Got a STEM-themed picture book you love? Let’s talk.

As a kid, there are few picture books that stuck with me as well as, “How Much is a Million?” by David Schwarz. Specifically, the goldfish: How big would a bowl have to be to host one million goldfish? What about a billion? I couldn’t stop thinking about it at the time. A stadium-size bowl for a billion goldfish. Imagine that! The imagery lingers today and provided a mental model to work with as I came across bigger and bigger numbers more often.

Even as a kid I recognized the illustrations in “How Much is a Million” changed the way I understood big numbers.

The Caronavirus has turned our world’s upside-down. Classrooms have moved virtual, with face-to-face time focused on the social-emtional needs of our students rather than sensemaking of the world around them. As the weeks have turned into months, the possibility that alternative September schedules may scale back elementary science time has crept deeper into my brain. Though the Burlington Science Center has worked hard to provide, “Family Science Challenges” we continue to hear feedback from families feeling overwhelmed. The struggle has lead me to wonder aloud, “what else could be offered? What else can we share as science educators that could support student learning at home?”

On our own home front Mrs. Musselman and I have been keeping normalcy by reading a steady diet of picture books to our boys of all kinds. I have also been participating in the final meetings of a book club around Pernille Ripp’s, “Passionate Readers” which has brought “book-talks” front and center to my attention. My participation has brought me closer to many of my fellow educators while unveiling a wealth of books I may never have sought out without the gentle ‘nudge’ of a recommendation.

Some of the titles we bought online after reading and re-reading all of the library books and our own collection, roughly 50 days into our social-distancing.

Enter, “STEM on the Shelf” a podcast and passion project of sorts I hope to launch as the school calendar year winds down. Its purpose is simple: Connect listeners to a regular dose of favorite STEM-themed children’s books and habits of thinking and exploring, shared by educators and parents from all walks of life.

Got a STEM-themed picture book you’d love to share? Let’s talk.

I am currently in search of “guests” who are interested in simply having a (recorded) book-talk exchange with me while sharing a bit about how they bring STEM learning into their home along the way. The podcasts will be kept short (we are busy parents and teachers after all!), geared toward an audience more suited for the “Kids and Family” category on iTunes than the “Education” or “Science” variety.

Because this show is just starting out, you have an opportunity to help me shape it into what it becomes! I can’t promise fame, or even that many listeners, but I can promise an opportunity to connect personally with someone (me) who loves exploring our world with children and a few books highly recommended by my boys that you’ll want to check out for yourself!

Simply send me an email by following the link shared here and above to get the conversation started. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Boys reading books,
“Have I got a book for you!”


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Designing Family Investigations for Remote Science Learning

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It has been eight weeks since our Burlington Schools were closed due to the spread of coronavirus through our community. What was once a temporary inconvenience as turned into a remote learning trial by fire for school district’s across the state and country!

At the outset, our work at the Burlington Science Center focused on generating informal challenges that children and families could engage with and directing families to high quality, freely accessible resources like the NSTA “Think Like a Scientist” eBooks. But as we have moved from simply meeting the social/emotional needs of our students our work has expanded into multi-step investigations with students recording data, generating claims, and constructing explanations based on their observations.

Our first iteration of “Family Science Challenges” will be hitting our district’s ‘choice boards’ next Monday. Designed to be completed as a family unit, they aim to give flexibility to families with multiple children in grade school that may not have the time and energy to complete individual investigations for each and every budding scientist. They also hone everyone’s attention on to the scientific practices and content outlined as our “power standards” from the state.

Each Family Science Challenge centers on a question or engineering challenge. Family members share what they think they know, with each student recording their thinking in a science notebook designed to support each successive investigation. Families then conduct an investigation that checks their thinking and provides scientific data to apply to the next step in the challenge. Scientific vocabulary is provided through online read-alouds and/or short videos from trusted sources or created by Wendy Pavlicek and I.

Because of the shortened expectation of time on learning, usually three stages of the investigation are all that is “required” for completion of a challenge from a classwork completion standpoint. But each challenge also includes extension investigations with notes encouraging specific grade levels that would have otherwise experienced such learning face to face, or in preparation of scientific exploration in the following academic year.

While each investigation has been created in Google Slides, our district’s investment in the online classroom tool Seesaw has led us to convert mirror lessons into our district’s activity library. These lessons are freely available to other district’s that use SeeSaw as well. We have found this tool to be handy as it provides easy ways to overlay verbal instructions to students and families for each investigation stage and notebook page.

I will continue to update this post with challenges as they are produced. Feedback to improve these challenges is appreciated or the simple acknowledgement that you are using them is also welcomed!

