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Ask Slashdot: Science Books For Middle School Enrichment?

timothy posted 1 year,5 hours | from the summer-reading-time-approaches dept.

Books 203

new submitter heybiff writes "It is the time of year where students are scrambling for extra credit assignments to boost grades. As a middle school science teacher, I want to accommodate them, while still keeping science involved; and book reports are a popular activity in my school. Unfortunately, I have only been able to come up with a short list of science related books that a 11-14 year old would or could read in their free time: Ender's Game, Hitchhiker's Guide. What books would you recommend as a good read for an extra credit book report, that would still involve a strong science twist or inspire a student's interest in science? The book must be in print, science related, fiction or non-fiction, and not be overtly objectionable or outright banned. I look forward to the submissions." "Outright banned" actually seems a rich vein on which to draw; note that not even Ender's Game is safe.

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IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526479)

Any of Asimov's robot books (most asimov really) make for excellent sci-fi intro books.

Re:IMHO (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526665)

Any of Asimov's robot books (most asimov really) make for excellent sci-fi intro books.

These books, and other sci-fi books, would be fine for extra credit in a literature class, but they are inappropriate for extra credit in a science class. Science is about facts, not fiction. But Asimov is appropriate. When I was a teenager I read dozens of his non-fiction books. I remember sitting in the back of my 10th grade biology class reading Asimov's The Wellsprings of Life [amazon.com]. That was the moment that biology "clicked" and I understood the genetic code, how "codons" worked, and it all made sense. I looked up at the teacher droning on, and wondered why they didn't just have everyone read this book.

Re:IMHO (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526859)

On the contrary, reading older science fiction and writing a report through a lens of 50 years in the future can be quite useful. What scientific elements of the fiction are true or nearly true today, what parts do we still think are clearly "impossible" (i.e. still science fiction), and which parts do you think might still go either way (and, of course, why)?

Re:IMHO (3, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527119)

On the contrary, reading older science fiction and writing a report through a lens of 50 years in the future can be quite useful.

Sure it is useful, and a really good choice for a literature class. But if a kid gets an "A" in chemistry, it should be because he understands chemistry, and not because he read Ender's Game. I read Ender's Game when I was a teenager. It is a good book. But I am unable to recall even a single iota of actual science in the book.

It is important to inspire kids. But they should get good grades for actually learning, and not for the process of "being inspired".

Literature NOT Science (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527351)

Reading science fiction might be a great exercise in English literature but it is not, in any sense of the subject, science. Frankly I despair for the kids' education if reading science fiction is their science teacher's idea of enhancing their science education. If you want to give them extra credit why not have them design an experiment to measure the acceleration due to gravity? or if they have done Hooke's law calculate the maximum height they can safely drop an egg attached to a spring from without the egg breaking. For biology you could do things like have them collect leaves and identify 10 species of plant X (where X could be trees, grass, etc.).

If you want to stick with books then at least insist on factually science books e.g. "Too Hot to Handle: The Story of Cold Fusion" by Frank Close for a real life story of science gone wrong. There a huge variety of books in similar veins ranging from the stories behind great scientific discoveries to books explaining modern scientific concepts to lay people. So please, please don't have them read fictional stories for science - I love science fiction myself but calling it science is the same as calling The Lord of the Rings history.

Re:IMHO (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526865)

And that's exactly why sci-fi books *are* appropriate. They might be light on, or even distort the facts. But at this age, interest and drive and passion for a subject is at least as important as the facts. They'll never get to the higher, nitty-gritty of science if they don't reach for it. Science fiction can give that interest, if, of course, chosen wisely and well.

Re:IMHO (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527127)

Appropriate, but for school? I certainly read SF at home, probably didn't reach much of anything else until college, but in school? Not so sure of that. Teach real science in school, Heinlein is for night time with the covers over your head and a flashlight (or whatever is the current equivalent, I wouldn't even want to hazard a guess).

Re:IMHO (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527259)

In my opinion, certainly appropriate for school. School isn't just for facts, figures, reading, writing and arithmetic. At its best, it's for inspiring. For igniting that light in the mind that asks "Why?" That is especially important in today's day and age, where it seems like everything is caught up in where your next paycheck is coming from, or if the next financial, political, geologic, hydrodynamic, or celestial disaster is just around the corner. After all... when's the last time many of us went out and even flew a kite with our children, letting them wonder and ask the questions about what keeps the kite up in the sky? I know it's been a very long time for me.

