01 November 2011

Review: The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists

Amazon: The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists: The Coolest Experiments and Projects for Science Fairs and Family FunReally, who doesn't aspire to be a mad scientist?

I'm pretty sure I'm talking to the majority, then, when I tell you about The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, released today.

Geek Dad and I go way back. Geek Dad began as a Wired blog; the brainchild of Wired magazine's editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. I was one of the original contributors at its launch (if you'd like to read my Geek Dad posts, here they are).

Not long after, Chris made the eminently smart decision to hire Ken Denmead as the blog's editor, and the rest is history. Geek Dad now has tons of contributors, tons of fantastic content, a popular book series, and a companion site for Geek Moms.

Ken and I finally met in person over the summer when he invited Rael and me to speak on a panel about Geek Parenting. And all of those years of thinking he was a good guy were confirmed in spades.

SO. Now you know my bias. I love Geek Dad and its human leader, Ken.

And this is a great book.

Here's what this book is NOT: another cookie-cutter "Hey, kids! Science is cool!" book that reheashes baking soda/vinegar concoctions.

Here's what it is: smart, creative DIY projects, experiments and activities, written for grownups who are interested in science and want to share it with their kids.

I stress this, because bonafide Geek Dads and -Moms will likely get frustrated with kid-oriented (read: dumbed-down) experiment books that focus on colorful pictures and the "wow" factor (things blowing up, foaming, changing color, etc.) but give the science short shrift. There's a need for those books, but this book remains true to Geek Dad's mission: to provide activities geeky parents and kids can do together.

Among many interesting choices, you'll find out how to explode flour (yes, the white, powdery stuff in cookies) and how to determine calorie levels in food by burning it in a combustion chamber. In other words, this book is mainly mainly for you. It's not a book to hand to your nine year-old in the hopes that it will keep him out of your hair for the afternoon.

Each project is engagingly- yet intelligently-written, with scientific background and clear safety protocols. Some include guidelines for using the activity as the basis for a science fair project, with suggestions for setting up the experiment, recordkeeping, and writing up a conclusion.

All in all, a great gift for any parent with a passion for science and a desire to share that passion with the kids.

At Amazon: The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists: The Coolest Experiments and Projects for Science Fairs and Family Fun, by Ken Denmead

Other books in the Geek Dad series:

Amazon: Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share Amazon: The Geek Dad's Guide to Weekend Fun: Cool Hacks, Cutting-Edge Games, and More Awesome Projects for the Whole Family

* * *

The giveaway ended on 11/4/11. Thank you to all who entered -- I LOVED reading your learning memories. The winner will be notified via email.

Win it! I've got a copy of The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists to give away to one lucky Parenthacker, which means someone gets to make a dent in his or her holiday gift list. Or someone gets to burn Halloween candy in a combustion chamber! Mwah ha ha!

To enter, leave a comment with your answer to this question:

What's your favorite learning memory?

I ask, because, when I think back on my school years, the experiences which stand out are the ones where I was actively involved...performing in a play, doing an experiment, going on a field trip. The more "hands-on" you can add to your kid's education, the more bridges you build between academics and the real world.

Small print: Giveaway open to residents of the continental US. One entry per person, please. Comments will close on Friday, November 4, 2011, at 5pm PST. Winner will be chosen at random, and notified via email. Good luck!

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My favorite learning memory was when I first took a computer apart. I had always loved taking things apart, but doing that to the ol' 8088 machine my folks had really demystified things for me.

My parents fostered my imagination and "tossed me bones" regularly in the form of broken clocks, phones, etc, to take apart and learn from. My favorite/best learning memory is the time I took apart a camera and shorted out the flash capacitor with my screwdriver. When I could see straight again a few minutes later, my dad explained to me how capacitors work and to avoid doing that again. :)

I remember "programming" in Turtle code on a TI99-4 computer. It was so miraculous to me that I was making this machine do things!

Note: this favorite learning memory is a bit gross and may bother some people as it involves dissection.

Throughout high school, I was fascinated with the brain and the mind. I loved psychology, both in school and out of school, and consumed every book remotely associated with psychology that could come within my grasp. By the time I reached junior year of high school, I had already dissected a worm, a frog, and a pig.

Well, in junior year, it was time for the cat. The only problem is, we were going to study the same basic organs (mainly digestive) that we had already studied in previous animals. Sure, there were some differences in location and appearance, but I was tired of learning about the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines, etc. I wanted to learn about a brain with one in front of me.

I asked my teacher if I could stay after school with him to work on extracting the brain from the cat's skull and if he'd assist me in learning about it. He agreed, and for each and every day we worked on dissecting the body of the cat during class time, we spent about an hour after school learning about the area around the skull, a little about the spine, and (finally!) successfully extracting the brain and learning about what we held in front of us.

