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October 20, 2006

best science book EV-ER

my science books (nonfiction)

I'm showing something quite personal here, the science section of my bookcase. Non fiction above, fiction below (children's books have thier own set of shelves). It's small - I try to keep the number of books I actually own down, I move too often. Every now and again I look through the books and ask myself "do i want to keep this?".

Reasons for owning a book are often practical and/ or personal (they were gifts, I've annotated a copy for study, I think it'll be useful in future...) but in some ways it is also indicative of my personal taste, of what I think makes a good science book.

The question of what makes a "good" science book was addressed at an RI/ Imperial college event last night. And the winner is *drum roll* Primo Levi's The Periodic Table.

Three speakers (Tim Radford, Armand Leroi, Sara Abdulla) discussed their criteria for what makes a "good" science book and suggested a few of their favourites. Then the audience (mainly from Imperial, I think) put forward a few of their own, and discussed the issue further before voting.

science books (fiction)

But the REALLY interesting bits were all the references to children...

None of the three speakers mentioned children's books. But Armand, although mentioning books for an adult aduience, talked about them ias ones he enjoyed as a child, and finished by saying that his favourite book (King Solomon's Ring, by Konrad Lorenz) "has a childlike wonder that is the essense of science... which a scientist should keep throughout his life". He later argued that books which are for adults but with the "simplicity" that makes them available to young people were some of the best. When it came to Sara's selection, she chose two plays with key children characters - Brecht's Life of Galileo and Stoppard's Arcadia. In fact she read quotes from the 9 year old girl in Arcadia throughout her presentation. Other's also mentioned books they liked as a "teenager".

So a good science book must be for grownups, but have a childlike quality? There is something in this, I'm sure. In fact I know, because I'm planning on doing a whole chapter on my thesis about the use of the child in images of scientists... But it was nice to see this idea at play someplace other than my own notes.

I couldn't think of a "best science book" for kids to suggest. But then I'm rubbish at saying I like anything "best". An audience member mentioned Flatland though, which is an interesting one.

October 17, 2006

National Science Week scheme

This is a scheme to support researchers 'who wish to engage the public with issues relating to science and engineering' -- though I've only just heard about it and the deadline is October 20th! (Why don't they just circulate the newsletter a bit earlier… )
'The RCUK Science in Society Unit announces its award scheme to support public engagement activities in National Science and Engineering Week 2007 (9 - 18 March)' more info here.

October 10, 2006

BSLS

Call for papers - Second Conference for the British Society for Literature and Science.

Anyone want to work out a panel on kid's books with me? We ended up having one last year, because there happened to be three papers on the subject but they were VERY different papers. Really interesting (it was the best panel by far, and I know I'm biased) but not that coherent.

October 6, 2006

And now, the periodic table in oil paints

Alice's post about Brainiac reminded me of the scores of other kids' shows that specialise in make-based learning, by showing experiments, recipes or art projects of varying quality and educational value… (I should note that Brainiac claims the exact opposite, that we are not supposed to imitate their stunts.)
It got me thinking about a project I will teach at Reading in mid-November, which I am still working on, but which will broadly involve design for science instruction, for active learning. It will involve information design and book design, to create 'book-like objects' demonstrating scientific principles through experiment or activity.
Through thinking about the possibilities for this project, it occured to me that drawing is an under-developed resource in this genre. Why not use drawing, which requires re-iteration of knowledge, to teach? So many basic concepts in the sciences are inherently visual. Drawing, for example, a close-up of an animal cell, or a cross-section of the earth with layers, or an atom… this seems to have some potential, by involving readers through curiosity for the subject or a penchant for drawing. Similarly, it would be nice to see some of these TV shows bridge the gap between science and the use of 'art' in make-based learning: illustration, painting, and other media.