Jack Challoner has been writing books about science and technology for more than 25 years. He studied physics at university and then trained as a science and math teacher, but spent a few years working in London’s Science Museum, and became hooked on explaining scientific ideas to people outside, rather than inside schools.
Jack loves finding out about stuff, and explaining things to people. He’s written more than thirty books, for all ages, including the new DK title Maker Lab, and he gives talks and demonstrations about science in schools, libraries and museums. He lives in England.
JC: All the projects in the book are things that I did myself as a child, or that I’ve done when I’ve visited schools. We chose them because they are fun, of course, and easy to do with stuff you can get your hands on easily – but also because they are really good at helping explain scientific ideas.
I certainly spent a lot of time trying all these things out, and yes lots of things didn’t make it in. I made an arch bridge using plaster of Paris and an egg box, for example. It worked really well, but it was a bit messy! There is a great bridge in the book: it’s a really strong truss bridge made with popsicle sticks.I also invented a wind-up car made of cardboard – but it was a bit too complicated to make. Not sure what I will do with that.
In the book, there is a great model that shows the structure of a molecule of DNA – which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, the chemical compound found in every cell of your body that carries instructions on how to make you). The model that appears in the book was version number seven, I think! Some of the other versions were a bit too complicated, or hard to make – or didn’t quite reflect the structure of the DNA molecule.
I have one (wonderful) daughter, who is 12. She and our next door neighbor did help a little – I had them testing things out and telling me which bits worked well. My daughter has grown up with a science enthusiast as a father, and she does get a bit fed up with me explaining things all the time (apart from that time we dissected an octopus!)
I really enjoyed being able to fill our kitchen with science experiments, and I enjoyed them all. I think my favourite was probably making sugar crystal lollipops, because the result looked beautiful and tasted great, too!
It’s wonderful to do hands-on activities. There is a famous saying that I really believe in. I think it comes from the Chinese philosopher Confucius: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” I think it’s really important to actually do these projects, not just look at the pictures. By doing them, kids can try out variations, and even perhaps experience something unexpected – that’s when a demonstration can become a true experiment.
It was pretty easy to make those connections, because the scientific principles involved in these experiments have applications in so many places – science is everywhere! And explaining them in kids’ terms? Well, that’s what I do!
I think we are relying more and more on technology in our everyday lives, and I think people are naturally curious. With the Internet, people can find out anything, and with a hands-on approach tied in, and a sharing of knowledge, it’s a perfect storm for getting everyone to find their inner geek. Oh, and prominent people like will.i.am being very enthusiastic about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) helps, too.
I think everything is pretty self-explanatory; you could let a kid just explore the book. Everything is laid out step-by-step and, I hope, clearly explained. And in fact, one of the things I would suggest is that while the kids can get hands-on, I think the adults can stay hands-off, and let the kids go through these things for themselves. Obviously be there – for the hot things and for encouragement and help if necessary. But understanding comes from within, and different kids will gain it at different rates – and, given time to experiment, and maybe even mess up a few times, they will learn more and enjoy more.
Having said that, I think educators (including parents) might also want to try some of these things themselves. Some of the experiments may be familiar to them, others not – but even I had fun trying them at home, and I’ve done them all lots of times!
Created in association with the Smithsonian Institution and supporting STEM education initiatives, Maker Lab includes 28 kid-safe projects and crafts that will get young inventors' wheels turning and make science pure fun. Requiring only household materials, young makers can build an exploding volcano, race balloon rocket cars, construct a solar system, make a lemon battery, and more.