Skip to content

For STEM Friday this week we have a middle grade science book, The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain. and More! (Animal Secrets Revealed!) by Ana Maria Rodriguez.

Using a fun format where each chapter reveals a surprise about a different group of animals, the author has found five science stories which often turn conventional wisdom upside down. In the first chapter, the term "bird brain" has a whole new meaning when scientists find that small size has nothing to do with power. In the following chapters readers discover whether birds have a sense of smell, how and why mama bears act during different seasons, and how pig grunts and alligator bellows may have more to say more than we originally thought. The last chapter ends with a hands-on activity for kids to try.

Although it is the animals that draw young readers in (the kunekune pigs are adorable!), the true stars of each chapter are the scientists who are discovering their secrets. The book shows details of how each group of scientists studies the problems, from counting brain cells to recording pig grunts.

The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain...And More! is the next best thing to taking a field trip with a biologist. Check out a copy today.

Related Activity Suggestions:

Investigate Kunekune Pigs (Chapter 4)

Kunekune pigs are a rare breed from New Zealand. They are prized because of their small size and ability to use grass (to graze) as their main source of food.

Here are two kunekune piglets from the Dallas Zoo:


What do you think the little "tassels" of hair under the chin is all about?

The scientists in the book studied the grunts. You can hear the sounds the pigs make in this video.

Can you hear other sounds in the area besides the pig, like the kids and the chickens? How do you think scientists tune in to just the pig sounds when they want to study them? (See answer below.)

Don't these pigs have interesting colors?  The New Zealand Kunekune Association's page on coat color genetics has a detailed explanation of how genes interact to produce coat colors.

Investigate Bird Brains and Bird Behavior

Age Range: 8 - 11 years
Publisher: Enslow Pub Inc (August 15, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0766088529
ISBN-13: 978-0766088528

Answer:  Scientists trained the pigs they wanted to study to go one at a time into special sound-insulated huts so they could record individual pigs without a lot of extra background noise. Read chapter 4 to find out more.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the 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

For STEM Friday we have a 2018 AAAS Subaru Children’s Science Book Prize Finalist, Try This Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young and photographs by Matthew Rakola.

What is extreme about this book? It explores extreme temperatures (for example, the effect of cold on glow sticks), extreme environments (test survival skills) , and extreme animal abilities (for example, exploring the insulating power of whale blubber). It is also extremely engaging.

As we've come to expect from National Geographic Kids, the book is illustrated with fantastic color photographs. What makes it stand out is that it features real kids performing the experiments, and includes some of their comments, plus readers gets to meet all the kid scientists on pages 10 and 11. Seeing their peers doing the experiments draws kids in and empowers them to try some themselves.

The back matter includes all the science standards for each experiment, plus a very handy index.

For busy parent and educators, Try This! Extreme could be a real life saver. With clear step-by-step instructions and using easy-to-obtain materials, children can take the lead with these projects. Plus, it is super cool!

Age Range: 10 and up
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (September 26, 2017)
ISBN-10: 142632863X
ISBN-13: 978-1426328633

Let's do a hands-on science experiment for older kids inspired by the book:

Soda Floating and Sinking

Imagine you are working in a restaurant. Someone has filled two taps, one with diet soft drink and one with regular soft drink. Unfortunately, no one knows which is which. The store manager doesn’t want to serve the public the wrong soft drink, and the two taste similar enough that there are some questions. Should she throw out the soft drinks, or can you tell which is regular and which is diet using science?

If you know something about the density of different types of soda, you might be able to help.

Density can be calculated using the formula:

density= mass divided by volume

Materials:

  • Large plastic bin, sink, or tub
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of regular soft drink
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of diet soft drink
  • Water
  • Table top kitchen scale
  • Calculator

Part 1. Observe the density of soft drink cans placed in a large container filled with tap water.

Do you expect the unopened cans of soft drink to float, sink, or stay in the middle when placed in tap water? Given that the cans likely contain an equal amount of aluminum and fluid, do you expect any differences in how the different kinds of soda will behave?

Fill a plastic storage bin, sink, or tub with tap water. Place the unopened cans of regular soft drink and diet soft drink in the water. Observe whether the cans float or sink.

