January 3, 2019

Camouflaged to Hide and Hunt

Buy me!
By Mary Kay Carson

Kids love to look at pictures of strange and scary, bizarre and slimy, weird and wonderful animals. Harness that fascination but challenging students to ask WHY? Why does that animal have bright red lips, a covering of goo, or legs covered in spikes? How might these strange-looking characteristics help the animal survive? Does it help it find food, hide, hunt, or impress a mate? 

This is challenge of my newest book, WEIRD ANIMALS. Its interactive color-coded design allows readers to observe, predict, and then discover the why behind the weirdIt's a fun way to teach students about animal adaptations and survival strategies like camouflage colors, thorny skin, and extra hard heads!

The book's premise came from one of my most popular author visit school programs, Why Are These Animals so Weird? It's the perfect combination of entertaining images and educational info about animal adaptations. Plus, I'm always surprised by the reasons students predict for an animal's strange behavior or looks! One point I always try to reinforce is that camouflage hides an animal from both predators and prey. Blending in with the surroundings can help an animal stay safe and be a better ambush hunter. 

Try this fun printable activity with your kids. It not only allows them to see how effective camouflage is, but challenges them to quantify those effects. Grab some colored toothpicks, a timer, and start searching!

November 30, 2018

Join the Ultima Journey

By Mary Kay Carson

The spunky spacecraft that became the first visitor to Pluto in 2015 is about to make history again. New Horizons is nearing its second stop, an icy object being called Ultima Thule. Meaning a place "beyond what is known" it's the perfect nick-name for this dark reddish chunk of ice and rock a billion miles past Pluto. Ultima Thule is a Kuiper Belt object, one of millions that orbit beyond Neptune that make up our solar system's outer zone.

After accomplishing its nearly ten-year journey to the Pluto system where it rewrote the book on the icy dwarf planet and its five moons, New Horizons headed toward the small Kuiper Belt object. The speedy grand-piano-sized robotic probe will reach Ultima Thule late this month on New Year's Eve. It will be the farthest planetary exploration by a spacecraft ever! The KBO is an astounding 4 billion miles from the Sun.

Here's how to make sure you're tuned into the action and how to get students up to speed on the mission so far, as well as some fun activities to share. 
  • Get caught up on the story so far, by reading my book Mission to Pluto. There's a great free downloadable educator's guide for the book, too.
  • There are tons of great resources for educators on the New Horizons website, including activities for K-12, a 3D model printing file, and a fun-to-make one-twentififth scale paper model that's available as a printable PDF.(You'll need the instructions, too.)
Watch these web and social media sites for more, including live links during the flyby event:
Also, here is an annotated activity to help students comprehend just how far away Ultima Thule is. It's from my book Exploring the Solar System. Go New Horizons, go!

November 1, 2018


Activity: Try Your Hand At This Ancient Skill

by Brandon Marie Miller

Humans have tracked and hunted animals for thousands of years. Prehistoric cave paintings show hunters at work finding food for their families. Most of us no longer hunt for our food. But if you want to discover the birds and animals in your own neighborhood-- get outside, open your eyes, and start tracking. You might be surprised at what you find!

A Prehistoric cave painting of hunters using bows and arrows

You are looking for "spoor." This means any tracks, signs, marks, or disturbances left by a passing animal. A track is an outline or imprint left in dirt, mud, or sand. This can be a footprint, or maybe the print of a tail dragging in the mud. Every animal has a different footprint.

A underside of a racoon foot

Look closely. Are there nibbled plants? Broken bits of nut shell? An animal has eaten a meal! Are there feathers on the ground? A piece of fur stuck of a twig? Has a tree trunk been marked by a deer rubbing its antlers or maybe there are claw marks in the wood? An animal has passed this way.

If you are in a park check for worn down paths that might be an animal trail. Are there nests, burrows and tunnels into the ground, are there dens or caves? These are animal homes.

You might even see "scat" or animal poop. Watch where you step! Did you know different animals have poop of various shapes and sizes, from little rabbit pellets to large flat patties?

You can find books at your local library and charts online that show different animal tracks. But you can get started with the activity below. Happy tracking!

September 30, 2018

Astronaut or Aquanaut—Which would you be?

by guest-blogger Jennifer Swanson

It’s so much fun to imagine what our future careers will be one day. You might find yourself wishing to blast off into space OR to dive deep under the ocean. But would you like either of these careers? Are they hard to do? What kind of training is needed? And WHAT does the suit you have to wear look and feel like?
   These are all amazing questions. A lot of them are answered in my book, Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. But because this is a science/STEM/STEAM book we have some fun activities for you to do right in your own home to see which one of these careers you might choose.

Astronaut Training:
Do you have what it takes to dock at the Space Station? Grab a tennis ball, a big plastic cup, some rope or strong string and give it a try. It’s not as easy as you think!

Aquanaut Training:
Underwater is all about how things float. If you were going to dive deep under water, how do you make sure that you stay down there? And how do you make sure that you come back up? That force is called Buoyancy. It’s a force that pushes up on us as gravity pushes down. Try this experiment to see how things float… or sink

Did you succeed? Did both of your experiments work? Which one did you like more?
Challenge: If you’re looking for more ways to decide, I challenge you to design your own space suit OR underwater suit. What would it look like? What tools would it have? Draw it and compare with your friend.

So what did you decide? Will you be an Astronaut OR Aquanaut?

My choice? Aquanaut. All the way. I’d rather see this out my window: 

Than this:

Although to be quite honest, they are both amazing views! Thanks so much for joining me on the Hands-On Books!  Jennifer Swanson, www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

August 31, 2018

Cook Chinese Dumplings by (Chinese) Lantern Light!

We welcome author Sherry Ellis this month!

I’m happy to announce the release of my newest book, Bubba and Squirt’s Big Dig to China. It's fiction based on my research about China. 

When Bubba and Squirt accidentally arrive in China, they discover they are in a pit with the Terracotta Warriors. These statues were first discovered in 1974 by local farmers digging for a well. The warriors were buried with the first Emperor of China, Ch’in Shi Huang-ti. Their purpose was to help him rule another empire in the afterlife. It is believed that there are more than 8,000 soldiers. No two are the same.