How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering & How to be an Engineer by DK Series (Carol Vordemann)

With December looming an awkward question raises its expensive head – what appropriate gifts can be made to the children dotted throughout the family?  Given that commercial toys often end up in the bin by Easter it is hard to make good sustainable choices.  And so the hunt begins.

Responsible gift givers can relax!  Thanks to the Penguin Random House publication of two books in the DK Series – How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering and How to be an Engineer.   These are both brilliant books that can be highly recommended.

How to be an Engineer

How to Be an Engineer by Carol Vorderman

Reviewed by E.B. Heath

A wonderful book, for young readers aged seven to ten+. How to be an Engineer will be a great aid for school projects as well as being entertaining.  The colourful visual presentations clearly explain the basics of engineering principles, made fun by experiments and projects that children can do safely with inexpensive household materials.

How to be an Engineer is divided into:  Amazing Materials, Strong Structures, Mighty Machines, Strong Structures (transport this time), and Incredible Energy.  Most sections have a brief biography of famous engineers, male and female, working within that discipline.

‘Amazing Materials’ invites readers to make mud bricks (without much mess), do experiments with push or pull materials in ‘Snap or Bend’. ‘Tubes of Strength’ is illustrated by projects readers can do with toilet rolls and a few household items.  ‘Make your own Plastic’, will be an eye opener for most adults, and again is not messy.

‘Strong Structures’ details the principles of building arches, towers, bridges and roads. Of course, Brunel is profiled here, along with Rahman Khan.  The instructions for making a suspension bridge, from cardboard and string and a few straws, will be a revelation to the young engineers and get them thinking like an engineer.

‘Mighty Machines’ starts simple – gears, pulleys, wheels, and axles, growing into engines, robots and computers.  Readers are challenged to make their own gear design from cardboard.

‘Strong Structures’ in transport, another great section with fun projects building hovercrafts and balloon jets. Readers learn how steam engines, planes and boats work.

‘Incredible Energy’ starts off defining energy before detailing the mechanics of wind, electricity, solar and turbine.  Given the high profile and problems of sustainable energy in our world, the hands-on projects in this section will provide basic knowledge and spark readers’ creativity.

How to be an Engineer was compiled with the help of Carol Vordemann, a well-known television math and science presenter in England.  She has an extraordinary background: attending Cambridge at 17, she is a fully trained pilot and sits on the board of NASA’s Challenger Centres.  So, it is unsurprising that this impressive book is of such high quality, providing knowledge and practical experience.  Readers will have many hours enjoying the well-designed tasks and this will spark their creativity to design their own.

How to be an Engineer


DK Series in conjunction with Carol Vordemann

Penguin Random House

Hardback – ISBN – 978-0-2413-1667-2

$29.99; pp.144


 How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering

 Science is the key to understanding the world

 How to Be Good at Science, Technology, and Engineering by DK

Reviewed by E.B. Heath

It is hard not to default to gushing adulation for How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering.  This big hardback (28cm x 22cm) is wonderfully presented with colourful illustrations, complimented by text.  It is intended for children 8 upwards, but equally valuable for anyone who needs to fill in a few gaps in their scientific knowledge.

How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering has six sections.

The Introduction makes clear what exactly is scientific method – making an observation, forming a hypothesis, conducting experiments to test the hypothesis, collecting the data from the test and analyzing the results, finally repeating the experiment before hypothesis is accepted as a fact.  Then goes on to explain how working scientifically requires a methodical approach explaining the difference between independent, dependent, and control variables. All explained and illustrated with colourful diagrams.  The different areas of study in science are listed: life, matter, energy, forces, and earth and space.

The chapter ‘Life’ fills 86 pages and covers humans, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and their reproduction systems including the role of genes and DNA. Nutrition and digestive systems are explained, and even how to read the nutritional information on food packaging. Again, this wide range of information is beautifully presented, made so clear via colourful diagrams.  The reader never feels bogged down in text.  In fact the ratio of text to diagram is weighted toward the visual.

‘Atoms and molecules’ – all things in the universe are forms of matter; all matter is made up of tiny particles called atoms and molecules.  This chapter of 68 pages makes some difficult concept easy to grasp.  Covering atoms, elements, molecules, chemical symbols and chemical formulas.  Then goes on to discuss states of matter (solids, liquids and gases), changing states, properties of matter, and density.  Mixtures of matter and separating mixtures are covered over six pages. Atomic structure, ionic bonds, covalent bonds, chemical reactions/equations and types of reactions and catalysts, acids and electrolysis detailed over twenty-two pages.   The periodic table is explained with a brief history of the scientist who devised the system.  Metals cover eight pages, explaining that metals are made up from latticed atoms, pure metals don’t form molecules and how electrons can move around between atoms and how this aids conducting electricity.  Groups of metals and the reactivity series are detailed over eight pages.

The chapter on Matter continues to explain the make up of: Hydrogen, carbon, crude oil, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulphur.  Then the reactive halogens, the unreactive noble gases are described.  Materials Science combines the skills of chemists, physicists and engineers to create new materials and how polymers and plastics are used.  I’m sure many adults would find this most interesting.

Energy, what it is, its many forms and how it is measured and generated are detailed over 49 pages.   This includes waves, sound, and light reflection and refraction, and how light is used.  Then moves on to electricity, magnetism, and electronics.

Forces – put simply a push or pull that controls movement and stop movement. Over 31 pages this chapter looks at friction, drag, machines, power, gravity flight and pressure.

Earth and space takes 44 pages, starts off with the Solar system and what lies beyond.   A comprehensive account of everything Earth related, such as the earth’s structure, history, plate tectonics, fossils, rocks, climate and weather systems.

A comprehensive glossary and index makes light work of navigating through information, allowing readers to easily pinpoint area of interest.

How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering has a broad range of scientific knowledge it is illustrated by clear and easy to understand diagrams so that further explanations are unnecessary.  If a child is falling behind, disinterested, or in love with science this book will simultaneously teach, inspire and enthrall.

Very highly recommended.

How to be Good at Science, Technology & Engineering


DK Series

Penguin Random House

ISBN – 978-0-2412-2786-2

$35.00; pp.275



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