Currently viewing the category: "Informational Nonfiction"

The Story of Rock
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: 1…2…3…4! Let’s rock and roll, babies!

From Elvis Presley to Beatlemania, from Janis Joplin to David Bowie—rock has transformed through generations while ringing true with passionate sound. Rock along with the greats in this delightful baby book that introduces little ones to the rockers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to play the air guitar with adorable frequency.

My Review: Last night, my husband was reading to my son, and he asked me to bring this book from downstairs. It’s a great, enjoyable book to read and entertained both my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old. I liked how I could cater my reading differently to each of them. For my 5-year-old, I was able to show him pictures of the bands online and talk about the evolution of rock. For my 2-year-old, I was able to talk about music and instruments. We played sample music of many of the bands and had a lot of fun. I could see this working well in the classroom setting. Students might create their own Story of _________ books for children. It teaches excellent skills of summary, synthesis, and brevity.

The Story of Rap
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Lay down a baby beat and learn all about the history of rap!

From Grandmaster Flash to Kendrick Lamar, rap has shaped generations and brought a voice to the voiceless. Bop along with the greats in this adorable baby book that introduces little ones to the rappers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to develop excessive amounts of swagger.

My Review: I will admit that I know a lot less about rap than I know about rock, so reading this book was a different experience. I knew many of the names but had less background information to share with my children. So together, we looked up the musicians to read and learn more about them together. It was fun to learn more about a music genre that I am less familiar with. This is another book that would pair well with a student assignment to create their own Story of _________ books for children. I love nontraditional synthesis assignments.

Wild Bios: Frida Catlo
Published: January 8, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Frida Catlo was one purr-fect painter!

Meet one of history’s greatest figures in this adorable board book with an animal twist! Famous Meowxican painter Frida Catlo was a pioneer for female artists. She always painted from the heart, even in the face of health problems and personal struggles. With hilarious puns and colorful illustrations, this book brings Frida’s legacy to life for babies and parents alike!

My Review: Ahh, how I love Frida Kahlo. This book made me chuckle a bit. I will admit that I read it to my kids the first time without any of the cat references, but then I went through and read it again with the cat jokes. I wanted them to get a sense of Frida (who they are unfamiliar with) before they considered the cat jokes. This would make for a really fun classroom book. I can envision students enjoying a project that asks them to create their own Wild Bios for a person in history.

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Happy 2019! 

This year, I reread more books than any previous year. I am not including the billions of pictures books that I reread to my children in that statistic, either. 🙂 But for this list, I am focusing on my favorite reads of 2018. These are books that will stick to my bones for years to come!


Favorite Books Marketed Toward Young Adults

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

The Astonishing Color of After by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Pride by Ibi Zoboi


Favorite Books Marketed Toward Upper Elementary and Middle Grade

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya


Favorite Picture Books

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by John Agee

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell


Which were your favorite reads of 2018?

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Happy 2019! 

I had one of my best reading years ever! My GoodReads goal was 300 which I exceeded!

I read 415 books this year!
(Though I will admit GoodReads adding the ability to add rereads really helped with the total; however, I was quite inconsistent with it– I marked re-reads sometimes and other times I didn’t, so I don’t know how accurate the count is, specifically picture books…)


It was almost exactly split between picture books and non-picture books with my novel, etc. total being a bit over 200.
My average rating for the year is 4.2 and my top shelves were: realistic fiction, nonfiction, Unleashing Readers, Trent 4-5 years, middle grade, audiobook, mg-ya picture books, picture book, and read to Trent. 

Today, I want to highlight my favorite reads from the year by sharing my 5 star reads from 2018
(the visual includes all while the list includes only newly read in 2018 books): 

Click on the photo above to see my 2018 Goodreads shelf to learn about any of these titles. If I’ve reviewed the book on Unleashing Readers, I’ve also hyperlinked it in the list. 

