Oct 15

On the STEAM Train of Thought…

Ever since the project that led to the development of my first book, Leonardo’s ABC, I have been impressed by the ways in which new, important avenues of thought made possible by rigorous exploration of the arts with science, technology, engineering, and math. Over the last year or so, I’ve spent time cogitating with colleagues on questions around STEAM education:

  • Should the A be capitalized (indicating equal weight given to arts learning in the ever-crunched-for-time STEM classroom)? Always? Is art cheated when it is swept in with STEM?
  • When thinking about integrating the arts with STEM (itself an integrative approach to learning and doing), do we mean integrating the arts with all STEM fields, at once, or just combining any one of the STEM disciplines with art? 
  • What are the advantages of integrating the STEAM fields? 
  • What are the risks to arts and STEM learning, and vice versa? 
  • What can rigorous STEAM learning really look like in practice?

On and on the questions go. The answers are tricky, especially when we try to put them into really rigorous practice worthy of both an arts class and a bonafide STEM classroom. Nominal integration is one thing, but really getting at rich learning in all fields at once? Well, that takes some doing.

While my colleagues and I definitely do not claim to have all of the answers, our work has resulted in some thoughts we believe are worth sharing.

Check out, for example, “What’s Wrong with Interpretive Dance? Embracing the Promise of Integrating the Arts into STEM Learning,” published recently in the online STEAM Journal, which opera singer turned STE[a]M education consultant Ruth Catchen and I co-authored.

Ruth and I also were delighted to share our STEAM thinking with geologist and educator Dr. Susan Eriksson in a podcast interview for Creative Disturbance.

What’s my next station stop as this STEAM train chugs forward? At present, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for grant funding to work as an artist in residence with a Massachusetts elementary school. Our plan is to have me collaborate with talented science, math, and arts educators to help students focus on learning and communicating science through visual and verbal modes of expression. This will involve lots of good, rich, curriculum-based science, via an artistic production.

I’ll continue to share insights about Leonardo da Vinci –the ultimate STEAM thinker–through my book and author visits.

And I’m always open to new opportunities to explore how we can educate ourselves and our students in powerful, lasting ways that truly engage them and make a difference.

Contact me if you have a project that you think I can help you with. As both an author and a STEM/STEAM consultant, I’m excited to collaborate!

Meanwhile, please drop a comment. Share your experiences or just your questions about STEAM education. What is the best STEAM learning experience you have witnessed or participated in? What is an experience that you wish could have gone better – and, if you can answer, what do you think was not as strong as you would have liked?

Mar 28


audience and author at Wellesley books

Getting Started at Wellesley Books

One of my favorite parts of writing (and of being a STEM educator) is making connections. Among ideas. Between the everyday and the extraordinary. Across time spans. And, always, with people.

I like the medium of a book as a vehicle for making all these connections because I get to be thoughtful and deliberative about what I say. If I’m unsure of an idea, I can look into it and be reasonably sure that whatever I communicate is the best and most accurate idea I can muster. Later, when the book is out, I might hear about readers enjoying it. That’s a deeply satisfying click. Author outreach also offers phenomenal rewards. It is a joyful experience that energizes me.

So I was reminded during the flurry of last week’s interview with Vic McCarty, 1270 WMKT, and the official launch of A Black Hole is NOT a Hole at Wellesley Books. Vic asked great questions and made the whole experience an unmitigated pleasure. Listen to the podcast! (One note: I think I need to put a finer point on an answer to one of Vic’s questions. Vic wasked what happens to the matter in a black hole. I was focusing on what happens during black hole formation. The full story is – nobody really knows. Maybe it’s as I describe in the show. Maybe the matter is converted to energy. Science doesn’t yet offer a framework that can help scientists answer this with confidence.)

The next evening, downstairs in Wellesley Books (Wellesley, MA) , we had a full house, with folks wrapped up the stairwell. A dynamic and enthusiastic audience ranging in age from about 8 to 60 years old breathed life into the event. I especially appreciated Potter, who practiced giving gentle “editorial” feedback to his dad, and Derek, who valiantly attempted the impossible in order to help me make a point about gravity. Stay tuned for video. The Wellesley Channel was there and tells me it plans on posting the entire event.


Finally, on Saturday, I played assistant to my longtime amateur astronomer husband Barry as he led an astronomy event at a beautiful local nature education center, the Soule Homestead in Middleboro, MA. I so enjoy watching Barry at work/play, helping people connect to the night sky, that big, beautiful, jewel-studded dome arcing all around us. The participants shared their own views of the stars, and Barry shared some ancient stories from different cultures.

Whether we are reading or writing, meeting an author or meeting our readers, or just hanging around the night sky, our stories connect us all. What a great gift. If you want to explore more about presenting this gift to kids, you might  consider an author visit (by me or others, of course!) or check out Read Kiddo Read, a blog dedicated to making kids readers for life.

Mar 19

Starry-Eyed Thursday & A Big Week Ahead

I have a double-post this week – lots going on.

Starry-Eyed Thursday

Last Thursday, I found myself perhaps a little starry-eyed. Exciting responses to A Black Hole is NOT a Hole have been coming in over the weeks since the book’s release, and it is bringing back memories of some of my earliest writing days.