I made the disclaimer above knowing that the story could be shocking to many people, but taking a chance like that with a student who has demonstrated interest in learning outside of class time can really pay off. It's a bit strange to me how certain areas of learning can be taboo at young ages, when they can lead to perfectly normal jobs later in life. I maintained my interest in psychology, and recently received my doctorate in it.

It's great when a young person is enthusiastic about learning. But when someone they hold in high regard shares that enthusiasm and allows the inexperienced to guide the experienced, it's incredible how much learning takes place.

Most recently with my kid - we got a Snap Circuits, Jr. set (100 piece) and played around with that for a while. I think the only major problem we had was with batteries shooting out of the battery pack component. It was great to learn what the various pieces did, how not to create a short circuit, and to play with alternate arrangements of the components to see what happened. The only thing that bothered me a little about the set was not knowing exactly what the integrated circuits did with their various inputs. Definitely minor and I think we will expand the set to do some more tinkering. It's a great concept for learning Electronics and relatively easy to assemble.

My favorite learning was undirected learning. Anytime I figured something out or read a book that wasn't part of a curriculum, I enjoyed it much more than when someone "made" me learn it.

I am entering for my Hubs. My favorite learning experiences were being turned out into my backyard and building forts with fallen tree branches and checking out cool stuff found in the leaves. Pretending I was Swiss Family Robinson and living alone on an island.

My favorite formal education memory is memorizing and reciting the "Friends, Romans, countrymen..." speech in 9th grade. You really get the impact and beauty of great writing that way--just reading it out loud doesn't have the same impact as reciting, because you don't know it well enough to read it fluently and with feeling.

My favorite is the science experiment kit I got for Christmas one year-I had so much fun with that thing!

Favorite learning moment as a kid was when I took a marine biology summer class at the Baltimore Aquarium sometime around 5th or 6th grade. For a field trip, we went out to a lake and each group of students put out a net to catch a bunch of fish. Once we had the fish, we used what we had learned to identify and count the fish that we had caught. I seem to remember that we used it as a basis for estimating the size of the fish population in the lake.

Favorite learning moment as an almost-adult was in one of my electrical engineering classes in college. The professor had us put together 8088 processor-based computer kits that we would use during the semester to run our software projects. Despite my major, I wasn't a particularly hand-on guy, but soldering together the component (and getting the computer to work) gave me the confidence to try building my own computers later in life. (It doesn't even require soldering!)

My 4th grade teacher gave us logic puzzles to work on everyday. I loved figuring out the clues.

my favorite learning activity ... reading. probably. now, though, teaching my kids is much more my favorite, if that makes sense. And I love seeing them get into science and history.

My favorite learning memory is doing science experiments with my dad. He bought me a science kit of the month subscription. It was awesome, real sciences stuff not just baking soda and vinegar. I looked so forward to getting that in the mail each month. I've looked for something like that for my 2 boys but advent bad any luck finding anything.

In the fourth grade, the teachers had a hard time figuring out how to keep me out of trouble. I was offered a chance to teach science experiments to the 2nd graders, and the planning, presentation, and explanations that I worked out (for example, adding die to warm water, and mixing with cold, watching it rise) was a real pleasure. From that stage onward, I often found the most powerful way to build my own understanding was to attempt to explain it to someone else.

My favorite learning activity was going on hikes and figuring out where streams started, we'd go all the way up to the beginning if we could. Seeing how much it changed was amazing.

My favorite learning memory was the rocket building project where a team of 4 build a model rocket and calculate the trajectory to determine where it would land. Extra credit was given for hitting a target.

My favorite memory is the lab from my Genetics class. Each student was given two different sets of drosophila fruit flies. We knew going into it that each set of flies had some sort of mutation. We had to breed the flies and take them through a couple of generations to unmask the two mutations and to determine whether or not they were dominant or recessive. It was really interesting. Watching your flies to capture a virgin female could keep you up during the wee hours of the night. I could have done without that part! :-)

My best learning memories involve being allowed to read my parent's books, no matter the subject, at any age. I was completely in control of what I read. So empowering!

My best learning memory was when my father crushed my reese's cup for not sharing with him...I learned to share or at least avoid my dad when I had reese's cups.

The next was a floppy book of amazing facts and another of riddles. I would read through them put them away for 6 months and read through them again. Loved them.

When my teacher asked me to help explain double negatives. She asked me to go to her desk and bring her nothing, so I returned empty handed. Then she asked me to go back and this time, don't bring her nothing. So I gave her the stapler. And the class thought I was disobeying :)

Going to the Museum of Science in Boston with my father. He went there every Saturday as a kid, and he still takes a special pride in showing me exhibits he loved to visit. Can't wait to go there with him and my son!

In kindergarten the teacher had us watch the boiling water in a saucepan evaporate. Seriously blew my mind to think of clouds forming with the little water molecules. It was just a pan, hot plate, and water but it illustrated so much.