Picture Books & Early Readers (nonfiction & fiction)

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Windows by Julia Denos
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Trilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories by Salina Yoon
Duck, Duck, Porcupine! by Salina Yoon
Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude by Josh Funk
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford
Square by Mac Barnett
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
Mission Defrostable by Josh Funk 
What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers
Masterpiece Robot and the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack by Frank Tra
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Drawn Together by Minh Lê
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët
A Place for Pluto by Stef Wade
Cute as an Axolotl: Discovering the Worlds Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating
Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
One of a Kind by Chris Gorman
The Dinosaur Expert by Margaret McNamara
Memphis, Martin, and Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey
Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Veissid
Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton Hughes
Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
We Can’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins
Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone
Sun!: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty
The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk
Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayred
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi

Middle Grade

False Prince trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Granted by John David Anderson
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Bat & the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold
Track Series: Sunny & Lu by Jason Reynolds
Breakout by Kate Messner
Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Wonderland by Barbara O’Connor
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth
Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamura by Pablo Cartaya
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Garbage Island by Fred Koehler
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt
Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Young Adult

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles
Tyler Johnson was Here by Jay Coles
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
What Girls are Made of by Elana K. Arnold
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Here to Stay by Sara Farizan
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills
Odd One Out by Nic Stone
Dry by Neal Shusterman
Another Day by David Levithan

Graphic Novels

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
The Divided Earth by Erin Faith Hicks
I Am Ghandi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero edited by Brad Meltzer
Illegal by Eoin Colfer
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Monsters Beware by Jorge Aguirre
Kitten Construction Company: Meet the House Kittens by John Green
HiLo #4: Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick
Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable
Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier


Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Chasing King’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette
Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation by Patricia Newman
The Great Rhino Rescue by Patricia Newman
National Geographic: History’s Mysteries: Curious Clues, Cold Cases, and Puzzles from the Past by Kitson Jazynka

All of these books are highly recommended by me, so if you haven’t read them and they interest you, they won’t let you down 🙂 Happy reading!

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“Shaping the World: Industrial Design”

Why are chairs shaped like…chairs? How do engineers get ideas for improving the design of cars, phones, packaging—everything?

Since the earliest times, people have searched for better solutions to specific problems. They have tried to improve stone tools, cooking pots, weapons, and more. When creating each new item, they have thought hard about it—what problem are they trying to solve, what are they trying to accomplish, how can they make it work better?

Answering these questions, they made a design. Through design, people have created the key inventions of our civilization.

You might not know it, but you, too are a designer. Have you ever rearranged your room or desk to better suit a specific use? Maybe you wrote a quick computer program to make your gaming system work better. By thinking about what needed to be improved and finding a way to improve it, you used design skills.

So what’s industrial design? Industrial design is the process of brainstorming and planning every aspect of a product before it is made in mass production. Most of the things we buy today are made in a factory. Someone, an industrial designer, decided what the product would look like, how it would work, and developed a process for it to be manufactured.

Industrial design includes making decisions about how a product is used by a person, what technologies it uses, the materials it is made from, and how it looks and feels. Industrial design is a problem-solving process.

People have been designing things since the first fire pit! As technology grows increasingly complex, the methods of design have grown more sophisticated, but the beginning spark is the same. Spot a problem? Design a solution!

Try your hand at industrial design with these hands-on projects!


The growth of factories and mass production allowed companies to produce goods that were affordable for many people. At the same time, separating design from manufacturing can cause some problems. In this activity, you will explore some of the differences between craft-based design and mass production.

To begin, you will play the role of a craftsperson. Choose something that you can make, such as a piece of art, a stick picture frame, a simple wooden train and tracks, or a magnetic clip. Gather your supplies and get to work designing and making your item. Think about the following questions.

What design decisions did you make for your item?
When did you make these decisions—before you started working or while you were making the item?
How were the design process and the making of the item connected? How were they separate?

