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The Exploratorium Guide to Scale and Structure--Activities for the Elementary Classroom

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Ronald Skeete

Structure—Activities for the Elementary Classroom The Exploratorium Guide to Scale and Structure provides a strong framework for this big idea in physical science. With a knowledgeable instructor and the correct age group (I recommend sixth graders), this curriculum will take the class on a fun-filled journey into scale and structure. It is rich in content and gives clear guidelines and helpful hints to maximize learning.
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This book is a good resource for afterschool science instruction—rich in physics, math, and engineering. The level of science information is high, and the concepts and definitions are elaborated upon in different ways to ensure understanding—so much so, that if you do not have a science background, you'll have to spend a lot of time learning the material before you can use it. Consequently, in certain afterschool situations it may not be user-friendly—particularly for programs ambitious enough to include science exploration but lacking the staff to implement it properly.

Scale and Structure is a good tool for teaching physics, math, and engineering. I would recommend that it be used in an enrichment program, such as an Engineers of Tomorrow Club. I can easily see how its exercises could make for hours of educational fun, and it's 100% hands-on, which is always a plus.

The book's initial “Introduction” and “Teaching” sections were exceptionally helpful. Often, this type of curriculum gets right into the exercises without first explaining the concepts or the "implementation issues" one may come across while teaching a class. I was also encouraged by the author's focus on exploration, rather than mastery, of concepts and terminology.

There are a number of areas—specifically, the physics concepts—that will be too advanced for the elementary school student. Although these younger students will be able to complete the exercises and enjoy them, I'm not confident that they will grasp the ideas behind the exercises as completely as intended by the writer. (For example, the "spherical fulcrum" discussed in one exercise, will be quite difficult for elementary school students to understand). A "key" alongside each exercise gives a timeframe and preparation tips; I would recommend that it also include a section specifying an age or grade range with which the activity would be most successful.

Many students could have a great time with the exercises in this book. However, because of my extensive background in the urban afterschool setting, I'm concerned that these activities will fail without the proper instructor. There, the staff may be high school or college students. They are not generally teachers, and if they are, they are not science teachers. In addition, although Scale and Structure makes a good effort to conserve materials and time, these types of programs often do not have the budget or the schedule to fully implement all of the exercises.

Scale and Structure is definitely suitable for repeat use. Particularly in science, students can learn something new each time they do an experiment.