My fave memory comes from when I was about 9 years old, and I went outside in our front yard on our farm to see an entire immature Ash tree covered from branch to root in monarch butterflies. We lived in Texas, and I learned that monarchs migrate and fly over Texas on their way to Mexico. They would sit on my finger. Something about the winds that year because we never had something like that again. I will always remember that time.

My best one is my second-grade science fair project, it had something to do with magnets...I sure had fun putting it together, complete with posterboard display.

My favorite memory was in Physics class creating a vehicle out of pasta and glue. Those were the only things we could use. I ended up placing fifth in the competition (county-wide) but it was a great bonding experience with my dad since we worked together on making a pasta mobile that wouldn't break after going down a 30 degree ramp but looked really cool. We used linguine, spaghetti and wheel pasta to make a dune buggy. It was fun to win but even more fun to create and test with my dad.

my favorite learning memory is learning fractions with candy and cookies in elementary school.

Love it! Thanks for the giveaway! :-) My favorite was an entire class for "gifted" where we were given a logic puzzle daily and couldn't leave till we figured it out. What an amazing class!

I was such a glutton for science, after taking regular Chemistry in high school I took AP Chem. the next year. My favorite memory of that class is my teacher using his wedding ring to demonstrate how gold sinks in mercury. He forgot that the ion charges between the two metals meant that his ring would get a lovely mercury plating in the process.

That didn't go over too well with his wife, but it sure meant I remembered!

My favorite learning experience was 8th grade science class. We had a new lab in our little Catholic school, and a young and enthusiastic nun who exposed us to all kinds of cool stuff: pasta bridges, disected frogs, water cycle demos, science fair projects, etc.

Hmmm hard question...I'd have to say when I'd go to Kansas to visit my grandparents and my Grandma would teach me about her backyard birds as we sat in our favorite chair.

I think my favorite learning memory is of figuring out how a camera works. It was a lesson in my science book in about the fifth grade, and no matter how many times I read it, I just didn't get it. So I starting setting up books and mirrors on my bed so I could picture, in some way, how the inside of the camera actually works. Once I did that, it all made sense!

I loved going to th Childrens Museum in LA. So many hands on learning activities.

My father is a science education professor so we were always doing science experiments at home. One of my favorites was testing the pH levels of different types of soda pop.

My favorite learning memory is taking apart old tube TVs in the garage. I'd look at the parts and try to figure out which assembly was the next one to get unscrewed and examined. I learned a lot about how modern devices are put together, that it's not just one person sitting at a bench soldering random parts together. It's more like a jigsaw puzzle where every separate assembly has to be tested to make sure that it works, before moving onto the larger item.

"A COMPLEX system that works, invariably comes from a SIMPLE system that works."

My father read a sixth-grade essay of mine, then sat me down to quiz me about it. I rolled my eyes when he asked about the opposing view, and whether I'd considered it. He discussed the importance of taking into account the other point of view, even when we think we're certain... and the lesson sank in, more than I let on.

My favorite learning memory was my "show and tell" project when my mom helped me plant about 20 different varieties of cacti in terra cotta planters and haul them in to class...

Probably reading A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. It was way over my head, but introduced me to some amazing ideas.

My dad helped us make a boardgame for a school project (which was then later repurposed with different flashcard/game pieces to use with my siblings of various ages) and we had an ELECTRONIC DICE that he'd made at work! You could see all the circuits, and it was AMAZING! ;)

Making a "phone" out of string and cups. My son and I explored that the other day. What fun it was revisiting my childhood through my child's eyes :)

My favorite learning memory is writing my first program - it took weeks, and was a little song on the commodore64

My easy bake oven. Little did I know it would prepare me for years of baking.

My favorite learning memory was going to smart kids summer school around third grade and taking a class called "Fizz, Pop, Bang! The Magic of Chemistry."

My ninth grade physical science class provided some of the most fascinating learning experiences of my life. We did everything from building soda bottle rockets to dissecting cow eyeballs. I was always more of a language/arts person, and that class taught me that science and math didn't have to be terrifying.

My 5th grade teacher taught us about the Dow Jones. We watched it every week and talked about what it did and why it did it. We were going to have a party at the end of the year if it reached 2000! I don't think we made it.

I loved making a relief map in 9th grade earth science class. The teacher creeped me out, but earth science was one of my favorite classes in high school.

I loved checking out science experiment kits in grade school. I was able to build a model hot air balloon with dry cleaner bags.

