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Making More Hands-On Science

By David, 15 October 2020 Update

A book, some sticks, rubber bands, dice and a pair of safety glasses

Our new book is packed with 50 fun activities!

This month, CSIRO released its latest collection of favourite hands-on activities for kids. The Double Helix editorial team explains the thinking, splashes, scares and surprises they encountered while testing their new book: More Hands-On Science.

Why is it important for young readers to do hands-on science activities?

David: Science isn’t just in the classroom, in science textbooks or on slick science TV shows!

Jasmine: Of course, science is all around us in our everyday lives. These hands-on activities give readers the chance to discover it for themselves.

Reading and listening are great ways of learning, but it’s also important to be doing. Learning through play helps young readers discover the difference between theory and practice, and allows them to ask questions along the way.

It also helps young readers imagine themselves as scientists. That’s the first step in considering a career in science.

Kath: The ‘wow’ factor that comes from seeing the results of your own activity or experiment just can’t be produced through reading – getting hands-on is the best way for kids to really experience science for themselves. Plus, figuring out what to do to change or improve the experiment develops great problem-solving skills!

A man blowign into a cotton reel

David tries out a novel form of levitation

Where do you get your activity ideas from?

David: We get our ideas from all kinds of places. We’re really lucky at Double Helix to be standing on the shoulders of giants. Double Helix has been around in one form or another for decades, and those activities still hold up. Some of them definitely need an update though – it’s much harder to get your hands on a film canister these days!

Jasmine: Often we’re looking at the news stories coming through, and trying to find ways of explaining the latest science using items from around the home. The Smartphone jelly lens in More Hands-On Science was inspired by research happening at the Australian National University.

David: I have a fascination for dubious life hack videos on YouTube. Plenty of them are completely terrible, but I think there are a few activities in this book, such as the Rainbow paper and Reverse drum that were inspired by a slick, fake YouTube clip.

And plenty of activities come from just playing around. The Sticky sock walk was inspired by a grass seed, and the Can spin was something I came up with playing around with marbles and possibly a couple of rolls of sticky tape!

A womann blows through a straw into some blue water

Jas sports some safety goggles while making carbonic acid

How do you test for safety? Does it ever go wrong?

David: We take safety very seriously. We start with a discussion, where we try to imagine what might go wrong. For example, we were considering a helium balloon in a car activity, but it needed a rethink when we realised the balloon would probably end up floating in front of the driver.

We test activities thoroughly, remembering that kids are still developing their coordination. All kinds of things pop up at this stage – getting splashed with a little boiling marmalade was a bit scary, but not quite as bad as the time I set a battery on fire trying to make an electromagnet! We throw out or adjust activities that don’t pass testing.

We also do plenty of research, particularly with our chemistry activities. Prussian blue pigment doesn’t sound very scary, but ferric ferrocyanide sounds downright deadly. Turns out, it’s not too bad, and with the right precautions, you can use it to grow some wonderful crystals.

Jasmine: This testing process helps us select the correct safety icons, as well as the messages we write to let young readers know what hazards to look out for.

We also keep an eye out for anything that might be an environmental hazard, for example, checking if paper straws will work instead of plastic ones.

A child makes a zig-zag of sticks

We test all our activities thoroughly

For beginners, which science activities would you recommend they start with? And what about for the more advanced?

David: Hearing hot chocolate is quick, easy and musical. Plus, when you’re finished, you have a hot chocolate to drink!

If you have a fidget spinner or two in the back of a drawer somewhere, there are a couple of simple illusions in the book that take about 30 seconds to do. You won’t believe the Fidget fun you’re having.

For science experts, I’d recommend Crystal trees. It’s the best crystal growing experiment I’ve ever done, and there are some interesting chemicals involved.

And for a crafting challenge, Make a coin sorter. The sshhh *pause* KLUNK as coins slide, fall and land in the correct cup is super satisfying.

A woman against a rural background

Kath’s keen eye makes the text sparkle!

What’s a quirky fact you discovered writing this book?

David: Cows burp ten times more than they fart! And since burps and farts are both packed with a greenhouse gas called methane, there are a whole lot of scientists trying to work out how to stop cows from doing it.

Kath: I had the fun job of coming up with all the quiz questions and fast facts, so I learnt a lot of cool things. I think my favourite was discovering that a French company had used wind turbine ball bearings to make a giant fidget spinner that was 1.6 metres wide. That’s one big spin!

Cover of More hands on science book

More Hands-on Science includes 50 Double Helix activities for you to try at home. Plus, it has fast facts and quiz questions to test your knowledge! You can purchase your copy from the CSIRO Publishing website or through your local bookstore.

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