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We are pleased to be hosting STEM Friday this week, a celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books for children. The theme for today is wildflowers, so be sure to click through the link and check it out. (This post contains affiliate links to Amazon).


We are fast approaching the the centennial of Lady Bird Johnson's birth, December 22, 2012, and it seemed like a perfect time to pull out Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America
by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein. This is a beautiful picture book biography that overflows with the beautiful wildflowers that Lady Bird Johnson enjoyed so much. (For a full review of the book, see our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.)

You may wonder how a picture book about a former first lady who loved wildflowers could be used as a jumping off point for STEM. Here are just a few ideas:


- use the website and the guide in the backmatter of the book to identify all the lovely wildflowers in the illustrations

  • Seed dispersal
  • Ecology issues, such as how introduced and invasive plants change an area
  • Food webs
  • Weather and climate, and how that effects plants


  • Use a computer program to design a wildflower garden
  • Construct two weather stations and compare the weather in a wildflower garden versus a parking lot


Wildflower seeds come in many different sizes and shapes. Investigate how wildflower seeds are planted, harvested, processed or threshed, and packaged for sale. Can you think of a machine to do this in a better way?


Investigating wildflowers can be a wonderful way to promote all aspects of STEM.

Lupine life cycle

Let's take a look at the life cycle of one of Lady Bird Johnson's favorite flowers, the bluebonnet or lupine. Her favorite was Lupinus texensis, the Texas bluebonnet. We are showing the arroyo lupine, Lupinus succulentus, which is a similar plant.

Lupine seeds

sprout into seedlings. The first two smooth oval "leaves" are actually the cotyledons.

Soon the regular leaves emerge and the plants begin to grow.

In a few short months the lupines begin to flower.

Honey bees and other pollinators pollinate the flowers. When the flower has been pollinated, the white part turns red.

Now the petals fall off and the seed pods begin to form. You can see the dark green seeds forming inside.

When they are mature, the pods turn brown. Do you see the ones towards the bottom of the photograph that are twisted? The pods burst open when they are mature and send the seeds shooting through the air. Hopefully, the seeds will land in a good location and grow into new lupines the following year.

Plant some wildflowers so you can follow your own plant life cycles. In the Sonoran Desert the time to plant wildflowers flowers for a spring bloom is right now (November).

Related activities/information:

Be sure to check either Kathi Appelt's (click on the icon next to the "brand new" image) or Joy Fisher Hein's websites for a beautiful and fun activity kit (in .pdf) to download that accompanies the book. The kit includes a word search, card matching game and many ideas for hands-on learning.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Free .pdf curricula to download at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Four curricula for grades pre-k through 6)
Hands-on activities at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers is a beautiful book about an inspiring lady. Hopefully, it will encourage some young scientists and engineers, as well.

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (February 15, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060011076
ISBN-13: 978-0060011079

Book was provided for review purposes.

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

Do you know what an ophiologist is? After you read today's featured book, Awesome Snake Science! 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes by Cindy Blobaum, you might want to become one yourself!

What is an ophiologist? As you probably have guessed, unlike a herpetologist, who studies amphibians and reptiles, an ophiologist is a person who specializes in the study of snakes.

Why would anyone study snakes?  Snakes are fascinating (yet also sometimes feared creatures) that deserve further study. They can be important predators of pests like mice, rats, insects and slugs. Researchers are finding new medical uses for snake venom. Understanding snakes helps keep people safe from the venomous ones. Studying snakes helps us understand our natural world. The list goes on and on.

Do you need live snakes to do the activities from this book? No, Blobaum has created scientifically-relevant activities that can be done with items from around the home, although they beg to be supplemented by a trip to a zoo to see some live specimens. For example, learning how to estimate the length of a snake lying on the ground is something snake scientists must do in the field quickly and accurately. In Blobaum's "Snake Survey" activity, snake stand-ins like lengths of yarn and belts to help children learn the estimating, measuring and data-collecting skills that can definitely be applied in the real world.

Other activities sure to appeal to children include making foldable fangs, creating a model of snakes' eyes, investigating snake venom using an enzyme found in pineapple, and creating a bad odor to mimic snake defensive compounds. These are fabulous for the young hands-on learner.

Although I only have highest praise for the text in the book, I should mention that the photographs used to illustrate the activities are not printed in color like the vibrant cover. Some of the photographs are too dark to be really effective. It was probably done to reduce printing costs, which is unfortunate because the rest of the book is so good.

Awesome Snake Science! is an amazing book that sets a new standard for how hands-on science should be done. It is sure to appeal to budding scientists, particularly those interested in becoming ophiologists. 🙂

Our own learning adventures, inspired by the book:

Snake Identification Activity

Snakes can be hard to identify because you often only catch a glimpse of one slithering by, because many species are camouflaged, or because they may mimic other species that are well-defended. The good news is that these days there are Internet sites and even apps to help with snake identification.

Let's figure out which of the following photographs is of a Sonoran gopher snake, a desert king snake and a desert blind snake using the Discover Life snake identification guide.

First of all, these snakes are all from western North America (Arizona to be exact).