My 3rd grade teacher would make up fantastic quizzes once a month that we had to take to the public library to figure out. This was waaaay before the Internet, so all us little 8-yr-olds had to figure out how to work the card catalog, find the right books, use the table of contents and index, etc. For those who returned the quiz with the most right answers there was a prize (something very generous when I think back on how much she probably made and that I doubt the school was subsidizing the assignment -- I know one month she took everyone with the highest score out to McDonalds for lunch). There was a great deal of motivation & participation in the assignment, even though it wasn't required, and I definitely see it as my first step on the road to loving doing research. I now have a PhD in English, so she must've been doing something right!

I loved reading class in 7th grade. My teacher always tied the book into fun activities that made research fun. I've always loved reading, but Mrs. Dominguez made it so much more fun!

my favorite memory is a city project I did in 2nd grade...i remember how much time i spent on it and how fun it was

I remember practicing pouring water and other basic skills at my Montessori preschool. I loved it!

I loved going to the Museum of Science with my parents as a kid. So many cool things to do and explore. My favorite was the Van de Graaff generator in the theater of electricity.

I have lots of little memories from various things, but perhaps the most vivid is of a French project I did in middle school. I made Provence out of some homemade clay/playdo, and my dog ate. I'll never forget what Provence looks like, though (with a giant corner taken out of it, of course).

My favorite is a geology book I read in sixth grade, which inspired my first professional career.

I remember my older sister teaching me how to read at four! And that is a love that continues to this day...I'm such a bookworm.

I love to read....a great way to learn about a variety of subjects and travel to places across the globe and beyond.

My favorite learning memories are from when my dad took me to the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh as a kid - the lessons were disguised as lots of fun.

It's not really amazing or thought-provoking, but when I was in 10th grade, I had to memorize lots of poems for English class. My dad was home with me one day (which is weird because he only had 5 days off each YEAR (yes, he worked every weekend) while I was sitting at the dining room table doing my homework, trying to memorize John Donne. Shudder. I started whining about how IMPOSSIBLE it was to memorize the poem, and my dad told me to just write the poem's lines repeatedly. I did, and it worked!

My daring to say I was a little bored while visiting my Grandmother during summer vacation. She started teaching me algebra at her kitchen table.

My favorite learning moment was when our teacher had us play this 70s card game to learn the different types of tricks in ad copy to persuade us to buy things. She'd read a fake ad and we'd have to guess which of 4 or 5 types of persuasion were used, like "Fake Science-Sounding Language" or "Celebrity Endorsement implies something is better just because they like it." (It had better category names than that, but you get the jist.) It was fascinating, we all wanted to play it every day. I wish I could remember the name!

Oh my. I have so many awesome learning memories. Being able to read whatever I wanted, when I felt "able" to was liberating. Being allowed to run to my friends' houses around the corner or across the neighborhood starting at age 5. Exploring the woods in the neighborhood from that same time. An archaeology dig at a museum at age 9. Just being allowed to explore my interests, in my own time, was wonderful.

I hope I can provide some of the same experience for my kids.

My favorite learning memory (or memories) were almost all realized in retrospect. They were moments when I didn't realize I was learning anything. I was so engrossed in the subject or activity that everything else just melted away.

This happened quite a bit with a science teacher I had in 7th Grade. He had a hands-on experiment for us at least 4 days of the week. He always engaged everyone on all levels. We were all good students, we just needed to be taught how to learn.

My favorite learning memory is the summer where my mom signed me up for a science kit subscription. Every week I got a new kit in the mail with fun reading and experiments to try out on my own.

My favorite memory has been and continues to be all the hands-on craft classes that I've taken over the years after leaving school... sewing, jewelry-making, woodworking, etc!!

Learning about "Thrust" with my Mom for my science fair project right after the shuttle exploded back in the 80's. It was a amazing and I remember thirst to find out more. It was such a bonding and empowering experience. I hope to have the same memories and mutual discoveries with with my own daughter!

(From Asha/Parent Hacks: I fixed your comment and deleted the duplicate. Thanks for sharing, James!)

I went to a small high school. My senior year we had "cookie labs" in our Physics class. Our teacher said it was to show how a "liquid" could turn into a solid. I think he just liked eating the cookies :)

My favorite learning memory is my entire seventh grade science class! My teacher made each unit hands on, full of experiments, self guided independent learning, and wacky lessons. He was amazing!

I have so many, but I always loved going to the Museum of Science in St. Paul, MN!

My favorite learning memory is my dad, the math wiz, helping me with my math homework when I just couldn't "get it". He would show me algebra short-cuts that really simplified Algebra for me AND made the teacher insane! I was strictly forbidden by the teacher from using "short-cuts", because she didn't get them. Dad went in and had a talk with her, privately, with respect. Never again was I not allowed to use a short cut. Thanks Dad!

I keep going back and forth on which to choose, but it must be reading the Children's Atlas of the Universe with my son and learning about more than just our solar system.

Adult life remains full of those eureka moments where the scales fall from my eyes and I see the world anew. How utterly remarkable is this place where we live.

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