An Open Letter to My 21st-Century Learner in Action

Dear Ella,

Before you read the rest of the letter, please accept my apologies.  I am about to gush about you a little bit.  I know you hate being in the center of attention — good or bad — but I can’t help myself.  I am well aware that as parents, we can go a *teensy* bit overboard with our children and what you can do better/faster than all the other children.  I know this is kind of uncool, but rest assured that this letter is not about that.

This letter is about what you, a middle-schooler, can already do better at 12 than *I* can ever dream to do at almost-40, with all sorts of ease and nonchalance and almost-smug self-confidence (“What do you mean, where did I learn how to screencast?  I just did it.”).

The information scientist in me is jumping up and down with joy.  I want to shake you and say, “Wow.  Look at you and what you can do!  We learn about YOU in library school — a 21st century learner! — and here you are, in flesh and blood!”

See, some of us me included — balked at the idea that librarians now have to take time away from books and learn/teach emergent technologies and new ways to search for and use information.  We kind of pouted through having to adopt new standards for your generation, because we really loved our books and how they smelled and felt in our hands.

But the reality is, you and your 21st century learner friends are going to do your thing, whether we are there to guide you or not.  We can sulk all we want, but you are still going to find your own tools and ways to create, interact, and learn in this new landscape.  In fact, if we don’t adapt, you might end up being the ones teaching us.  (Actually, you’ve already taught me a number of times.)

You don’t have a lot of subscribers or views on your channel or website, but that should not be your goal anyway.  Your products are not perfect, but then again, you’re only 12, and you have created something tangible without ever opening up a software manual.  You use more likes and yeahs and basicallys than a “good speaker” might, but for someone who used to throw up the night before school presentations, who could not speak at more than a whisper, who hated talking to people in general — you sounded more comfortable and confident than I have ever dreamed you’d be capable of.  My media specialist friends and I have warned students about the dangers of the computer screen (“Online predators hide behind those!” “People are not always what they seemed online!”), but you have shown me that sometimes a screen offers the protection someone needs to show their best selves.  You might still be a little scared to talk in front of people face to face, but with a little bit of anonymity, you are learning to communicate your ideas and knowledge effectively.

And that’s big for us introverts.  No longer are you a passive recipient of information — you are an active contributor.  Know that you might be shy, but your creativity and ideas are important to the world.  Know that you might be quiet, but you can still share, participate, and collaborate.  Technology can be your door into community of like-minded thinkers, makers, and world-changers.

If you are already hosting your own YouTube channel and making fan vids and screencast tutorials at 12, imagine what you might be doing at 15, 18, 25….  I know that as your mom, I cannot wait to find out!


Your very proud (and humbled) librarian mama

P.S. I know you have heard my speech a million times about online predators, digital footprint, internet safety, etc. etc.  But PLEASE, do be careful when you are online!  This mama can’t lose you!


Punch Card Reading Challenge Underway!

This week I kicked off the Punch Card Reading Challenge with the 3rd through 5th graders.  The students were excited about the program and the prizes that they will get to earn.  I have gotten some fantastic prizes from community partners, and these will be used to encourage students to:

  1. Return their books on time and check out something new;
  2. Display appropriate classroom behavior; and
  3. Read outside their comfort zone

For returning their books on time and checking out something new (a sneaky way to improve circulation!), students will “earn” small prizes such as ice cream/free kids meal coupons, gift certificates for free games of laser tag, and Rainforest Cafe temporary tattoos and slap bands.

For displaying appropriate classroom behavior, students will earn raffle tickets towards the weekly drawings.  I don’t tell students when raffle tickets will be handed out, or for what specific behavior, so hopefully students will try to stay on good behavior at all times!  Today, for example, I gave out raffle tickets while 3rd graders worked on their Powtoon presentations…but only to those who stayed on task.  The kids who didn’t get any during my first walk-around quickly wised up and got to work, in hopes that I’d be generous and give them a raffle ticket during my second walk-through (I was).

