Floating, sinking, swimming

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
THE WHIZ KIDS: Tell me how ships float; Tell me how fast it goes. By Shirley Willis. BookHouse pound;4.99

The Whiz Kids are seven children who introduce young readers to scientific phenomena in a child-friendly way. Each book focuses on a particular aspect of science, answering the question in its title: "How do ships float?" or "How fast is it?"

For teachers the books support the national curriculum at key stage 1, provide ideal reader material for literacy and encourage children to investigate for themselves.

For children they are fun and attractive, well laid-out with many excellent illustrations and different styles and sizes of text. Each book has a contents page and a series of two-page spreads, each dealing with a question, plus a glossary and an index.

Scientific ideas of floating, sinking and speed are not easy to understand for any of us. But both these books make a very creditable attempt to explain to young readers not only what happens, but why.

For instance, the pages on ships floating suggests floating a heavy pot on water. It then suggests that the air inside the pot makes it light enough to float.

We know that children's natural explanations at this age tend to use ideas of weight and heaviness, and it is a good idea to start more scientific explanations there. The next page builds on the page before - it uses the strength of the water's upthrust as an explanation.

Teachers interested in how to change children's understanding towards a more scientific one could use these books for very profitable discussion.

Carolyn Boulter is a researcher at the Institute of Education and a consultant to teachers involved in classroom research

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