Monday, May 21, 2018

Experimenting with Imagination

guest post by Sue Fliess

The title of my new book Mary Had A Little Lab came to me in a dream—really. So when I visit schools and talk about this book, I tell them that they can dream up any story they want—or any machine they’d like—the only limit is their imagination. 

 My book is about Mary, a scientist and inventor, who makes her own dreams come true. She doesn’t have friends, so she decides she needs a pet. But rather than buy one, she makes one! A sheep, of course.  Once she makes a sheep, she is no longer lonely, and it soon allows her to make friends. Then her friends want sheep as well. But her Sheepinator goes haywire and starts making so many sheep that she and her new friends have to solve this new problem. The story has several problems that Mary and her friends must solve before the end. It’s like any experiment—things don’t always go right the first time. It takes many tries. Just as this book did to get it right!

One fun activity I do with students when I visit schools is to have them line up and recreate the Sheepinator from my book. They each have to choose what function they serve, what simple machine or movement their body must do to perform that function, and what sound it makes. They go in order, until, at last, a sheep pops out in the end—one student getting to be the sheep (I have a costume for this part, but that’s not necessary!). This gets them thinking about machine parts, how things work, and how things must work together.

Another activity is to have students create their own version of a Sheepinator. Draw a schematic on paper, then build it with arts and crafts and explain how it works.

A third, and maybe my favorite, it to ask students “If you could construct a machine to make anything you wanted, what would it be and what would it make?”  This allows them total freedom. Maybe they want to create an ice-cream-o-scooper, which makes any flavor of ice cream with the push of a button. Or a Cash-o-matic that spits out money. They can draw it, explain how it works, and even create a 3-D model of it, if they like.

Let the inventions begin! 

Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the author of numerous children's books including A Fairy Friend, Calling All Cars, Robots, Robots Everywhere!, The Hug Book, Tons of Trucks and Shoes for Me!  Sue lives with her family and a Labrador named Charlie in Northern Virginia. For more information about Sue and to check out her books and song parodies, go to

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