(For a quick peek at the expected results, see this video)

Did what you observed match your predictions?

soft-drink-bottles
Public Domain Photograph by Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net

Part 2. Determine the density of unopened cans of soda

  1. Turn on the kitchen scale.
  2. Make sure it reads zero (is tared).
  3. Place an unopened can of soda on the scale.
  4. Write down your data in a table like this one:density-table
  5. Record the kind of soda
  6. Read and record the mass of the can in grams.
  7. Locate the volume of the can in milliliters and record it.
  8. Repeat steps 2-6 until you’ve weighed 4 cans of regular soda and 4 cans of diet soda
  9. Using a calculator, calculate the density of each.

What is going on?

Soft drinks are actually complex mixtures containing a variety of substances such as colors, flavors, acids, sweeteners, preservatives, and caffeine. For example, soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which gives them a tangy taste. Phosphoric acid can also acts as a preservative, keeping the contents of the bottle fresh.

Which of these ingredients, if any, might explain the different densities observed? Read the nutrition facts of the regular soda and diet soda. Do you notice any ingredients that are contained in large enough amounts that they might result in the differences in density between diet and regular soda? How much of that substance is in regular soda? How much in diet?

Finally, how might you figure out which soda is which in the example described at the top?

Want more? See our growing list of children's books with hands-on science experiments at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher 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.

3

For STEM Friday let's take a look at a beautiful new picture book, On Gull Beach by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall.

In this book, youngsters learn about seagulls and other inhabitants of a Massachusetts beach.

The story follows a young boy as he explores the seashore. Along the way, he spots a sea star. Before he can reach it, however, a seagull picks it up and flies away. Find out what he discovers as he chases the gull along the beach.

Jane Yolen's simple, but expertly-crafted rhyming text and Bob Marstall's exceptional illustrations make a delightful combination. Plus, you can't go wrong with the people of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology backing it.

The back matter includes more detailed information about gulls, other shorebirds, sea stars, and different types of crabs. Included are small color photographs of the different animals, plus QR Codes that will take you to sound files. There is also a sidebar about "How You Can Help Our Beaches and Wildlife."

Young birdwatchers will love On Gull Beach. It would also be a great choice for a trip to the beach, either in real life or in the reader's imagination. Enjoy a copy today!

Age Range: 4 - 11 years
Publisher: Cornell Lab Publishing Group (March 27, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1943645183
ISBN-13: 978-1943645183

Related Seagull Science Activities

1. Identifying Birds

Encourage children to learn how to identify birds. When children can tell different birds apart, they pay more attention to the birds they see.

Identifying birds requires learning to recognize body shapes, learning the names of body parts, plus honing observation skills. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some tips and resources to get started.

 

The type of seagulls featured in the book are herring gulls. As you can see from the illustrations, herring gulls have robust white bodies, light gray on their wings, pink legs and feet, yellow eyes, and they have a red spot towards the tip of their yellow lower beak.  The All About Birds website has more details and photographs of herring gulls.

 

Is this a herring gull? Check the characteristics listed above. Does it match?

Nope. There are more than 20 species of gulls in North America.  This is an immature Heermann's gull (Larus heermanni).

2. Questions and Answers: Seagulls

Q: How are the feet of seagulls different from those of the song birds in your community?

A: The seagulls have webbed feet for swimming.

Q: What sounds do seagulls make?

Seagulls make a number of different sounds depending on circumstances. They have alarm calls, courtship calls, sounds to defend territories, and sounds when they feed their chicks. All About Birds has some seagull sound recordings.

Q: Why do seagulls have dots on their beaks?

A: Seagull chicks peck the dot on the beak as a signal they want to be fed.

Q:  Are seagulls only found at the beach?

A:  No. Seagulls are also found inland, around rivers and lakes, and even in agricultural fields. They are common around landfills.

Q:  Do seagulls really eat sea stars like in the book?

A:  Seagulls eat many different creatures at the beach, including sea stars, crabs, and fish. Those found at the landfill are feeding on trash.

Here are some clever gulls eating snails.

No matter how you crack it, seagulls are interesting animals.

__________________________________

Earlier titles in the On Bird Hill and Beyond series:
On Bird Hill (2016) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall

On Duck Pond (2017) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall

See our growing list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher's representatives 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.