Biology Books for Kids (Ages 7 and Up)

Biology Books for Kids Ages 7 and Up

North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson, illustrated by Patrick Benson (ages 7 to 10)
Dowson follows birds, whales, caribou and other animals as they migrate from as far away as New Zealand to the Arctic in the spring, and sees them through fall, when the weather turns for the worse.

Ultimate Bugopedia
by Darlyne Murawski and Nancy Honovich (age 7 and older). If you’re always on the lookout for beetles and butterflies, this book is for you. Hundreds of color photos of common and unusual insects fill this hefty hardcover. There are fascinating stories related to the photos. For example, did you know that a moth called a Lobocraspis griseifusa feeds on the tears of Asian cattle? Have you heard of the tarantula hawk? It’s not a bird; it’s a wasp that preys on the hairy spiders. There’s a question-and-answer section with an entomologist (that’s an insect scientist) and advice on how to help preserve insects that are endangered.

Butterflies Fly. Yvonne Winer. (Ages 7 and Up) Charlesbridge Publishing (2001). This feast for the eyes presents a painting of a single butterfly species and accompanying verse on one page, with a full-page illustration on the facing page that shows the butterflies in their natural habitats. The pictures are strikingly detailed, and the poetry is a tribute to the insect's beauty. An identification guide at the end provides information about each butterfly and emphasizes that habitat destruction is the main threat to these lovely creatures.

Creepy, Crawly Caterpillars. Margery Facklam. (7 and Up) Little, Brown, and Co. (1996). This strikingly-illustrated book begins by describing how caterpillars’ bodies are structured and how the larval stage fits into moth and butterfly metamorphosis. Following is an in-depth look at 13 caterpillars found in various parts of the world, most of them native to North America. Each double-page spread displays a greatly enlarged, dramatically-colored caterpillar; along the bottom of the illustration runs a line of smaller drawings of the stages of growth -egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult moth or butterfly. Each caterpillar's interesting, sometimes bizarre, behavior is discussed, thus showing the reader how fascinating these tiny creatures can be.

Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide. Nic Bishop. (7-10 Years) Scholastic Press (2004). Explore the mini-wilds of the forest with this unique photographic nature guide. This book features seven dramatic life-size habitat scenes capturing more than 130 tiny animals just as they appear in nature. Fascinating field notes help young naturalists identify commonly found animals and the tricks and habits they use to survive through the seasons.

A Handful of Dirt. Raymond Bial. (7-10 Years) Walker & Company (2000). Soil may not be alive, but amazingly, multitudes of microscopic creatures live there, battling it out in an eat-or-be-eaten world. This book reveals the tiny creatures, invisible to our eyes, that provide food for the insects that in turn feed the animals that live in and above the soil. Also explains how to make compost and the importance of preserving Earth’s soil.

How Do Animals Adapt? Bobbie Kalman. (7 and Up) Crabtree (2000). This book examines the ever-changing world of animal adaptations. It explains why animals need to adapt; how animals use camouflage and mimicry to protect themselves; and how wild animals have adapted to habitat loss and learned to live in cities.

If You Hopped Like A Frog. David Schwarz. (7-10 Years) Scholastic (1999). A fun look at ratio and proportion as it applies to the animal world reveals that a kid with the strength of an ant could lift a car over her head, and a kid who could eat like a shrew could pack away seven hundred plus hamburgers each day. Playful illustrations show what such feats might look like, while an afterword explains the nitty-gritty of the math.

Biology Books for Kids (Ages 6 and Up)

Here are recommended books on biology topics for rocket girls aged 6 and up,

Coral Reef Animals. Francine Galko. (6-8 years) Heinemann (2003). Describes coral reefs, where they can be found, the animals that inhabit them, and how to protect them.

Nature’s Adventures by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (ages 6 to 9)
The authors give simple advice to budding naturalists about what to look for at home, at the beach, or in a forest.

Biology Books for Kids (Ages 5 and up)

Biology Books Ages 5 and Up

Check out these informative and entertaining reads for children ages 5 and up.