The main way students earn raffle tickets is for reading outside their comfort zone, i.e. for reading a genre that is on the punch card.  For accountability and assessment purposes, before I punch anyone’s card, they have to fill out a reading response card.  On the front of the card, they simply write their name, their teacher’s name, the title and author of the book, and the genre.  On the back of the card, they are asked to write at least 3 complete sentences about their book.  To help students figure out what to write, I’ve included writing prompts for both fiction and non-fiction that they can use.

Here’s a quick look at what prizes will be given out and when:


WEEK 1 – Intro to Punch Card Challenge (3-5th grades)

WEEK 2 – Review directions!  Rainforest Cafe tattoos

WEEK 3 – Zap Zone Laser Tag coupons; Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2)

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4)


WEEK 1 – Rainforest Cafe slap bands; Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4) 

WEEK 2 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2) 

WEEK 3 – Rainforest Cafe free kids meal coupons; Drawing: Rainforest Cafe prize pack  

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2); Coldstone free cone coupons

WEEK 5 – Grand Prize Drawing: Classic Lanes Bowling Parties for 10 (x2)

Hopefully this program will be fun for the kids and motivate them to add more diversity to their reading.  And hopefully it won’t take too much extra time to run in addition to everything else that is going on in the media center in February and March!

Multicultural Display at Hampton

One of the projects I took on during my first couple of weeks at Hampton was to create a multicultural display for the media center. I thought this would be a relevant project given the diverse population at the school.  It also gives me an opportunity to run an analysis of the current multicultural collection and create a consideration file for Jenny.

Here are some pictures of the display and a link to the consideration file I created:

CAM01261 multicultural display1

CAM01251 CAM01252 CAM01253

CAM01254 CAM01257


To Google or Not to Google

Last night I held a library workshop for a group of 10 students who are taking a team leadership course at the technical college I work at.  This is the same group I mentioned in a previous post, the one that struggled with their research assignment but weren’t exactly motivated to do something about it.  I had contacted their instructor and suggested a workshop, and was surprised that she was willing to collaborate.  We discussed briefly what she wanted her class to get out of the workshop, and there were a lot of concerns mentioned, but it basically boiled down to one thing.  The students are turning to Google for everything, including research papers that require citations and references to academic articles.  They don’t seem to know the difference between academic articles, and all the other kinds that Google finds (blogs, magazine/newspaper articles, etc.).  They don’t care.  How do I make them stop googling everything?!?

Here’s the thing…I like Google.  I google many, many, many times a day.  I love all the apps Google has, and how my Android phone recommends restaurants and area activities based on an address that I had google-mapped on my desktop.  (Seriously, how does it know?)

But as much as I love Google for everyday, quick-reference questions, I know it has its proper place, and that place is not in academic research.  I will say that sometimes it’s a great place to start if you were assigned a topic you are not familiar with.  In this case, you might want to do a quick Google search to see what kind of keywords or subject terms you might be able to use.  You might need to broaden or narrow your topic…again, googling might give you an idea of what directions you could go with your topic.

You might be tempted, now that you have the appropriate keywords, to just google it.  Sure, Google will return many results — too many, in fact.  In my demo, I selected the topic “Customer Service and Its Effects on Profitability”.  When I googled “customer service and profitability” (two pretty good keywords), I got 32 million hits.  Now, obviously, no one ever browses all the hits that Google returns…I don’t know about you, but if I can’t find my answer within the first two pages of Google search results, I start over.  So, let’s say most of us browse only up to two pages of results.  The good news is, when I typed in my query (“customer service and profitability”), the first results (out of the 32 million) seem like they might work, but a closer look shows that most of those articles are either short blurbs in marketing magazines/blogs, or editorial pieces on sites such as  I am sure they are interesting reads, but these are probably not the type of articles that the instructor is looking for.  There were two articles that look more “academic” (they are posted on .edu websites) and these are promising, but as you can see later, even those need to be further evaluated.

