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Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects Paperback – December 6, 1996


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 970L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (December 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471148024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471148029
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 0.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,400,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

cases for science detectives Science teachers and curious students looking for new projects may want to experiment with two new titles. Janice VanCleave's Guide to the Best Science Fair Projects by Janice VanCleave offers ideas for selecting a topic, doing research, making a display and presenting the project. The suggested projects span a range of categories from astronomy to genetics, geology to engineering. With Bubble Monster: And Other Science Fun, by John Falk, Robert Pruitt II, Kristi Rosenberg and Tali Katz, younger children can also learn about scientific principles. Simple materials like graham crackers (to make "Graham Cracker Castles" with peanut butter mortar) and tin cans (to make play telephones) help teach about patterns, the human body, design and technology and more. Cartoon illustrations depict the experiments.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8. The focus here is on the all-important SCIENCE FAIR, a bugaboo to many children and most parents. In the first section, VanCleave discusses scientific methodology: how to organize a project from selecting a topic through the investigatory process, the importance of keeping records, writing a final report, and the value of a nicely crafted presentation. As there are a number of science-fair projects books and collections of experiments available (many by VanCleave herself), this first section could be the most important part for novice and unseasoned science fair participants. The author also presents a sample project to give readers an idea of what their own final product might resemble. The writing is readable and understandable, and even amusing at times. Unfortunately, many overeager or let's-get-this-over-with young experimenters (and their parents) will fail to take the time necessary to absorb the pointers (and may be disappointed with the tepid reception of their not-so-professional-looking results). The next section?the largest by far?presents a number of double-page projects in a variety of fields. They range from a simple display of a mineral/rock collection to the more complex procedure of determining the odds of chromosome combinations to produce male/female babies. All in all, a clear and informative addition.?Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is REALLY good. Though it doesn't list but 50 ideas, it's great for information on the science fair project "process". Her book is divided into two parts. Part I is the process on how to organize and present your project. How to research for it, how to set up your display, where to categorize your project and so forth. Part II has project ideas with details on how to do it. She basically says to choose a topic, ask yourself "I wonder...". Her 50 "I wonder" ideas are in Part II.
While her ideas are good, I would've liked to have seen more variety, or a good list of "I wonder..." questions without all the details. Just to jump start more ideas. Like a list of 100 questions to ask yourself or something similar. The 50 ideas are great, but it needs more. A good list of questions would've made this book a 5 star.
If you're looking for a guide on how to DO a project, this book is for you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover 12345 on April 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
I first saw this book in the library and decided I needed a copy of my own. I like it. I have two children in the age range targeted by this book - aged 12 and 10 - and a younger one I will use it with in the future.
We are using it in our classic-education style homeschool, and I find it a good tool for helping my children learn how to think, research their topic and write it all down. The book does not lay out every step of preparation for the projects, as previous reviewers may have expected, rather it gives a good basic and practical overview of the scientific method, and fifty topic ideas to spark the imagination of the child. It is not geared to the highschooler - VanCleave has other books that are for that purpose. The child still has to do the work themselves in putting the project together, and to my mind that is a large part of the value of the book. My children learn far more from their own research and experimentation than they do from following steps and copying the research of others. There were ideas in this book that I would like to try!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Matteson on January 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is fun and educational if you are interested in performing a DEMONSTRATION regarding a scientific concept. The examples have nothing to do with conducting an EXPERIMENT that one would present at a Science Fair. The "problems" listed for each example can be answered by opening an encyclopia. Generally a problem/question that begins with the word, "how" can be answered in such a way. The purpose of a science fair is to conduct ORIGINAL experiments involving an experimental group and a control group. There are other guide books on the market that take a more scientific approach and steer the student in the right direction.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book for my son in 6th grade after reading so many glorifying reviews about Van Cleave's books and the fact that she has so many books out there. Boy were we ever disappointed! These are not "science fair projects" that a student can use for doing a science fair project in grades 5 and up, rather, they are trite projects for little grade school children or kindergarteners. How can a project that asks the question "what are the parts of a fingernail" and for materials required lists only a magnifying glass for the so-called experiment which is consists of a student holding the magnifying glass over his/her fingernail to observe, how can this possibly be a "best" science fair project? How can this be any science fair project at all? Where is the hypothesis, what is the real experiment, how could a student enter this in a science fair? Don't waste your time with this one, I returned it for a refund.
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More About the Author

Q and A about Janice VanCleave
1. Where were you born and where did you grow up? I was born in Houston, Texas and grew up there. Our home was about 10 miles from downtown and at the time was very unpopulated. There were dirt roads and lots of trees. I lived in a forest and there were many animals, including turtles. Once I collected turtles and kept them in a large tub. The turtles made their great escape the day I decided they needed exercise. Knowing that turtles move very slowly, I placed the turtles in the grass and expected them to only wander a short distance. But, when I returned the turtles were no where to be found. Since I had written names on their backs with red fingernail polish, I periodically saw the turtles, but decided they were happier in the wild. Since turtles have a very small average velocity, it wasn't the rate of motion that allowed them to escape. Instead, it was that I got interested in something else and lost track of time. With enough elapse time the displacement of even slow moving turtles was great enough for them to escape.