Re:IMHO (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527621)

And that's exactly why sci-fi books *are* appropriate. They might be light on, or even distort the facts. But at this age, interest and drive and passion for a subject is at least as important as the facts. They'll never get to the higher, nitty-gritty of science if they don't reach for it. Science fiction can give that interest, if, of course, chosen wisely and well.

but hitchhikers guide is just going to the other way. for a literature class it's fine, but it's not a ladder to nitty-gritty of science - it's a window to stupidities of modern life! star wars bounty hunter stories can too be very entertaining but they act more like a ditch than a ladder when getting real application of any science, hyperspace and all.

However, I do think that reading Verne, Asimov, Lem and other good oldies is good for perspective and for some of the books because they do portray the optimist scientific approach to problems. That's a real quality right there that Adams stories lack, which largely portray just a mad world where you just take a ride on chance.

Re:IMHO (1)

meerling (1487879) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526897)

Science Fiction can be very good at inspiring kids interest about science. It's lousy at teaching real science in most cases, because the ones that stick to 'hard science' tend to be boring, especially to an 11-14 year old.
There are a lot of books that would be a good fit, but it's going to be a while before I dredge up the names. It's been so long since I read them.

As a side note, having class discussions about the science involved in the fiction they just read is a good thing, and helps them relate it to real science, even if it does go into the speculative at times.

Re:IMHO (1)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526907)

Any of Asimov's robot books (most asimov really) make for excellent sci-fi intro books.

These books, and other sci-fi books, would be fine for extra credit in a literature class, but they are inappropriate for extra credit in a science class. Science is about facts, not fiction. But Asimov is appropriate. When I was a teenager I read dozens of his non-fiction books. I remember sitting in the back of my 10th grade biology class reading Asimov's The Wellsprings of Life [amazon.com]. That was the moment that biology "clicked" and I understood the genetic code, how "codons" worked, and it all made sense. I looked up at the teacher droning on, and wondered why they didn't just have everyone read this book.

Too true. There's almost nothing but Sci-Fi being recommended. I highly recommend posters engage in some reading of their own before recommending stuff.

Some good, thoughtful reading, which may not be easy to find in US book shops are the Science of Discworld Series, which bridge Terry Pratchett's fictional world magic with Round World science. It's good stuff.

Re: IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527335)

'Science is about facts'

So there is no place for competing theories, or hypothesis and extrapolation in Science? The world simply is. This is what you're saying?

Extra credit assignments (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526499)

Substituting irrelevant or busy work for mastery of a subject: the American way.

Re:Extra credit assignments (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526723)

Yes, Science Fiction is not Science.

The problem with my inferior school system is that all the extra credit stuff was just more useless garbage. Not so strangely it was also junk the teacher wouldn't have to spend valuable drinking time grading.

Re:Extra credit assignments (1)

mmcxii (1707574) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526941)

The problem with my inferior school system is that all the extra credit stuff was just more useless garbage.

Not true. This past weekend I was at a star party for my local club and there were about 20 total students up there doing extra credit work. My guess is that they were about 14-15 years of age. I got to help about a dozen of them myself, I did some basic stuff like the moon and Jupiter for them to see and they seemed pretty interested. Most of them asked questions about my telescope; what kind was it, some basic facts and figures about how it worked.

It was good to see some kids who weren't just running around the observing field like idiots even if it was for extra credit.

Some Suggestions (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526519)

First it's not quite clear by the title if you're looking for purely fiction so I will recommend George Gamow's "1, 2, 3... Infinity" for a pure science book that reads nicely (though be warned that some of the concepts like DNA are a little outdated). As for fiction, there's some great Bradbury like "Martian Chronicles" and I think Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov have some titles that might be accessible, Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron might be short enough but a bit too heavy ... actually I felt like I've answered this question before and I have [slashdot.org] you should just read that thread.

What about fun experiments that are easy... (1)

realsilly (186931) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526527)

Here is a site to a scientist,Robert Krampf, that I saw in person once. It was the best science show I ever saw, and definitely the most entertaining.
Maybe reach out to him through his site and see if he can recommend some good science books.

http://thehappyscientist.com/ [thehappyscientist.com]

One, Two, Three... Infinity (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526533)

This is probably the most readable treatment of some of the weirder parts of math you'll find. Very appropriate for middle schoolers, that's when I read it first, and that's a great age to show them that math isn't all arithmatic, and how it relates to science. Topics like Cantor's diagonal proof and general relativity are all accessible to middle schoolers with this book.

Re:One, Two, Three... Infinity (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527599)

Really good call, although some of Gamow's stuff is a little outdated. Not really sure why everybody else here is concentrating on fiction; I'd add The Tao of Physics, The Lives of a Cell, and The Blind Watchmaker. If you want fiction, The Diamond Age or Lord of Light.