Here’s a good place to pause and talk about CRAAP.  This is a test designed by some cheeky librarians at the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico to help information seekers critically evaluate search results.  (By the way, if you are offended by the name of the test, rest assured that it has since then been renamed as the CAARP test.)  Basically, CRAAP is a list of questions you should ask about the information on hand (taken and revised from the Meriam Library website):


  • When was the information published or written?
  • When was the information updated or revised?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Note that website that contains lots of outdated links probably haven’t been updated in a while.  You might want to consider an alternate source.


  • Does the information answer your research questions?
  • Is the information written at an appropriate level (not too advanced or elementary)?
  • Is this the best resource out of all the other resources you have found?
  • Could this resource be cited in your paper?


  • Who is the author or publisher for the article?
  • Does the author have the credentials or qualifications to write on the topic?
    • Think about the recent controversy over vaccinations.  One of the biggest and loudest opponents of vaccines is actress Jenny McCarthy, and she appears numerous times on the results list when someone googles “autism and vaccines”.  She might have an interesting point of view, but think about whether she has the credentials/qualifications to write on this particular topic.  What might be a better source for this kind of information?  (Doctors?  Medical Researchers?)
  • Is there a way to contact the author or publisher? (accountability)
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (e.g. .com, .edu, .gov, .org, .net)
  • Note that even articles found at a .edu/.org need to be evaluated closely.  Schools will sometimes provide web space to students to post their papers or homework assignments, but unless it’s been published/reviewed or cited by other credible sources, consider an alternate source.  Similarly, while you might find some interesting articles on .org sites, many might present a biased/one-sided view on the topic, depending on their agendas and various affiliations.  Be critical of those sources as well.


  • Is the information truthful, reliable, and correct?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or cited by others?
  • Can you verify the information using another source, or from prior knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?


  • What is the purpose for the information?  Is it to teach, inform, persuade, or entertain?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? Is the point of view objective or subjective?
  • Are there biases that you might need to be aware of (e.g. political, ideological, cultural, religious, personal, institutional)?

As you can guess, this evaluation process will take some time, but it is also a very necessary step in the research process.  Do Google search results pass the CRAAP test?  Some might, but some might not.  And this is where Google’s advantage (ease of access, speed, number of results) is often offset by the time you have to spend in evaluating the search results.  For many websites, it might be easy to find the author and determine his/her affiliations, point of view, and purpose for the article.  For many others, however, this information will be harder to figure out (another red flag to go another way!).

So truly, Google is great for many things, but when it comes to academic research, get into the habit of using your school’s recommended research options — be it a virtual library or professional/academic databases.  You will still have to run the CRAAP test on the information you come across, but you will find that much of the work has already been done for you, since articles found in these databases have been published, peer-reviewed, etc.  Some schools, like the one I work at, have also curated/organized the available resources by the various schools of study, so students don’t have to guess which database would be most useful to them.  It might take a few more clicks to get to the right search page, but once you are in, your chances of finding appropriate resources will be better.

You will also see that once you have some strong keywords, databases (e.g. ERIC, Ebisco, Proquest, etc.) offer many powerful search options.  For example, strategic use of Boolean operators can increase the precision and relevancy of your search, or broaden it as needed.  Some databases can generate additional subject terms or keywords for you to add, based on your initial search.  Similarly, when you have found a good article, you can usually see what subject terms it is associated with, and add those to your search.  I also love citation chasing — that is, looking through the author’s citations/references and “chasing” after ones that might also be of interest to your research.  Some databases will do the work for you, listing the cited references and providing direct links to the articles that you have access to in the database.

All these strategies will take practice, but as you get more comfortable with databases and what they can do, your searches will get better and the research process will seem a lot less intimidating.  I can still remember what it was like to do research for my first Masters, back in 1998…looking for articles in dark, stuffy stacks, having to copy 10, 20 of them not knowing whether any of them would work, but you had to because you couldn’t take them out of the library.  Most of the time, they didn’t work, or maybe you found more articles during your readings, so you’d have to go back to the stacks and repeat.  Even then, the geek (and maybe the masochist) in me enjoyed it, but I admit, I absolutely love it now.

So, I am not asking you to break up with Google (I wouldn’t), but when it comes to academic research, give databases a chance!  You might just fall in love with it yourself.

