[Editorial Note: Amy, whose blog entry appears below, is one of several "Science Moms" at Science Buddies!]
We love our math and our science and our computers in our house, and when we see a description of a coin launcher made from a toilet paper roll and a piece of leftover balloon, it sticks in our heads until we try it. (Of course, concerned about the relative weight of a coin flying through the air at slingshot speed, I did advocate the launcher be tried with small LEGO bricks instead to minimize breakage and injury!) Risk of projectile damage aside, we enjoy our gadgets and a healthy number of "let's-see-how-or-if-it-works" moments, but we also love to read. Books, books, and more books line our shelves, spill out over the sides of buckets and baskets, peek out from under the seats in the car, and weigh down our bags when we travel.
My boys are three years apart, and so we've cycled through a few series entirely, twice. Some of those are elementary cult classics in their own rite. The A to Z Mysteries and The Magic Tree House series are two series that we read, start to finish, and then again. Other series have had transient roles in our out-loud reading. Geronimo Stilton, Cam Jansen, Horrible Harry, Jigsaw Jones.... We've read them.
If you're noticing a trend toward mysteries, you're right. Statistically, it's been the most popular read-aloud genre in our house this year. That doesn't mean we haven't read scads of other things. We have. But a great mystery series... can be golden, and I've spent a lot of library trips scouring the shelves looking for another series that will catch first-grade attention, inspire, excite, and tide us through another set of weeks of bedtime reading.
A Lucky Find!
When I stumbled over a Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives book by Michelle Torrey, I was thrilled to find another "mystery"-styled series that, like Jigsaw Jones and Cam Jansen, features two students (one male and one female) who have hung up their shingle as detectives. As soon as I started, I realized there is something special about these—especially from the science angle and for a Science Mom!The first story I read told the tale of a fellow classmate (not the most likable girl) who calls for help because, basically, she's stuck in a laundry chute where she fell trying to grab her phone as it fell in. After checking things out on the scene, Doyle and Fossey head back to their "lab," do a bunch of research, draw up some diagrams, form their hypothesis, put together a plan, and then head back to, basically, create a small baking-soda-and-vinegar-inspired explosion to blast her free. Case solved, scientific explanation offered by the detectives, payment made in full (though not in money), and they are on to the next case. (Each book contains several different cases to solve.)
I've read a number of the Doyle and Fossey Science Detectives lineup since, and I love that the stories themselves are full of science and serious kids who do their best thinking in their lab, apply science to every problem, and take their decaf coffee black (no hot chocolate, thanks). Doyle's got wild, stand-up hair that is the color of cinnamon toast, and he's often found monitoring his own experiments and recording his observations in his lab notebook. Nell Fossey, on the other hand, is a naturalist, with a jungle-esque bedroom full of aquariums, terrariums, and cages. To add to their innate interest in scientific investigation, the duo is lucky to have parents with skills and jobs that fit perfectly into supporting and encouraging their young detectives, and they have an amazing reference book that always has the perfect chapter to help guide their scientific problem-solving when they are faced with a new case.
In the Name of Hands-On Exploration
In the back of each book, there are tips and brief hands-on experiments that give students and families a bit more information about the science that played a part in the cases—and a way to test the concepts in an age-appropriate way. Each "Activities and Experiments for Super-Scientists" back-section is in the neighborhood of 20 pages, and some of the basic info appears in each volume. In addition to fun activities, these pages cover things like the importance of a lab notebook (and how to use one), the scientific method, and hypotheses. All of these science "staples" are things you see Doyle and Fossey use and do—and they are cool doing it! The projects themselves (which tie in with the stories in each book) offer an easy starting point for families to begin talking with elementary students about principles of science. For example, one volume contains a mystery that centers upon static electricity (and a poor, hungry cat). In the back of the book, there is a related "shocking" activity.
I like the short projects lend themselves nicely to deeper exploration through the Project Ideas at Science Buddies. Parents interested in doing hands-on science projects with their students will find a handy list of projects that use readily-available materials in the Parents section of the Science Buddies website.
(Note: The Doyle and Fossey books are marketed for grades 3-5.)