Animal Lives: The Barn Owl. Sally Tagholm. Houghton Mifflin (2003) (ages 5-8). This beautifully illustrated picture book describes the physical characteristics, hunting, feeding, nesting, mating, and molting of the barn owl. Includes information on owl pellets.

Ant, Ant, Ant! An Insect Chant. April Pulley Sayre. NorthWord Books for Young Readers (2005). (ages 5 to 8) An ant and 59 other American insects appear in a catchy chant. Although the bright, digitally produced caricatures are not always scientifically accurate, this book is a fun survey of insect names.

Baby Animals Books: A Tiger Cub Grows Up, A Flamingo Chick Grows Up, A Harbor Seal Pup Grows Up, A Kangaroo Joey Grows Up. Joan and Richard Hewett. (Ages 5 and Up) Carolrhoda Books (2001-2002). These books follow animals that live on nature preserves from birth to independence. They show how the different types of animal babies grow, change, and resemble their parents.

Beaver at Long Pond. Lindsay Barret George. Harpercollins Juvenile Books (2000). Beautifully detailed illustrations combined with an educational, scientifically-accurate storyline about a beaver’s adventures make a good introduction to this fascinating mammal. The Beaver was once extirpated from Ohio, but is now making a comeback and is an excellent example of an Ohio animal that depends on plants for food and shelter.

Birds Build Nests. Yvonne Winer. Charlesbridge (2002). Poetic text accompanies lush illustrations of birds’ nests, from delicate hidden pouches to vast tower-like structures. This book highlights 15 interesting nests. Includes a nest identification guide.

Bug Books series: Ant, Bee, Cockroach, Head Louse, Pillbug, etc. Karen Hartley, Stephanie St. Pierre, Philip Taylor, etc. (5 to 8 Years) Heinemann Library (2002). This comprehensive series includes 24 books about various invertebrates. Close-up, colorful photographs and simple text demonstrate how these creatures grow, feed, move, and reproduce.

Butternut Hollow Pond. Brian J. Heinz. (Ages 5 and Up) Millbrook Press (2000). Daybreak at Butternut Hollow Pond looks peaceful, but there is much going on. The food chain, and the many close escapes involved in animals' attempts to eat one another, provide suspense. Two concepts are demonstrated in this picture book for older readers: the hunter invariably becomes the hunted, and all living things are players in a complex cycle of interdependence that is much more than a simple food chain.

Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones. Ruth Heller. (Ages 5 and Up) Paper Star (1999). Full-color illustrations and informative, rhyming verse show young readers that snakes, lizards, turtles, insects, and amphibians also lay eggs.

City Foxes. Susan J. Tweit. (5 and Up) Denver Museum of Natural History/Alaska Northwest (1997). During a walk through an old Denver cemetery one day, photographer Wendy Shattil discovered a den of newborn red foxes and their parents. With her camera and skilled eye she followed the story of the foxes as the kits grew up amidst the dangers of the city. Includes ecology notes and red fox facts for older readers.

An Earthworm’s Life. John Himmelman. (5 and Up) Children’s Press (2001). Simple text and realistic illustrations describe the daily activities and life cycle of the earthworm. Makes a good nonfiction companion to Diary of a Worm.

An Egg is Quiet. Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long. (5-8 years) Chronicle Books (2006). A beautiful and informative introduction to eggs. From tiny hummingbird eggs to giant ostrich eggs, oval ladybug eggs to tubular dogfish eggs, gooey frog eggs to fossilized dinosaur eggs, this book celebrates the variety of animals that lay eggs.

Eliza and the Dragonfly. Suzy Caldwell Rinehart. (5 and Up) Dawn Publications (2004). When a dragonfly flies through the window and lands on her toothbrush, Eliza takes it to a nearby pond to learn more about these remarkable insects. The last pages of the book provide additional information and resources about dragonflies.

From Seed to Plant. Gail Gibbons. (Ages 5 and Up) Holiday House (1993). Explores the intricate relationship between seeds and the plants that they produce.

Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration. Marianne Berkes. (Ages 5 and Up) Dawn Publications (2010). A selection of animals that migrate by air, land, and sea represents the variety and mystery of why and how animals migrate.

Insectlopedia. Douglas Florian. (5-8 Years) Harcourt (2000). This book for emerging entomologists combines clever wordplay with delightful watercolor and collage illustrations of insects. Other animal poetry books by this author: Beast Feast; In the Swim; Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs; Mammalabilia and On the Wing.

Biology Books for Kids (Ages 4 and up)

Biology Books Ages 4 and Up

In our many talks with successful scientists, especially Nobel Prize-winning scientists, we learned that books were critical to developing in them a love for science. Here are a number of recommended biology resources for young children ages 4 and up.

Scholastic Discover More: Animal Faces (1996) by Akira Satoh and Kyoko Toda (ages 4 and up). Shows 21 photos of each of 24 species of animal, each one showing a different face. Students can look at seemingly identical faces and then discover how they all differ from each other. Illustrates the tremendous diversity of individuals of the same species.

Animals in Winter (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science). Henrietta Bancroft. (ages 4 to 8) HarperTrophy (1997). Brightly colored paintings bring the text to life through the realistic portrayal of animals, birds, and butterflies in their natural habitats. Readers learn about the variety of responses animals have to the coming of winter.

Be a Friend to Trees (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, Stage 2): Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series (Stage 2). Patricia Lauber. (4 to 8 Years) HarperCollins (1994). This book shows that trees are something we can’t live without. It describes trees as home and food for various animals, as providers of fruits and nuts for humans, as sources of wood, paper, rubber, and turpentine. Then words and pictures demonstrate the process of photosynthesis, step-by-step: how trees make food in their leaves and how they release the oxygen we need to breathe. A final section gives hands-on examples for recycling paper and shows two youngsters planting a tree.

Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 1) (1999) by Millicent E. Selsam (ages 4-8). This Let’s- Read-and-Find-Out Science book (Stage 1) shows readers that keeping a sharp eye out for clues like animal tracks and odors can help them infer the identity of the animals that have passed through an area.

Bugs Are Insects (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1). Ann Rockwell. (4-8 Years) Harpercollins Juvenile Books (2001). This book introduces children to the world of insects and, in particular, bugs. Rockwell offers basic factual information in an interesting, easy-to-read format. Common insects are introduced, and the main differences between insects and spiders are explained as well as what makes a bug a bug. The collage illustrations are beautifully rendered with layered colored papers.

Bugs for Lunch. Margery Facklam. (4-8 Years) Charlesbridge (1999). In snappy, lilting verse, Facklam lists a variety of creatures that feast on bugs, including bats and bears, toads and trout – and humans. Each double page spread showcases a beautifully rendered watercolor illustration, with equal attention to realistic detail and artistic composition. A section at the back supplies additional information about each featured eater.

Chirping Crickets. Melvin Berger. (4 - 8 years) HarperCollins (1998). Inside this book children will learn about crickets, and even how to tell the temperature by counting a cricket's chirps.

Come to the Ocean’s Edge: A Natural Cycle Book. Laurence Pringle. (Age 4 and Up) Boyds Mills Press (2003). Poetic text and captivating watercolor illustrations take the reader through a 24 hour period of life at the ocean’s edge.

Crab Moon. Ruth Horowitz. (4-8 years) Candlewick Press (2000). This story about a boy who helps save a stranded horseshoe crab invokes themes of environmentalism and respect for all creatures. One night in June, young Daniel and his mother go down to the beach to see the female horseshoe crabs digging holes in the sand for their eggs and then pulling the males across to fertilize them. The next day, the crabs are gone, but Daniel finds one turned upside down and immobile. He cautiously flips her over, and watches her scuttle back to the sea, “quiet as a queen.” This book encourages readers to seek out the beauty and importance of creatures that might seem alien at first glance. Notes at the end give children more facts about horseshoe crabs.