Kuffar Submit! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526547)


You losers probably are too scared to honestly assess the above.

Douchebags, apologizers and mozzie sympathizers, not all of you no doubt, but far too many.

You make me fucking sick.

Re:Kuffar Submit! (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526695)

Nice try, Anon. None of us are going to load up a link from an obvious troll.

Re:Kuffar Submit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527139)

What is he "trolling", exactly? Looks like spam more than a troll.

The Number Devil (2)

j-beda (85386) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526559)

The reading level is closer to elementary school, but some of the math is fascinating to high school and above. It certainly could be used for an interesting math extra project. A great gift for kids:

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure [Paperback]
Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Author), Rotraut Susanne Berner (Illustrator), Michael Henry Heim (Translator)

ISBN: 0805062998

various Amazon links:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805062998/jbenterprises/ [amazon.com]
http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805062998/johannsbookst-20/ [amazon.ca]
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805062998/johansbooksparto/ [amazon.co.uk]

Hugo Award winners (1)

jackb_guppy (204733) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526569)

Hugo Award winners are always a good start. "Rite of Passage " is to me a good teen book. I gave it to my daughters.


Science fiction leads to diillusionment - for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526787)

I love science fiction. I read it all the time.

But, in reality science is a lot of drudgery - that's never mentioned in fiction.

Encourage kids to follow their interests. And don't hide the fact that It's hard. A lot of science is just drudgery - plain and simple Collecting, measuring, getting data ....

I think showing the outcomes to the drudgery may work. You got this data - now what.

I really don't think you can create scientists - they're born with this innate desire to find an answer to what they're looking for.

I hate data. I hate number crunching. BUT if I'm looking for something - then it becomes a completely different task - it's about solving a problem - it's a puzzle.

A Wrinkle In Time (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526581)

Great book that I read as a young teen.

Red/Green/Blue Mars (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526585)

The Mars Trilogy [wikipedia.org] is interesting, and it might be an interesting exercise to have them outline what parts (both technical and social) are currently possible, which might be possible in 10 years, and which are pure fiction.

Also, the "Connections" series by James Burke (also available in video form) are an interesting way of showing how technology evolves from need. You might have your students look at a few of them and then identify a current need and predict a few possible technological advances that may come of it.

Re:Red/Green/Blue Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526679)

The Mars Trilogy may not be entirely appropriate for 11-14 year olds to read. Quite a lot of sex and recreational drug use going on in there.

Re:Red/Green/Blue Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526895)

More specifically for those that haven't read them:
Red should be fine for 11-14 year olds, if possibly too heavy on the politics to be enjoyed.
Green won't go down well in parts of the US for being far too liberal/hippy/subversive and excessive recreational drug use.
Blue isn't suitable for minors (for book report purposes anyway) due to the descriptions of orgies.

To be fair, they get less enjoyable as you go through them too, Red is by far the best.

Re:Red/Green/Blue Mars (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526981)

PS - The video Trinity and Beyond [wikipedia.org] is a chilling yet enthralling science documentary of the [mostly US but some USSR] nuclear bomb programs. You might ask your students to guess how many bombs were set off in testing, and where. Give them this Google Earth KML [google.com] and show them all of the places and yields.

Couple of recommendations... (1)

TWX (665546) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526609)

I read Keeper of the Isis Light one afternoon while waiting in the library for the computer to finish doing something. It wasn't bad, discussed the nature of a colony planet through the eyes of an orphan raised by the household computer system after her parents' deaths and how she was different than the colonists that followed the beacon that her family was ostensibly there to maintain. It's not terribly complex, but passable after a fashion. It lacks the sexuality of many science fiction writers like Piers Anthony.

I also enjoyed The Bromeliad by Terry Pratchett. It's a three-part story about what turn out to be aliens that generations-ago crash-landed on Earth on what effectively was an away mission, and how they come to reclaim their ship and their original birthright.

Unfortunately I can think of a lot more fantasy than I can science fiction for the YA reader. Most scifi seems to head into mature themes that a teacher probably can't recommend to a twelve year old on account of parental objection.

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything (3, Interesting)

mongoose(!no) (719125) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526613)

It's really fascinating, and puts some historical context to the ideas they've been learning about. It's also written at a level to be accessible, but not dumbed down.

Re:Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everyth (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526847)

This is a great book, well worth the read and lots of good science related information in it.

