Friday, January 30, 2015

Magic School Bus Science Kits

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This year, science has been what seems like entirely too easy. Mad Natter received several Magic School Bus kits for his birthday, and so we've been working through them one experiment at a time. As a result, I'm in the position to pass along what we've learned about these kits, having gone through three bus-style kits already, with two box-kits to go.

The first thing is the kit itself.  Both the boxes and the buses are well put together, and contain a fair number of experiments, as well as the majority of the supplies needed to carry out those experiments. The most difficult of the supplies to have on hand thus far have been "red or orange leaves" and "bananas" both of which are relatively difficult to come by in the northern hemisphere in December and January.  Overall, though, the things you end up needing are things like corn starch, vinegar, sugar, salt, baking soda, bread, yeast... Things that are, in general, not too difficult to come by.

The experiments are given on individual cards, which have the procedures on the front, including a prompt for the kids to give their hypotheses, and the results on the back. I have found that, more often than not, everything is phrased such that it's easy to understand - the experiments are easy to complete, and the results-analysis at the end is easy for Mad Natter to understand, reword, and use again. The primary problem we've run into with the cards for the set has been that they don't always include everything they should. For example, on card #50 (chemistry) "Make a Volcano," the materials listed are:
2 pieces of construction paper (from home)
tape (from home)
liter plastic bottle (from home)
measuring cup (from home)
flour (from home)
water (from home)
newspaper (from home)
black paint (from home)
paintbrush (from home)

From there (I swear, this isn't an honest representation of how many things are needed from home on all the cards, usually it's only 1-3 items!), the method section #1 reads:

1. Tape the bottom of the bottle to the middle of the inside of the shoebox top.

Wait, a shoebox top?!?  I don't HAVE a shoebox top, I didn't know I was supposed to have a shoebox top. It's not in the materials list.  That happens enough to be annoying, but not often enough to really knock the box in the reviews, if that makes sense. Usually it's something little that came with the kit that gets left off - the measuring spoon to stir, or their measuring cup to measure, something along those lines. But once in a while there's something like this, that I just don't have that item on hand, that gets me, and I have to postpone the experiment. For building and exploding a volcano, I'm perfectly okay with waiting until "do this outside" weather, though, so it's not as awful as it could have been - particularly if I'd mentioned it to Mad Natter before I'd checked the list.  Yikes.

However!  All told, the experiments are easy for Mad Natter to complete on his own, though I do jump in to do them with him because he likes me to. The kits recommend adult supervision, which is good, but they're also done in a very "Welcome to Ms Frizzle's class!" sort of way, which is incredibly friendly for the kids.  The debate over whether or not I should be mildly terrified by the appearance of Ms Frizzle as compared to River Song, however, shall be another day's debate.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these to anyone looking for an experiment-based science plan. I'm planning to order one or two more for next year, even. However, I do suggest that you read the directions before you try to start the cards (or before the kids get the cards!) just in case of shoebox lid incidents. It's not a bad idea to preview anyway, but making it a formality helps. We don't use the data notebook here. Mad Natter's fine motor skills are still well behind his thinking skills, and the fact that he isn't capable of drawing photo-quality representations of what he sees sends him straight to meltdown central. However, we do have a discussion after each experiment, and it's really been good for him to talk through some of the things he thinks, and his reasoning, as well as why some things wouldn't work, while others would.

TL;DR? We like them. A lot. If you're looking for experiments to do with kids, these are worth the time and money.