Now, imagine that your item will be mass-produced in a factory. You are still the designer, but will not be making the items. How will you convey your design ideas to the people who will manufacture and assemble the items? How will you ensure that the mass-produced items match your design, regardless of who makes them?

Have several friends or classmates follow your design instructions and make the item without you. After they have finished, compare their items to your handcrafted original.

Are there any differences? If so, what are they?
What difficulties did you and your team encounter while mass-producing the item? Why do you think this occurred?
What problems will it cause if there are differences between a design and the manufactured products? What about between the products themselves?
What could you do as the designer to ensure there are very few differences between the original design and mass-produced items?

Try This!

Think about how ornamentation affects mass-produced industrial design. Ornamentation is everything added to an object for decoration. It could be the type of finish or painting on an object, scrolls in woodwork, or even added jewels or metalworking. What is the effect of ornamentation on an object’s form, function, manufacturing process, and cost?


Design solves a problem and meets a need. When industrial designers create and improve products, they make sure their designs meet the needs of users. In this activity, you’ll design a chair that meets the needs of a specific type of user.

Consider the following chair users.

An 80-year-old man who walks with a cane. He spends most of his day in a chair, watching television. It is difficult for him to get in and out of a chair.
A 15-year-old student who spends eight hours a day at school. He has a large, heavy backpack that he carries from class to class. In every class, he needs a place to work and store his backpack.
A 30-year-old marathon runner who spends much of her time moving. Because she often has sore muscles, she prefers a cushioned, comfortable place to relax and prepare for the next day’s run.

Choose one of the users and make a list of what they need in a chair. How are these needs related to design requirements for a chair?

Choose a variety of materials to work with. Possibilities include black permanent markers, paper, scissors, corrugated cardboard, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, cotton balls, tape, and toothpicks.

Following the design process and considering your design requirements, design the chair.

Draw several sketches of the design. What elements will you use in the design? How do these elements meet design requirements?

Using your materials, make a simple model of your chair.

Evaluate your chair’s design. Does it meet the design requirements? Does it work as intended? Is it aesthetically pleasing?

Test your design by having other people evaluate the chair. What changes or improvements do they recommend?

Retest it with potential users. If needed, redesign your chair based on the testing feedback. After you have the final design, consider the following questions.

What did you change during the design process? What did you learn from your models and prototypes?

What materials did you enjoy working with the most? Which did you enjoy the least? Why?

Try This!

Try building a model of the same chair using different materials. How do different materials affect the design? How does the choice of materials affect how well the chair meets the design requirements?


There are a lot of utensils in the kitchen—knives, forks, spoons, whisks, peelers, pizza cutters, ice cream scoopers, spatulas, and more. Can you find any that could be improved by industrial design?

With an adult’s permission, take an inventory of your kitchen utensils. Consider the following questions.

What types of utensils do you have? How many of each kind?
What materials are they made from?
Are they ergonomic?
Are any utensils hard to hold or difficult to use?
Are any broken or rusty?
Can you use them right-handed or left-handed?
Do the handles wobble and make gripping the utensil difficult?
Does the utensil have sharp edgesthat cut into your hand when holding?
Do they look aesthetically pleasing?

Choose a utensil to improve through industrial design. Follow the steps of the design process:

Understand the problem
Define design requirements
Generate ideas
Choose the best solution
Develop the solution
Make a model/build prototype
Test and redesign

Present your new and improved utensil design to family members. What are their reactions?

Try This!

Can you design a product to organize your kitchen utensils?

About the Author: Carla Mooney has written more than 70 books for children and young adults. Her work has appeared in many magazines including HighlightsFaces, and Learning Through History. Carla lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Industrial Design: Why Smartphones Aren’t Round and Other Mysteries with Science Activities for Kids
By Carla Mooney
Published August 3rd, 2018 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What is industrial design? Why do microwaves open with a swinging front door? Why aren’t smartphones round?

