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Square Wheels and Other Easy-To-Build, Hands-on Science Activities

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Ronald Skeete

From beginning to end, this book was a wonderful experience. The "snackbook" name is appropriate: instructor as well as students will enjoy its "tasty" activities, and come back for more.
Full Review:
This book is one of the best science curricula I have ever read—for day school or afterschool instruction. Even as an adult reader with a nonscientific background, I found myself wanting to do all the activities on my own. If my teachers had used this book when I was learning physics, I would probably be an engineer today.

Square Wheels is content rich, but doesn't bog users down with useless jargon. To ensure understanding, it elaborates concepts and definitions in more than one way, and it breaks down information to keep it fun and informative. Instructors of various levels of experience and backgrounds (science and nonscience) will be able to implement these activities.

Square Wheels uses pictures impeccably: each one is detailed and engaging. In one activity, "Saltwater Pentacell," a cartoon shows a young Galvani at dinner, excited about using the cell to make his frog legs run, instead of eating them. (Perhaps you have to see it to get it, but the excitement expressed in the picture is equivalent to what you will experience using this book.)

At the beginning of each activity is an easy-to-hard rating scale that helps instructors decide where and with whom the activity will work the best. The sections headed "So What," "Did You Know," and "Going Further" explain each activity's concept in multiple ways to ensure understanding and make readers want to learn more. The book is alive with interesting facts and historical references. A great "extra" is the National Science Content Standards in the back, clearly laying out the content matter covered by each activity. What instructor could ask for more?

Square Wheels is so user friendly that I believe the right instructor could adapt some activities for students in kindergarten. Older students could use it even without an instructor. As a matter of fact, if I were using it for a class, I would begin by giving students the book and asking them to pick their own project.

Square Wheels makes an effort to be economical in the materials and time needed for the activities. Although, the activities rated hard would require a good bank of money and materials, the medium to easy activities balance them, so that I believe instructors will not mind the materials investment required for the hard activities.

Square Wheels is almost like a good novel—in the sense that it can be passed down from generation to generation and still not lose its luster. It is definitely suitable for repeated use; I can easily see students practicing these same activities with friends outside of the classroom.