MYSTERY SOLVED! Fiction meets Nonfiction in Einstein Anderson: Science Geek by Seymour Simon
Since most of my books are nonfiction – informational books about science – some people ask me how I happened to write Einstein Anderson: Science Geek. The story began back when I was a science teacher in a New York City Junior High School. I’m sure that many of you who are teachers will recognize the scene:
It was mid-June. My ninth-graders had finished their state exams and we were really done with the science curriculum for the year. Outside the classroom windows we saw blooming flowers and sunny skies – summer vacation was nearly here and to top it off, my students were moving on to high school next fall. They liked science but saw no reason to study hard at this point – in fact, the kids were pretty much bouncing off the walls…
In a desperate effort to keep the class focused on science (actually, on anything!), I began telling them stories involving puzzles or mysteries. At the end of the story I’d ask students to figure out a solution to the problem. The one who figured it out became “Einstein for a Day.” These mystery stories became incredibly popular with my classes. Kids were vying to become Einstein. I decided to write stories like these with an “Einstein” character and my editor at Viking-Penguin thought it would be great to publish them.
In truth, the character of Einstein was based on me when I was a kid, and also a little bit on my sons, Robert and Michael, who loved science, too. In the times when I was in elementary school, pretty much every class had its science geek or nerd and I was the nerdy one who loved to quiz my classmates to see who could name the planets in order going out from the sun (in those days there were nine planets and I still miss Pluto!) or see who would fall for the old standard: “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?” I also loved silly puns – in fact I still like to make my wife cringe!
The books were well loved by kids when they were first published by Viking-Penguin and Morrow brought them out in a slightly revised edition a decade later. When we started our digital publishing company, StarWalk Kids Media, we thought it was time to update Einstein, give him a smart phone and a laptop and some more diverse and tech-savvy friends, and bring the series to life once again so that a new generation of students can become Einstein for a Day. We also had them re-illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, an incredibly talented artist.
Adam “Einstein” Anderson loves science, as I do, and thinks it’s fun to know about the natural world and figure out mysterious puzzles. He and his best friend, Paloma Fuentes, have a great time outsmarting adults and using their wits to convince the school tough guy that brains can win out over brawn. Neither Einstein nor his friends are really geniuses – they just use the science they know to figure things out. Each story contains clues about the science theme that Einstein will apply to solve the problem, so readers can really play along with Einstein and Paloma. But read carefully – sometimes the clues are false! For example, in The Impossible Shrinking Machine the sun shines directly on the same house door both in the early morning and late afternoon. That’s impossible! (Do you know why?) And that’s the clue to the solution.
We know that children love games and puzzles and everyone likes to solve mysteries, so we have written the Einstein Anderson stories to engage children in 3rd to 6th grade and model not just how to gather information, but also how to use thinking and reasoning skills and apply science principles in the real world.
Characters use technology in the stories, including searching the Internet for information, but you can’t really figure out the answer to the puzzle just by Googling. It’s more than just information you need to solve a problem You have to ask the right question to get the right answer, and in order to figure out the right question you have to think about the problem and understand what’s going on. This is great modeling for how we use the Internet in real life and I think kids who try to get the answers to our mysteries by looking things up will learn as much as others who just read the book. As long as they are using their brains they are getting something out of it!
It’s unusual to combine fiction and nonfiction the way we do in the Einstein Anderson books, but we think that’s a great way to hook a reader who thinks science is hard – as well as the “science geek” who can’t get enough chances to use obscure science facts. The stories can be enjoyed on different levels by science novices and students who have a huge store of science knowledge.
We have designed the series to meet Common Core State Standards for reading both fiction and informational text – and our Teaching Links suggest ways of comparing the two. Perhaps most helpful of all, every Einstein Anderson story comes with a hands-on science project or experiment children can do at home or at school. The science experiments are good examples of procedural text, even though they are written in Einstein’s voice. They also contain lots of valuable science information (see “The Science Solution” section at the end of the experiment where Einstein explains why the experiment works) and they are just plain fun. None require hard-to-get lab equipment, but younger kids should have a bit of teacher or other adult assistance. So try a few experiments in your kitchen or classroom and let me know how it goes.
Bad joke of the day from Einstein: Why can’t you trust anything an atom says? Answer: Because atoms make up everything!
Have fun with Einstein Anderson, Science Geek!
Seymour Simon (@seymoursimon), whom the New York Times called “the dean of [children’s science] writers,” is the author of more than 270 highly acclaimed science books. He has received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Lifetime Achievement Award for his lasting contribution to children’s science literature, and his website, www.SeymourSimon.com, is a Webby Honoree site, as well as one of ALA’s 2012 “Great Websites for Kids.”
Seymour Simon is also a founding partner in StarWalk Kids Media (www.StarWalkKids.com), a streaming eBook platform designed to provide high quality digital literature from award-winning authors to Schools and Libraries. More than 50 of Seymour Simon’s popular books are now available in this digital format.
Thanks for a great posting! I’d like your readers to know that this is not only available as part of the StarWalk Kids streaming eBook collection, but it can also be purchased on Amazon – either for Kindle or as a paperback. http://amzn.to/128Ne1J
You are one of my heroes, Mr. Simon! Thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do for curious kids of all ages.
I really liked the idea of using mysteries to gain the interest of students. I am also a science teacher and I have used similar activities to gain my students interest. I call them sponges and I put them up at the beginning of class. The students know that as soon as they walk in they need to start working on the sponge in order to get credit for the activity. This gives me time to take attendance and prepare any last minute details for the class. It helps the students because they get to start using their brains on something that is directly related to the topic we will discuss for the day.
An example of from the other day was noise-canceling headphones. The day before we had talked about destructive and constructive interference of waves. The next day I put up and real advertisement for noise-canceling headphones with the question, “how could these work?” A few of my students had heard of them, but very few could make the connection between them and what we had discussed the day before. Luckily I found a short article that explained the basics of how they worked. After a few minutes I let the students read the article and then they could complete the sponge. Then we started the lesson for the day, which was about beats and the Doppler effect. The student’s brains were ready to learn and they were eager to find out more about waves.
I think you book sounds really interesting. I would like to read a copy and see if any of the situations would be applicable for my class. I think putting some situation up at the end of class would be a great way to assign an entrance ticket for the next class period. I have also been playing with the idea of making a little library of science themed books that students could check out. This would be perfect since is about a science student. I look forward to reading your book and seeing if it fits into my library idea.