In Industrial Design: Why Smartphones Aren’t Round and Other Mysteries with Science Activities for Kids, readers ages 10–15 engage in and learn about the engineering design process from its earliest beginnings, when individuals designed and crafted their own tools, to today, when engineers work to find the best design for products that are then manufactured in bulk by automated machines. Engineers consider the user experience of every product they design to ensure that users have the best experience possible. Good design combines the right materials, colors, details, and form to make a person want to buy and use a product. A well-designed product is easy to use and does what it is meant to do!

Thank you Carla for these classroom and independent friendly inquiry activities!

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“Big Questions, Big World, Big Data!”

Did you shop online today? Write an essay in Google docs? Send a snapchat to a friend? If so, you’ve been using data!

Data is a collection of small bits of information. It’s what we know and can measure about the world. Data has been around since people could count and write down their observations, which means we’ve been creating and using data for many centuries.

Now, because of computers and the internet, the amount of digital data in the world is vast. There’s so much data, we’ve taken to calling it “big data!” People generate data every day. When we shop, when we listen to music online, when we use fitness trackers, when we text, when we simply visit different websites—all of these actions generate data about who we are and what we like.

But…why? Great question. Many organizations and businesses use data in innovative ways to help create new products and processes that improve the quality of life for people around the world. Others have used data for financial gain. Data can be used for many different purposes.

But there are problems. How do we store all of that data? How do we access it when we need it? How do we know what is good, trustworthy data and what is bad data? And what about keeping things private? Not everyone wants the world to know where they shop or what they eat or how much money they have in the bank. How do we make sure that our data isn’t being accessed when we don’t want it to be, or used in ways that are harmful?

These are critical questions that lots of different people are working on finding the answers to. The first, very important step is to understand what exactly data is, how it works, how we collect, store, and access it, and how we can protect it.

Try these hands-on projects to start thinking about data!


Data can be found everywhere in the world. You generate data about yourself everyday—at home, at school, at work, and with your friends. In this activity, you will collect data about yourself and others. Then you’ll use the data you have collected to create meaningful information.

To start, find a partner—a classmate, friend, or family member—who is willing to participate in the activity with you. Together with your partner, brainstorm sources of data about each of you. Here are some ideas for data sources.

What data can you discover about a person from their cell phone?

What data can you discover about a person from their computer history?

What data can you discover about a person from their schedule and activities?

What can you discover from social media sites?

Now that you’ve identified several sources of data, you and your partner should select three sources from which to collect data about the other person. Decide how you are going to record or log this data—by hand, in a spreadsheet, or in a Word document. Collect and record your data.

Once you have three data sets about your subject, what can you do with the raw data? Is it meaningful in its raw format? Why or why not?

How can you organize the data so that it is more useful? What information can you learn from the data you have collected? For example, can you use the data to discover your partner’s favorite hobbies, websites, or television shows? What does this tell you about your partner? Is this information accurate?

Consider This!

As more devices collect data about your activities online and offline, what issues do you think this could cause? Who sees and owns this data? What should they be allowed to do with the data? What restrictions should be put in place?


What’s the weather like where you live? Weather is one type of data in the world around you. It can be measured and described in many ways, including temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and humidity levels. Every measurement is a piece of data that can be used in a variety of ways.

To start, you’ll need to select two cities along with your own city. You will be collecting weather data for all three cities during a two-week period.

Every day for two weeks, use the internet and local weather sources to collect weather data. Consider collecting the following types of data.

Temperature, both high and low

Wind speed

Wind direction

Air pressure

Sky conditions– sunny, cloudy, partly cloudy

Precipitation–type and amount


Meteorologists and other scientists use graphs and charts to look for trends in data. Create graphs for each category of weather data to compare and contrast the data from the three cities.

Now that you have organized your weather data, you can analyze it for useful information about the weather in the three cities. Use the graphs and charts to think about the following questions.

