Brainwaves series published by Dorling Kindersley. Eva loves these books, which cry out to be explored often and at length. There’s one on space, the human body, chemistry, animals, exploration, and geography. Tiny cartoon characters called the Brainwaves lead the reader in depth through each topic. In my mind, I keep seeing the illustrations made into jigsaw puzzles – there are dozens of the little characters on every page, telling facts, having funny interactions with each other, and generally being entertaining.
Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show. Is there any better way to learn making than from a kid your age?? Sylvia is sweeping the nation, with her step-by-step video-based making projects; a fabulous tween kid, she has the perfect blend of courageous go-getter-ness, intelligence, and goofy charm and was recently featured in People Magazine! Sylvia takes on challenging STEM-based projects, like rocket building and circuitry. Sylvia also has a YouTube channel. Also, you should check out her TEDx talk.
Monster Science series by Mark Weakland. This is one of my favorite new science series. In graphic novel format, the books use vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghosts and more to illustrate the basics of science. These titles definitely fall under the category of books that kids will read without your asking them to. The series includes Aliens and Energy, Bigfoot and Adaptation, Frankenstein’s Monster and Scientific Methods, Ghosts and Atoms, Mummies and Sound, Vampires and Cells, Vampires and Light, Werewolves and States of Matter, Zombies and Electricity, and Zombies and Forces and Motion.
Nova Science Now. This fun series of science documentaries are perfect for the whole family. From the website (they say it better than I could): “From the award-winning producers of NOVA, NOVA scienceNOW is a fast-paced and provocative science magazine show that highlights four timely science and technology stories per episode. Launched in 2005, the show is hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.” Man, we love Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Note: On this website, I only review resources and materials that I am passionate about. For several years, I gladly recommended the science unit studies produced by Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop, and in fact, several blog posts include references to these materials. However, I have recently discovered that McHenry both denies evolution and suggests that the jury is still out on the existence of climate change, and she shares these opinions in some of her curricula. These comments have undermined my confidence in all of the Basement Workshop teachings, and STEAM-Powered Classroom no longer endorses nor recommends those materials.
Cell Craft. A free, totally addictive video game that teaches players about the parts and functions of cells. Though the creators definitely took some artistic license (you find the organelles you need, and at one point our animal cell is given plant cell chloroplasts to generate more energy), the science behind most of the game is pretty accurate. The player must run the cell, making sure all organelles are doing what they need to do, and are getting the resources they need to thrive. Want to know more? Read about our experiences with it here.
DNA Replication and Transcription set by K’Nex. Eva’s comments: “Mom, it’s like Lego, only I’m building ME,” which is probably even more accurate than the website’s own description: “The K’NEX DNA, Replication and Transcription set is designed to aid in teaching the structure and function of the nucleic acid molecules that make up DNA (deoxyribonucleic acids) and RNA (ribonucleic acids)… Grades 5-12.” Eva couldn’t wait to work on it, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to identify the phosphates, sugars, and base pairs.
Build a Human Skeleton cardboard puzzle model. This isn’t a perfect kit; it doesn’t represent the skeleton completely accurately, and some of the steps are pretty difficult (we had to work together, especially for the skull). That said, we had a blast putting this thing together, and as Eva built it, we discussed the accuracies and inaccuracies of the model. It was super cool to build something that was as tall as Eva, and it made a great supplement to our studies of the skeletal system.
Kids’ Easy-to-Create Wildlife Habitats by Emily Stetson. Even as an adult, I love this book for it tempting ideas to get us all out in the yard and garden and up close to the animals. The ideas are easy and practical, but meaningful too, and will get your kids building and outdoors. Perfect for folks both in the countryside and in the city or suburbs.
Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song, or performed by Daniel Radcliffe, or performed by my own daughter Eva! I played the song for the kids during our chemistry study, just as a little fun extra. They both surprised me by insisting they memorize it themselves, and launched into challenging each other to learn verse after verse. The song sorts the elements solely on their linguistic merits, so you won’t learn groups this way. But it’s fun to watch!
The Periodic Table of Videos by University of Nottingham. This endlessly educational and entertaining online resource allows to you select any element of the periodic table and watch a discussion and experiment about it. But that’s such a dull description. Think periodic table meets Mythbusters! These scientists are hilarious, quirky, daring, and brilliant. They perform experiments you can’t do at home, nor in many labs. But you get front row seats as they blow things up, always explaining why. We love this resource!
Fizz, Bubble, and Flash! by Anita Brandolini. Whether or not you use Ellen McHenry’s Elements book (which I mentioned above), be sure to put this title on your shelf too. Great for upper elementary kids, Fizz, Bubble, and Flash walks you through the periodic table, making every step of the way fun and interesting. This is part of the Williamson Kids Can book series, and like the others, it’s packed full of practical, relatively easy, yet engaging hands-on activities.
What’s Chemistry All About? by Alex Firth. This book is well-organized, well-informed, and it’s beautiful to boot. Cute illustrations and clean, bright colors complement the text all the way through. It’s one you just want to pick up and read for the fun of it. There are several in this series, including one on physics and one on biology. Provide this as fun, basic text to build general understanding.
Code.org. This web-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to teaching people how to code. They are a coalition of sorts, cleanly offering a wide selection of online education options, like a buffet. Click on one, and you start immediately. Change your mind? No problem. From this plethora of options, you’ll be able to find something that appeals to kids and adults of all ages. For more about our experiences with Code.org, click here.
Physics and Engineering
Can You Feel the Force? Putting the Fizz Back Into Physics by Dorling Kindersley. Another winner from DK. Its format is similar to Why Pi – full of bright illustrations, and fun explorations of physics fundamentals. These books invite kids to peruse on their own. They make fabulous car companions. The library’s copy is floated around our house for weeks, alternately picked up by one kid and then the other.
EEME. Learn the ins and outs of circuitry with these fabulous kits sent to your door once per month. The kits, which are connected to super helpful YouTube instructional videos, have everything you need for hour-long projects that build on the knowledge you’ve amassed in previous months. This is one our favorite things. You can read our full review of EEME here.
Lego WeDo Education kit with software. I really want to love this set, which promised fun educational projects that explore early robotics mechanics and programming for the middle to upper elementary set. You build the Lego robots and connect them to the computer software (which teaches you to program) to make them run. If the software had worked for us, it would have been a dream. However, it kept crashing, leaving me spending hours on the phone with Lego technical services, rebooting, reinstalling, and downloading new versions. Though we did get some out of the package, we couldn’t complete it, and now it sits forlorn and unusable on our shelf. I will say that this experience is not universal. If it works for you, you will love it.
Lego Mindstorms. This robotics kit, on the other hand, produced for middle and high school ages (and really eager elementary kids), did work for us, and we were extremely pleased with the complexity and flexibility of the parts and programming. Be sure to pair this pretty expensive kit with the more affordable books The Unofficial Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Inventor’s Guide by David Perdue and The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots by Laurens Valk. Note: since our time with Mindstorms, they’ve released a new version, called EV3. This is the version that is most available now; from what I hear, it’s all Mindstorms NXT was and more.
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