Microbe Hunters, also Karl Kruszelnicki (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526633)

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif is a classic: http://www.amazon.com/Microbe-Hunters-Paul-Kruif/dp/0156027771. It tells the story of the beginnings of microbiology by telling the stories of the researchers (the "Microbe Hunters") who made the most important discoveries. The text is very accessible, with the scientists' stories dramatized in an exciting way. I think it should be OK for a middle school reader.

Apart from that, when I was that age I enjoyed books by Australian science writer Karl Kruszelnicki.

Your Ticket to the Universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526641)

This has proven to be a favorite with my 13yo niece and some of her friends. It might help that she knows the author - a local mom- but it's a fun and entertaining space book and has some great analogies in it: Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos (Smithsonian Books) http://yourtickettotheuniverse.com/

Chaos (1)

beschra (1424727) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526651)

Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick.

Non-maths guy, so his explanations and examples are approachable. Good jumping off point if it piques someone's interest.

The Martian (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526663)

I highly recommend The Martian, by Andy Weir. As an initial warning, there is some... "gritty" language in there, but I think that's keeping with the realism of someone who has been accidentally abandoned on Mars. A gripping read, science that is absolutely spot-on, and some genuinely funny moments as well. All available for the low, low price of less than a buck. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009IEXKXI [amazon.com]

It's a Brave New World (2)

a_big_favor (2550262) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526667)

Brave New World and War of the Worlds. Of course most of these books with science in them are going to be offensive and at some point banned by religious zealots.

Jules Verne (1)

m1ndcrash (2158084) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526693)

What happened to the classics?

Re:Jules Verne (1)

TooTechy (191509) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527003)

Abso - flaming - lutely.

Mod this UP.. .

"Journey to the Center of the Earth". Lot's of movies to be watched after and referred to in other movies.

Re:Jules Verne (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527551)

Mod this UP.. ."Journey to the Center of the Earth".

Yes - because we really want school kids to learn in their science class that the centre of the earth is populated by dinosaurs.

Re:Jules Verne (1)

mdfst13 (664665) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527531)

Not only Jules Verne. What about H.G. Wells? I'd also include Arthur Conan Doyle. Most of the science fiction in Sherlock Holmes has turned into science fact, but in some ways that actually makes it more relevant for your purposes.

More recent classics would include the Heinlein juveniles (almost everything he wrote before Strange in a Strange Land plus some of what he wrote afterwards) and (as others mentioned) the Asimov books. The robot series is more for programmers than scientists, but there's quite a bit of interesting science floating around Asimov.

Not classics, but the Tom Swift and Danny Dunn books are oriented towards juveniles and promote science.

A List (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526697)

  • Carry on Mr. Bowditch
  • Longitude
  • To Know a Fly
  • Life of the Bee
  • Flatland
  • Planiverse
  • King Solomon's Ring - Note the author's politics may make him objectionable.
  • Through the Looking Glass
  • The Violinist's Thumb
  • The Panda's Thumb

This is a joke, right? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526701)

You're giving out science fiction books for kids to do a book report for a science class?
I'd like more details on how you envision this working but if you're serious about this you may as well throw on The Bible, The Koran and The Bhagavad-Gita. Those books have just about as much science value as most science fiction books do.... if not more.
your kids should be reading science. If you want them to do reports have them take a science article and flesh it out into what the benefits of the cited research are to the man on the street.

Re:This is a joke, right? (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526825)

Now hold on. One of the tasks of teachers is to foster *interest* in science, as well as teaching science itself. Science fiction, along that line, is a very good mechanism for fostering that interest. Much science has been inspired, directly or indirectly, by science fiction, and many, many scientists have been ushered along that path by science fiction as well. Don't discount the power of story and narrative. The kids can learn the technicalities of science later. But they'll never get there if they don't have the passion for it.

Re:This is a joke, right? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527487)

yeah, so why go with grand scheme fantasy and humor fantasy scifi books then? why not go with something that's a bit more realistic and closer in scale?
because the guy had only read those? why not go with the real classics that display this, go Jules Verne. with Verne you have nice adventure stories with inventions that we have now since then made reality - from cars to electric helicopters - it gives perspective to how some inventions appear when the time is right and to how some ideas just aren't feasible(like shooting someone to the moon with a cannon - that would actually make for a good assignment, going through some story that Verne made and reasoning why the invention wouldn't be possible directly the way he portrayed it - because of science, bitches).