Practicum Week 3: Growing Lifelong Learners

My big question this week stems not just from my experience at Hampton, but what I have observed at my job as a part-time librarian at a nationally-known technical college.  As a librarian, one of my responsibilities include helping students with research and using the school’s virtual library.  Unfortunately, most of the time, I am helping people print, getting them textbooks from the school bookstore, and resetting forgotten passwords, etc.  Plenty of students struggle with research, but I was told by my supervisor when he hired me that I was to only help with research when my help is sought, since all of these students are adults and should be responsible for their own learning.

Last Friday night, I watched a group of adult students tackle a research project assigned by their teacher.  They were frustrated because the assignment was poorly worded and the last thing they wanted to do was stay at school on a Friday night trying to appease their instructor.  They complained loudly about how they a) didn’t know what the teacher wanted, and b) didn’t know what kind of articles they were supposed to get from the net.  After about a half an hour of listening to this, I broke the rule and went over to ask them if I could help.  I asked them about their research topic, but the ones that answered me were vague.  When I asked to look at their assignment closer, so I can point them in the right direction (something in addition to simply “googling”), no one took up my offer.  They said they “just want to get it over with”, and that they “didn’t care any more”.  The one student that attempted to use the virtual library and database during her research was mocked by her peers — “Why would you bother with that thing?” one classmate taunted.  I went back to my desk.  About an hour later, most students started writing their paper (due that night!), even though they were all still saying to each other they didn’t care, or had any clue as to what they were doing.  They joked about making the font size bigger, changing the margins, and double-spacing everything so they could meet the page requirement more easily.

This same week, I helped a group of 3rd graders do research at Hampton.  Their teacher let them choose any topic they liked, but after conferring with the librarian, added that they needed at least 3 print resources and one article they can access through the Michigan Electronic Library (similar to TEL).  Jenny and I taught the kids how to use the OPAC, as well as how to access kid-friendly databases through MEL.  For the most part, the students seemed to enjoy the research process, and were not afraid to ask for help when they couldn’t find something they needed at the library.

My question is — where did this huge discrepancy between 3rd graders and adult students come from, in terms of their attitude towards learning?  Both groups were given an assignment they had to do — but the adults’ poor attitude really surprised and discouraged me.  Why were these adult students so resistent to the type of 21st century learner skills, dispositions, and responsibilities that we have learned about?  When does this happen, and how do we prevent it from happening to our children?  Maybe some of these adult students never acquired, or were ever taught, these learning habits or attitudes?

It puts an urgency in my mind about incorporating these standards when the students are young and still moldable.  I would hate to see my own kids adopt the kind of attitude towards learning that these adult students have — that it’s better to take the easier way out, that it doesn’t matter what they turn in, as long as they pass or meet the minimum requirements.  It scares me to think that these same people are in the workforce.  How will their lack of effort/caring be reflected in what they do?  It further convinces me that our job as librarians, media/information specialists, information seeking professionals, etc. are more valuable than ever, because it is our responsibility to grow and shape students into the type of lifelong learners who CAN in fact be responsible for their own learning and personal growth.

Any thoughts?

Practicum Week 2: The Dreaded Budget Talk

Or, I should say, the “Lack of Budget” Talk.  The staff at Hampton attended a meeting this week on how the school has already depleted much of its budget for this school year, and everyone is now on a very restricted “resource” diet.  One of the first limitations to come to effect is the use of paper: everyone is limited to just TWO reams of paper from now ’til the end of the school year. Not two reams a month…just two reams from now ’til the end of the year (school ends in June in MI).

It’s bad enough that all teachers have to adhere to this, but what about the media center?  After all, the media center and the adjacent computer lab house three different printers that students and teachers print to, sometimes from their classrooms.  It seemed unfair that a space that’s open for everyone to use would have to adhere to the 2-ream limit like everyone else.