Diary of a Worm. Doreen Cronin. (4-8 Years) Joanna Cotler Books (2003). A young worm discovers, day by day, that there are some very good and some not so very good things about being a worm in this great big world. A great introduction to a unit on soil. Also from this author and Diary of a Fly and Diary of a Spider.

Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad’s Tale. April Pulley Sayre. (4-8 years) Greenwillow Books (2001). A spadefoot toad waits under the sand for rain, hears the sounds of the other desert animals, and eventually mates and spawns other toads.

Ducks Don’t Get Wet. Augusta Goldin. (4-8 years) HarperTrophy (1999). Why don't ducks get wet? This delightful Let’s- Read-and-Find-Out Science book explains how ducks dip and dive, but they have special physical and behavioral adaptations to help them stay dry.

The Extinct Alphabet Book. Jerry Pallotta. (4-8 Years) Charlesbridge (1993). This book is filled with unusual and amazing creatures that are no longer on Earth. Have students point out the extinct animals that resemble organisms alive today.

From Chick to Chicken. Judith Powell. (Ages 4 and Up) Raintree Steck-Vaughn (2001). Large photos and easy text follow a chick’s growth and development to adulthood. Includes how chickens and eggs are raised for food.

The Gift of the Tree. Alvin Tresselt. (4-8 Years) Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard Books (1972, 1992). This exceptionally beautiful book tells the life story of an old oak tree.

Growing Frogs. Vivian French. (4-8 Years) Candlewick Press (2000). Vivian French's simple, amusing text infuses life, humor, and plenty of personality into this environmentally sound, scientifically accurate introduction to frog metamorphosis.

Hello, Fish! Visiting the Coral Reef. Sylvia A. Earle. (4-8 Years) National Geographic (1999). In poetic yet fact-filled text accompanied by eye-catching, large-format photographs, the young reader is given an up-close-and-personal view of a variety of funny, unusual, and beautiful fish, all residents of various coral reefs around the world. Useful for exploring the different kinds of organisms that a coral reef supports.

Honeybees. Deborah Heiligman. (4-8 Years) National Geographic (2002). Children follow the life of a busy worker bee as she moves from job to job in the hive, helping the community in various ways. As a nurse bee, the worker feeds the larvae, nourishing the young into adulthood. As a forager bee, she flies long distances in search of nectar, pollinating plants as she moves from flower to flower. And as a guard bee, the worker warns the hive of intruders and battles honey-stealing robber bees from other hives. The fact-filled text and vibrant art highlight the many activities of these busy insects and their amazing sense of community, while a special experiment encourages kids to dance like a honeybee to learn about bee communication.

Honk, Honk Goose! Canada Geese Start a Family. April Pulley Sayre. (4-8 Years) Henry Holt (2009). This fun read-aloud, follows the mating, nesting, and nurturing rituals of a family of Canada Geese.

How a Seed Grows. Helene Jordan. (4-8 Years) HarperCollins (1992). Accompanied by step-by-step directions on how to plant a seed and care for it as it grows, a simple text and detailed artwork reveal how seeds are transformed into plants and discusses the importance of sunlight, water, and other nutrients.

How to Hide a Meadow Frog and Other Amphibians. Ruth Heller. (4 – 8 Years) Grossett and Dunlap (1995). There are lots of amphibians to discover in this vibrantly colored nature book of hide-and-seek. Ruth Heller shows how toads, salamanders, and other interesting amphibians are experts at camouflage.

I Know How My Cells Make Me Grow. Kate Rowan. (4-8 Years) Walker Books (1999). Sam and his mother talk about the different kinds of cells in his body, how they grow, and how in doing so they help him grow. Simple, accurate text combined with colorful cartoons make this a fun introduction to the cells of the human body.

I Took a Walk. Henry Cole. (4-8 Years) Greenwillow (1998). This richly illustrated read-aloud book takes young listeners through woods and meadows and beside streams and ponds, where they discover, in vibrant, fold-out panoramas, butterflies and box turtles, wildflowers and water birds. After reading, take students on their own walk, as the author suggests, and "find a place to sit and watch and listen."

