Monday, January 16, 2012

Science is everywhere

I like the idea behind the series Science Explorer Junior that promotes thinking like a scientist.

Looking at three books, Think like a scientist in the classroom by Susan Hindman (507.8 HiT 2012), Think like a scientist in the car by Matt Mullins (507.8 MuT 2012) and Think like a scientist in the backyard by Matt Mullins (507.8 MuTB 2012),I came away feeling that science is everywhere.  Whether I was looking at the weather to decide what to wear, wondering how many miles a car can travel on a tank of gas, or how my peripheral vision can prevent me from focusing on the work in front of me.  This ties in well with making science relevant and approachable for kids.
Each book outlines the premises of the scientific method in a step-by-step list starting with observing what is happening around you, developing a question, suggesting an answer, testing it, recording the results and drawing a conclusion.
The books then present three scenarios that are associated with the car, classroom, or backyard, giving us a few questions to think about in that scenario. 

For example, in Think like a scientist in the backyard, the scenario is stepping into the backyard and noticing the weather.  Depending on the conditions and the temperature I may need to wear a coat.  A thermometer can be helpful in deciding this.  A little background information is presented about thermometers from the 1600s which then leads into the experiment of making a rudimentary thermometer on your own.  Additional questions are asked, leaving me to answer them based on my experiment and to draw my own conclusions.  No answers or predetermined conclusions are included.
I like the format of the books and what they are trying to teach – that there is a process or method in trying to understand natural phenomena, that research is required, that guessing is ok, that testing is essential, and observing and critical thinking is crucial.  Finding definite answers doesn’t seem to be the focus and none are provided in the book.
There may be an issue with the publishers suggested grade level of 4 to 8.  The books look too young for the junior high crowd with the large print and simple, brightly coloured illustrations.  Unfamiliar or difficult words are highlighted in the text and defined in a glossary at the back.  I also wonder if some of the concepts will be of interest to kids in the younger grades.  The background information is fairly cursory, leaving me wondering on one occasion (p.24 in Think like a scientist in the car: “Astronomers use parallax to measure the distance between Earth and the stars.” Hmmm, how did they do that?), so I would suggest these are great as introductions to science concepts with the expectation of doing additional research, which is not a bad thing at all. There is a short list of references for additional information and an index.
Again, I like what is behind this series, the invitation and challenge of really taking in what is happening around us and working through the why and how of it. However, I expect that some younger kids will need additional coaching.


GatheringBooks said...

Hi Tammy, this looks like a fun series - science made easy! And it also encourages the ideation that everyone (and that means EVERYONE) IS a scientist! :) It's really a manner of looking at things - and keeping that amazement, wonder, and awe. Many thanks for introducing me to these titles. :)

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by, Myra. You've got it exactly right. We are surrounded by phenomena happening all the time.

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