A special thanks to our Library Media Specialists Jenn Scheffer and Michelle Ardizonni who provided support to the Science Center moving our Google created challenges over to the SeeSaw platform.

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Creating VR Experiences: A Journey

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Exploring and creating VR experiences can feel a lot like it looks… navigating blindly, unsure where to go next, but entertaining and engaging nevertheless!

On February 7th I walked out of a VR EdTechTeacher workshop a bit flummoxed. For the first time in a long time I felt over my head, swimming in exposure to half dozen new tools and apps and several new paths of learning, but with unclear outcomes or goals. Such is the reality of virtual and augmented reality learning in today’s age, particularly for educators who may be less inclined to explore digital work-arounds and master the compatibility and integration issues of technology hardware and software changing at a rapid pace.

But then came the Caronavirus and suddenly the world turned upside-down. Big time commitments, like the NSTA National Conference were cancelled… then the next two months of school. And while social distancing and full-time child care became the new normal the need to stay engaged in some form of personal learning still called. A single opportunity to gather materials stuck in the office offered me the chance to grab a 360 camera I had borrowed and the chance to further explore the world of VR creation.

Given that my “audience” for the foreseeable future are four and two-years-old respectively, video curation centered around places they already love to be at but are limited to visiting (like the train station).

The most fun has come from the camera’s potential to shift the user to a miniature perspective. I explored this first through photo, jamming the camera into the bottom of a cardboard diorama featuring my pre-schoolers prehistoric art work. Later I moved to video through this Toy Train Virtual Reality Scavenger Hunt, which I find akin to the N64’s Pokemon Snap, riding the user along a fixed trail trying to capture observances of the listed figures as the ride moves forward.

The path’s final destination remains unknown, and fraught with the occasional dead-ends and obstacles. These include compatibility of different video formats and upload/download times due to the large sizes of video files (a challenge faced when wanting to take ourselves beyond still life touring.) While it is still hard for me to fathom putting these tools in the hands of elementary students for their own creation purposes, I see potential in its medium as a tool to share student work, engage in collaborative projects, and to bring students to locations that might otherwise be unmanageable.

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360 images can look warped and bizarre when not viewed using software designed for it like Google Street View or hardware like the Facebook Oculus or Google Cardboard. To see my son’s VR Dinoland check it out through Google Street View here.

It is perhaps this last benefit that stands out in the rapidly changing world we are faced with. The Caronavirus and subsequent social distancing measures demonstrates the truth that methods for transporting us beyond our immediate spaces will only grow, regardless of the immediate challenges faced. While I patiently waited for my videos above to upload to YouTube, I investigated the curated links to VR content being shared in the Facebook 360 community. Immediately this PBS “Polar Lab” caught my attention with its beautiful integration of video and illustrated commentary. I’m sure there will be more that will capture my imagination and interest in creating with VR again. And so the journey continues…

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NSTA’s “Daily Do” and my eBook: Investigating Weather and Climate

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The NSTA recently made the generous decision to open all of its NSTA Kids eBooks freely available on the web at nsta.org/ebooks. These digital, interactive readers are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards across K-5 grade levels and a great boost to parents and educators looking for rich, accurate, and freely available science readers for remote learning purposes. The catalog includes my own eBook, “Thinking Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate” as well as several others from respected science education colleagues and children’s authors.

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Table of contents for my eBook, “Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate” available now and readable in most browsers: https://www.nsta.org/ebooks/GradesK-5/

The NSTA has gone a step further in supporting at home education efforts by providing a developing series of “Daily Do’s,” lessons outlines, pointers, and additional strategies for teachers and parents to use and construct meaningful experiences around both using the eBook and extending the learning into their home and surrounding, socially-distanced environment. Many of the resources support writing and verbal conversation around making sense of everyday phenomena. The Daily Do’s are available now, including the March 26th Daily Do connected to my currently free eBook!

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Empowering Student Empathy and Risk Taking through “The [Climate] Talk”

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Climate change is hard and I don’t just mean teaching the science behind the overwhelming data supporting its existence, or even executing solutions designed to reduce or limit its effect on our global systems. I mean talking about it, like really having a conversation about it and how it could or already is affecting us.

Fortunately, the good people at the Alliance for Climate Education or “ACE” have been putting together some outstanding resources on the website “Our Climate Our Future” to support students trying to do exactly that, have the hard conversations with their family, friends, even complete strangers. Their resources are tools I recently put to work at a pair of “21st Century Learning Days” being held at our local middle school.

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Innovate Inside the Box is a follow up to Couros’ book “Innovator’s Mindset” which features “empathy and risk-taking” as two of the eight characteristics innovators embody.