In the Snow: Who’s Been Here? Lindsay Barrett George. (4-8 Years) Greenwillow Books (1995). Two children on their way to go sledding see evidence of a variety of animal life. The reader must infer from the evidence what animals had been in each location. Each time, the answers are revealed on the next page. Also by this author: Around the Pond: Who’s Been Here? and In the Woods: Who’s Been Here?

Insects Are My Life. Megan McDonald. (4 and Up) Orchard Books (1995). Amanda’s passionate interest in insects, not shared by family and schoolmates, causes problems as other class members begin to ostracize her. All ends well, though, when she finds herself sitting next to Maggie – who loves reptiles. Also by this author: Reptiles are My Life (2001).

Into the Sea. Brenda Guiberson. (Ages 4-8) Henry Holt (1996). Recounts the life of a sea turtle from its days as a hatchling on a sandy beach through its return to the same island as an egg-laying adult many years later. Using vivid prose, the author describes the creature's initial journey into the sea, its growth and travels throughout the ocean, and its narrow escape from a fishing net.

Pond Walk by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (ages 4 to 7)
This must be how biologists go to the park with their kids–pointing out all the interesting plants and animals, teaching about how these organisms interact, encouraging their children to document it all in drawings and telling silly jokes along the way.

Redwoods. (2009) by Jason Chin (ages 4-8). A boy goes on a magic trip to the redwood forest and learns about its ecology. Very nice book for younger readers. Beautiful illustrations, good up-to-date science.

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices (2013) by David M. Schwartz, (ages preschool-7) A jack-o-lantern slowly rots, and we hear from the squirrels, snails and fungi as they do their job. Good photographs; needs a parent with acting skills to bring out the "15 voices."

You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey (ages 4 and up). You are Stardust takes the approach that every atom inside our bodies originated from a star that exploded before we were born. With its beautiful papercuts and elegant story, we learn to reacquaint ourselves with the natural world.

Biology Books for Kids (Under 4)

Biology Books for Kids Under 4

Here are some biology books to help engender in your youngest rocket girl a love for the life sciences.

First the Egg (Caldecott Honor Book and Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book (Awards)). Laura Vaccaro Seeger. (2-6 Years) Roaring Brook Press (2007). This award-winning picture book combines simple text (“First the egg...then the chicken”) with cut-outs to allow readers to predict the next page. A great way to review the life cycles of chickens, frogs, butterflies, and more with very young children.

Fish Faces. Norbert Wu. (3 – 5 Years) Henry Holt and Company (1993). Sparse, rhythmic text and sharply detailed full-color photos introduce over 70 of these intriguing creatures. Fascinating introduction to the variations that exist among individuals of the same kind of animal.

Guess Where I Live (Peep-hole books). Anni Axworthy. (Under 4) Candlewick Press (1999). Readers follow the clues and peep through the holes to find out where animals live. A fun introduction to habitats for very young children. Two other peep-hole books by this author are Guess What I Am and Guess What I’ll Be.

If I Had A Tail. (3-6 Years) Karen Clemens Warrick. Rising Moon (2001). The reader is asked to guess what a creature is by the appearance and use of its tail.

Science Fair Done Right

Science Fair

Done wrong, science fair can be one of the most frustrating, grueling projects for both children and their parents. Done right, science fair can give your child a taste of real science, of making observations, predictions, collecting and interpreting data, and can engage the curiosity of a burgeoning young scientific mind. We at Rocket Girls encourage the latter, and hope to minimize the former. With proper planning and guidance, science fair can be a singularly enriching experience for young scientists and non-scientists alike.

Here are some resources we suggest:

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/

Science Buddies is the most comprehensive science fair resource on the web. It guides you through choosing a science fair topic – you can browse through their huge database of ideas, or you can select the “Topic Selection Wizard,” which will guide you in finding a project idea. Keep in mind that one of the keys to a successful science fair project is creativity – solving a problem in a unique, new and interesting way. So I strongly urge you not to select a science project verbatim from any of these sites, but to use them as a tool to coming up with a project that is uniquely yours.

