________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010

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Levers. (Science Matters).

Jennifer Howse.
New York, NY: Weigl (Distributed in Canada by Saunders Book Co.), 2010.
24 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-60596-032-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-60596-031-9 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Levers-Juvenile literature.
Lifting and carrying-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**1/2 /4

   
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Wheels and Axles. (Science Matters).

Michael de Medeiros.
New York, NY: Weigl (Distributed in Canada by Saunders Book Co.), 2010.
24 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-60596-034-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-60596-0333 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Wheels-Juvenile literature.
Axles-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**1/2 /4

   
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Pulleys. (Science Matters).

James de Medeiros.
New York, NY: Weigl (Distributed in Canada by Saunders Book Co.), 2010.
24 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-60596-042-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-60596-041-8 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Pulleys-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**1/2 /4

   

excerpts:

A lever is a moveable bar that rests on a solid point called a fulcrum. Pushing, pulling, and lifting are common types of work. These can be made easier using levers. A lever is one of six simple machines. People use simple machines to make daily tasks easier. (From Levers.)

Wheels on their own are useful, but they have many more uses when combined with axles. An axle is a straight rod connected to the center of a wheel. The difference in size between the wheel and the axle is what makes a wheel system more useful than a simple roller. The greater the distance the wheel turns, the more force is applied to the axle. In the same way, the more force that is applied to the axle, the greater distance the wheels will turn. (From Wheels and Axles.)

A single pulley is the simplest kind of pulley. It can be either fixed or moveable. Single pulleys were used more often in the past, to move water or to help build tall buildings. Some simple devices still use single pulleys today, such as clotheslines or curtains. However, most modern pulleys are used as parts of more complex machines. (From Pulleys.)

 

As I sit down to review three books from the "Science Matters" series, I try to imagine my response as an upper elementary student finding these books in a school or public library. The covers are attractive with a minimal, uncomplicated design. Each has a photograph of the simple machine the author presents (a set of gears, a hydraulic shovel, and a hook attached to a compound pulley) with the title of the series and book printed in the upper left hand corner. Opening the cover and thumbing through the twenty-four pages, one finds general information on the advantages of using a wheel and axle system, a lever, or a pulley to lift and/or move objects and some, more scientific, information on how these simple machines work. There are also pages that describe historical and contemporary uses of the simple machine focussed upon and how these machines have, over time, been combined with other simple machines, hydraulics, and electronics to create complex and more powerful tools and machinery.

     Each book includes an identical two-page spread with the heading "Gaining an Advantage" that presents an image and a one or two sentence description of each of the six simple machines in the "Science Matters" series, namely: inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, wheel and axle, and pulley. These common pages are followed by suggestions where one is likely to find further information (i.e., libraries, science centres, and the internet). In Howse's Levers, two student-friendly websites are also listed, while Banting and De Medeiros refer readers to encarta.com, which is currently owned and maintained by hotmail.com at http://hubpages.com/hub/www_encarta_com. The books also feature a "Science in Action" activity where readers can follow the directions for making a wheel and axle system out of CDs, washers, wood skewers, and plasticine; a pulley using string and a door with a door knob; or a lever using a rock, eraser and wood ruler. Each book ends with a 10-question quiz where the content is reviewed; an index; and glossary that includes terms such as equilibrium, effort, energy, force, load, and mechanical. In addition to all of these components, each page in the "Science Matters" series contains one or more illustrations from gettyimages.com, a company known for its high quality digital stock photography and archival images. These illustrations enhance and give clarity to much of the written information.

     While these books may not be the most entertaining reading for 8, 9 and 10-year-olds, they do introduce readers to three of the six simple machines and how they are used in tools, sports equipment, and machinery. As such, they are of value to teachers and students learning about simple machines. Moreover, the historical information exposes readers to the quite remarkable fact that wheels were used as early as 8000 B.C., and that simple levers were used to build the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England. Readers also learn interesting information about the ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes of Syracuse, who lived almost 2,300 years ago and developed the first compound pulley and demonstrated mathematically the law of the lever.

     Unfortunately, the inclined plane and wheel and axle are topics in the Manitoba Grade 2 science unit, Position and Motion, and both are taught in greater depth, along with the wedge, screw, pulley, and lever, in the Manitoba Grade 7 science unit, Forces and Simple Machines. The Grade 4 reading level of the "Science Matters" series may be too high for many Grade 2 students and too low for most Grade 7 students. In addition, there is a weakness in the presentation of information to adolescent learners. It is one thing to write a statement like, "Moving a large distance with a little force is the same amount of work as moving a little distance with a large force" (Levers, p. 7) or the second excerpt above from page 8 of Wheels and Axles, and quite another to really know, through experience, that this is the case. Unfortunately, these and similar statements, which occur in all three books, are never tested. Readers are simply told how to construct a lever, wheel and axle, or pulley. It would be possible to overlook this shortcoming if one was certain that the parents and teachers of Grade 2 students or teachers of Grade 7 students would use the text as a springboard for first-hand investigations where load and effort forces are felt by the youngest students and felt, measured, and calculated by the older students. We all know that the most carefully worded sentences and the most judicious use of images can't substitute for informed, experiential learning in elementary school science.

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.

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

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