It’s kind of a wakeup call for me that this conversation even needed to take place!  After all, we are talking about PAPER.  When I mentioned this at the dinner table, my 10-year-old said, “But mom, I can go through a ream of paper all by myself in two weeks!” (She’s exaggerating, but not by much…she does a LOT of paper craft in her spare time.)  I know that many teachers/media specialists purchase supplies for their rooms throughout the year due to lack of funding, but it’s sad that something as fundamental as paper isn’t provided.  And if the media specialist uses her limited budget on those types of purchases, that has bound to affect her ability to develop the collection, as well.  At the end, the students are the ones to suffer.

P.S. In the couple of weeks since I’d first written this post, I have seen the school’s tech facilitator go around the school looking for the “culprit” who printed to another teacher’s classroom printer.  Another teacher talked about how she was encouraging kids to print out their research articles at home rather than at school.  I joked with my mentor that as a parting gift, when I leave her to go do my middle-school placement, I’d get her a Costco-sized case of printer paper instead of a gift card to Panera like I originally planned.  She laughed, but I have a feeling that she would totally take me up on it!

What are some of the budget woes you have encountered and what are some creative ways to stretch those budgets?

STEM Collection for K-5: Science/Technology Resources (Print)

Here’s an annotated bibliography for some great science/technology resources that one can add to their school’s STEM collection, along with some seeds for teachers/media specialists.

science mysteries tesla livesofscientists rosierevere ohno 101 science

Barnett, M. (2010). Oh no! Or, how my science project destroyed the world. New York, NY: Hyperion.

A little girl’s winning science fair project – a robot – causes unexpected problems. Book’s humor and illustrations will appeal to readers; connect science to literature. Grades K-3. $13 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-0-9678020-3-9


  • This would be a good book to read as an introduction to the school’s annual science fair or classroom science projects. Brainstorm other science fair/project ideas, and discuss some of the issues that might arise from these endeavors.
  • With younger students, can discuss why they might want a personal robot. What would they like their robot to be able to do? Have students sketch out a design for their robot, label parts, and write a short paragraph about what it can do.
  • Incorporate other robot activities – start collecting recyclables a couple of weeks in advance, then have students design/build their own robots from the recyclables. Have them write a short paragraph describing what their robot does. Other ideas can be found on Pinterest and around the Internet.
  • Can lead to other resources about robots and scientists’ attempts to design them to perform basic, everyday tasks. With older students, can discuss some challenges scientists face when designing robots.
  • Other books/movies about robots or science experiments gone awry – what are some underlying messages the writers of these books/movies are trying to tell us about science, technology, innovations, etc.:
    • Books:
      • The Robot Book by Heather Brown (2013)
      • Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen (2012)
      • DK Eyewitness Books: Robots by Roger Bridgman (2004)
      • Hello, Robots by Bob Staake (2004)
      • Sleepy Time Olie by William Joyce (2001)
      • Cosmo and the Robot by Brian Pinkney (2000)
      • etc.
    • Movies
      • Big Hero 6 (2014)
      • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 & 2 (2009, 2013)
      • E (2008)
      • Robots (2005)
      • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
      • etc.


  • Kirkus Book Review Stars, 2010
  • New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, 2010
  • Golden Duck Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction Literature, 2011
  • Society of Illustrators Original Art Award, 2010

Beaty, A. (2013) Rosie Revere, engineer. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

A budding inventor, Rosie dreams of becoming a engineer despite some challenges and her fear of failure. Celebrates girls in the sciences, creativity, critical thinking skills, persistence/resilience (AASL 21st-century learner disposition), etc. Connects curriculum to real-life problem solving skills; National science standards and Common Core aligned. Grades K-5. $9 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-1419708459


  • The endpapers of this book are done in graph paper. Give out graph paper to students and have them invent their own contraption. Brainstorm different problems they might be able to solve with their invention, or other reasons they might have for inventing something (e.g. to solve a problem, to improve a process, for entertainment, etc.). Label parts and write a paragraph about what their invention does.
  • Collect recyclables a couple of weeks before the unit. After reading this book, have students build something out of the recyclables and write a paragraph about what it is, what it does, etc. Students can then present their creations to the class. (Might want to set some guidelines about what these contraptions can or cannot be. e.g. cannot be a weapon, can be built using household products, etc.)
  • Discussion: Do you think girls make good scientists/mathematicians/engineers? Why or why not? Why do you think girls historically have been discouraged to go into these types of study/careers? Older students can research a well-known woman in history (could extend outside of science and engineering) and write about her contributions and why they are important to our world today.
  • More resources can be found at Titlewave:


  • Parents’ Choice Award, 2013
  • Amelia Bloomer Project List, 2014

Becker, H. (2008). Science on the loose: Amazing activities and science facts you’ll never believe.

This book contains fun, sometimes messy, experiments that students can carry out using ordinary household items, along with the scientific principles behind them. Covers concepts such as chemical reactions, genetics, senses, as well as an overview of the science inquiry process. Grades 3-5. $10 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-1-897349-19-9


  • Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens, 2009
  • Cybil Award finalist, 2008

Burns, L. G. (2012) Citizen scientists: Be a part of a scientific discovery from your own backyard. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

Students learn about citizen science and how they can conduct in actual scientific studies such as the Audubon Bird Count and FrogWatch USA. Includes suggestions for 4 projects (one for each season). Connects learning in science classrooms to the real world; encourages inquiry-based learning and critical thinking skills. Grades 3-5. $9 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-0-8050-9517-3


  • Discuss “citizen science”: what is it, who can participate, qualifications, etc. Why might this movement be important? What role can our class, you, or your family play in this?
  • Research some citizen science projects that your classroom can easily be involved with. Discuss each and choose one to participate as a class. Similarly, have students research different citizen science projects that they and their families can get involved with. Students and their families can sign on to a project and have students write a report on the experience (what they chose, what they did, was it a success, why or why not, etc.). Talk about some of the things we might need to consider before choosing a project – is the project seasonal, is it restricted by location/geography, does it require special equipment, etc. (Some ideas can be found on the National Wildlife Federation web page:
  • Discuss the scientific inquiry process and what it means to really “observe” something. What are some of the tools a citizen scientist might need/use (e.g. magnifying glass, binoculars, field notebooks, pencils, etc.)? What is data collection and why is it important?


  • NYPL Children’s Books 2012
  • School Library Journal Book Review Stars, 2012
  • NSTA’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2013
  • Green Earth Book Award, 2013

Cate, A. L. (2013) Look Up!: Bird watching in your own backyard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

A humorous introduction to bird-watching goes beyond being a guidebook to encouraging students to head into their own backyard to observe and sketch what they might find. Connects science curriculum to real-world learning; encourages life-long learning. Grades 3-5. $12 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-0763645618


  • Discuss the scientific inquiry process and what it means to really “observe” something. What are some of the tools a citizen scientist might need/use (e.g. binoculars, sketch books, pencils, camera, field guides, etc.)? What is data collection and why is it important? What kind of questions might we ask about when it comes to birds and bird watching?
  • Discuss “citizen science”: what is it, who can participate, qualifications, etc. Why might this movement be important? What role can our class, you, or your family play in this?
  • Research some citizen science projects that your classroom can easily be involved with. Discuss each and choose one to participate as a class. Similarly, have students research different citizen science projects that they and their families can get involved with. Students and their families can sign on to a project and have students write a report on the experience (what they chose, what they did, was it a success, why or why not, etc.). Talk about some of the things we might need to consider before choosing a project – is the project seasonal, is it restricted by location/geography, does it require special equipment, etc. (Some ideas can be found on the National Wildlife Federation web page:


  • ALSC Notable Children’s Books, 2014
  • Cybil Award, 2013 winner
  • Sibert Informational Book Medal, 2014 honor
  • Other best lists

Fleming, C. (2013) Papa’s Mechanical Fish. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Based on the real-life inventor Lodner Phillips, this story tells of Papa, who, after many failed inventions, builds a submarine and takes his family on a fishing trip to the bottom of Lake Michigan in 1851. Connects science curriculum to real life people. Grades K-3. $13 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-0374399085


  • Collect recyclables a couple of weeks. After reading this book, have students build something out of the recyclables and write a paragraph about what it is, what it does, etc. Students can then present their creations to the class. (Might want to set some guidelines about what these contraptions can or cannot be. e.g. cannot be a weapon, can be built using household products, etc.) What is the purpose behind their creation – does it solve a problem, make something easier to do, etc.?
  • Discuss what it means to be persistent/resilient even when you face challenges (a AASL 21st-century disposition). Why should we persevere rather than quit? Have students write a paragraph about a time when they ran into a difficulty or faced failure and persisted anyway.