How would you describe the temperature changes in each city?

What was the highest and lowest temperature in each city and when did it occur?

What was the average temperature in each city?

Which city had the most sunny days, cloudy days, and rainy days?

Is there a relationship between sky conditions and temperature?

Is there a relationship between wind direction and temperature?

Which day had the most precipitation? Which had the least?

What was the total precipitation for the two-week period in each city?

How did air pressure change in each city? Did you spot any trends?

Is there a relationship between air pressure and the sky conditions of the next day?

Data can help us better understand the world around us. How are you able to use the data you collected to better understand the weather in your city and the other cities you tracked? What can you do with this information?

Try This!

How can you use your weather data to predict future weather? Based on the graphs and data analysis that you completed in this activity, what information have you learned that could help you predict weather in your city?


Many people, discoveries, and milestones were part of the history of the computer. From counting on an abacus to designing the first computer game, many people had a role in creating the technology behind today’s computers. In this activity, you’ll have the chance to learn a little more about a person or discovery you find especially interesting.

To start, think about an area of computer and data history that you want to learn more about.

You can pick a topic from this list, browse through the Computer History Museum’s website for ideas, or choose one of your own.


Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace

Hollerith’s punched cards

Grace Hopper

Colossus computer

The six ENIAC programmers

First IBM personal computer

Apple Macintosh

Microsoft Windows

Google search engine

Using the internet and your library, research your chosen topic. Why is your topic important? What problem did it solve? How did it contribute to computer history?

Create a short video or PowerPoint presentation to share what you learned.

Consider This!

What is the connection between the topic you chose and how we collect, store, and use data today? How did this discovery or person in computer history impact the world of data today?

About the Author: Carla Mooney has written more than 70 books for children and young adults. Her work has appeared in many magazines including HighlightsFaces, and Learning Through History. Carla lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Big Data: Information in the Digital World with Science Activities for Kids
Published August 3rd, 2018 by Nomad Press

About the Book: Have you watched videos online today? Did you post photographs on social media? Did you upload your English essay to Google docs? All of these are questions about data!

In Big Data: Information in the Digital World with Science Activities for Kids, readers ages 10 to 15 explore the definition of data and learn how essential it is to our everyday lives. They learn about the history of data, the transition from paper to computers, and the role that search engines such as Google play in handling data. By making connections between the relationships among data, computers, and people, middle school kids also acquire the tools they need to become better digital citizens!

Thank you to Carla and Nomad Press for this great post with perfect activities for any STEM/PLTW/ICT, etc. classroom! 

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Where’s the Architect?: From Pyramids to Skyscrapers: An Architecture Look and Find Book
Author: Susanne Rebscher; Illustrator: Annabelle von Sperber
Published October 23, 2018 by Prestel Junior

Summary: This wonderfully illustrated and captivating introduction to the wonders of architecture will have young readers poring over each spread and learning as they go.

From the top of China’s Great Wall to the base of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, this journey through the world of architecture stops in nearly every continent and travels through centuries. Annabelle von Sperber populates her dynamic and intricate double-page spreads with many details and a hidden architect or important figure on every page that kids will have fun trying to locate. Along the way they’ll learn about the iron workers who built the Empire State building, how many bulbs it takes to light the Eiffel Tower, where the royal jewels are kept at the Tower of London, and why there is so much red and yellow in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Young readers will find themselves fully immersed in this large format book while learning about the incredible architectural wonders that continue to amaze us today.

