Books that Support STEAM Explorations

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL

While many books can be used to explore mathematical connections, the four titles profiled in this post work particularly well. I include cross-disciplinary inquiries that fit with each title, particularly inquiries that support STEAM explorations. The suggested inquiries can support the transfer of concepts between disciplines, critical thinking about social issues in classes in mathematics, history, science, and the arts, and creative problem solving.

Books for STEAM Exploration

Drowned City is an award-winning graphic novel by Don Brown. It chronicles the development, landfall and devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Brown does not mince words in showing the miscommunication and neglect that occurred among government agencies. However, he also profiles ways in which citizens helped each other in the face of rising water and the loss of safe places to go.

Text set titles: Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick; Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana; Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith; 1 Dead in the Attic by Chris Rose; A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg and Colin Bootman; Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner and John Parra)

Suggested subjects for inquiries:
• Math: exponential growth of wind speed with hurricanes; rates of wind speed corresponding to hurricane strength; water volumes related to the storm surge; utilizing known probabilities to make predictions about safety and storm destruction; analysis of decisions and strategies using probability concepts; mathematical models of natural disasters
• Science: the damage hurricanes cause to ecological systems; effects on human physiology in extreme conditions of heat and deprivation; the phenomenon of hurricanes; the geography of New Orleans and how it contributed to the disaster
• Social Studies: role of government in supporting citizen safety; impact of natural disasters on a community; communication breakdowns between government agencies; effects caused by disparate reports by the media; collection of stories of rescue volunteers from around the world; examination of the perspectives of various government officials (President Bush, Mayor Nagin, FEMA representatives, New Orleans fire and police departments)
• English Language Arts: storytelling with graphic novels

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind chronicles the years that William Kamkwamba suffered from the drought that gripped his village in Malawi. By looking at pictures and diagrams in an old English-language book he found in a library, and by using materials he scavenged from the village dump, he managed to build a windmill that could power a light bulb and eventually a pump for irrigation. Following the discovery of his windmill by a journalist, William gave a TED talk explaining his problem-solving process. Following more education in Africa, he completed a degree in engineering at Dartmouth and is now working in Malawi, digging wells and building solar-powered schools.

Text set titles: The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers by Dianna Hutts Aston and Susan L. Roth; see the suggested titles on the booklist for Kids Taking Action
(e.g., The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman, Wanda’s Roses by Pat Brisson and Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming and Stacey Dressen-McQueen)

Some suggested subjects for inquiries:
• Math and physics: the mechanics of small motors; the physics of wind generators
• Science: irrigation in times of drought; wind as a form of energy; role of nutrition in supporting learning; effects on the body while suffering from famine; natural forms of recycling
• Social Studies: microbusiness loans and economics of poverty; recycling of materials; the social impact of famine; role of imagination in problem-solving; exploration of the Lubuto Library Project in Zambia and its social and literacy goals
• English Language Arts: identification of strategies for understanding texts in other languages; role of family storytelling
• Fine arts: using recycled objects to build musical instruments; exploration of music and dance in Malawi

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth is an amazing story of redemption on several levels. Gordon Sato (1927-2017) was a teen during WWII and learned how to grow plants in the desert while interned in the Manzanar Japanese Relocation Center in California. After a successful career in biological research, he took his desert experience to Eritrea where he experimented with growing salt-tolerant mangrove trees to help starving families. The mangrove not only provides food for humans, but also food for ruminants and a root system that provides a sheltered habitat for aquatic life. The story is a cumulative poem with sidebars of additional information and works for a wide range of ages and readers.

Text set possibilities: The Sea, The Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry; So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting and Chris K. Soentpiet; The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway and Sylvie Daigneault; One Hen Katie Smith Milway and Eugenie Fernandes; Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Margot Thompson; the biographies about Wangari Maathai by Franck Prévot and Aurélia Fronty, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson, Jeanette Winter, Claire A. Nivola, Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler.

Some suggested subjects for inquiries:
• Math: percentages and ratios of salt water and fresh water around the world
• Science: sustaining biodiversity; salinity of water and ability to sustain life; ecology of mangrove trees; global efforts at reforestation (like those of Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya)
• Social Studies: microeconomics and small loans
• English Language Arts: writing letters as a form of taking action
• Fine Arts: fabric collage as an artistic medium

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is another redemptive story that can be a touchstone text for the study of water usage, water resources, and social uses of water. It is told in two voices. The first is that of Nya, a young Nuer girl who walks 8 hours a day fetching water for her family. The second voice is that of Salva Dut, a Dinka and one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who returned to his home country after studying International Business in the U.S. He and his team dug over 300 wells to improve the health of his fellow Sudanese people. He works with a Nuer partner, traditional enemies of his Dinka tribe. Together they send the message that working together promotes peace and is better than engaging in cycles of conflict and revenge.

Text set possibilities: refugee stories (see WOW’s suggested booklist for Refugee Experience in Literature); books about water usage include A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison, Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila, Hope Springs by Eric Walters and Eugenie Fernandes, The Water Princess by Susan Verde, Georgie Badiel and Peter H. Reynolds, Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer, Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together by Herb Shoveller, One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Rose Mary Woods, A Cool Drink of Water by Barbara Kerley, All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson

Some suggested subjects for inquiries:
• Math: representing data with graphs (e.g., improvements in health related to access to clean water)
• Science: mechanics of drilling a well; stress on the human body in times of drought
• Social Studies: exploration of daily life for women and girls in villages with or without wells; impact of tribal wars in various countries in Africa; map of the geography traversed by the Lost Boys; refugee camps and issues around supporting refugee camps; reasons why countries accept or turn away refugees and illegal immigrants
• English Language Arts: write about an African historical conflict from two different perspectives (e.g., Dinka and Nuer perspectives on grazing territories and water rights; Hutu and Tutsi perspectives on class; white and black perspectives on rights in South Africa during apartheid)

I want to acknowledge my students who helped develop a lot of the STEAM connections as we worked on cross-disciplinary units together.

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2 thoughts on “Books that Support STEAM Explorations

  1. Junko Sakoi says:

    Susan, I shared this post with TUSD teachers. There is one 7th grade teacher who has been working on social studies unit using “A Long Walk to Water” as an anchor text. She said it’s a great resource and very practical across the content areas 🙂

    • Susan Corapi says:

      Thanks Junko! I am glad the post was useful. I agree with your teacher that The Long Walk to Water is a great text for cross-disciplinary thinking!

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