Make a guess which of the three snakes this might be.

Click on the Discover Life snake identification guide. Select the following choices (I provided the choices because they may not be visible in the photograph. Feel free to modify them.)

1. Body bottom color: other

2. Body bottom pattern: solid

3. Body color: solid

4. Scales:  smooth

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

Now hit one of the "search" buttons on the far right side

You should see matches come up in the column on the left side. Click on your guess for which snake it is (hopefully it will be in the list) and check the photographs to see if it matches. If not, try one of the other names. Remember, snakes can vary a lot in color, so look other characteristics, too.


Click in the top menu to "restart"

Which snake is this?

1. Body bottom color: other

2. Body bottom pattern: blotches

3. Body color: spots

4. Scales:  smooth

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

This time only one of the names will probably come up in the list on the left. See if this snake matches.


If all went well, there's only one name left. Let's see what kind of snake this is.


1. Body bottom color: white

2. Body bottom pattern: solid color

3. Body color: spots

4. Scales:  keeled strongly

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

Skip all the rattlesnakes, because it doesn't have a rattle on its tail.

How did you do?

See answers below the ad for the book.

Even more about snakes for kids:

All about snakes at the San Diego Zoo.

Check out our previous post with more information and activities about snakes, including a snake craft

Looking for a science fair project idea? Dragonfly TV has a show about a snake experiment testing snake senses. Caution for sensitive types: the video shows a dead mouse being immersed in water.

Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1569768072
ISBN-13: 978-1569768075

The copy reviewed was purchased.

Answers to snake identification:  A. desert blind snake B. Sonoran king snake C. desert gopher snake

More books for kids about snakes:

Verdi by Janell Cannon - Lovely fiction picture book to pair with nonfiction

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books; 1st edition (April 1, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0152010289
ISBN-13: 978-0152010287


Snakes by Seymour Simon

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (March 13, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0061140953
ISBN-13: 978-0061140952

The Snake Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop (Photographer)

Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Sandpiper; None edition (February 26, 2001)
ISBN-10: 0618111190
ISBN-13: 978-0618111190

Garter Snake at Willow Creek Lane (Smithsonian's Backyard Book) by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Anne Wertheim

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Soundprints; First Edition edition (June 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1607272083
ISBN-13: 978-1607272083

Snakes by Gail Gibbons

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Holiday House; Reprint edition (June 10, 2010)
ISBN-10: 082342300X
ISBN-13: 978-0823423002

National Geographic Readers: Snakes! by Melissa Stewart

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (April 14, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1426304285
ISBN-13: 978-1426304286

Nic Bishop Snakes by Nic Bishop

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0545206383
ISBN-13: 978-0545206389


We are excited to be hosting STEM Friday this week, a celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books for children. The theme is STEM books for autumn, so be sure to click through the link and check it out.


A wonderful new book to introduce youngsters to the changes that occur in fall is Awesome Autumn by photographer Bruce Goldstone.

Fall is more than simply leaves changing color, it is about getting ready for winter. Goldstone takes us through the how and and why leaves change color, of course, but then ventures on to also talk about the fall migrations and hibernation. At the end are instructions for fall activities such as roasting pumpkin seeds. If you are ready to jump into a pile of colorful autumn leaves, then you are ready for this book!

Edit: Full review at Wrapped in Foil

Activities inspired by Awesome Autumn:

How animals prepare for winter

1. Winter in temperate climates often means freezing temperatures and snow. The food for many types of animals becomes scarce. Some birds and butterflies, like the monarchs, are known to fly south in the fall to places that are warmer and/or have more food. This is called a seasonal migration.

Opportunities to study migration:

Journey North is a citizen science project targeting seasonal changes and migration of animals like whales, hummingbirds and robins.

The middle grade level book Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Philip Hoose is about a tiny shorebird commonly called a red knot that makes extremely long migrations. In the Appendix of the book, Hoose lists a number of child-friendly organizations and projects that welcome participation and promote education about birds and conservation issues.

Monarch Watch has extensive programs for tagging and monitoring monarchs on their migrations.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology also has educational and citizen science opportunities for studying birds.

2. Other animals eat a lot and build up layers of fat to get ready for spending the winter holed up underground, called hibernation.

The layers of fat serve two purposes. First, the fats are energy reserves that the animal uses to survive long periods without food. Second, the layers of fat insulate the animal against the cold.


  • Disposable gloves or a plastic sandwich bag
  • Bowl deep enough to place hands in without overflowing
  • Water
  • Ice
  • Vegetable shortening

Fill the bowl half way with ice and just cover the ice with water. Put the disposable glove or plastic bag over your hand and briefly plunge it into the ice water. Think about how it feels. Generously grease the outside of the glove or bag with shortening and put it back on your hand. Stick your covered hand back in the ice water. Does it feel the same as before?

3. See a previous post: Where do insects go in winter?

There are many ways to investigate science in autumn. Why not use Awesome Autumn by Bruce Goldstone and the other books recommended at STEM Friday as a jumping off place?

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition (August 7, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0805092102
ISBN-13: 978-0805092103

Disclosures: The book was from our local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. 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.