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For STEM Friday we have one of the fabulous books nominated for a Cybils Award.

Our choice is a middle grade title from the always high quality Scientists in the Field Series, The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop.

I have to admit that I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about hyenas. After all, they have a bad reputation, as the authors say, "widely considered to be dirty, ugly, and mean." The fact the book was one of the Scientists in the Field series, however, convinced me to give it a try (well, that and it was nominated).  I'm glad I did.

It turns out that I knew very little about hyenas. Given their appearance, most people assume they are related to dogs. On the first page we learn that in fact they are more closely related to cats than dogs, and most closely related to mongooses. Mongooses?!

How many other common perceptions of them are wrong? A lot.

They are scavengers that slink around stealing prey from lions, right? Turns out that although hyenas do scavenge a bit, they are smart and formidable hunters. With careful observations, the featured scientist Kay Holekamp discovered that in fact lions steal prey from hyenas more often than the other way around.

Rather than give away all the surprises in the book, let's just say your impression of hyenas will likely change after you read it. In fact, you just might want to go study them yourself.

And if you decide to do that, this book will show you what it might be like. As with the other books in the series, the scientists are at the center. We learn about how Kay Holecamp and her assistants came to study hyenas and how they go about it. For example, on pages 18-19 is the inspiring story of Dee. It turned out many years ago Dee worked at the Saint Louis Zoo and took on Kay as a student volunteer. Kay went off to school and Dee eventually went to another job because at the time women were only allowed to hold limited positions at zoos. However, Dee always loved animals and dreamed of going to Africa. Years later, at the age of sixty-nine she reconnected with Kay and her dreams came true. She now helps Kay at her field site. What an inspiring story.

I should also mention Nic Bishop's fabulous photographs. I have been a long time fan, and I think his work is just getting better and better.

As you can tell, I really like this book. For readers interested in biology or what it takes to be a field biologists, The Hyena Scientist is a treasure trove. Delve into a copy today.

One final note:  as a middle grade title, this really is for older readers. Being about the biology of one of Africa's top predators, there are some mature themes and graphic photographs.

Related:

Younger children can learn more about the spotted hyena at National Geographic Kids.

Although this video should come with a strong "don't try this at home" warning, this video about a family that feed hyenas in Ethiopian city of Harar. They have developed an understanding of hyenas is quite fascinating. At the end are some shots of the area during the day. Click through to YouTube to see a detailed explanation of what you are seeing (in English).

See how big some of the animals are? Can you hear the men whistling to communicate to the hyenas? Hyenas are social creatures. Can you spot any social interactions?

Why do you think it is filmed at night?

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0544635116
ISBN-13: 978-0544635111

Interested in learning more about scientists? Check out the books in our growing list of Scientists in the Field books at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by our local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books. Note: this is a new link as of 10/2018.

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For STEM Friday we are featuring the new middle grade nonfiction book Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner and photographs by Andy Comins, which chronicles Dr. Gavin Hunt's intriguing research into tool use and learning by New Caledonian crows.

 

Why New Caledonian crows? It turns out they have a lot going for them. They are pretty smart. Not only can they use sticks as tools to pry their food- in this case large beetle larvae - out of wood, but also they can fashion new tools by shaping and modifying twigs and stems. As more sophisticated experiments have shown, they have a remarkable ability to solve problems (see some of the videos below). They also have bigger eyes than other species of crows and their eyes are closer to the front of their head, which means they have better depth perception.

Although the special crows are fascinating enough, author Pamela Turner's discussion of Dr. Hunt's research is written with just the right touch of humor to keep young readers fully engaged. For example, she notes one of the crows is named "Crow we never got around to naming." Many of her observations are highly entertaining.

Andy Comins's amazing birds-eye-view photographs (see the one on the cover above) help us see the crows as individuals. It isn't easy to photograph active birds in the wild, and he makes us feel like we are right there studying the birds, too.

Whether you have read all of books in the Scientists in the Field series or none of them, you are going to want to pick up this one. Perfect for anyone interested in learning, animal behavior, birds, tool use, or science in general.

Below are some bird science activity suggestions that could be used to accompany the book.

Activity Suggestion 1: Building a Bird Blind

Dr. Hunt knows he might change the crows' natural behavior if they knew he was watching them, so he uses shelter to observe the crows unnoticed. The camouflaged shelter is called a "hide" or a "blind." In the field he uses a portable tent as a blind (photograph page 12 of the book), but children can design and build their own bird blind.