The fabulousness of this resource comes in what it aims to achieve: empathy and risk-taking. Coincidentally, these are two attributes featured in George Couros and Katie Novak’s book, “Innovate Inside the Box” – a book I am currently reading as part of an online book study. ACE advocates and provide scaffolds for students to discuss their feelings about climate change and its effects, but does so in a refreshingly non-combative approach. Promoting the awkward but manageable acronym OARTAC, students are encouraged to gain the perspective and understanding of those they choose to have “the talk” with first through attentive listening and the asking of clarifying questions before sharing anything related to their own feelings and opinions. Built on psychological research (and 20+ years of limited gains through the still popular fact-minding, data-pointing approach  since the first release of An Inconvenient Truth) the scaffold and four-minute coaching video charges students not to force-change their counterparts opinion, but rather understand their perspective while using the opportunity to share their own.

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OARTAC is the bulky yet effective scaffold ACE promotes for students to engage in difficult (or dare I say risky?) conversations with others around climate change.

The formula empowers students to take risks not commonly taken by our communities and population as a whole. Collected statistics state that while 2/3rds of Americans are “moderately” or “very interested” in Climate Change, an equal percentage of Americans “rarely” or “never” discuss climate change with family and friends. Hard to imagine any change being made on a global initiative a significant majority never talk about. My Science Center partner, Wendy Pavlicek and I found the value of the conversation and supporting scaffold so great that we shared nearly the same presentation and exercise with the elementary science curriculum council.

Admittedly, students found the routine during the breakout session awkward and even uncomfortable. Not surprising as most still have more questions than any concrete answers when it comes to the when, why, and how of climate change, but that’s was ultimately the whole point of the exercise. Rather than have me spend 45 minutes to an hour sharing facts and merely answering questions ranging from earth systems science to fantastical doomsday scenarios, the time was spent empowering students with a easy to follow conversation routine that could be used for any variety of loaded conversations the students might be faced with in the future. (Talking about “The Talk” with middle school students… now thats taking risk!) The students were provided a tool to not only deepen their empathy toward those with differing opinions around them, but to take on the risk of opening a conversation fraught with political and personal landmines in a deliberate way that should ultimately lead to forging better understanding and relationships while keeping friends and family close.

I have shared the Google Slides presentation associated with this blog post here. You can also link directly to the Alliance for Climate Education here or their website “Our Climate Our Future” designed specifically for educators and students here.

 

 

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Weaving ‘Book Talks’ into Science, Weaving Science into ‘Book Talks’

 

Over the past several months I have been participating in a district-based book club centered on Pernille Ripp’s, “Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.” The club has been facilitated by our literacy coach, Renee Sacco and has boosted my leisure-reading by 1000% while connecting me with several educators across the district whom I previously did not intersect with on a consistent basis.

Perhaps most importantly, the club has brought a heightened awareness in me around my role in encouraging passionate readers and supporting the educators who do this important work day-in and day-out. While I do not have a classroom where a library can draw in students, nor regularly connect enough with our students to know their personal reading-tastes, I can use the time I have in front of our students during my grade-level programs to heighten their awareness of one of our school’s most important resources, the library media commons!

 

 

Today marked my first step into this realm, leaning on the expert knowledge of Burlington librarians, Cathy Myer and Rachel Small. Hearing Pernille’s charge to “be a spokesperson for your classroom library” and that “most things can be adapted or squished in order to book talk a great book or show a new book trailer.” I shortened my “Superfish” aquarium preview for Kindergarteners to make time to point out several marine-based titles available at the Pine Glen and Memorial libraries. This required me to make a few cuts to the long-standing program, including my bit on mollusks at the touch-tank (… and can you guess which one is Mr. Musselman’s favorite?!) and a Horseshoe Crab skeleton that had seen better days.

 

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Cathy Myer shows her Kindergarteners where to find all of her genre-fied “Ocean” titles in the Memorial LMC during my “Superfish” aquarium preview.

 

While Kathy was generously able to join us and share her favorites between the Shark and Octopus bit, I was on my own due to a scheduling conflict at Pine Glen. Luckily, Ms. Small has rolling, genre-fied bookshelves which made it easy for me to bring the entire collection to our Kindergarten while picking a handful to display and discuss!

The program went off without a hitch and the book talk was well received by teachers and students alike. I present this photo of smiling faces at the conclusion of our program as evidence!

 

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Smile for the Superfish!

