches. He sees birds return to the nest and begins to wonder about migration. Are these the same birds that used the nest the year before? Where do they go in the winter? The book skirts the history of scientific thought on migration, and then follows Audubon as he puzzles over questions and comes up with a way to test and see if the same birds return to the nest. The story of his first bird banding is charmingly told, and young readers will cheer along when the birds return in the spring. If you are encouraging your students to draw every day or keep nature journals throughout the summer or year, the illustrations throughout this book of Audubon's notes and observations offer excellent examples and inspiration. Note: this is a longer book and certainly appropriate for middle and older readers as an entree into the life of the famed naturalist.

Stone Girl Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning
As this title by Laurence Anholt, illustrated by Sheila Moxley, shows, Mary Anning got a 'shocking' start—she was struck by lightning at a young age and survived. Mary's father sold curios, small fossils, to tourists. Mary grows up searching for fossils in the cliffs above her home in Lyme Regis, and as a young girl, she discovers a fossilized full skeleton of an Ichthyosaur. The presence of the Philpot sisters, two female scientists Mary met, offers a reminder of the importance of mentors and role models on students—and future scientists! For additional reading about Mary Anning, the first female paleontologist, see also: Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon, and Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries.

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth
The Boy Who Invented TV, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Greg Couch, documents the story of an engineer who changed the world—with the development of a working television. Farnsworth's story is one from the farmlands and a story that begins during the early 1900s when electricity was new (and scarce) and the phonograph and talking pictures first appeared. The book balances Farnsworth's early habit of asking questions, tinkering with equipment, and interest in engineering with the responsibilities of his life on the farm. Readers follow along as he tackles the idea of television and, over a period of several years, works on the development, creating prototypes, testing, and then making changes and trying again. Aimed at middle readers, this longer story reminds readers that even teenagers can invent something revolutionary!

More to Come

We will be sharing reading suggestions throughout the summer here on the Science Buddies Blog. The above list is just the beginning! For additional science-themed reading suggestions and book lists, see these other posts from Science Buddies:

If you have a favorite science-themed book—for any age—let us know!



Science History: Mary Anning

Born on May 21, 1799: Mary Anning, fossil collector who found her first complete skeleton, an ichthyosaur, as a young girl in Lyme Regis. What "type" of fossils did Mary Anning find—and why? In the new "Fantastic Fossilization! Discover the Conditions For Creating the Best Cast Fossils" geology Project Idea, students learn about four types of fossils and get hands-on making cast fossils in different kinds of soil.

Fossils and the possibility of finding something prehistoric encased in soil or rock may excite students of all ages (and from an early age!). Whether your student's interest in fossils and paleontology and archaeology stems from a passion for dinosaurs or as an offshoot of fascination with King Tutankhamun, Mary Anning, as a female fossil hunter, is a great person in science history for students to know about. Introduce students to Mary Anning's story—and the world of fossils and paleontology— with books like these, many of which may be available at your school or local library:

Looking for books for older or adult readers? Consider The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (Macmillan Science) (biography) or Tracy Chevalier's New York Times bestseller, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel (fictionalized account).

Hands-on Fossil Exploration

The new hands-on "Fantastic Fossilization! Discover the Conditions For Creating the Best Cast Fossils" geology project lets students explore "cast" fossils. Cast fossils are one of four types of fossils. As students will discover by doing the science experiment and making their own cast fossils using shells and plaster of Paris, certain types of soil are more suitable for preserving cast fossils than others. In addition to offering an excellent independent science project, this idea can be great for classes or family exploration!

Making Science Connections

Our "today in Science History" posts make students, teachers, and parents aware of important discoveries and scientists in history and help connect science history to hands-on K-12 science exploration that students (and families) can do today. To follow along, join us at Facebook or at Google+. These frequent science history tidbits can be great for class, dinner, or car-ride discussion!



Reading List: Brilliant Blunders

Starting your summer break reading list? A new release from Mario Livio highlights notable "missteps" from well-known scientists.

Today in TIME Science & Space: "Science's Brilliant Blunders: How Oops Moments Became Eurekas", discussion of Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio, author of The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number.

The adult non-fiction title offers an inside look at a few notable (and then notorious) moments in science history from five prominent science figures: Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein.

