________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Construction: Science Q&A.

Rennay Craats.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc, $10.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-957-9 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59036-956-2 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Building-Juvenile literature.
Structural engineering-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

** /4

   
cover Ecosystems: Science Q&A.

Gillian Richardson.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc, $10.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-955-5 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59036-954-8 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Biotic communities-Miscellanea-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

** /4

   
cover Light: Science Q&A.

Gina L. Hamilton.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc, $10.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-947-0 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59036-946-3 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Light-Juvenile literature.
Optics-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

** /4

   
cover Machines: Science Q&A.

Janice Parker.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc, $10.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-951-7 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59036-950-0 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Machinery-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

** /4

   
cover Weather: Science Q&A.

Janice Parker.
Calgary, AB: Weigl, (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc, $10.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-59036-953-1 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-59036-952-4 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Weather-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

** /4

excerpts:

What is a structure?

A structure is almost anything that is built, from a birdhouse to an office building (From Construction: Science Q&A.)

As plant life gradually returned, animals moved back to the region. Bird species, such as woodpeckers, used holes in the dead trees as nests. The environment went through enormous change, but the area was able to stabilize over time, and animal and plant life adapted to the new conditions (From Ecosystems: Science Q&A.)

Take a light quiz.

  1. Name two important discoveries made by Albert Einstein.

  2. What are the two types of cells, found in the retina, that see color?

  3. What are the two basic shapes of lenses? What effect does each type of lens have?

  4. What is the name of the pigment that gives grass its green color?

  5. What are the three reactions light can have when it hits an object? (From Light: Science Q&A).

Microwave ovens were invented by physicist Percy Le Baron Spencer in 1946. He discovered that microwaves could be used to cook food after high frequency radio waves melted a bar of chocolate in his pocket (From Machines: Science Q&A.)

The wind blows for the same reason that hot-air balloons rise. Air moves, and heat goes up (From Weather: Science Q&A.)

The "Science Q&A" series reminds me of my elementary school library and the books in the traveling library known as the "Bookmobile" that stopped in the small community in which I lived as an early adolescent and teenager. Although the books in this series are filled with scientific information and colourful imagery of relatively recent technological innovations, the authors' style of writing, particularly the focus on factual information, does not convey the progress that's been made in developing the curiosity, investigative skills, and scientific knowledge of today's young learners. Forty years ago, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman remarked, "To learn a mystic formula for answering questions is very bad." His comment was made in response to textbook passages like ‘gravity makes it fall' and ‘the soles of shoes wear out because of friction.' For, as he went on to explain, "Shoe leather wears our because it rubs against the sidewalk and the little notches and bumps on the sidewalk grab pieces and pull them off. To simply say, it is because of friction, is sad, because it's not science." It's this type of response, however, that is often used to answer the 20 questions posed in each "Science Q&A" book.

     One example of this type of writing is the answer given for the question in Machines (pp. 32-33), "What is the difference between a gasoline engine and a diesel engine?" Many readers will have difficulty visualizing what is being described, and this difficulty is principally a consequence of the language used (e.g., engine, internal combustion engine, cylinders, carburetion system, carburetor, mixture, sucked, spark plugs, explosions, hot gases, force, piston, crankshaft…). A labeled diagram of both types of engines would benefit readers of all ages. Other examples of this type of writing are found in the first, fourth, and fifth excerpts quoted above.

     While this focus on factual information may not be problematic for some, the inaccuracies identified in the answers will be problematic for all. In Construction, the author gives the impression that only human-made buildings, dams, and bridges are structures (see excerpt 1 above). There is no attempt in the definition provided to include natural structures, animal architecture, or other objects "made up of a number of parts that are held or put together in a particular way" as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary and understood by most science teachers. Similarly, the author of Ecosystems might leave readers with the impression that biological adaptation is a matter of conforming to new conditions, rather than the selective advantage a particular mutation confers (see excerpt 2 above).

     In addition to the 20 questions and answers in each of the books in the series, readers will also find links to pertinent websites, "challenges", information on careers, an investigation or construction activity, a test/quiz (see excerpt 3 above) or survey, 10 "fast facts", and a glossary. The "challenges" range from making a blueprint/ floor plan of a room to using vinegar and chalk to simulate the effect of acid rain on limestone buildings and statues. The investigation / construction activities include a study of shadows, the design and construction of a mousetrap car, and a mini-marshmallow and toothpick bridge building activity.

     I looked forward to reviewing the "Science Q&A" books given that each book in the series fit with a unit in the science curriculum for Grades 4, 5, 6, and 7. In spite of the reservations I have expressed, this is a series worth considering if your school library has only a small number of books on construction, ecosystems, light, machines, and/or weather. For schools with limited resources and/or a good selection of books that address these topics, I suggest using the internet and identifying age-appropriate websites with ideas for first-hand investigations that are engaging and less common than those presented in the "Science Q&A" books as well as websites with scientific information that incorporate explanations young learners can understand.

Recommended with reservations.

Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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