See also: Symptoms of a Future Scientist or return to the Articles Index
Six Strategies for Raising a Scientist

Science, to many of us, brings to mind an eccentric, white-coated personage, scurrying about a bubbling, busy laboratory. Think Dr. Frankenstein, with a cheesy Bulgarian accent, or perhaps Bill Nye the Science Guy. In this article, we're going beyond lab coat gimmicks to take a closer look at what real science is. We'll explore how we can tap into the power of interactive media to support your child's emerging scientific knowledge and abilities.

Strategies for Giving A Future Scientist-- A Push in the Right Direction
If you've checked most of the characteristics in "Symptoms of a Future Scientist", you've definitely got a scientist underfoot. Here are strategies, backed up with specific product recommendations, to support your scientist's interests. 

SCIENCE STRATEGY 1: Use the Internet- The Best Answer to the Question "Why?"
Having ready access to the World Wide Web frightens and overwhelms many parents, but we feel it is the number one scientific tool. Thanks to good search engines like Searchopolis ( or Ask Jeeves for Kids (, the Internet is the ultimate science library, open 24 hours a day. Here are our favorite Internet science stops:

SCIENCE STRATEGY 2: Keep an Intel Play: QX3 Computer Microscope Around
The Intel Play Microscope (4.6 stars, ages 6-up, Mattel Media, Inc., 888-628-8359,, $99.99, Windows) was first released in November of 1999. It plugs into your computer's USB port (Windows 98 only) and puts some powerful digital imagery technology at the fingertips of the youngest children. Kids will be amazed as they zoom up to 200 times in on a bug, or as they detach the microscope from its base to view the skin on their arm from the perspective of a hungry mosquito. The microscope comes with software that captures the images so that they can be made into a slide show, resized, or otherwise manipulated. Strengths are the ease of use and versatility of the device. The microscope contains a light that is powered from the USB port (so no batteries are required!) and there's a built-in storage feature so that tweezers, slides and accessories don't get misplaced. Weaknesses include the fact that you must have the CD-ROM in the drive in order to use the microscope, which can get bothersome. The device is perfect for when a child finds a ladybug, or perhaps wants to examine the structure of a blade of grass. The kit offers an excellent way to explore that part of the world that can't be seen with the naked eye, and is ideal for home or school use.

SCIENCE STRATEGY 3: Stock up on Dorling Kindersley Software and Books.
By now, you're probably familiar with Dorling Kindersley (DK) books, featuring those clear photographs on perfect white backgrounds. As Peter Kindersley says: "Our attempts to make things very clear, as if they leap off the page or CD-ROM, come from our interest in delivering straight information. While a lot of publishers use art to decorate their books, our style is to try to present things as they are and let the beauty shine through." (Read the complete Peter Kindersley). Dorling Kindersley CDs continue to amaze children and adults alike, with their stunningly clear visual images of the world around us. For example, the Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Science 2.0 (4.5 stars) contains 80 animations, 40 video sequences, 800 photos and illustrations and 3 1/2 hours of audio. This comprehensive resource fully uses multimedia to bring science to life. Another useful disk is The Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Space and the Universe (4.5 stars). The astronomy content is organized into 10 key topics: The Star Dome, The Universe, History of Astronomy, Observation and Telescopes, Space Race, Space Hardware, Who's Who, Cosmology, Technical Manual and The Quiz Master. The Star Dome is a virtual planetarium that can map the appearance of the sky at any point on Earth, on any date from 3000 BC to 7000 AD. Other good DK titles include--

  • The Mad About Science Series (4.0 stars) with 32 science lessons introducing children to forces, electricity, light, sound and heat.
  • My Amazing Human Body (4.6 stars), an entertaining and educational introduction to the human body that teaches about the skeleton, organs, and body systems.
  • Pinball Science (4.8 stars) turns your computer into a responsive and realistic game of pinball... with no need for quarters. Kids apply important physics concepts like force and magnetism as they modify their machines with springs, levers, rockets or windmills.
  • The Ultimate Human Body 2.0 (4.5 stars) teaches anatomy, science and health by taking children on a journey inside the human body. Full color video and animation sequences show how the body's organs work. A 360-degree rotating skeleton lets kids examine every aspect of human structure.

SCIENCE STRATEGY 4: Use Edmark's Virtual Simulations
Of all the software companies, Edmark, which is now part of IBM (800-362-2890,, has best demonstrated the ability to turn the computer into a set of "virtual manipulatives" that can really help children understand how the world works. Their most recent efforts are the Virtual Labs, which are listed below along with other exceptional Edmark products.

Virtual Labs: Electricity (4.3 stars) Children explore electricity as they experiment with batteries, bulbs, fans, switches, fuses and breakers. Designed for classroom use, the software features onscreen labs and comes with 40 reproducible lab worksheets and an onscreen Sci-Clopedia of Electricity information.

Virtual Labs: Light (4.3 stars) This lab offers 26 different lenses, mirrors, filters, colored lasers and light targets- all of which can be freely positioned and adjusted.