A post shared by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on

 

In the short term, I hope to bring more book talks into my programs, especially as I connect more titles with specific topics or segments that best align with the phenomena we commonly investigate. Looking longer term, connecting with more children’s books and our teachers’ desire to include them in their classroom routines is a goal of mine as I work with several elementary science coaches from the surrounding communities to develop a course supporting teachers understanding and awareness of the Crosscutting Concepts and their prevalence in children’s literature.

 

 

A working document outlining our goals is already taking shape and I’m hoping to have a meeting with my interested counterparts some time in the next few weeks to hammer out some of the details on how its going to work. We already received a boost from Michigan educator and general consultant for the Manistee Intermediate School District, Kim Rinehart, whose current work using the book “Sharing Books, Talking Science” by Valerie Bang-Jensen and Mark Lubkowitz she so generously shared freely with us. Safe to say this #NSTA20 session is going to be a must for me!

 

 

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Better Integrating “Keys to Literacy” Scaffolds and Strategies Across the Science Curriculum

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Over the past several years our Burlington elementary educators have been inundated with changes. Besides the upending of our K-5 science and engineering curriculum classroom educators were introduced to “Keys to Literacy” a K-12 ranging program designed to boost student literacy skills through scaffolds and instructional strategies that build over time and can cross all disciplines. While initially this work was being done seemingly in parallel to the science overhaul, enough institutional knowledge around the “KTL” practices were able to be integrated into the units developed toward the end of our staged curriculum turnover.

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Google Slide “presentations” with links to copyable KTL scaffolds made by BPS teachers such as this one can be found in our grades 2, 3, and 5 curriculum resource pages.

Last week, we were graced with time and opportunity to face the reality of our disconnected work in the earlier units and allow teachers to adapt and revise some of our templates while developing exemplars of commonly used KTL scaffolds for their peers to lean on, saving them valuable prep time for scaffolds to use on their own so they might direct their attention instead to the host of other needs to meet.

Teachers spent their afternoon creating paper and digital versions of two-column notes, top-down webs, question/sorting activities, and more in an effort to lessen the collective burden of everyone and better reinforce the use of these strategies and (hopefully!) their students’ own synthesis and understanding of science’s “disciplinary core ideas.”

I’d like to take this time to thank the Grade 2, 3, and 5 teachers of Burlington for their dedication to this work and their craft. You’ll find links to all of their models shared publicly at the very top of our grade specific curriculum resource pages. While our Grade K, 1, and 4 teachers were tied up with other trainings, we hope to repeat this model and support their units in similar ways moving forward.

Direct links to the Grade 2, 3, and 5 KTL resource pages can be found below:

KTL Grade 2 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

KTL Grade 3 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

KTL Grade 5 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

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Supporting Informal Educators Navigating the Currents of NGSS

 

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Over the past two months I have had the pleasure of supporting NSTA’s pivot to a more inclusive “National Science Teaching Association” by assuming the role of editor for the NSTA’s “Next Gen Navigator” monthly e-newsletter. The role provided me the opportunity to connect with several Massachusetts based science institutions, including the WADE Institute, the New England Aquarium’s Teacher Resource Center, and the Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning.

A web version of the October 2019 publication, “Refashioning Informal Education to Support 3-D Learning” can be found here. You’ll find my editorial remarks there as well. 🙂

Science educators of all kinds interested in making shifts in their practice aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards should consider signing up for the Next Gen Navigator on the NSTA website linked here. Along with three or four articles from NGSS practitioners you’ll find classroom and professional development resources included in each monthly installment, all aligned with a different theme relevant to NGSS curriculum and instruction.

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Seeking Patterns in Workshops: Making a NSTA Conference – Part 2

Roughly a year after our NSTA Boston 2020 arrangements team met for the first time, I was back in DC for our next big step toward making the national conference a reality. With Programming Coordinator, Pam Pelletier and the NSTA conference arrangements team, roughly one-thousand workshop proposals were reviewed and sorted in roughly a day and half’s time. The work cemented the hundreds of hours already put in by 60+ volunteers from the Massachusetts Science Teachers Association and New England more broadly.

While the NSTA team had already sorted proposals by grade level before our arrival, Pam and I took the time to dig a little deeper, using our “human instinct for patterns” to uncover a trove of subtler themes. On several occasions we stopped to take in the descriptions and summations of the great work that will be on display next April. While our conference’s four strands are and will be explicitly highlighted in the months leading up to the conference, NSTA2020 in Boston will also have a number of recognizable undercurrents including:

Human Impact and Student Activism:

After just a few hours on day one it was clear that K-12 science educators have been paying attention to ESS3 in their NGSS standards. What really excited us was the inclusion of opportunities for students to act on their new found understanding of the role humans are playing in changes to our planet. While the spotlight certainly centered on climate data and action, several proposals took on biodiversity conservation, soil, water, air degradation, and even light pollution!

