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Two New Books Inspire Young Scientists

Share Two new books make science fair projects as meaningful and educational for elementary school kids as they are for high school students.

Do you find that your elementary school kids are getting a little too much parental "help" in their science projects? Are their science and technology projects less than meaningful for them? Here are two new books that can help.


The high school science fair has a history that goes back more than half a century. As a showcase for independent and original scientific research, a science fair can often be a meaningful and rewarding experience for high school students. Naturally, elementary school science educators wanted to give their students the same opportunities -- so they did. Many elementary schools, however, followed the model used with older students. In her new book, Beyond the Science Fair science educator Ruth M. Young argues

... younger students reaped little if any benefit from conducting a research project. These children had neither the scientific skills nor the background knowledge to conduct research projects. Their projects, therefore, frequently were created by older siblings or parents, and thus the elementary student did not learn much science or benefit from the project. Elementary science fairs often put the emphasis on the final write-up of the project; thus, it becomes more a language arts experience than one of science.

Young goes on to note the recent shift in the teaching of science to young children -- from the utilization of scientific methods and the memorization of scientific facts to an emphasis on "how science itself is done, emphasizing inquiry as a way of achieving knowledge and understanding about the world."

Young advocates three separate types of events for elementary schools that might enhance students' appreciation for and knowledge of science and technology in ways that are more in line with the current trend in early science education than the traditional science fair model. Each event is given its own dedicated section in the book.

  • The Science Discovery Day is conceived of as an all-day event, run like a science conference. Older students conduct on-going presentations, and students of all ages can take part in hands-on activities.
  • The Inventors Convention is geared more toward children in grades 3 through 6. Budding inventors may be paired with mentors in the community who will help students produce inventions of their own design.
  • For those parents who miss the fun and the challenge of helping children complete science fair projects, Young devotes a large section of the book to Family Science programs, smaller scale events designed to engage students and families in scientific exploration and discovery.
In each section of her book, Young provides detailed ideas on all facets of science events -- from scheduling, setting up committees, and delegating responsibilities to illustrating actual examples of forms, tickets, invitations, and various handouts that may be modified or used as templates.

The activities take into account different ages and interest levels of students. For example, for kids in grades 3 and 4, a Science Discovery Day table may be set up with building blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys; the students' challenge is to construct a variety of buildings and equipment. Family Science activities include nature walks and magic shows using science to create the illusion of magic.

Young has written other books on teaching science to young children, including A Guide for Using the Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip in the Classroom. In addition to providing comprehensive information on how to mount different kinds of meaningful science events, she lists many resources at the end of the book, ranging from children's books of science experiments and experiences to books for teachers.

Whether your elementary school currently sponsors some kind of science event or plans to start one, Beyond the Science Fair has many valuable ideas and suggestions for making the experience easier and more rewarding for younger students, their instructors, and their families.

If you need additional activities and experiments for your science event, Education World can recommend The Science Factory.


How do plants use sunlight to grow? What determines the volume of a sound? How can the speed of wind be measured? What kinds of levers are there, and how do they work? Jon Richards answers those and many other questions in The Science Factory. Richards helps young students discover for themselves how the physical world really works in 95 clearly illustrated experiments grouped into ten chapters.

Within each chapter, the experiments follow a logical progression from the easiest concepts to the more difficult ones. For example, in "Air & Flight," the first experiment shows how hot air rises, and the second one explains how to construct a small hot-air balloon. As the chapter progresses, lessons include making a barometer, using Ping-Pong balls to learn about air pressure, and constructing a toy glider. Each experiment is presented in a two-page spread illustrated with clear, detailed photographs and drawings.

Each experiment begins with an introductory paragraph that states the basics of the experiment. At the end of each project, Richards provides a section called Why It Works -- a simple, understandable explanation of the scientific principle behind the experiment.

Most of the experiments take very little time: about fifteen minutes to a few hours. A few, however, take longer. Upper-elementary school students can do many of the experiments without adult supervision, so they could serve as a basis for independent science projects.

Quite a few of the projects are suitable for hands-on activities at a school science event. For example, the materials for the activity on Magnetic Fields -- two bar magnets, paper, iron filings, and two books -- might be displayed on a table with printed instructions on how to position the materials so visitors can observe the iron filings lining up along the magnetic fields. The Why It Works explanation could be printed on a card or handout to go along with the experiment.

An equipment checklist at the beginning of the book lists a formidable 70 items needed to complete all of the experiments; however, most of the items are common household items or are easily and affordably attainable. Each individual experiment lists only five to ten items needed. The back of the book contains a glossary of scientific terms used in the text.

Jon Richards has written other science books for young readers, including Electricity and Batteries. His clear and simple instructions, detailed drawings and photographs, and concise explanation of scientific principles combined with the relative simplicity and affordability of materials make The Science Factory a useful addition to the classroom.

These two new books are available in bookstores. If you are unable to locate any of the titles, ask your bookseller to order them for you or contact the publisher directly.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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