I don’t know about all other authors, but I know that one of the reasons why I loved writing as a kid, and still do as an adult, is that it can be so fun to share my work and get a good response. (It’s not so fun when the work fails to have the desired reaction.) I can still remember being in Grade 4, Mrs. Gamma’s class, at the Dunn’s Corners Elementary School in Westerly, RI, on Thursday mornings, our creative writing days. Mrs. Gamma would prop several, colorful, laminated pictures on the chalkboard rail at the front of the class and invite us to write about any one of them, anything that came to mind. I’m sure that there were students who dreaded those mornings, but for a few of us, those mornings were bliss.  We young authors would really take off with our story writing for the allotted time–and jump from our seats at the chance to share the morning’s work with the rest of the class. Creative time was a gift, sharing back and bathing in a spotlight of positive response was joy. The combination was an electric feeling!

 Some 35 years or so later, I write for the pleasure of it, and for reasons that go beyond the spark of feeling the hoped-for positive attention from my audience. I want to share important ideas and experiences with young readers, inspire them, and support the adults around them in tackling the grand, wonderful questions of science and the pursuit of creative expression. These reasons hopefully ground me as an adult, but the electricity of being in a spotlight, or starshine, can still thrill, as it has on this, a Thursday morning, when I opened my email to discover the news that A Black Hole is NOT a Hole has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Way back when, in Mrs. Gamma’s class, I could not have fast-forwarded to this moment. But without her encouragement of that creative spirit in all of us, I might not have had this moment to enjoy. Thanks, Mrs. Gamma – and all the other teachers and authors along the way.

This makes me wonder if folks out there have their own stories of early joy and support in their writing efforts. Anyone want to share? How do you enjoy writing now – for personal benefits, professionally, a little of both?

Big Week Ahead (from Michigan to Massachusetts)

Catch me if you can…on the Vic McCarty show, Monday, March 19, at 11:30 a.m. ET, ’til about noon, on 1270 WMKT. (Click on the Listen Live icon.) I’ll be talking with Vic about black holes and am looking forward to it! It makes me think – what questions would you want to ask if you were in Vic’s position? Drop a line using the Comments feature, below.

If you’re in the Boston Metro region, drop by the official A Black Hole is NOT a Hole Book Launch Party  at Wellesley Books in Wellesley Center  for an interactive demonstration, author talk, and Q & A. Of course, light refreshments will be served–with a black holes twist. Think black hole donut holes (chocolate) and whirlpool hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows that are sure to disappear. We’ll provide the coffee stirrers; you make the whirlpool. Anyone else have any ideas for black-hole inspired refreshments? (Would really like to hear them.)

I’m looking forward to meeting students in Life Skills and Childrens’ Literature classes this Friday (March 23) at Silver Lake High School in Kingston, MA. Media specialist Linda Redding set up the event. I’m sure from past experience that we will all walk away enriched from our time together. High school students and teachers out there: What makes a really great author visit? Drop a line.




Mar 07

Metaphors in Space

Pleased to have A Black Hole is NOT a Hole featured on Nonfiction Monday!

Writer, poet, and author of many fine books including A Leaf Can Be…, Lara Purdie Salas commented on her blog that, “By using numerous metaphors and concrete comparisons, you have explained black holes in a way I can (finally) understand!”

Lara went on to say, “…it would be great to use as a mentor text for kids writing about science. Have them work on metaphors for other scientific events/processes and write about them in a way younger kids can understand. There’s nothing like teaching something to help you understand it better yourself.”

I agree with Lara that teaching something (or writing about it) is an important part of learning it for yourself. I learned a lot about black holes, gravity, and relativity – to name a few topics – while searching for the right metaphors to use in A Black Hole is NOT a Hole. Part of the learning comes from really unpacking those metaphors. One of my favorite author programs to run is Making Meaning with Metaphors. The students can really engage in the ins and outs of effective metaphors and then try their own. We have lots of fun and the students walk away with a new way to communicate and to understand their world. Speaking of writing to learn, a long time ago I picked up a copy of the National Science Teachers Association’s How to Write to Learn Science  by Bob Tierney. (I have the 1996 version, but there is now a 2nd edition). It gave me the confidence I needed to work with kiddoes on writing in science.

I am excited to hear that I’ve struck a chord with the metaphors in the book.  (See also  a recent interview with Barbara O’Connor on her Greetings from Nowhere post, below.) Originally, I envisioned the entire work as a series of 2-page spreads with each one highlighting a specific metaphor for black holes. When the book format changed from 32-page picture book to mid-grade reader, there was not much I could transfer to the new vision, but the metaphors were important to me. Glad it worked out!

Mar 02

Interview with Kirkus Reviews

Thank you to Erica Rohrbach for her article and interview, “Debunking Black Holes for Kids” for Kirkus Reveiws.

“I think there’s that sense of immense power and maybe a little the fear of disappearing—you know, I wouldn’t say this to kids, but a little bit of that fear of mortality. I mean I’ve seen it happen to kids in a classroom when they understand some of the types of things that can happen over broad scales of time, like the sun will eventually grow and envelop the Earth. I’ve seen them understand what that means and get that there’s something very powerful, and we’re so small as humans and connected to it…” Read More.

And thank the stars for the Starred Review from the fine folks at Kirkus!

Illustration by Michael Carroll from A Black Hole is NOT a Hole.

Mar 02

Greetings From Nowhere

I was honored to be interviewed by Barbara O’Connor for her blog Greetings from Nowhere about my writing and my new book, A Black Hole is NOT a Hole.

“When I am actually writing, my process is like playing with a ball of clay. I pick it up, not necessarily having a well-defined object in mind. Then I smoosh and twist and generally play around with the ideas. I’m experimental. Even when I know exactly what a passage has to do, I’ll try several different approaches…”  Read More.

Illustration by Michael Carroll from A Black Hole is NOT a Hole.