May 3, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “UBA Scientist” (HOPSCOTCH FOR GIRLS, August/September 2011) Guy Stewart #17

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

This one followed hot on the heels of “Simple Science”. I was intent on seeing if I could turn my science skills into writing skills.

Turns out I could.

While “Simple Science” was an iteration of a demonstration I’d done many times, “Sleeping and Sprinting” was a thought experiment to fill a need a magazine had. FUN FOR KIDZ was looking for things to do at a party. [I submitted the experiment to FFK, but they liked it enough to want to toss it into the sister publication, HFG; whose brother magazine is BOY’S QUEST; all published by Fun For Kidz Magazines.]

I’d been reading on a “real science” site about the importance of baseline data as it related to exercise. I figured that combining them and simplifying data collection as much as I could would make for an interesting experiment and prove a belief that I’ve long held: that anyone can do real science experiments anywhere. All they have to do is come up with a question, an action that will give them information they can write down, and a way to record the information.

I knew also that most young people want relevant and interesting information. Most young people are also curious. The problem is that standard science classes don’t usually teach inquiry – they teach cook book science: 1) Take this thing. 2) Take the other thing. 3) Mix them together, throw them, drop them, heat them. 4) Record what happened. 5) Isn’t this SCIENCE wonderful?

First of all, cook book “science” is not science. Let me reiterate that: cook book science is not science.

It’s training for proper laboratory practice, and there’s nothing inherently WRONG with learning lab procedures! Students need to know this in order to not set themselves on fire, create toxic gases, or make flash burns on solid surfaces. But it’s not science. By definition, science is “...the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

All I did was give a frame work to find out something that might interest kids: “Does everybody’s pulse go up and down the same when they exercise?”

The ancillary question was if age made a difference, giving the kids a chance to ask the parents to take part in the experiment. Another thing that this did, in addition to asking questions, is to both tie an everyday subject together and ask a question that any kid in their right mind would be able to Google instantly.

A standard lab we did in the physical science classes I taught was to find the density of different solids and liquids. All of which were easily Google-able and not in any way, shape, or form “science”.

Now that I’ve worked myself into a lather though, I guess I’m feeling inspired to go write and try and sell a couple more science experiments!

Oh, one last thing – enthusiasm is essential in writing science experiments that kids will want to do!

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