I literally laughed out loud when I read his short list, for speculation on what science might achieve scifi that's more recent than Verne there's plenty to choose from too, Stanislaw Lem, Asimov, Gibson etc. I mean, if those are the books he came up with then he's certainly in need of some help and could spend a nice summer reading himself. anyhow, if he wants to stick to science oriented scifi he should stick to books that are enabled by some speculation on science, as there's plenty of books that just use the scifi moniker in order to use fantasy devices to further the plot. there's a reason why in bookstores the shelf is usually titled scifi+fantasy - most "science fiction" books not having any scientific rules on the plot/world, it's just fantasy with dragons having different names..

SO IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT TECHNICALITIES! it's about the books having nothing to do with science! speculative fiction can be much more fruitful than DnD in space and much more inspiring.

My kids' reading list (3, Informative)

rwa2 (4391) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526717)

OK, so they're picture books. But the content is there, and is probably at a slightly higher level than middle school, but made clear and accessible.

David Macaulay "The Way Things Work" and such
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=David%20Macaulay [amazon.com]

Larry Gonick "Cartoon Guide to ..."
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Larry+Gonick&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3ALarry+Gonick [amazon.com]

Stephen Hawking has less pictures, but is surprisingly accessible
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Stephen+Hawking&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AStephen+Hawking [amazon.com]

The Phantom Tollbooth (1)

Lightsider01 (2174720) | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526719)

Not exactly science, but in keeping with the idea, "Learning is an adventure". And everybody loves the Humbug. ^_^

Any of the "Paul French" Asimov books (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526789)

The Lucky Star series are great books for kids that want to get some Science Fiction reading. Asimov wrote these for younger readers. My nephew really enjoyed them when he read them.


"Longitude" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526817)

Short book - about the tension between technologists (mechanical solutions) and scientists (astronomical solutions). The science is understandable and it is a great story.

look for something from the 60s (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#43526831)

For example Neutron Star by Larry Niven

"Nothing, but nothing, can get through a General Products hull. No kind of electromagnetic energy except visible light. No kind of matter, from the smallest subatomic particle to the fastest meteor. That's what the company's advertisements claim, and the guarantee backs them up. I've never doubted it, and I've never heard of a General Products hull being damaged by a weapon or by anything else."

But something does... and company hires an earth man to figure out what it is.

I remember reading this when I was about 10

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526873)

I read this one in college as part of a class on Douglas Adams, but I do not think that it is beyond the level of Middle school. It is a good ecology book, that talks about animal extinction and related topics. And it is filled with the Adams wit, so it is a fun read.

MIT Guide to Lockpicking (2)

dbc (135354) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526887)

Free download. Very practical. I suspect it will engage a fair number of middle-schoolers.

A Brief History of Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526899)

If you're going to give a reading assignment, why not make it worthwhile and fruitful?

Sci-fi is not Science, and you should not be blurring the line between them in your class. Our students are having a hard time with science education (especially compared to the rest of the developed world) partly because our teachers keep confusing children about what is science and what is fiction.

A Brief History of Time is readable to a middle school child, so long as our wonderful education system hasn't already failed them in learning their own goddamn language.

Relativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527471)

Another good one: "Relativity: The General and Special Theory", by A. Einstein.

It's still the most straightforward explanation of the whole thing that I've read, and it's approachable for anyone who can handle some basic algebra and Newtonian mechanics, i.e. eighth or ninth grade unless the standards have gone down since I graduated high school.

Open research (3, Interesting)

jbeaupre (752124) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526905)

My wife teaches advanced middle school science (7th and 8th). She rarely assigns or recommends reading material. She gives them subjects and turns them loose. This week it is to create egg-drop protection devices and create periodic table/fictional character trading cards. Here are some areas that she's seen the kids go crazy doing their own research:

1) Pick a genetic disease. Explain the symptoms, the mechanisms, and how is it genetically inherited. Unspoken is "Try to outdo your classmates."

2) Your town has a billion dollars and wants to build a nuclear power station. You've been asked to recommend what kind. Give a recommendation with evidence to support safety, reliability, fuel cycle handling, economics, probability of success, etc.

3) GMO's, stem cell research, nuclear power, global warming (etc, etc). Pick one of these controversial topics, research it, talk to your family, and come up with an opinion (for or against). Now write a letter to a government official explaining, with scientific rational, why they should make the policy decisions you believe are correct. My wife refuses to discuss her opinions on any of these topics to avoid biasing their opinions.

The last two were particularly powerful. Kids were amazed they were allowed to have an opinion. And she began doing these before teaching advanced science. She rigged classroom assignments to get all the special ed kids because she thinks they are more fun. She often had double the number allowed by state law, but her kids were outscoring other classes. Stats got noticed and advanced science classes were born.

