Monday, August 1, 2022

Exploring Science Through Fairy Tales

 A few weeks ago, Kristen Wilkinson wrote a post about Science Experiments for the Kitchen. On that same theme of discovering science in unexpected places, this week I'm reviewing Fairy Tale Science: Explore 25 Classic Tales Through Hands-On Experiments written by Sarah Albee and illustrated by Bill Robinson.

We've been talking a lot this summer about connecting books to summer fun, mostly by exploring hands-on activities like cooking, gardening, creating inventions, and visiting animal habitats and national parks, but it's also a time to rest, relax, watch movies and revisit Disney videos like Mulan and Tangled (aka: Rapunzel). These movies help kids internalize the structure of stories, but they do much more than that. 

One of my favorite quotes is from the epigraph of Neil Gaiman's book, Coraline. He paraphrased it from G.K. Chesterton. "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." 

I have this quote hanging in my house. Fairy tales teach us that although there are many things in this world to fear, we can overcome them with courage, bravery, and truth. Stories like Mulan can even give us a slice of history. The story comes from a poem from the sixth century about a girl who takes her father's place to join the Khan's army. Though no one knows for sure if Hua Mulan was a real person, it is well-documented that there were warrior women in China, Central Asia, and Greece around the time that the story takes place. 

In Fairy Tale Science, author, Sarah Albee, provides a brief summary and background information about each fairy tale and then makes a scientific connection. For Mulan, Albee discusses archery and provides a simple method to determine if it is more effective to close one eye or keep both eyes open when aiming at a target. Relax, you don't have to purchase an actual bow and arrow for this experiment. Two pencils, a paper cup, and some coins are all you need to teach your child about depth perception and stereopsis. By the way, the book is full of practical ways to learn academic vocabulary as well as science concepts and there is a fantastic glossary of terms at the back.

Can hair actually support a handsome young man's body weight? Watch Tangled or read Rapunzel and then find out how the protein chains in hair create tensile strength that is even more durable than the same amount of cast iron. Learn about parallel load-bearing and why braiding increases the strength of the strands. You won't actually be lifting a handsome prince in this experiment, just some pennies or marbles, but the concept is the same.

After watching Cinderella, you may want to experiment with whether or not a pumpkin is more aerodynamic than a zucchini or a cucumber. Then you can broaden your perspective even more by comparing the movie to one of the many versions of the story from another culture such as Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story by Tomie dePaola or The Rough-Face Girl written by Rafe Martin and illustrated by David Shannon. That final suggestion comes from my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling

The point is that Fairy Tales are a fun way to expand your world knowledge. Even spending a day binge-watching movies can lead to meaningful learning experiences.