For students, spin the conversation from blunders to accidents and failed experiments that yielded unexpected results and another realm of notable discoveries opens up and invites fun science-themed conversation for family dinner or the car ride home! Scientists are not always right, but being wrong can still result in forward motion. This is an important concept for students, especially when students do not always see their hypotheses supported by their experiments and projects. Science is often about testing, retesting, refining ideas, and looking at different angles.

See "Putty Science: Family Fun with Polymers" and "Encouraging and Inspiring Female Student Engineers" to get the conversation started.



While "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" is officially celebrated in February, helping girls understand the creative world of engineering is important all year long. If you love to innovate, imagine, build, tinker, solve problems, or make things, engineering might be just the right area for you—or your student!

Too Young to Be an Engineer?
Book coverHave you heard of Becky Schroeder, a teenage inventor who wanted to find a better way to do her homework while waiting in a dark car. Becky's story is one of many inspiring stories about women innovators and engineers you can read in Girls Think of Everything.

Science Kit

Science and Engineering Kits
Looking for a hands-on science activity for a young female engineer? The following science project ideas (some of which have kits in the Science Buddies Store) encourage girls to explore and experiment with an area of science even while allowing room for innovation and creativity.

Do you like chocolate chip cookies? Maybe you make yours using a treasured family recipe, or, like many other people, maybe you use the recipe on the back of the bag of chocolate chips to make "Toll House Cookies." Chocolate chip cookies are a familiar dessert in many households and, arguably, an ingrained part of our culture, but this favorite kind of cookie is really less than a hundred years old!

Chocolate chip cookies are the result of innovation by Ruth Wakefield, one of the proprietors of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. In a hurry one day, legend has it that Ruth cut a few corners to save time while making a batch of chocolate butter drop cookies. Ruth mixed chunks of chocolate into the dough rather than using melted chocolate. The chunks did not completely melt during baking. With that first batch, Ruth spawned a cookie that would delight cookie and chocolate fans of all ages and would lead to Nestlé's development and production of chocolate chips. It's a story worth thinking about the next time you look at your favorite recipe and wonder what would happen if you changed things, tried something different, or otherwise altered your tried and true formula!

Ruth's story highlights ingenuity. She wasn't really looking to invent a completely new kind of cookie. Instead, she was looking for a better (and faster) approach. Once she tasted the results and saw the reaction of her customers to the cookie, she knew she had created something special. Nestlé knew it, too. In the end, Ruth wound up with a lifetime's supply of chocolate, and her recipe lives on with each package of Nestle chocolate chips.

The historical genesis of the chocolate chip cookie is interesting. You might have picked up bits and pieces of Ruth's story from your chocolate chips bag. But what about the origin of windshield wipers? Kevlar®? Liquid Paper®? ScotchguardTM? Paper bags? The computer compiler? Behind each of these discoveries and inventions is the story of a female engineer, scientist, or inventor.

A History of Innovation and Invention by Women

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women,
by Catherine Thimmesh, offers these stories, and many others, for readers of all ages. Chances are good that some of these stories of innovation and invention are ones you have not heard. You may know the product, but you may not know of the woman behind it or "how" the invention came about. Girls Think of Everything does an excellent job spinning tales that are fun to read, offer plenty of wow factor, and combine to paint a powerful and inspiring portrait of women in engineering. What do you think of when you think of an engineer? Girls Think of Everything may challenge your definition of engineers and engineering in a good way!

Some of the discoveries chronicled in Girls Think of Everything started with an accident; others were the result of determined research and development. Some of these inventions were by women working in labs; others were created by women out of necessity or from home. The book, illustrated by Melissa Sweet with engaging illustrations and collages that reinforce the subject matter of each story, invites readers to learn more about women who have made important contributions as inventors, engineers, and scientists. In pages at the front and back of the book, a timeline chronicles inventions and discoveries by women between 3000 B.C. and 1995. It's an impressive look at the role of female innovators, and the book, as a whole, is a wonderful collection for young women. Reading these stories is sure to amaze, inspire, and maybe even propel a future engineer to grab a laboratory notebook and put the steps of the engineering design process in action!