Review: My son and I absolutely loved this book. It is oversized with giant illustrations, and we spent much time on each spread. The pages feature magnificent works of architecture from the past (and currently existing in the present). In most of the drawings, the architecture is in the process of being built or was recently built, so the book leads readers into a historical time period. We learned so much from this book, and I loved all of the new-to-me facts about the famous architectural structures. My son loved looking and talking about the buildings, and he enjoyed doing the search-and-finds on each page. It is a wonderful book that would be a great resource for classrooms.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to work in groups to pick a page that is particularly compelling for them. They can research more about the structure and the time period to understand context and explore historical aspects of the architecture that interest them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which architectural design is most interesting to you? Why do you find it to be interesting?
  • Which facts surprised you?
  • Do you notice differences in the architecture throughout time?
  • Which structures are close to you? Which are far away?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Interactive search-and-find (seek-and-find, look-and-find) activity books filled with educational information

Recommended For: 


**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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“Heads Up For Projectile Science!”

I have always been fascinated by slingshots and potato cannons. Not only is there the wow factor when rock hits tree or potato hits haybale (if you’re lucky and skilled)—there’s also the challenge of guesstimating where your projectile is going to land. Because funny enough, there’s no magic involved. Just math and science.

And the same thing applies with basketballs, soccer balls, golf balls—any ball that’s been kicked, hit, tossed, or chucked is on a defined path from foot, hand, driver, to the end destination.

And what kid has never thrown a ball? None that I’ve met!

Exploring projectile science is a fantastic way to invite kids to make the connection between math, science, and their own lives. Encouraging them to discover the shape of a parabola, experiment with the laws of motion, and harness the power of mechanical energy makes for learning that lasts.

And there’s a human application beyond sports to consider when discussing projectile science. For one thing, without a sense of how your arrow is going to fly when it’s released, you’d have a lot of trouble hunting enough food to make it through a winter. While not everyone has to rely on their own weaponry skills to eat dinner these days, the historical applications of projectile science are an important aspect in the whole “When are we ever going to use this?” argument.

And for an even larger leap of the imagination—the rules of physics that govern your soccer ball are the same ones that dictate how a spaceship gets launched into space!

While educators need to make sure kids are being careful when they’re having fun with projectile science (eye protection is a must!), it’s a terrific way to get students making connections between their own experiences and the rules of mathematics.

Try these fun activities for some hands-on learning about projectile science!


Different kinds of spear-throwing tools were used by ancient people around the world, but they all worked in the same basic way. It takes a lot of practice to use an atlatl, but you can make your own and try it out at home!

Warning: Never point or fire any weapon at a living creature and always wear eye protection. Ask an adult to help with the knife in this activity.

  • Attach one binder clip to one end of the ruler. This is the “spur.” Fold the clip handles back.
  • Using a small knife, CAREFULLY carve a notch into the eraser of each pencil. The notch should go about half way into the eraser and be wide enough to fit onto the binder clip handle. The pencils will be your darts.
  • Place an eraser cap on the unsharpened end of the pencil. This will help your dart fly and be much safer!
  • Place the binder handle into the notch in the eraser and lay the pencil onto the ruler lengthwise.
  • Attach binder clips on either side of the pencil. These will help keep the dart from sliding off the sides of the ruler. DO NOT clip the pencil to the ruler. The pencil only needs to rest on the ruler.
  • In a safe and open space, hold the ruler at the end opposite the spur. Don’t hold onto the pencil! It should only rest on the ruler.
  • Keeping the ruler flat and level so the dart can’t slide out, reach back, and quickly bring the ruler forward like you’re throwing a paper airplane. Turn your wrist down at the end of the motion. Don’t let go of the ruler!
  • What happened? Was the motion what you expected? Using an atlatl takes a lot of patience and practice!

Questions to think about

How is the atlatl a machine?
What forces are acting on the dart as it’s thrown?
What forces are acting on it once it’s released?
What other motions are like the one you use to throw the dart?

Try This!

Try hitting a target! How accurate can you be? What might make your dart moreaccurate? How  far can you throw? Try comparing the atlatl to simply throwing your dart. Which gives you greater range? Does adding weight to the dart or the atlatl make a difference? Try making a larger atlatl to throw even larger darts. How far can you throw?