Once you choose a topic, Science Buddies also guides you on how to devise an experiment, how to analyze results, how to write a research paper and how to make a display board – all essential tools toward a successful science fair project.

To top it all off, Science Buddies has a section titled “Ask an Expert” to which you can post questions about your project and get feedback from professional scientists in the field.

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/sciencefaircentral

Discovery Education offers one of the leading science fair resources on the web, especially focused on elementary and middle school resources. Again, even if you find a great idea on this site, spin a new angle on it to make the project uniquely yours.

http://www.cool-science-projects.com/

Cool Science Projects does not have the extensive database that Science Buddies boasts, but its value is in its simplicity. This website guides students from choosing a topic, doing the research, designing an experiment, writing the report, and creating the presentation. In addition, it has many suggestions for winning science fair projects.

http://www.ipl.org/div/projectguide/gettingstarted.html

Another great resource is iPL2, the product of a consortium of science-minded colleges and universities. As with the other sites, iPL2 guides you through getting started, choosing a topic, completing and displaying your project. They have many links to other web resources, and a cool feature called “Ask the ipl2 Librarian,” where you can get your science fair questions answered.

http://www.sciencebob.com/sciencefair/resources.php

Science Bob has collected a lot of science fair resources, and narrows them down for us, as well as offering a great page of 50 science resources to get started in your research phase:

http://www.sciencebob.com/research/index.php
With all of these resources, it’s hard to go wrong choosing a great science fair project. In fact, students often say that choosing a topic is the hardest part. My own advice in choosing a topic is to first list your interests and hobbies and then ask yourself, what does science have to do with each of these? Follow up with, “What if…?” questions and see what comes to mind.

Once you land on a “What if…?” question that interests you, ask yourself two things:
1. Is the answer worth knowing?, and
2. Am I passionate enough about this that it will hold my interest, even when the work gets tedious?

Books to Encourage Children’s Number Sense

Top 10 Children's Books about Numbers

10 Top Children’s Book about Numbers

Does your child love numbers? Do you want your child to love numbers? Then stock your library with these 10 reads, from preschool titles to middle school. Read them with your child and you’ll get as big a kick out of them as she does. Maybe even more.

1. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Math Curse is about a student whose math teacher claims that everything can be seen as a math problem. Everything in her life becomes a math problem which she learns to solve to absolve herself of the “math curse.”

Developing Number Sense

How to Develop Number Sense

Number sense refers to "a well organised conceptual framework of number information that enables a person to understand numbers and number relationships and to solve mathematical problems that are not bound by traditional algorithms" (Bobis, 1996). In other words, people with number sense can do the following:

Perform calculations in their head
Estimate computations
Judge the relative magnitude of numbers
Recognize part-whole relationships among numbers
Understand place value concepts
Solve problems

So much of science (and life) depends on one’s ability to manipulate numbers that addressing any weaknesses in any one of the above areas is as important as reading and writing.

How to address weaknesses in number sense:

1. Study Khan Academy’s Number Sense lessons: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/on-sixth-grade-math/on-number-sense-numeration. Khan Academy breaks number sense down into six categories:

    1. Ratios, rates and percentages
    2. Fractions
    3. Multiplication and Division
    4. Place value and decimal operations
    5. Factors and multiples
    6. Properties of numbers

Each category contains lessons and practice problems that tailor themselves to your individual progress. And, of course, it’s free.

2. I would add to the list of skills above, learn to:

    1. Solve algebraic problems for one variable (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/on-sixth-grade-math/on-patterning-algebra#concept-intro)
    2. Read and interpret graphs (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/applying-math-reasoning-topic)
    3. Construct graphs (Plotting and interpreting line equations: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/algebra/two-var-linear-equations)
    4. Convert among units
      1. Unit Conversion (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/rates-and-ratios#unit-conversion)
      2. Metric System Unit Conversion (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/pre-algebra/rates-and-ratios#metric-system-tutorial)

3. Use your calculator as a last resort. Estimate all answers before plugging numbers in your calculator.

Obviously there are higher-level math courses that you will need to master to become a scientist, such as Trigonometry, Calculus and Statistics, but these are useless without a firm basis in the skills I listed above. Use these fixes to address your number sense issues, and you’ll be calculating with the big girls yet.