Educating and Supporting Tomorrow's Engineers

Engineers Week, a project of the National Engineers Foundation, and sponsored by companies like Motorola Solutions Foundation, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman, will take place February 17-23, 2013. A collaborative effort, the week encourages the education of students about engineering as a step toward increasing the number of students pursuing engineering degrees. Through community and school activities during this special week, students learn more about engineering and the many kinds of career opportunities that exist. The more models of female scientists and engineers we can provide for students during elementary and middle school, the more young women we can help encourage to explore paths in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. (Note: On the Engineers Week website, teachers can request free kits containing posters, suggested activities, and more, to help promote the week at school.)

Encouraging Female Engineers

February 21, 2013 is "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day." The day is an important part of Engineers Week, but the core concept behind introducing young women to engineering transcends the single day and has become an important cause, year-round, for organizations like Motorola Solutions Foundation. Raising awareness among young women about engineering as a creative, innovative, and collaborative field of study and encouraging and nurturing girls' interest in engineering is important every day, all year long.

The next time you use your windshield wipers on a rainy day, give a thought to Mary Anderson. If you don't know her story, check out Girls Think of Everything. Mary's story is one of many to share with students and family members.

For even more inspiration, watch the "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" video, created by the National Engineers Foundation.

Motorola Solutions Foundation is a supporting sponsor of Science Buddies.
Motorola Solutions Foundation



Hooked on Manga: Comic Science

If your readers are fans of one comic format or another, you may find that science-themed manga titles are a welcome addition to your younger and middle students' summer reading lists.

Guidance for Parents

If your kids gravitate toward graphic novels like dinoflagellates to nutrients in an algal bloom, feed their interest and give them a boost of summer science at the same time! Parent's GuideWe've got suggestions for manga and comic titles you might consider for your readers, but if you have questions or need additional help evaluating graphic novels, you might talk with your local children's librarian or look at A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love.

Science All Summer

Our list of summer science suggestions offers just a few great hands-on science explorations from our library of Project Ideas. Roller-coasters and marble runs, too, make our radar for summer fun, and we will be highlighting other summer-friendly ideas all summer long. How about submarines? With a bit of soda bottle construction, students can explore hydrodynamics and submarine science in the "Bottled-up Buoyancy" project, based on an activity from Howtoons. Presented in full-color comic style, Howtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless! is a collection of DIY projects the main characters cook up after a parent challenges them to "make something other than trouble."

In my house, manga and the graphic novel format rule. For years, my students have been devouring manga titles, a reality that made me even more thankful for the library early on when I realized they were zipping through titles in under an hour—and ready for more. With some favorite series containing 40-50 volumes, we've put our library account to sizzling use through the years. Although there's no Da Vinci-esque script involved, my students read backwards with the same ease as they do forwards.

While there are themes they prefer, I've discovered that their affinity for the genre—and the comic format—crosses all boundaries. We've read through the graphic novel shelves at the library and broadened our appreciation of traditional-style comics with healthy doses of classic and unforgettable strips like Calvin and Hobbes. Their willingness to read virtually anything presented in panels opens up exciting terrain when it comes to science content.

Cartoon-style Science

Many students, even students who are excellent readers, enjoy the comic genre (at large), which makes it wonderful that there are increasing numbers of titles available, including a wide range of science-themed graphic novels. There are cartoon-style collections of project ideas, comic book stories of science clubs and science-studded plots, biographies presented in graphic novel format, and illustrated guides devoted to major areas of science.

Earlier this week, we posted a super-sized list of great summer reading selections for older students and adults from the popular science shelves. That list included Feynman, a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 and known for his eccentric personality, spotlighted both in famous classroom lectures and in a series of autobiographical titles. For readers with an interest in physics, quantum mechanics, subatomic particles, and nanotechnology, Feynman may be an interesting launching point. As a follow-up—or a starting point in a different area of science—these titles from the "Manga Guide" series are ones your middle-to-upper-grade students might enjoy over the summer as a supplement to some hands-on exploration.

Loose Science
 The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook When it comes to full-color graphic novels aimed at the younger audience and with few illusions of being truly educational, there are a range of titles for students to latch onto. From the Amulet series to Jellaby and Zita the Spacegirl, the genre is brimming with books to entice young and middle readers. Because many of these stories are quasi-science fiction in nature, science often lurks within, even if it isn't center stage. Reading about characters who are scientists, explorers, and inventors is a fun alternative to other character archetypes and might help engage students in their own science exploration—and in the possibilities offered by science-related career paths. Even Babymouse did a stint as a scientist before the team behind the series introduced Squish, the school-aged, Twinkie-eating amoeba who stars in a series dubbed "a tale of microscopic proportions" (see Super Amoeba, Brave New Pond, and The Power of the Parasite).

