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 SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books 

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Winner! 2008 Hands-on Science Book

Exploratopia by Pat Murphy (Little Brown & Company, 2006)

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About the Book

Exploratopia offers more than 400 kid-friendly experiments and explorations for curious minds. The book represents a natural extension of the San Francisco-based Exploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. Lead author Pat Murphy has worked at the Exploratorium for over 20 years. In the introduction, Murphy relates how those years of experience have shaped her way of seeing the world. The authors, including the staff of the Exploratorium, extend the museum’s opportunities to readers within the context of three major themes: “Exploring Yourself,” “Exploring Interesting Places,” and “Exploring Interesting Stuff.” The book consists entirely of hands-on activities, most of which require everyday materials that are easily obtained. Each activity begins with a question, a tidbit of information, or an interesting observation about many real-world experiences of children. Readers are guided by a set of headings entitled “Here’s What You Need,” “Here’s What You Do,” and “What’s Going On?” The activities are enhanced by detailed drawings, photographs, and cross-sectional diagrams, all designed to aid comprehension of the content.

At the beginning of the book, readers are presented with the following set of nine process-based skills entitled “Tools for Exploration”: paying attention to stuff a lot of people ignore; comparing two things; asking questions; experimenting to test your ideas; making predictions; measuring and counting; keeping track of your discoveries; explaining what you see; sharing your experience.

These “Tools for Exploration” appear in context as sidebars throughout the book. Readers are encouraged to extend their thinking about selected concepts by accepting a challenge to apply one or more of the “Tools of Exploration” related to the activity. This feature contains many of the elements of scientific inquiry, a key concept in science education at all age levels. The content of the book is broad based and contains numerous interdisciplinary applications (e.g., to music, history, money, paper). Although not featured prominently, a Web site ( is referenced throughout that provides additional information, questions, and a wealth of related Web references. Children from the middle elementary grades through middle school would likely enjoy reading and “exploring” this book very much!