Reviewed by Sheldon Greaves
During my teenage years, Time-Life published an outstanding series of books on different fields of science. The Time-Life series was a landmark in educational publishing that featured well-written text, superb organization and layout, and of course the images for which those magazines were justly famous. Even when the text was of little interest to me (or admittedly over my head), the pictures and captions provided many rich educational hours.
CSL is in receipt of Timeâ€™s Big Book of Science Experiments, which seeks to continue this fine tradition. Although far more focused both in terms of audience and type of content, this book has much to offer the budding scientist and the adults who teach or mentor them.
The book is either a series of explanations augmented with experiments, or experiments supplemented with explanations. This is not so much an effort to be obtuse as it is to note that the teaching material is very well-integrated with the activities. One need not actually do any of the 100-plus experiments to learn something about the science involved.
The Big Book of Science Experiments poses experiments on subjects that kids are likely to encounter every day, from the effects of too much sun to learning what climate is. Almost no special equipment is needed; the experiments use items from around the house or easily obtainable. A small but excellent feature of the experiments is that they are open-ended. Each activity makes suggestions for variations on a given experiment that can expand upon the first. The explanatory text is also skillfully restrained, in that it does not yield to the temptation to try and say everything that could be said about the subject, even at a basic level. There is enough to get the reader started, and no more. Experiments are helpfully rated according to the amount of time required to do them.
One primary purpose of this book is to assist kids who are doing science fair projects. There are tips throughout the text on how to make a good science fair project, and how to make a good project better. A particularly useful section is an appendix at the end of the book with several pages of how-to for beginning science fair competitors. I was particularly pleased to see that the advice starts at the beginning, starting with a question, doing library research, and making similar preparations before one even gets to developing a hypothesis.
I do have a few quibbles with this otherwise excellent book. I do believe that it would benefit from a brief explanation of the metric system, or at least how to convert ounces to grams, inches to centimeters, and so on. While the book does have a good index, I would like to see some kind of bibliography or other pointers to information elsewhere, in other books or on the web. At times the layout seems overly busy, but some of this is clearly driven by an understandable priority to subordinate a consistent layout to the best means of presenting a given set of information.
Schoolteachers and home schoolers will find a lot of excellent grist for their lessons. For the scientifically curious child, the Big Book of Science Experiments would make an excellent birthday or holiday present.
Copies of this book can be ordered by calling 1-800-327-6388.