When science is presented as cool, fun, and often-accompanied by a bang, a bit of time travel, or a world-changing discovery, there's fertile ground for the imagination—and for growing awareness of science. For fun downtime reads for your middle readers, books that offer less textbook science and more story, you might consider graphic novels like The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles (there's a science teacher in the mix), and The Knights of the Lunch Table #2: The Dragon Players (building robots takes center stage). Similarly, the titles in the Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy series also have science, engineering, and invention as underlying themes. The kids who are part of this group each have a questionable super ability, but you'll find that there's something scientific afoot in each adventure. Or, for a greener spin on the graphic novel, Luz Sees the Light explores the importance of sustainability and reducing one's reliance on fossil fuels.

A Taste for More Traditional Books?

Evolution of Calpurnia TateWhile the graphic novel format seems to have gone viral for many school-age readers, the format isn't for everyone. We'll be posting a list of summer choices for chapter books and novels for elementary and middle readers. Here are a few non-comic titles to get you and your students started:

We would love to hear about science-themed titles you and your students enjoy!

Notes and reminders:
  • An audio book version of an interesting novel can be perfect for time spent in the car, either on a long trip or just back and forth from camp and other activities
  • Titles above may deal with typical (or far-fetched) elementary school or school-age scenarios and themes. Know your readers.
  • For a list of science-themed titles for older readers (and adults), see Summer Science Reading.



Summer Science Reading

Your students need to keep reading—all summer long. Reading helps fight summer brain drain, but if you encourage your students to read books with a science theme, the pages read do double duty. And you? If a popular science title isn't what you would typically grab for a vacation read, it might be time to shake up your summer reading. Science Buddies staff offers suggestions for engaging science-themed reads for tweens and up.

As our elementary school principal wrapped up his "morning circle" announcements a few weeks ago on the last day of school, he closed with: "And students, don't forget to read this summer. Every day." There were a few token groans around the circle, but I couldn't help but smile, happy to have had the critical importance of summer reading highlighted in that way—as a reminder to parents as well as to students. Statistics are clear that reading and math are two areas of learning at the most risk over the summer. I'm sure it's no coincidence that public libraries around the country offer prize-laden summer reading programs as incentive to keep kids reading. I remember a "bookworm" club years and years ago. When it comes to reading, not much has changed. What has changed is the availability of so many other things to do, to schedule, and to flip on, all of which can put time spent with a nose in a book on the back burner, for students and adults alike.

No matter what activities, vacations, camps, or schedules you keep during the swathe of summer days, make sure there is plenty of reading going on. As you help your students choose books and encourage them to read a few more chapters, be on the lookout for great science picks. Mix daily reading with science-themed books, and what do you get? The combination can be a recipe for exciting, immersive, eye-opening, mind-expanding summer reading. We encourage plenty of hands-on science exploration over the summer, both small ones and longer-term ones that bridge the days and develop throughout the break. But reading about science can also broaden a student's frame of reference and open up new paths of potential interest—for everyone in the family! Set a great example, and stock your own to-read shelf with some of today's most exciting popular science titles.

"Checking Out" Science

After reading Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch... and What It Takes to Win last month and finding myself really caught up in the stories of the students profiled, I started pulling a wide range of science-themed books from the library shelves. In recent weeks, I have been surrounded by piles of science and math titles, stacks of books brimming with information on nests, spirals, chemistry, physics, poisons, biology, and more. With each one I picked up, I found myself hooked in different ways.

Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built ThemNests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them has been open next to me for a number of days. Nests The book is a beautiful collection of photos of birds nests—and their eggs. If you think all nests are woven baskets of twigs, you will find Nests an eye-opening and wonderful exploration of the amazing diversity, artistry, innovation, resourcefulness, adaptation, and sheer functionality encapsulated in the nests made by different kinds of birds. Twigs, man-made debris, saliva and spider webs only tap the surface of the range of materials used in nest construction, and each species builds nests that tell a story, in part, of the local habitat. Accompanying Beals' photos are short but thorough profiles of each species covering nest-building, mating, parenting, migration, and other distinguishing characteristics. This is a book birders of all ages, life-list or not, can savor.