2. How did your parents motivate you?
Neither of my parents nor any close adult family member finished high school and most had not been educated past junior high. But all were very supportive when I decided to attend college. Actually, I disliked school and asked my dad if I could quit high school and be a cosmetologist like my mom. My sweet dad was not very strict with me. His answer, which was in a tone that made me sit up and pay attention, was "You may choose any profession that you wish, but YOU WILL FIRST finish high school if I have to go to class with you every day!" Yikes! That was loud, clear, and shocking. I did graduate from high school, but in less time than most. Since I was not involved in much of anything at school it wasn't fun to be there. So I attended summer classes in order to graduate early. I was 15 when I entered my senior year and was 16 the following year when I entered college. I loved college. I enjoyed going to one to three classes a day, then having free time. I felt so grown up and was very attentive to my studies. I'd been a volunteer worker at a local hospital and had plans to be a medical lab technician.

Soon after entering college I married and changed my major to education. It was a good choice, and I taught science for 27 years. As a science teacher, I was never satisfied with just doing the lessons in the textbook. I was always researching in an effort to make my lessons fun with maybe even a touch of magic. Bizarre was also ok as long as it led to kids understanding the science behind it. Teaching turned out to be research for my present day writing career.

While my parents loved to read, neither was particularly interested in science. My dad's primary occupation was truck driving, but he was also an entrepreneur. Some of his business adventures included selling cars or any bargain items he happened across. As a teen, I found it fun to sell cars but was not very happy about sitting on the corner selling the truckload of peaches he got a great deal on. Neither my dad nor I recognized this as basic hands-on salesmanship training. We certainly did not relate it to physics, but many daily activities are physic related. While we may not have recognized it as a fundamental concept of one-dimensional motion, placing the bushels of peaches as close as possible to the display table was an act of reducing our displacement while transporting the peaches. Selling cars was much more fun because I got to drive them. Acceleration was definitely a term that I understood, but more in a practical way than mathematical.

My mother was a cosmetologist, so as a teen and young adult, my hair color frequently changed. Or in a more scientific description, my physical properties were very dynamic.
2. What schooling did you receive in order to become a science writer?
I attended no special writing classes and did not pursue a writing career. Mine is a Cinderella story in that a publisher asked me to write a book. This was the result of being a high school physic/chemistry teacher in Arkansas and directing an after school elementary science enrichment program for a local community college. I designed the program and called it "The Magic of Science." A New York publisher saw a write up about the program and sent a letter asking if I was interested in writing a science book for young kids. I was leery--was this a scam? But, I called and asked if the letter had come from the "real" Prentice-Hall Publishing Co. It had and yes I was interested. It didn't take long to realize that while I had skills in writing experiments for my class, I didn't had a clue about how to write a book. Thankfully the publisher really wanted the book, so I was given a great deal of personal instructions as well as a book titled, "How to write a book." The book was helpful, but as usual, I was breaking new ground. In the late 80s there were very few hands-on science experiment books for kids. So, I learned by trial and error. In fact, even after writing 50+ books, I am still learning how to better write a book.

Did everything just click into place after that first book? No! In fact, my editor left the company and as a new writer that could have been the kiss of death for my career. But God had other plans. The same editor introduced me to another publishing house and I was back to writing. The company went bankrupt before my book was published. Writing just didn't seem to be the direction for my life. But again, the same editor managed to get my book picked up by another publishing house--John Wiley and Sons. It has been a good match.