Yes, I'm proud of my wife. And never prouder than the day she had to go to the emergency room for blowing up the lab! Epic!

Re:Open research (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527515)

Pick a genetic disease. Explain the symptoms, the mechanisms, and how is it genetically inherited. Unspoken is "Try to outdo your classmates."

What could possibly go wrong?

And never prouder than the day she had to go to the emergency room for blowing up the lab! Epic!

Answered my question, you did. Did they have to get the CDC involved?


What about... (1)

JasoninKS (1783390) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526909)

What about having the kids actually write a short sci-fi type story? A requirement being that at some point in their short story they must utilize some piece of actual science taught in class during the year? It would be a change of pace from another book report. You could possibly even work with their English teachers to have some credit given in those classes as well.


Just_Another (319311) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526945)

Robert A. Heinlein's "THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS" might be worth considering


Remus Shepherd (32833) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527523)

I also wanted to recommend The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Heinlein. It has excellent science content, from how rocks thrown off the moon can become deadly missiles when they fall to Earth, to moon base design, radar techniques, and AI. The only problem is that I can't remember how much sexual content there is in the book. I know there's some discussion of bigamy, but I forget what is and is not shown.

Larry Niven's early works (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526957)

World of Ptaavs, Protector, The Magic Goes Away, The Flight of the Horse (funny). They're a good read, suitable for even young teens, refer to numerous significant concepts, and oddly, the best conversations will come from picking out the flaws (e.g. Why are fossils NOT dragons that ran out of manna? How does fossil evidence disprove the main tenet of "Protector?, How do we know PSI doesn't work? What about time travel?). Hours of discussion.

best book ever (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526975)

my absolute favorite at that age was A Tale of Time City. I read about 300 books in 2 years back then and that's my absolute favorite. It's about a city that travels on type of the time cycle which is horse-shoe shape and they're approaching the gap and don't really know what to do. So they kidnap a girl from 1940's england or something like that because they think she's the legendary time witch who hides somewhere in the timeline or something like that. Turns out she's not but she can help find her. Then there's imprints showing up as ghosts all over the city from strong emotions in the past and rare ones guarded closely that are so strong and important, they're actually from the future. It's quite Dr Who, lol. Definitely the best freaking story ever and very entertaining to kids.

Dune (2)

bunbuntheminilop (935594) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526979)

The first book of the series. The depth of the ecology perspective surprised me when I read it the first time. There aren't many books that have a focus on planetary ecology.

Voyage of the Beagle (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526983)

I read this when I was about 14. Suitable I think for a strong student at that age.

It's Darwin's journal of the second voyage of the HMS Beagle. It would be very difficult for a student of that age to not be positively influenced by it.


Birth of a New Physics by I Bernard Cohen. This one is perhaps a bit less challenging.

Technical Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526985)

"Learning Web Design: A Beginner's Guide to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Web Graphics"

Emmy Noether bio (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43526991)


Aimed as the age range and one that'll highlight the historic lack of women in science/math(s).

THE LIST, or, what I wish I'd read by 17 (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527017)

Ishmael (Daniel Quinn)
1984 (George Orwell)
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (Richard Feynman)
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Richard Feynman)
Dancing Naked in the Mind Field (Kary Mullis, inventor of PCR)

Worldview expanding, all of them.

"The periodic table" by Primo Levi (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527031)

"The periodic table" by Primo Levi just about has to be on that list.

Also, GEB by Hofstadter which I note has a free online course offered by MIT aimed at highschool level students designed around it, possibly something to leaverage there?

"Cryptonomicon" by Stevenson has possibilities.


Michael Crichton? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527033)

By late elementary school I was reading Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and Sphere. Admittedly a lot of the science went over my head and took me a few rereads (and aging) to understand it, but a lot of the basic science in understandable and accurate (as is the message, particularly of Jurassic Park). These books helped nurture a real interest in science for me, to the point where my college choices were basically decided by the choice of internship I did in high school (biomedical engineering vs history: chose history because it was my real love, but my bank account really wishes I had chosen the former). So while I no longer pursue it, I am still very interested in science-related subjects. You get a nice little bit of evolution, genetics, biology, and math/physics as well (and it's cool to read Jurassic Park and see all the discussion about 80's era technology and computers). And kids always love dinosaurs.

Why books? (0)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527037)

Why not have the kids *do* something scientific rather than just reading fiction that is only superficially related to science?

Science projects are always really fun and a good way to get kids to learn about science.