Space Academy GX-1 (4.6 stars) Children use virtual science tools to learn about the solar system. By experimenting with movable diagrams, reading tables and controlling simulators, kids can compare the planets and their attributes, investigate the astronomical basis for the seasons and more.

ZAP! (4.6 stars) Children experiment with lasers, light rays, electrical gadgets and sound waves, either in an open-ended fashion, or while trying to solve problems in labs. These problems are arranged sequentially, so kids learn the main properties of the subject at hand in small, easy to understand steps. It's a fantastic program for classroom use, but would also work well in the home, particularly for children who like to take things apart and put things together.

SCIENCE STRATEGY 5: Lighten Up With The Magic School Bus Series
Over the past six years, Ms. Fripple's Magic School Bus CDs (ages 6-10, Microsoft Corp., 800-426-9400, have proven themselves with thousands of families. Some have more depth than others, but all are extremely popular with both kids and teachers. Here are some of our favorites:

The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth (4.4 stars) Kids visit six geological zones and see slide shows and videos on the area, or they can exit the bus to explore and collect rock samples.

The Magic School Bus Explores the Ocean. (4.2 stars) With this CD, children explore seven ocean zones such as a beach, a coral reef, a kelp forest and a tide pool.

The Magic School Bus Explores the World of Animals. (4.4 stars) Kids tour seven distinct habitats: African savanna, Arctic tundra and ocean, Brazilian rain forest, Himalayan mountains, North American Sonoran desert, North American swamp and South Pacific island and reef.

The Magic School Bus Explores the World of Bugs. (4.3 stars) Four bugs are lost and it's up to Ms. Frizzle and the kids to help return them to their homes. The bus once again takes off, this time to four bug habitats: the meadow, rain forest, jungle and pond.

The best and easiest-to-use way to introduce children to the world of computer science (or programming) is to get one of the LEGO robotics kits (LEGO Media International, ages 9-up, 860-749-2291, There are several kits to choose from. The first two don't require a computer. The third, the most expensive and sophisticated kit, contains a small computer/robot that plugs directly into your PC by way of a USB plug.

LEGO MINDSTORMS Droid Developer Kit (4.5 stars) Introduced last year, this amazing package offers a realistic introduction to programming and, unlike last year's kit, works independently of a computer. The brain of this set contains a Micro-Scout processor that comes with 600 LEGO pieces for kids to make characters from the Star Wars Episode 1 movie. This is the smallest LEGO microcomputer, and it comes with a built in light sensor, motor and seven programmable behaviors. The instructions are provided in three difficulty levels.

LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Discovery Set (4.5 stars) This package consists of 400 pieces, including a battery operated "Scout" microprocessor with a non-detachable light sensor, two touch sensors, two motors and an assortment of LEGO building pieces. It does not require a home computer. Instead, kids program the microprocessor directly with an onboard menu screen. For example, by selecting icons for "go forward" and "seek light" the robot will follow the beam of a flashlight. The set is much easier to use than the PC dependent Robotics Invention System and offers an excellent exercise in programming and problem solving.

LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System (4.8 stars) This modern day Erector Set comes in a large box with 700 LEGO building parts, a small portable computer with switches and light sensors, an infrared transmitter, two motors and a CD-ROM. It all adds up to a tremendously powerful learning experience and a friendly introduction to the world of logical thinking, programming and robotics. A new "Vision Command" expansion kit will be available September 2000, that includes a camera that can be programmed on your PC to respond to motion, color, or light. When combined with the Robotics Invention System, the camera becomes a vision sensor, or in other words, the eyes of a robot.

LEGO MINDSTORMS Exploration Mars Expansion Set. An expansion kit for the Robotics Invention System, containing 150 LEGO pieces, Exploration Mars software, activity ideas and nine guided challenges. See the sidebar for details.  

The following came to us from a mother in Austin, Texas and was forwarded to us. It's called "Things I've learned from my children (Honest and No Kidding)"

  • A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2,000 square foot house four inches deep.
  • If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 foot room.
  • You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using the ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.
  • The glass in windows (even double pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
  • Certain LEGOS will pass through the digestive tract of a four-year-old.
  • Play Doh and Microwave should never be used in the same sentence.
  • Super glue is forever.
  • No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.



Read This First
Unlike more purely process-based subjects like math and reading--with clear scope and sequence--science is one of the broadest of all subjects. Not only is it made up of sets of abilities that require practice in order to learn like observing, deducing and isolating variables-- it also consists of millions of facts like "the temperature at which water boils" and "the speed of light." The broadness of science is why many elementary teachers list it as their least favorite subject to teach. Yet few of us would deny that it is one of the most important subjects. After all, if we do our jobs right, some kid in the third row of your child's second grade classroom may grow up and find a cure for cancer, or perhaps make an atomic-powered car.












"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."

Albert Einstein










See also: Symptoms of a Future Scientist, from our July 00 Issue, or return to the Articles Index

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