Intrigued by the bevvy of kitchen chemistry titles on the market, I cracked open the pages of What Einstein Told His Cook 2, one of a series of books from Robert Wolke. In this volume, Wolke tackles a broad spectrum of questions from readers of his Washington Post column in categories like beverages, dairy and eggs, vegetables, seafood, and grains and carbohydrates. In response to seemingly simple but earnest questions, some of which bring up family kitchen lore handed down through the ages, Wolke explains the science that underlies everyday observations you can make in the kitchen. Wolke's approach targets the casual science reader and kitchen enthusiast. You might find an answer to a question you've wondered about, or an answer to something you've noticed but never thought to question. Ever asked why tea stored in the refrigerator turns cloudy?

What to Read

After scanning titles, reviews, and book blurbs on some favorite science-related and bookseller sites, I had scores of amazing-sounding titles I wanted to look up, check out, thumb through, curl up with, or share with my own students. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and FalloutThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, with its glow-in-the-dark cover, might be next on my to-read list, but I've also been wanting to read something by Jane Goodall, and my own interests leave me curious to see Field Notes on Science & Nature. Some titles are just tantalizing and intriguing, like Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History and The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. But then there are titles exposing the dark side of plants, the underbelly of poison, and a beekeeper's efforts to save the bees. With so many popular science titles vying for attention, I asked the Science Buddies staff to share favorite titles they recommend for both high-school readers and adults. Their suggestions, shown below, contain both new and classic titles from popular science, and even a perennial science fiction favorite, that you and your older students may enjoy. We would love to hear your favorite science titles as well!

While you shouldn't always judge a book by its cover, here's our list of suggestions for summer science reading:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America
Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements Feynman Botany of Desire The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory The Hot Zone The Coming Plague A Brief History of Time The Selfish Gene Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters I,Robot Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales Coincidences, Chaos and all That Math Jazz Cooking for Geeks Desert Solitaire The Flamingos Smile The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science What Einstein Kept Under His Hat: Secrets of Science in the Kitchen Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

We will be posting other lists of some of our favorite middle and K-5 titles, including some graphic novels and manga, and some suggested math titles, so stay tuned!



Field Work: Gorillas, Lions, and More

Our "science history" notes this week at Facebook included mention of both Dian Fossey and Joy Adamson. Both women left behind inspiring legacies and volumes of experience gathered from living with, observing, and interacting with animals.

Born on January 16, 1932: Dian Fossey, a famed zoologist whose study of gorillas in Rwanda, Africa is chronicled in Gorillas in the Mist. The book is her own account of thirteen years spent living in an African rain forest and was also later made into a movie starring Sigourney Weaver.

Students can use the BLAST bioinformatics tool to examine the relationship between humans and our non-human relatives in the Neanderthals, Orangutans, Lemurs, & You—It's a Primate Family Reunion! genomics Project Idea.

Born on January 20, 1910: Joy Adamson, naturalist and author, best known (along with her husband George Adamson) for raising and training Elsa, an orphaned lioness, and eventually successfully releasing her into the wild. After Elsa, Adamson worked with other animals, including a cheetah and a leopard. Adamson chronicled her work in a number of books, beginning with Born Free (also made into a movie).

Teaching the family dog to shake hands or give a high five is (depending on the breed) likely far less dangerous than working with a wild animal, but students can begin to explore the ways in which animal trainers approach the process of teaching animals new skills or tricks by working through the Tricks for Treats: How Long Does It Take to Train Your Pet? project.

Making Connections

For a look at ways to turn a love of animals into a career, explore the following science career profiles: zoologist, animal trainer, park ranger, and veternarian.

For other exciting Project Ideas designed to let students explore science questions related to animals, see projects in Zoology, Biology, and Mammalian Biology.

Interested in reading other firsthand accounts from female scientists, zoologists, naturalists, and conservationists? You might also enjoy learning more about Jane Goodall's legendary work, chronicled in titles that include: Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, My Life with the Chimpanzees, Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters: The Early Years.

(Science Buddies Project Ideas in Zoology are sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation.)



[Editorial Note: Amy, whose blog entry appears below, is one of several "Science Moms" at Science Buddies!]