I think even doing a "book report" on a youtube video describing scientific principles or recent scientific breakthroughs would be more productive than a report on a fiction book. I know youtube immediately seems less educational than a book, but this isn't English class. I watch youtube all the time on subjects like quantum physics, relativity, dark matter, etc. There are shows like nova and cosmos which are great for sparking people's interest.

Science text books (even the new ones) are about 10 years out of date, because it is important for science textbooks to have only very well tested science in them. However I think kids learning about current scientific trends and breakthroughs provides a very good insight into the scientific process.

Rendezvous with Rama (1)

awilden (110846) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527073)

Rendezvous with Rama is a mostly good book, and is certainly very strong with its science (though are debates [xkcd.com] he didn't get the Coriolis effects quite right). Unfortunately, there is a very brief page or so in the book that talks about having sex in zero-G that may make some people decide it's inappropriate for that age.
Having said that, it's got a lot less sex in it than the PG-13 films that the 13 year olds are seeing...

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2)

CQDX (2720013) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527083)

Some aspects of the novel related to science understandable for a teen: * How a submarine controls buoyancy * How the steam engines works * How electric propulsion works * How batteries work * Underwater breathing apparatus * How to make fresh water from sea water * Marine biology * Ethics of using advanced technology to harm

A couple of titles (1)

djl4570 (801529) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527091)

These might be a bit much for middle school kids. I'm not sure what they're capable of these days. Both are available on Amazon.
The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Leon Lederman
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

Carl Sagan's Contact (1)

The Barking Dog (599515) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527143)

If you're allowing the sort of sci-fi you mentioned, then Contact would be an excellent place for middle schoolers to start.

Also, Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It's a bit outdated considering it was written before we even visited the moon, but that's a point you ask them to write up in their report.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527159)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a great book for middle school kids. Okay its not heavy on the science but it does show a quite cynical view of technology and will teach them many things that are never covered in educational books. It teaches things the kids will come across in real life such as a solution(42) looking for a problem or how annoying trying to give a personality to a tool is (eddie the computer or in reality Clippy from M$). Further more there are many references to it in scientific circles and literature. But most importantly its fun!

Hal Gordon's _Divers Down_ (1)

WillAdams (45638) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527171)

has great engineering (including 2 definitions for the need to use to torque wrench --- one for a mechanic, the other for an engineer).

Also good discussion of work ethics.

Book Reports?! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527301)

What the hell is this dribble? What the hell do 'book reports' have to do with science. "Only in America" the rest of the world groans again.

Did you know that in every other country, the so-called 'liberal arts' are NOT (repeat not) a compulsory part of education post 16-years. Younger than that, and there is no shame in separating the subjects. English lit is English lit, not some sneaky trojan horse working in science or sociology.

People should read for fun. Book reports are DESIGNED to significantly decrease the numbers of students who will want to read for fun. Universal education is designed to dumb down betas, to make them compliant and predictable. Universal education is designed to leave alphas mostly untouched/undamaged (although the general crapiness of the universal education system will lead alphas to draw various unhappy conclusions).

"and not be overtly objectionable or outright banned"? The cry of every teacher trained to condition betas. Do the librarians of the USA (the library movement is one of America's finest moments) agree with this principle? No, they most certainly do not. It is universally recognised that if you willingly read, you should be entitled to read whatever you wish, without censorship. Reading is NEVER the same as sitting and passively watching video, or listening to radio. Reading requires a level of intellect and concept processing that censorship is a non-issue. If you are smart enough to read, you are smart enough to self-censor, and never need an outside authority telling you what is suitable. And YES, this applies to people as young as 11, and most certainly applies to people in their teens.

True story. In English (at 12) the teacher read us a SF short-story about children put to death by the state for being too smart/curious. He asked us all if we had read the story before. My hand went up. The reason for his question lay in the fact that the story had first been published in Playboy magazine. He changed his mind about pursuing his question- I was seen as one of the quiet/nice/butter-wouldn't-melt kids. I had read the story in a collection of SF-shorts previously published in Playboy that I had borrowed from the library. I was amused that this teacher never asked to discover the truth.

PS I hope you all realise the reason that the owners of Slashdot encourage that massive 'APK' spam post to deface every conversation here is to ensure none of you want to browse at an uncensored score of '-1'. This way, the owners of Slashdot can effectively censor whatever comment they like by ensuring it is scored '-1', making it invisible to even those of you that would read the whole conversation, if it were not for the pain of being exposed to massive spam posts. Nothing happens by accident.