10 Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset

10 Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, noted Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset, tells us that the only thing standing in our way of learning is our beliefs about our ability to learn.

“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” – Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Want to get smarter? Want to get better at something? The only thing standing in your way are your thoughts about yourself and your abilities. Want to become a math person? Want to get an “A” in science? Want to study at MIT? Then change your brain. It’s easier than it seems. And it starts with your own self-talk.

1. Recognize that your brain and its neural connections are elastic.

As you continue to learn, new connections are made. Those who think they know all there is to know, or even enough, risk atrophy. Brain cells are always dying. In fact, the only part of the brain that continues growing new cells after the age of 2 is the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. You will grow new cells as you learn new things, and make excellent use of the ones you still have.

2. Acknowledge your weaknesses.

Admit to yourself what you don’t know. Now go and learn it. Learning a difficult subject is a lot easier than spending your life in fear of what you don’t know.

3. Improve your vocabulary: “Failing” is “learning.”

When you make a mistake or get a bad grade on a test, learn from it. Nothing can teach you better than your own missteps.

4. Stop seeking approval.

What others think of you and what you know or don’t know is none of your business. Your business is to be better today than you were yesterday. Treat everything as a learning opportunity. There will always be those who support you and those who deride you. Those who put you down are projecting their own of not being good enough. It has nothing to do with you.

5. Stop apologizing and/or berating yourself.

Don’t preface your questions or your fear of not knowing with an apology or worse yet, a self-deprecating comment. “I’m sorry. I know I should know this, but… “ We tend to do this so as to get the approval of those whose help we are seeking. Refer back to #4 “Stop seeking approval.”

6. Celebrate your process.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Learning something new and all the more so difficult takes time and effort. Praise your effort, not your results. Effort consistently applied will move you in the direction you wish to go.

7. Seek out criticism.

Ask for feedback. We believe when people criticize something we do or say, they’re criticizing us. This is a direct result of having a “fixed mindset." In other words, if I believe that something is my absolute best work, then a criticism of my best work is a criticism of me. The truth is, my best work hasn’t been done yet, because I get better every day. Ask for feedback. Welcome constructive criticism. And if you agree with it, take steps — even baby steps — to improve. A "growth mindset" person might respond to constructive criticism, “Cool, now I know how to get even better.”

8. Cultivate grit.

The natural result of a “growth mindset” is the realization that learning and growth take effort. Cultivate your ability to make real and consistent effort. And, while you’re at it, be sure to celebrate your effort. After all, your effort is all you really have control over.

9. Set realistic expectations of the time and effort required.

We are notoriously bad at estimating how much time something will take, especially learning a new skill or subject. Remember Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion (Wikipedia).” I would add an addendum saying that, work expands to take more time than allotted. Be patient with yourself. Try to overestimate the time something will take and be pleasantly surprised.

10. Don’t compare your “bloopers” reel to others’ “highlights” reel.

Know that people’s social media status updates and those of the stars you follow are not even half of the story. When you watch only their “highlight” reel, you tend to believe that success comes easily to others. No one reaches the top of her field because it was easy. J.K. Rowling cites many rejection letters before procuring a literary agent for Harry Potter.

To one of her Twitter followers, Rowling confirmed her “Growth mindset”: “Believe me, neither @RGalbraith nor I walk around thinking we’re fab. We just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday'."

The Creative Side of Science

Mozart was quoted posthumously saying that his ideas flowed best and most abundantly when he was taking a walk or alone in bed at night, “and provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.” Putting it down on paper for Mozart was almost an afterthought, he said, “and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, or “General Music Journal,” in 1815, vol. 17, pp. 561–¬66.