  • Best Picture Books, 2013
  • Children’s Books of the Year, 2014 Ages 5-9
  • NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2014

Kamkwamba, W. (2012) The boy who harnessed the wind.

A fourteen-year-old Malawi boy saved his village from drought by figuring out a way to use wind to harness electricity. Connects science to real-world problem solving; teaches persistence/resilience in midst of adversity; biographies/autobiographies. Grades K-5 $13 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-0803735118



  • Discuss how William Kamkwamba was able to identify a problem in his community and how he went about solving it. Was he able to solve the problem overnight? (No, it took him several years to figure out how to harness the wind.) What if he quit the first time he failed or the first time someone told him no? Have students write or talk about an instance where they persevered and what they were able to accomplish.
  • Discuss windmills and other ways we generate electricity/energy. Is one form better than another? Why or why not? Older students can research on green/clean energy.
  • Brainstorm some problems the world is facing today. Assign each issue to a small group of students and have them discuss ways they would go about solving the problem. Have students present their ideas to the class. Identify solutions that are doable and encourage students to do it!
  • Older students: Teacher can do a class read-aloud of the full-length memoir (same title) written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.



  • Amazon Editors’ Picks for Best Books of the Year, 2012
  • NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2013

Krull, K. (2013). Lives of the scientists: experiments, explosions (and what the neighbors thought). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

A fun look at well-known scientists and their often-eccentric personalities and anything-but-dull lives. Quirky stories will appeal to reluctant readers and budding scientists alike. Can serve as introduction to biography genre. Offers real-world connections. Grades 3-5. $14 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-0152059095



  • This can be an introduction to a unit on biographies/autobiographies (discuss the difference). Students can be asked to write their own autobiography, or research a scientist (or president, artist, historical figure, mathematician, etc., depending on the subject) and write a short biographical paper on the person. Brainstorm types of things to include in the paper that the readers will find interesting.
  • Discuss fiction vs. non-fiction, truths vs. myths. How might you go about verifying that these stories of famous scientists are, in fact, true?
  • Can also talk about how to select appropriate resources – if students are asked to do a research paper on a scientist’s particular contribution to the world, would this be a good source of information or not? Why or why not? Talk about other resources that might be more appropriate.



  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2014
  • Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2014

Lipkowitz, D. (2011) The LEGO ideas book: Unlock your imagination. New York, NY: DK Children.

The book provides numerous ideas for LEGO creations beyond the box instructions, including six themes: transportation, building, space, kingdoms, adventure, and useful makes. Encourages creative play; engineering. Grades K-5. $15 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-0756686062



  • Can be used in conjunction with LEGO bricks at a station in the library media center to be used during free play time.
  • Can also be used for guided builds. For example, students can be asked to build a biome or habitat that they have learned about in their science class. Or, build a picture frame using dimensions and units students learned in math.



  • IRA & CBC Children’s Choices Selection, 2012


Pflugfelder, B. Nick and Tesla 5-item series. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books.

In this illustrated series (with 24-32 pages of blueprints/instructions for gadgets readers can build themselves), twins Nick and Tesla solve neighborhood mysteries by doing some detective work and building gadgets with common household objects. Appeals to students who like reading novels and who also enjoy science/technology and inventions. Encourages lifelong learning and reading for pleasure; connects science to real-world critical thinking and problem solving skills. Grades 3-5. $55 (Titlewave)

Romanek, T. (2001) The technology book for girls and other advanced beings. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.