PPS "extra credit"- puke. I am proud to say my reading during my time at school was my personnel choice for my own enlightenment, and never linked to any beta-concept of 'extra credit'. Reading is its own reward. I guess I should also say I hate the concept of 'teen' targeted writing. You are a child, or you are an adult when it comes to reading. Crossing that line is a beautiful moment. For me it happened at 11ish. for some it will occur earlier, for others later. Dumbed down writing for 'teens' is a disgusting concept.

Fred Hoyle - The Black Cloud (1)

RDW (41497) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527323)

Fred Hoyle's 'The Black Cloud' is one of a select group of novels that manage to combine convincing science and a classic SF situation (intelligence is discovered in a dust cloud that envelopes the earth). I read it at about that age, and learnt a few things about how science is done, like the importance of testing theories by prediction. Dawkins is a fan, and wrote the Afterword to the current edition:

"But the real virtue of The Black Cloud is this - without ever preaching at us, Hoyle manages, as the story races along, to teach us some fascinating science along the way: not just scientific facts, but important scientific principles. We get to see how scientists work and how they think. We are even uplifted and inspired."

It dates from the late 50s, and was a period piece even when I read it (punch-tape computer programs, etc.) but should retain enough geek appeal to make it interesting today.

Recent review here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/23/black-cloud-fred-hoyle-review [guardian.co.uk]

What about your local library? (1)

oxnyx (653869) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527375)

One the best ideas I would do is to visit the local public library and the school library and talk to the librarian. (Aka not the person checking the books but with a desk and likely a catalog of books handy) That way you know the books are accessible and don't have to worry about the kids not having the money. They might not only know what books they have in but more importantly YOU would be about to ensure they know that this is something that might come up again next year so they BUY books targeted to meet such needs. Running a library isn't a one way thing. If nothing else you can then spend some happy time looking at all the books and see if anything looks good. In the mean time: - For the highly Regulus: The Cross and the Abacus ->More math than science but very interesting. -The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 ->Not a long book but one chapter might make a good report

Summer books (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527429)

Mr Tompkins in Wonderland by physicist George Gamow, or the updated The New World of Mr Tompkins by George Gamow and Russell Stannard. I must have read the original at least a dozen times as a teenager.

Robert L. Forward (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527537)

Dragon's Egg - decent neutron star physics and a decent story.

"To Know A Fly" (1)

Jon.Burgin (1136665) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527559)

It is not science fiction, rather actual science, but very short, easily digestible, and interesting read. Yes it is about house flies. I found it interesting. I find it a little disturbing that you think you have to result to absurd science fiction to make science interesting. Hitchhiker's guide is a great fun book, but it isn't science.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527567)

This is the book that first led me in the direction of a career in computer science. Although it has its flaws, it's a really interesting and playful introduction to some of the bigger concepts in computer science.

Come to think of it, I read it in high school, but I think it might appeal to the particularly precocious nerdy middle-schoolers.

Divers Down! and Harold Leland Goodwin (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527625)

The problem is a lot of books written for this specific purpose are out of print or lost to the ravages of time. Divers Down! for example, is an excellent book that deals with ocean engineering and mechanical engineering with a story that an 11 or 14 year old is actually going to be able to relate to. Another possibility is "Falling Free" by Lois Mcmaster Bujold which does a good job in orbital welding engineering while also telling an exciting story. Partly, the question is, how sophisticated is the given 11 to 14 year old? Honor students will have been exposed to different types of influences when compared to other students who may be reading at a different level (not to be un PC).

Red Thunder, by John Varley (1)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527627)

'Red Thunder' is a relatively recent series of sci-fi novels by John Varley, written with a young adult audience in mind. Varley avoids the adult content of his usual works -- there's even a character in the book who forbids the children from swearing -- so I'm sure it could pass muster for middle school.

The plot of the books is rich in science content and wonder. An autistic inventor and his brother discover a new power source, and a gang of young kids decide to build a rocket using that power so that they can be the first on Mars. There's a lot of opportunity in this book for teaching kids about air pressure, spaceflight, and the logistics of building a (small) space program.

Here's a link to a bunch of reviews of Red Thunder. [worldswithoutend.com] I have not yet red the sequels so I can't vouch for whether they'd be okay for middle school students, but I believe Varley intended the entire series to be teenager-friendly. (You might want to warn them that the rest of Varley's books can be very adult, however.)

Brian Greene (1)

gander666 (723553) | 1 year,4 hours | (#43527629)

The Elegant Universe
The Fabric of the Cosmos

Anybody who can use The Simpsons to illustrate special relativity is a win in my book. Both should be tractable by a motivated middle school student.

I would avoid SciFi. Not a lot of true science in there.
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