Gather:

  • Sheet, large piece of cardboard, or cardboard box
  • Twine, cord, rope or painter's tape
  • Twist ties
  • Paints in camouflage colors (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Scissors (craft knife for adults only)
  • Markers
  • Birdseed (optional)
  • Birdwatching supplies:
    • Notebook
    • Pens and pencils
    • Field guide for identifying birds
    • Binoculars (optional)
    • Clock or watch
  1. Find a location to set up the blind, either indoors or out depending on the weather and other factors. If you already have a bird feeder near a window, setting up a blind inside the window would be ideal.  Outside, look for areas where birds are active on a regular basis, such as in shrubs, trees, or near a food source.
  2. If you choose to, paint the sheet or cardboard with camouflage colors (investigate what colors birds can see and plan accordingly). Allow to dry.
  3. If you are setting up inside, cover the window with a cardboard box with the bottom facing out or tape up the sheet with painter's tape. Outside, tie the twine or cord between supports such as poles, fences or trees. Drape the sheet over the cord, or lean the cardboard against the cord, and fasten with clothespins or twist ties.
  4. Have the children stand or sit in a comfortable position. Using the markers, mark where the eye holes should go. The holes should be a small as possible so they aren't obvious to the birds, but large enough to allow for comfortable viewing. Cut out the holes.
  5. If you choose, sprinkle some birdseed in the viewing area or feed the birds to attract them (optional). Sit or stand quietly behind the blind and view the birds. Younger children may simply draw a picture of a bird they see. Older children may want to keep a more detailed record of what kinds of birds visit, what time of day, how long they stay, which direction they go, etc.
  6. Suggestion for experiment:  Do blinds really work? Design an experiment to test whether birds behave differently when observed through a blind versus when viewed from similar distances and circumstances without a blind.

Activity Suggestion 2:  Watch some videos/bird cams of the behavior of crows and other birds.

Even if you don't have the opportunity to observe bird behavior in nature, learn more about birds by watching videos like the one below and/or by visiting bird cams online (The Lab of Ornithology has a number of ongoing bird cams to get you started.)

Check Pamela S. Turner's website for many more videos of crows doing funny and amazing things.

Related:

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers
We have a list of children's books about birds at Science Books for Kids.

scientists-in-the-field-series-book-reviewsAlso, see our growing list of books in the Scientists in the Field Series.

Visit our birdwatching Pinterest board for many other bird-related science activity ideas.

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Grade Level: 5 - 7
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (August 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0544416198
ISBN-13: 978-0544416192

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

1

Today for STEM Friday we are featuring The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (Scientists in the Field Series). Author Elizabeth Rusch introduces us to a number of scientists who are working hard to convert the mechanical energy of ocean waves into electrical energy. See a full review at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

Waves are actually very complex and we are still learning about them.

How do waves form?

The waves in the ocean form due to wind blowing on the surface. The shape and size of the waves depend on the force and steadiness of the wind, and the distance over which the wind travels, called "fetch." The shape of the wave is also influenced by the depth of the water, especially as it meets the shore.

Activity 1. Exploring Waves

Gather:

  • Plastic bin
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Dropper

You may use a sink or bathtub to hold the water, but because you will be blowing across the surface, a plastic bin situated on the waterproof surface of a counter or tabletop will probably be easier to maneuver around. This would be an ideal activity to try outdoors.

bin-with-water

Fill the bin 3/4 full of water.

Ask the children if they have ever been to the ocean and seen waves. If they have not, consider showing a video (YouTube has dozens).

ocean-waves-ca

Brainstorm about how to form waves. If water splashes are not a problem, allow the children to free-explore their ideas about how best to produce waves. They will probably put their hands in and swirl the water.

Now reveal that waves are formed by wind blowing over the water. Have the children blow and see how the waves look different from those they produced using their hands.

Did they form in parallel lines like in the video above?

Once the children have seen waves, add a drop of food coloring to the water and have them blow waves again. How does the water move? Do all layers move the same way?

Many texts will tell you that the water in the deeper part of the ocean does not move forward as a wave passes by, but simply travels in a circle or oscillates. Proof is given when an object floating in the water simply bobs up and down, rather than moving forward.

waves-oscillating

 

If you look closely at the second video, however, you will see that the top layer of the water with the food coloring moves across the surface with the waves. Why?  One possible solution is that the bin is too shallow and the waves are behaving more like those at the shore, where the circular motion is disrupted. Can you think of any other reasons?

Activity 2. Water Vortices

Older students might want to try the experiments with vortices suggested in this video by Physics Girl (has a pop-up ad):

Isn't that incredible? I can't wait until it is warm enough to try it myself.

If your children like these activities with waves, be sure to pick up The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (Scientists in the Field Series) . It introduces young readers to an exciting new technology that will capture the energy of waves and convert it to useful electrical energy. The book will definitely inspire young readers who want explore waves and oceans. It is also a great resource for adults who want to learn more about this relatively new area of research on a potentially renewable source of energy.

Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Grade Level: 5 - 9
Series: Scientists in the Field Series
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (October 14, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0544099990
ISBN-13: 978-0544099999

You might also be interested in other books we have reviewed from the Scientists in the Field series. 

 

scientists-in-the-field-series-book-reviews

Disclosures:  The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.  I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.