Do-it-yourself Science March 02 2015, 0 Comments

Children love to get their hands on real things and do experiments, and teachers love clear instructions and easy-to-find materials for those experiments. I have two new books that will be valuable for both. The act of making something for oneself is an important one that I think is too rare in our everyday lives, so I appreciate books that help children use their hands and minds to do science activities and learn about how the world works.

The first is a new edition of a book by the master science educator, Vicki Cobb. The title is We Dare You! The 2014 edition has a special feature, videos of many of the experiments online, which you can find at . You can even contribute your own videos of the activities to the website. Many of these activities have been published before, but it is helpful to have so many useful challenges for children collected in one volume. I would save the videos until children have done the activity for themselves, but seeing other children do the activity could be inspiring.

The second book is Junk Drawer Physics: 50 Awesome Experiments That Don’t Cost a Thing by Bobby Mercer, published in 2014. While the subtitle may exaggerate the frugality of these experiments, it is true that many of the materials come from a recycling bin. Some of the constructs are amazing simple. I didn’t know that you can make a Cartesian diver with a ketchup packet. I would give children the instructions, but hold the explanations until they have tried the activity. You will want to screen the activities for the classroom rather than just putting out the book so that children won’t find out how to set steel wool on fire with a 9-volt battery before you have prepared a safe environment. Yes, some of these activities will require special supervision, and there are a few you may not want in your classroom, but children can do most of them easily and safely by themselves. They will certainly learn while they are having fun.

These books look great for building children’s reading skills. Being able to read instructions and follow them is a skill well worth developing. If I were putting the activities in a classroom, I would probably give children the instructions to read, and leave the explanation of what happens for later. After children have tried the activity and recorded their findings, they could read the “Insider Information” section of We Dare You! or “The Science Behind It” section of Junk Drawer Physics , which tells about the science behind the happenings. They are much more likely to record what they actually observe if they don’t know what they are supposed to see. They are also more likely to take in information about the science principles after they have experienced the phenomena.