Targeted to girls, this book shows how much technology is embedded in our daily lives, and how items like the TV remote and automatic doors actually work. Sidebars discuss interesting careers in technology, and there are many ideas for activities and science fair projects. Connects science/technology to the real world; encourages girls in STEM. Grades 3-5. $10 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-1550746198



  • NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, 2002
  • Parents’ Choice Award, 2001
  • Children’s Books Canada Science in Society Book Award, 2001

Rusch, E. (2013) Electrical wizard: How Nikola Tesla lit up the world. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

The story of how Serbian-American scientist Nikola Tesla used his childhood fascination with electricity to invent alternating current and many common household devices that use electric power in our homes. Encourages lifelong learning and inquiry-based problem solving; also an introduction to biographies. Grades 3-5. $15 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-0-7636-5855-7



  • Discuss some of Nikola Tesla’s ideas/inventions and how our everyday lives might be different without them.
  • Introduce unit on electric circuits. Use with Snap Circuits kits.
  • This can be an introduction to a unit on biographies/autobiographies (discuss the difference). Students can be asked to write their own autobiography, or research a scientist (or president, artist, historical figure, mathematician, etc., depending on the subject) and write a short biographical paper on the person. Brainstorm types of things to include in the paper that the readers will find interesting.



  • Children’s Books of the Year, 2014
  • NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2014


Swanson, D. (2009) Nibbling on Einstein’s brain: The good, the bad & the bogus in science. Toronto, ON: Annick Press.

This book introduces the idea that there can be good science and bad science, that some research – however “official” they might appear – can prove to be faulty, misinterpreted, biased, and unreliable. Encourages critical thinking and ability to evaluate and select appropriate/authentic resources. Grades 3-5. $10 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-1-55451-186-0


  • This can be used in the science classroom to teach about the scientific inquiry process. Discuss the importance of forming the right questions, designing the right experiments, data collection and observations, etc. When reading an article or trying to choose a side in a scientific debate, how can factors like authorship and research methodology help us decide whether something is ultimately useful/authoritative or not?
  • Can also be used in the media center for lesson on authority/authenticity of information – the importance of verifying your sources, how to verify it, etc. Talk about bias and point of view, and how these can affect the resource you are using. Can incorporate a “Fact or Fiction” activity where students have to determine whether a statement is true or false by looking for evidence.
  • This could be used outside of science – in social studies, history, information literacy, etc.



  • Best Books for Children, 2002
  • ALA Booklist Top 10 Sci-Tech Books for Youth, 2002
  • Los Angeles’ 100 Best Books, 2001 IRA Children’s Literature and Reading SIG
  • Children’s Books Canada Science in Society Book Award, 2001 shortlist
  • White Ravens Award, 2002 winner

Wyatt, V. (2008). The science book for girls and other intelligent beings. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.

Though this book can be great for all readers, its goal is to spark girls’ interest in science through experiments in zoology, botany, geology, chemistry, and physics. Readers learn about different science careers that use critical thinking skills, deductive reasoning, and inquisitive minds. Connects classroom learning to real-life situations and problem-solving strategies; encourages life-long learning. Grades 3-5. $18 (Amazon) ISBN: 978-1550741131



  • Silver Birch Award nominee, 1994


Yoder, E. (2013). One minute mysteries: 65 short mysteries you solve with science! Washington, DC: Science, Naturally!

This collection of 65 short mysteries provide a fun way for students to develop critical thinking skills and will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Covers themes such as life science, earth and space, physics and chemistry, and connects science to real-life problem solving. Common Core aligned for using content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and constructing a response. Grades 3-5. $7 (Titlewave) ISBN: 978-1-938492-00-6



  • Teachers can use these as “Science Riddle of the Day” or as a warm-up activity before a science lesson. Can also be an activity choice for early finishers.
  • If using as a group activity, have students work individually or in pairs first to develop their solutions, then have them share their thinking with the rest of the class. Talk about how one person might approach a problem differently than another.



  • Children’s Books of the Year, 2014 – ages 9 to 12