You don’t need a special launch pad or a million-dollar spacecraft to understand how rockets work. You can study their flight at home! All you’ll need are supplies such as string, drinking straws, and balloons.

  • Attach one end of a piece of string to a sturdy object, such as a chair or doorknob, or have friend or family member hold it.
  • Thread the string through one straw. Attach the other end of the string to another sturdy object. Make sure the string is level and taut.
  • Blow up a balloon and pinch the opening closed—don’t tie it!
  • Attach the balloon to the straw so that the balloon’s opening points along the string.
  • Move the balloon and straw to one end of the string. What do you think will happen when you release the balloon?
  • Release the balloon! What happens?
  • Vary the experiment by inflating the balloon with more air and then less air. How does the amount of air affect the balloon’s motion?
  • Now make the string vertical. What happens when you release the balloon?

Questions to think about

What direction does the balloon travel when the string is horizontal? When it’s vertical?
Can you explain what’s going on using Newton’s laws?
What forces affect the vertical launch more than the horizontal launch? Can you explain why?

Try This!

Try different sizes and shapes of balloons. What effect do size and shape have on the motion of the balloon? Is there a best size or shape to get the farthest distance? Think about the shape of rockets. Would making the balloon look more like a rocket change how far or fast it goes?


What launch angle will send a projectile the greatest distance? Using a yardstick equipped with a protractor to measure angles, you can launch rubber bands to see,

  • On a yardstick, mark a spot at about 22 inches.
  • To attach a protractor to the yardstick, place the origin (the center dot or circle) of the protractor at the 22-inch mark. Align the protractor so that the 90-degree angle (the baseline) points along the yardstick, and that 0 degrees is perpendicular to the yardstick. Then secure the protractor to the yardstick with clear tape, being careful not to cover up the angles on the protractor.
  • Make a loop of string. It should be long enough to hang 1 to 2 inches below the protractor from the origin.
  • Place a pushpin at the origin. Hang the string on the pushpin.
  • Tape a binder clip or other small weight to the bottom of the string.
  • Choose a launch angle. Hold the yardstick so that the string hangs freely across the protractor.
  • Prepare your projectile. Loop a rubber band around the end of the yardstick farthest from the protractor.
  • Fire your rubber band! Each time you launch a rubber band, be sure to stretch it the same amount. Place a mark on the yardstick to help you remember how far you stretched!
  • Record several different launch angles! Make sure that you’re launching from the same height off the ground each time.

Questions to think about

Which launch angle gives your rubber band the greatest range?
Why is it important to keep the height of the launcher the same?
Why does the rubber band need to be stretched the same length each time?
What forces affect the rubber band when it’s in flight?

Try This!

Try stretching the rubber band a different amount. How does this affect the distance? What happens if you launch your rubber band projectile at 0 degrees or 90 degrees? Can you create a way to launch something other than a rubber band?

About the Author: Matthew Brenden Wood is a math and science teacher with a passion for STEAM education. He is also an avid amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. Wood is the author of The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon; Planetary Science: Explore New Frontiers; and The Science of Science Fiction. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

About the Book: What are the forces behind projectiles? Why do rocks and rockets soar through the air in an arch?

The game is on the line. You crouch, you shoot—will the ball go in the basket? You might think that nailing a three-pointer is just luck, but there are many forces at work that determine if you’ve made a game-winning shot. In Projectile Science: The Physics Behind Kicking a Field Goal and Launching a Rocket with Science Activities with Kids, readers ages 10 to 15 learn why projectiles follow the paths they do.

Young learners who are fascinated with potato cannons, slingshots, and rocketry will love taking that next step and applying what they learn about the laws of physics to the science of figuring out where to aim. In this book, readers learn about the forces that act on the projectiles and how to calculate those forces to make educated predictions about where their homemade rockets and other projectiles will land.

We [Kellee’s school] used one of the projectile science activities during our cross-curricular literacy night, and it was a great success! Thank you Matthew for this great post!

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