Equity and Social Justice:

Challenges around access and equity in science have been well documented and hold a prominent place in the Framework for K-12 Science Education, so it was great to see just how many educators are working so hard to do something about it! Many workshops highlighted partnerships where urban students and communities connected with scientists to do authentic science work, changing their perceptions and/or doubts about themselves as scientists. Others focused on supporting English Language Learners access and understanding of scientific language while still more centered on research and work being done to improve access to high-quality science education in underserved urban and rural areas alike.

Engineering for all:

Many hands-on workshops and presentations hit on the integration of engineering and use of the engineering design process across the PreK to 12 realm. While there will always be bridges to build, workshops diverged to coastal erosion mitigation, rocketry, polymers for soft-bodied surfaces, and solutions to fairy-tale dilemmas. Some took the extra step of integrating such art in the way of origami, and the beauty in the balance of forces and motion.

Tech Integration:

Makerspaces, programming, robotics, oh my! Lots of workshops, presented by individuals or teams from schools or school districts, will bring to life the interplay between building strong foundations in computer science and three-dimensional learning. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality has also made its own space next to 3D printers, dash-and-dots, LEGO Mindstorms, and other technologies on display at past NSTA conferences. Interested in using NASA, NOAA, and citizen science data sets? NSTA Boston will have that covered for you too.

So why all the fuss? To minimize the amount of overlap among similar workshops of course! Conference regulars know the “FOMO” feeling they inevitably get when having to select between two or more outstanding workshops. While I am 100% certain that you will be unable to avoid this feeling at NSTA2020, we’ve tried our best to give attendees the opportunity to catch similarly-themed presentations at another time.

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A quick selfie at NSTA with Program Coordinator, Pam Pelletier and NSTA’s Conferences Director, Delores Howard.

Before we left Pam and I got to sit down with long-time NSTA Conference Coordinator, Delores Howard and layout our favorite recommendations for the conference’s keynote and conference strand speakers. While I can not share who they will be until NSTA finalizes agreements, I am very excited about the possible lineup to be! Before leaving, Pam and I snapped a few pictures in the lobby and with our NSTA colleagues that we are so very grateful for. The grind that the NSTA conference team goes through to host not one, but five conferences over a calendar year can not be understated and I am so appreciative of their work. Thank you, Delores Howard, Beverly Shaw, Dayna Ward, Donna Fletcher, and Linda Crossley!

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How do you “Choose Your Own (PD) Adventure?”

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A quick glimpse at the 25 most recent emails in my inbox included three seemingly outstanding upcoming professional development opportunities. A stipended opportunity to learn about engineering design and the physics centered on designing your own hand held vacuum at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering:

Still another was a reminder from my NSTA Professional Learning Community about an upcoming NSTA web conference around STEM instruction and ELs, and still another regarding the summer offerings by the Wade Institute (previously known as MITS) in the local Northeast MA region.

Oh, and how can I forget the Valerie Bang-Jensen and Mark Lubkowitz book, “Sharing Books, Talking Science” I just purchased? When will I take the opportunity to read that? And let’s just forget that Twitter feed (as we’ve already pointed out a few cross posts above, a mere tip of the iceberg…)

“Personalized Learning” is a best practice that gets batted around not only in our students classrooms but among professional development facilitators as well. As educators we don’t always have control around what forms of professional development we need to participate in, but when we do have choice its important to have some framework for decision making.

For me, I try to select around personal needs just as much as professional ones during a time when my children are young and me-time precious! PD needs to be:

  • Timely (flexible or over a day typically)
  • Engaging (stretches me beyond my current strengths and/or into new learning domains)
  • Applicable (I should be able to put this learning to good use in the upcoming academic year, if not sooner!)
  • Credit-worthy (keep moving on that schedule… cost of living in the Boston area isn’t getting any cheaper!)

But despite these seemingly appropriate criteria, opportunities of interest continue to present themselves that are difficult to shy away from. Are they too vague? Probably. But before I go under the deeper reflection hood I’m curious to hear how others approach their own professional development learning adventure? What criteria do you use? What kinds of learning and opportunity have your criteria led you to or how has it held you back? What suggestions can you offer a parent of toddlers still unwilling to give up on that “never stop learning” mindset?

Oh and if you were looking for awesome “Choose Your Own Adventure” references here you are sadly out of luck. But I will share this amazing atlasobscura blog post in which every Choose Your Own Adventure book from the series has been data mapped to show all the possible outcomes.

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