Making More Hands-On Science

October 16th, 2020

Meet the editorial team of our fun activity book More Hands-On Science! Find out how they come up with ideas for DIY activities, how they test for safety, and the most interesting tidbits they discovered while writing the book.

A young child lying on their back on grass reading More Hands-On Science. Their face is obscured by the book.


After releasing Hands-On Science, the fun and engaging collection of hands-on activities for kids, the team at Double Helix magazine put their heads together and wrote the aptly titled follow up More Hands-On Science. In this blog post, the book’s editorial team, Jasmine Fellows, David Shaw and Kath Kovac, explain the thinking, splashes, scares and surprises they encountered while testing their new book.


Why is it important for young readers to do hands-on science activities?

David: Science isn’t just in the classroom, in science textbooks or on slick science TV shows!

Jasmine: Of course, science is all around us in our everyday lives. These hands-on activities give readers the chance to discover it for themselves.

Reading and listening are great ways of learning, but it’s also important to be doing. Learning through play helps young readers discover the difference between theory and practice, and allows them to ask questions along the way.

It also helps young readers imagine themselves as scientists. That’s the first step in considering a career in science.

Kath: The ‘wow’ factor that comes from seeing the results of your own activity or experiment just can’t be produced through reading – getting hands-on is the best way for kids to really experience science for themselves. Plus, figuring out what to do to change or improve the experiment develops great problem-solving skills!


Where do you get your activity ideas from?

David: We get our ideas from all kinds of places. We’re really lucky at Double Helix to be standing on the shoulders of giants. Double Helix has been around in one form or another for decades, and those activities still hold up. Some of them definitely need an update though – it’s much harder to get your hands on a film canister these days!

Jasmine: Often we’re looking at the news stories coming through, and trying to find ways of explaining the latest science using items from around the home. The Smartphone jelly lens in More Hands-On Science was inspired by research happening at the Australian National University.

David: I have a fascination for dubious life hack videos on YouTube. Plenty of them are completely terrible, but I think there are a few activities in this book, such as the Rainbow paper and Reverse drum that were inspired by a slick, fake YouTube clip.

And plenty of activities come from just playing around. The Sticky sock walk was inspired by a grass seed, and the Can spin was something I came up with playing around with marbles and possibly a couple of rolls of sticky tape!


How do you test for safety? Does it ever go wrong?

David: We take safety very seriously. We start with a discussion, where we try to imagine what might go wrong. For example, we were considering a helium balloon in a car activity, but it needed a rethink when we realised the balloon would probably end up floating in front of the driver.

We test activities thoroughly, remembering that kids are still developing their coordination. All kinds of things pop up at this stage – getting splashed with a little boiling marmalade was a bit scary, but not quite as bad as the time I set a battery on fire trying to make an electromagnet! We throw out or adjust activities that don’t pass testing.

We also do plenty of research, particularly with our chemistry activities. Prussian blue pigment doesn’t sound very scary, but ferric ferrocyanide sounds downright deadly. Turns out, it’s not too bad, and with the right precautions, you can use it to grow some wonderful crystals.

Jasmine: This testing process helps us select the correct safety icons, as well as the messages we write to let young readers know what hazards to look out for.

We also keep an eye out for anything that might be an environmental hazard, for example, checking if paper straws will work instead of plastic ones.


For beginners, which science activities would you recommend they start with? And what about for the more advanced?

David: Hearing hot chocolate is quick, easy and musical. Plus, when you’re finished, you have a hot chocolate to drink!

If you have a fidget spinner or two in the back of a drawer somewhere, there are a couple of simple illusions in the book that take about 30 seconds to do. You won’t believe the Fidget fun you’re having.

A head and shoulders picture of Kath Kovac standing outside in the sunlight and smiling at the camera.

Kath’s keen eye makes the text sparkle! (photo: Kath Kovac)

For science experts, I’d recommend Crystal trees. It’s the best crystal growing experiment I’ve ever done, and there are some interesting chemicals involved.

And for a crafting challenge, Make a coin sorter. The sshhh *pause* KLUNK as coins slide, fall and land in the correct cup is super satisfying.


What’s a quirky fact you discovered writing this book?

David: Cows burp ten times more than they fart! And since burps and farts are both packed with a greenhouse gas called methane, there are a whole lot of scientists trying to work out how to stop cows from doing it.

Kath: I had the fun job of coming up with all the quiz questions and fast facts, so I learnt a lot of cool things. I think my favourite was discovering that a French company had used wind turbine ball bearings to make a giant fidget spinner that was 1.6 metres wide. That’s one big spin!


Cover of 'More Hands-On Science' featuring two sets of hands holding materials used for activities on a dark blue background.

More Hands-On Science: 50 Amazing Kids’ Activities from CSIRO

This blog is republished from the Double Helix blog. Read the original article (external link).

More Hands-On Science is now available from our online store and from all good bookstores. To get your regular fix of science news and activities, subscribe to Double Helix magazine.