Review: Science Through Stories by Chris Smith and Jules Pottle

science through stories

This review was forwarded to us by our friends at Footprint Books, who handle our distribution in Australia and New Zealand. Many thanks to them. This review was written by Peter Hope for Let’s Find Out.

I am sure that, like the majority of classroom teachers, the use of a story to introduce a topic is quite common. Books such as Who Sank The Boat? by Pamela Allen led into many exciting discoveries by my classes around the concept of forces and floating and sinking. The book’s text was complemented by the excellent graphics and allowed the students to see the boat’s position on the water surface as each animal entered the boat. The discussion about the poor mouse being blamed went on for a long time (by the way I have used this book from Preps through to Year 6 with similar levels of interest). The resulting “lesson” went on for weeks as my class kept bringing things into the room to see if they would float or sink – such is the power of linking literature with science.

The challenge has always been to find suitable texts and the book I am reviewing answers that challenge quite well. It is based on the English Storytelling School approach to teaching, which is outlined in the first twenty pages. The author’s favourite way of telling and improvising stories –Hear, Map, Step and Speak (HMSS) –is explained clearly. The book contains a collection of engaging stories chosen to introduce and explore the world of science. A mixture of traditional tales, historical stories and stories that have been specially written for this book are presented in the different science categories. The stories have been classroom tested and after each story their are suggestions as to how each one can be used to broaden the children’s learning experience. The interesting thing is that the authors have listed the stories in order of difficulty rather than attributing a grade level. This recognises that children’s learning levels can be over a range of levels within the same class and that teachers will be able to easily access and adapt a story to suit the interest level and skills of their group.

There are 29 stories in the book, arranged into biology, chemistry and physics chapters. Each story begins with a short introduction which includes a synopsis of the plot as well as some relevant science links. The story then follows and after that are suggestions on ways to work the story, ideas for extending the science concepts in the story as well as curriculum links to other areas. A good example of this is the chemistry chapter about the Uses of Materials with the story The Fairy Godmother’s Day Off (this is a comic alternative to the Cinderella Story). The apprentice Godmother handles the dress and clothes transformations well but has no experience to make the coach so an exploration of available materials is undertaken until a suitable solution is found. I can see that this would turn the children’s imagination on and that they would begin to suggest suitable materials to make a strong, waterproof coach. The suggestions from the authors have the students identifying materials  around them, sorting them, testing them to see if they are waterproof, cutting paper, testing for strength and folding and bending materials. Other curriculum areas identified with links to the story are reading (both fiction and non-fiction), music, design/technology, life skills and history.

What a fantastic resource for integrating storytelling into science teaching. I would highly recommend it to all primary teachers as it brings together in one volume such a diverse range of stories suited to teaching science.

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