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
Strategies for Giving
A Future Scientist-- A Push in the Right Direction
If you've checked most of the characteristics in
of a Future Scientist", you've definitely got a
scientist underfoot. Here are strategies, backed up with
specific product recommendations, to support your
SCIENCE STRATEGY 1: Use the
Internet- The Best Answer to the Question
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 (searchopolis.com)
or Ask Jeeves for Kids (www.ajkids.com),
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
Intel Play Microscope (4.6 stars, ages 6-up, Mattel
Media, Inc., 888-628-8359, www.mattelmedia.com, $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
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
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--
Mad About Science Series (4.0 stars) with 32 science
lessons introducing children to forces, electricity,
light, sound and heat.
Amazing Human Body (4.6 stars), an entertaining and
educational introduction to the human body that teaches
about the skeleton, organs, and body systems.
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.
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
SCIENCE STRATEGY 4: Use Edmark's Virtual
Of all the software companies, Edmark, which is now part
of IBM (800-362-2890, www.edmark.com),
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.
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
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.
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
(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
SCIENCE STRATEGY 5: Lighten Up With The Magic School
Over the past six years, Ms. Fripple's Magic School Bus
CDs (ages 6-10, Microsoft Corp., 800-426-9400, www.magicschoolbus.com)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
SCIENCE STRATEGY 6: Create With LEGO MINDSTORMS
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, www.legomindstorms.com).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
LEARNING-- THE HARD WAY
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
- 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