I enlisted my fourteen-year-old for this hands-on review of Cool Circuits by Susan Martineau and Nick Bushell, part of the Awesome Activities series from Windmill Books. We had a fun evening with the experiments and some offshoots of our own.
My first criticism of the book is that it jumps straight into projects without an introductory section on supplies and general need to know. The shopping part might seem minor, but it was not. A list at the beginning of the book of all the supplies would have been nice as would acceptable substitutes (see crocodile clips below). The Radio Shack closest to our house just closed so we attempted two nearby hardware stores first before heading across town to Radio Shack. We were ultimately successful at Radio Shack, but the oft-required crocodile clips with attached wires were nowhere to be found. Explicit directions for attaching wires to alligator clips would have been a most welcome addition to the book.
The experiments are all pretty straight forward and ultimately satisfying when the lights came on. Where the directions written clearly? Yes. Does that mean everything went smoothly? No. The nature of doing science experiments at home (at least this home) is that my son would jump ahead with his inferences. (He is old enough and the voltage of everything we used low enough that I had no safety concerns) As with Colorful Circuit in the photo, this was not always a good idea. We blew out some LED lights along the way.The experiments build in complexity so they are best done in order, but the directions are clear enough so that is not necessary. And let’s be honest, this is a book for home use and many kids will want to jump around from project to project based on what catches their fancy. We purchased a 4-colour LED and that was ultimately the most interesting to use in the lighting experiments.
Overall, I would recommend Colorful Circuits. In addition to the experiments, there are interesting sidebars on every page explaining the science behind the project, sharing tidbits about inventors and suggesting ways to tweak the projects for slightly different results. As with any science and technology book, I believe the true test is what happens after the book is closed. In the case of Cool Circuits, my son headed off to overnight camp two days later with a bag full of bits and bobs to try to make his own fan to escape the heat wave. Score!
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