Most of us have heard this or another similar version of Mozart’s creative method; how a symphony or concerto would just appear to him, in its final form. In Peter Schaffer’s 1979 play “Amadeus,” Mozart is portrayed as a foolish prankster with an effortless God-given gift that he plops onto staff paper, whilst his nemesis Antonio Salieri works laboriously day and night on his talentless compositions.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for us mere mortals, this letter is a fake. Mozart’s biographer Otto Jahn proved way back in 1896 that this letter was not only a false representation of Mozart’s process, but that Mozart never wrote it.

Mozart’s real letters — to his father, to his sister, and to others — reveal his true creative process,” writes Kevin Ashton in his book How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery. “He was exceptionally talented, but he did not write by magic. He sketched his compositions, revised them, and sometimes got stuck. He could not work without a piano or harpsichord. He would set work aside and return to it later.... His work was exactly that: work.”

A similarly fanciful tale colors our perception of the scientific process. The first “Eureka!” moment is attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes, who was charged with the task of determining whether Hiero of Syracuse’’s gold crown was pure gold or an amalgam of gold and silver that his goldsmith was attempting to pass for pure gold. One day while working on this problem, Archimedes noticed how the water level of his bath rose as he submerged himself in it, promptly causing him to exclaim “Eureka!,”” jump out of his bath, and run naked through the streets of Syracuse.

This well-known story does not appear in any of Archimedes' known writings, and is first recorded two hundred years after the fact, in Vitruvius’s Book of Architecture. As such, its accuracy cannot be verified, and chances are, it never happened. We hold onto it, however, because it fits well with our myth of how science works, replete with lone geniuses, toiling away until that fateful “Eureka” moment.

Scientific discovery, just like works of great art, rarely happens in a bold stroke of inspiration, but as the outcome of fits and starts, failures and dead-ends, small successes and gradual conclusions. “Eureka!” is a moment born of a lifetime of effort.

Roald Hoffmann, the 1981 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, explained his process to me:

“It is not as romantic, it is always piecewise knowledge, hard-won, and you don't see the totality until a couple of years later, but the process is interesting. There are often not single ‘Aha’ or ‘Eureka’ moments, there are little pieces of understanding that slowly fall into place.”

As with other creative endeavors, doing science is work – hard work. Those of us who’ve ever struggled in an advanced level science course can attest to that. But creative? Hard to imagine. After all, scientists are the epitome of left-brainedness.

So I asked the “Father of String Theory” Leonard Susskind whether he believed his scientific outpourings were creative, he almost instantly ascribed creativity to artists; not to scientists like himself.

"An artist thinks to himself, ‘How do I create something new and different that will excite an aesthetic sense?’. I think for me it's quite different, although I have a very strong aesthetic sense what constitutes a good explanation or a good mathematical explanation of something. Nevertheless, I don't go into a thing saying, ‘Let me create something new.’ I go into a thing saying, ‘How does it work?’”

And yet that kind of thinking is arguably creative by definition.

“When I was a young person, I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to do something new and something nobody else had done or something that I could create. When I was younger I thought of trying to be a composer, a musician, and compose music and compose poetry. Unfortunately, didn't have the talent. I could play the violin, but I couldn't compose original music. I tried poetry and I like poetry, and I like reading it, but I didn't really have a big talent for it. When I got into science I had more of a talent for that. What I tried to do is use my interest in creating something new in science and medicine.” - Kilmer McCully, Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Services for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and father of the homocysteine theory of cardiovascular disease.

Science mines for and interprets data. This is where creativity comes in. What do I want to know? Is it worth knowing? How could I design a method to find answers to my question? How can I interpret what this data tells me? Creativity is the underpinning behind all stages of the scientific process.

Astronomer Clifford Stoll: “Ask simple questions to start the creative ball rolling, such as ‘‘How does this work?’ And ‘Why?’ Find questions that interest you. Then start digging for answers. In the search for answers, you just might find better questions. And, isn’t that what science is, in the first place?”