Image source: screenshot from video trailer of The Case of the Terrible T. rex.

We love our math and our science and our computers in our house, and when we see a description of a coin launcher made from a toilet paper roll and a piece of leftover balloon, it sticks in our heads until we try it. (Of course, concerned about the relative weight of a coin flying through the air at slingshot speed, I did advocate the launcher be tried with small LEGO bricks instead to minimize breakage and injury!) Risk of projectile damage aside, we enjoy our gadgets and a healthy number of "let's-see-how-or-if-it-works" moments, but we also love to read. Books, books, and more books line our shelves, spill out over the sides of buckets and baskets, peek out from under the seats in the car, and weigh down our bags when we travel.

My boys are three years apart, and so we've cycled through a few series entirely, twice. Some of those are elementary cult classics in their own rite. The A to Z Mysteries and The Magic Tree House series are two series that we read, start to finish, and then again. Other series have had transient roles in our out-loud reading. Geronimo Stilton, Cam Jansen, Horrible Harry, Jigsaw Jones.... We've read them.

If you're noticing a trend toward mysteries, you're right. Statistically, it's been the most popular read-aloud genre in our house this year. That doesn't mean we haven't read scads of other things. We have. But a great mystery series... can be golden, and I've spent a lot of library trips scouring the shelves looking for another series that will catch first-grade attention, inspire, excite, and tide us through another set of weeks of bedtime reading.

A Lucky Find!

When I stumbled over a Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives book by Michelle Torrey, I was thrilled to find another "mystery"-styled series that, like Jigsaw Jones and Cam Jansen, features two students (one male and one female) who have hung up their shingle as detectives. As soon as I started, I realized there is something special about these—especially from the science angle and for a Science Mom!

Psst! Head for the Lab (and then Outdoors)
A fun scientific spin on the classic baking soda and vinegar explosion is all wrapped up and ready for lift-off in the Science Buddies Rocketologyproject idea.
The first story I read told the tale of a fellow classmate (not the most likable girl) who calls for help because, basically, she's stuck in a laundry chute where she fell trying to grab her phone as it fell in. After checking things out on the scene, Doyle and Fossey head back to their "lab," do a bunch of research, draw up some diagrams, form their hypothesis, put together a plan, and then head back to, basically, create a small baking-soda-and-vinegar-inspired explosion to blast her free. Case solved, scientific explanation offered by the detectives, payment made in full (though not in money), and they are on to the next case. (Each book contains several different cases to solve.)

I've read a number of the Doyle and Fossey Science Detectives lineup since, and I love that the stories themselves are full of science and serious kids who do their best thinking in their lab, apply science to every problem, and take their decaf coffee black (no hot chocolate, thanks). Doyle's got wild, stand-up hair that is the color of cinnamon toast, and he's often found monitoring his own experiments and recording his observations in his lab notebook. Nell Fossey, on the other hand, is a naturalist, with a jungle-esque bedroom full of aquariums, terrariums, and cages. To add to their innate interest in scientific investigation, the duo is lucky to have parents with skills and jobs that fit perfectly into supporting and encouraging their young detectives, and they have an amazing reference book that always has the perfect chapter to help guide their scientific problem-solving when they are faced with a new case.

In the Name of Hands-On Exploration

In the back of each book, there are tips and brief hands-on experiments that give students and families a bit more information about the science that played a part in the cases—and a way to test the concepts in an age-appropriate way. Each "Activities and Experiments for Super-Scientists" back-section is in the neighborhood of 20 pages, and some of the basic info appears in each volume. In addition to fun activities, these pages cover things like the importance of a lab notebook (and how to use one), the scientific method, and hypotheses. All of these science "staples" are things you see Doyle and Fossey use and do—and they are cool doing it! The projects themselves (which tie in with the stories in each book) offer an easy starting point for families to begin talking with elementary students about principles of science. For example, one volume contains a mystery that centers upon static electricity (and a poor, hungry cat). In the back of the book, there is a related "shocking" activity.

I like the short projects lend themselves nicely to deeper exploration through the Project Ideas at Science Buddies. Parents interested in doing hands-on science projects with their students will find a handy list of projects that use readily-available materials in the Parents section of the Science Buddies website.

(Note: The Doyle and Fossey books are marketed for grades 3-5.)


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