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Trust Your Senses?

Share The Five SensesCan you trust your senses? This week, Education World examines three new books by popular children's writer Vicki Cobb that show that things are not always as they seem to be!

Are you looking for new and intriguing ways to teach elementary school students about the senses? Veteran children's science writer Vicki Cobb has three new books that provide dozens of hands-on demonstrations and experiments that are sure to make the study of the five senses fun.


Book Cover Image Did you know that about 400,000 different kinds of smell molecules exist but that humans are able to detect fewer than 10,000 of them? Can you tell the difference between crystals formed from salt and those formed from sugar? In the books Follow Your Nose: Discover Your Sense of Smell and Your Tongue Can Tell: Discover Your Sense of Taste (The Millbrook Press, Inc.), Cobb presents numerous activities that illustrate how the senses of smell and taste work.
In a kid-friendly, casual style that never talks down to readers, Cobb intersperses experiments, demonstrations, and even craft projects with solid explanations of the way the senses work. In Follow Your Nose, she writes:

"Taste and smell are called 'chemical senses' because they need certain chemicals to make your nerves fire and send messages to your brain. The smallest pieces of chemicals are called molecules. You can't see molecules even with the strongest microscope, but your nerves can detect them. Sugar and salt molecules make nerves in your tongue fire. Molecules in the air reach your organ of smell and make your smelling nerves fire. When a nerve fires, a message travels up the nerve to your brain. It's the brain's job to recognize the smell so you know how to react to it."

Illustrator Cynthia C. Lewis's creative use of cutouts from magazines and photographs juxtaposed with simple, childlike drawings adds to the sense of fun in these books.


In the introduction to Cobb's third book, How to Really Fool Yourself: Illusions for All Your Senses, she writes:

"If there is any lesson to be learned in life, it is that we can make mistakes. Judgments based on false perceptions can be errors. ... The experiments in fooling yourself in this book show one important thing: most of us perceive in similar ways, and our perceptions are similarly leading us astray."

In more than 60 exercises, Cobb follows each set of simple instructions for kids or teachers -- titled "How to Fool Yourself" -- with an easily understood explanation of "Why You're Fooled." Illustrated throughout with simple black-and-white drawings by Jessica Wolk-Stanley, the exercises in this book go beyond optical illusions -- although there are several of those included. Cobb uses exercises that show how all our senses are capable of being fooled.

In one exercise, by plunging your hand, encased in a rubber glove, into cold water, your hand mistakenly feels wet. Repeating the experiment using warm water results in little or no illusion of wetness. Cobb explains that the sensation of wetness has two components: pressure evenly distributed over an area of skin and coldness. In the first instance, a gloved hand in cold water would feel both these sensations, though the same hand in warm water would only feel the pressure.

Book Cover Image The activities in each of these three books are simple to do; utilize inexpensive, easily attainable materials; and take little time -- making them ideal for use with young students.

Cobb is very adept at providing clear, brief explanations of the scientific principles involved. Throughout her books runs a sense of fun and discovery that more traditional science books don't have.

Vicki Cobb is the author of more than 60 nonfiction children's books. She earned a college degree in zoology and worked as a laboratory researcher and as a science teacher before becoming a full-time writer. She also runs teacher workshops that focus on making science fun for children in grades K through 8, and she entertains children in schools across the country in her one-woman show, Science Surprises. Learn more about Vicki Cobb at her Web site, Vicki Cobb's Kids' Science Page.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book you are looking for, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

  • Follow Your Nose and Your Tongue Can Tell, written by Vicki Cobb and illustrated by Cynthia C. Lewis, are published by The Millbrook Press, 2 Old New Milford Road, Brookfield, CT 06804.
  • How to Really Fool Yourself, written by Vicki Cobb and illustrated by Jessica Wolk-Stanley, is published by John Wiley & Sons, 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158-0012.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
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