3. What about science writing made it more interesting than other fields?
How was the transition from teacher to writer?
I loved teaching science because I learned so much and I had fun writing experiments for the topics covered. Often times, schools did not have the needed equipment to perform experiments, so I designed experiments. For example, an  acceleration experiment that was a favorite with my physics classes involved tying a rope to a box filled with rocks. On an outdoor surface, a stopwatch was used to measure the elapsed time for a specific displacement. This information was used to mathematically determine the average acceleration. Of course there were races between different groups. In other words, we played and had fun while learning about the concepts of motion. One positive difference in writing about science and teaching science is that I have more quality time to write. A downside is that I have less time with kids. But this has been solved by my own children who have children who have children. At present I have three children, six grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
4. What is the nature of your work? What are your duties? What sort of
Equipment do you use?
Unlike most writers, I do not write a manuscript and seek a publisher. Instead, I write for the same publisher and have a multi-book contract. The contract indicates the number of books to be written by a specific date, but does not describe the content of the books. Each book topic is decided on by a team of people, including me, my editor, and representatives from marketing and publicity. Research is done to decide what topic is most marketable. Once the topic is selected, then my editor and I decide on a suitable format and finally it is up to me to research science content and write the book. My personal library consists of no less than 1,000 science books. I use online sources to find current printed research. But most important are science consultants in each specific field, such as NASA astronomers, research chemists, and as many teachers from elementary through college level as I can find. The tools of my trade include a computer, laser printer, a fax machine, telephone, mechanical pencils, around the house stuff for experiments and acres of wooded and grass land, ponds, and clear Texas skies to investigate the wonders of God's creation.

As a writer I prepare a manuscript by a predetermined date. Writing the book is much easier than work required for production. My review schedule includes two preproduction reviews in which my editor makes suggestions about needed changes. I make the changes or convince my editor that no change is needed. Then I prepare the first revised copy of the manuscript. We repeat this process and the second revised copy is off to a copy editor. For the three remaining reviews, I make my comments on the pages sent to me. At last the work goes to the printer.

5. What is your favorite thing about your job? What would you most like to
change about it?
The best part of my job is learning more about science and creating new ways to make science concepts more understandable. As a science writer, I have had the opportunity to visit places that most have never seen, such as the facilities at the Geographic South Pole as well as the most northern city in Alaska, Barrow. Barrow is on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. What I like the least is all the copy editing reviews, but this is necessary and cannot be changed.
6. Are you currently writing a book?
Instead of a book, I am working on creating a science website. It gives me the opportunity to introduce educators and kids to my science books. But even more beneficial is introducing parents to ideas for "home study." This started out as a way to help parents who choose to home school their children. But, it is evolving into ways that parents can play and find out about science with their kids. Working parents are very appreciative of easy, fun activities that don't require expensive materials. All educators--teachers, parents, librarians, grandparents, etc.--are pleased to find explanations that make sense to them.

I am researching a new business idea. Since my brain is full of ideas for science presentation, I could train science presenters. I wonder...Could this be done via my website? So far my experimental research on this idea has been very positive. But one person testing my material has decided to continue her education and teach. I may have lost one of my presenters, but children will gain a very science savvy teacher.

7. What advice would you give to somebody who is considering a writing career?
First of all READ!! READ!! READ!! Learn as much as you can about everything. While your interest may be in science, you have to have the skills to express your ideas. Grammar and punctuation is very important. You need math for living. History is the story of life. Take advantage of each and every subject offered in school. Use what you learn in school to write stories. Keep these in journals that are easily stored for later use.

I cannot say that I actually take off from writing for vacations, because no matter where I go I am collecting ideas for science projects. I am never a tourist; instead I am a researcher away from home. For example, while standing on a glacier in Alaska, others in the group were questioning how deep a hole in the ice was. For fun, I dropped a stone into the hole and counted until the stone hit the water below. Using gravitational acceleration (a)of 9.8 m/sec2 and the displacement equation of
distance = 1/2 at2, I calculated that the hole was about 21 meters (70 ft) deep.
We were all interested in knowing how deep the hole was, and I was able to tell them. This was just one of many times that my knowledge of physics has been useful in a practical way. I also observed that leaves had sunk down in the ice on the glacier. Now what caused that? The leaves absorbed more light than the ice causing them to get hot, thus melting the ice below them. This observation led to a science fair project in one of my books. My point is that a writer of any genre should always be on the alert for interesting information. Keep notes and file them for later use. BE OBSERVANT!

Writing a book may be the least problem. Getting it published can be a big obstacle. It has to be something that a publisher can sell. Some people are great writers but not very good salesmen. So they hire an agent to represent them.

What about rejections? If critical comments are given, evaluate them and decide if you need to change your work. But remember that one publisher's trash could be another publisher's treasure. It often depends on what the publisher needs at the time. Never give up. Try publishing in magazines. When writing for magazines, ALWAYS keep the copyrights to your work. You may later decide to publish it in book form. The same is true for online publishing. Keep the right to publish your work in other forms.

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