super-gear November 20

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Super Gear: Nurturing my Inner Science Nerd by Annette Bay Pimentel

I’m thrilled my seventh grade daughter loves math. I sign her up for science activities. But I try to keep my own secret hidden from her: I fell off the STEM bandwagon in middle school.
I used to be just like her—an elementary and junior high school math whiz who always got put in advanced classes—but in high school I purposely took as little math and science as possible (and in those days, that was very little). In fact, I managed to get through college without ever taking a laboratory science class. I was a stereotypical English major, completely immersed in novels and poetry and plays and completely uninterested in the workings of the natural world.

I loved studying English, but I regret lost vistas. I want my daughter to have more options. So these days, as part of my campaign to make STEM attractive to my daughter, I check science books out of the library and leave them strewn about the house. I hope she’ll feel inclined to pick up the books and flip through them. Maybe even read them. I think it’s working with her.

The surprise is, it’s also waking up the math and science nerd inside me. I’ve discovered that I’m a sucker for gorgeously illustrated, engagingly written books, even if they are about science. A beautiful book is sitting on our coffee table? I have to pick it up and read it.

And as I’ve been reading, I’ve also discovered that science writing for kids isn’t an alien form of expression. It uses sparkling narrative voice and the literary devices I love in other writing.

super-gearSuper Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up by Jennifer Swanson is a great example. Tell me that you’re handing me a book about nanotechnology, and you will—still—probably need to chase me on my run for the hills. The topic sounds way too complicated for my limited science background.

But put this book in front of me, with its eye-catching photos of Olympic athletes, and I’m at least going to start flipping through, reading captions. And once I open the book, I’m caught.

This is no textbook. The narrative voice is confident but not stuffy. It’s conversational and enthusiastic. The language is clear and accessible—breezy, even.

A nanometer is so small, it is invisible to the human eye…look at the edge of this page. See how thin it is? A nanometer is one hundred thousand times smaller than that. Now that’s tiny!

Sure. The book tackles tough scientific concepts. But just at the moment that I’m about to flip the page, certain I’ll never unpack this idea, the technical description slips into an engaging—even funny—simile.

By inserting harder nanopolymers in between softer, more flexible nanopolymers, scientists can control how much the foam flexes. Think of a kitchen sponge. When it’s wet, you can bend it back and forth with ease. But what if you inserted a few straightened paper clips through the sponge?

Sidebars feature experiments I can do to explore scientific concepts using common household supplies. Perfect for my inner science nerd!

This book doesn’t ignore the philosophical and ethical issues that arise in science, either. Is it fair for some athletes to use equipment that will make them perform better? Is winning with high-tech athletic equipment fair?

This book stayed close to the remote while we watched the Olympics last summer. But it has a life beyond Olympics season, too. Middle schoolers are ready for passionate conversations about whether it’s fair for equipment to give some athletes an advantage. That’s a debate that my English major soul can get wholeheartedly behind. But it would have been impossible if this engaging piece of middle school science writing hadn’t released my inner STEM fan, too.

 

Annette Bay Pimentel reads, writes, and tries to inspire her kids to new heights in Moscow, Idaho. Her nonfiction picture book, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service, was published by Charlesbridge in August 2016.