Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines – Science Capital

How much science capital do your children have?

What is Science Capital?

Louise Archer1, Professor of Sociology of Education at UCL Institute of Education, defined science capital [as] ‘a concept that is used to refer to a person’s science-related resources, such as their science-related understanding, knowledge, attitudes, activities and social contacts.’

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A further article by Leigh Hoath2 explained that research suggested a child’s interest in science was not sparked by the end of their primary years then it was too late.

Science capital is a term I discovered whilst listening to a podcast by Nikki Gamble from In The Reading Corner interviewing Alom Shaha, author of Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines. Alom3 said that he didn’t have much science capital as a child; that his parents were not scientists and he was not immersed in science.

However, what I hear when I listen to the interview and when I read his book, is an attitude towards science and innate yearning to understand how something works. Therefore, I’d suggest his perspective towards science gave him more science capital than he thought. It makes you realise how small a seed can be. It can then grow into something much bigger.

How Much Science Capital do you Need?

Do you feel you had any science capital as a child? Were your parents scientists? I wonder how much science capital one needs to ignite that fascination in science. I took A-Levels in the sciences and went on to complete a chemistry degree, I’m captivated by science.

Where did my science capital come from? I also did not have scientists as parents. Two thoughts come to mind. Firstly, my Mom had a collection of magazines that she received as a child. They were a subscription called Understanding Science that came in green binders that her parents paid for. Each one had a specific focus and I adored them. They were heavily illustrated in comparison to many of the other books in my Mom’s collection too.

The other memory was of my head teacher at primary school who taught us science and nature in year 5 and 6. He was different at teaching science than all the other teachers we’d had over the years. Previously, learning had come from copying diagrams and information from books. This teacher took us to explore decaying tree stumps, propel our homemade cars using elastic bands and build circuits. It was hands on, you could experiment and it was enthralling! He challenged your thinking through his careful questioning and made you want to know more.

Hence, I feel from my personal experience that reading and practical experiences gave me a passion for science at a young age. I only wish it had begun earlier. Consequently, to find a book such as Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines that’s brilliantly illustrated and invites you to learn about scientific concepts through experimental applications is a delight.

Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines

Publisher Scribble have a recommended reading age of 5-12 and I think that’s spot on. This book could be enjoyed together as a family or used to explore scientific concepts in schools too. I would love to see a curriculum based around this type of book.

It’s quite unique as a non-fiction text as it has very much the feel of a fictional relationship with a narrator. You really get a sense of who the author is through the book which is very rare in an information text.

I was initially drawn to the rich, warm hues of the front cover. They reminded me of a lounge in a friend’s house where her wonderful Mum would make us fresh, crispy samosas and first introduced me to dal. I could absolutely eat dal for every meal and on Alom’s website he’s got his Cheap, Easy, Quick Dal Recipe that I must try!

Emily Robertson’s choice of colour palette is very clever. It’s warm and inviting and very much contrasts lots of other ‘science’ books. The illustrations aptly appeal to all without any stereotypical gender colours; often science can be perceived as a ‘man’s world’ and it’s lovely to see a book pushing past this stock status. There’s a colourful, simple, harmonious charm to the spreads that weave perfectly together with Alom’s creative starting points.

Mr Shaha – The Joy of Making

Alom grew up in Bangladesh before moving to London. He describes ‘the joy of making’ by turning everyday items into fantastic machines. You can find out more about the joy of making in Alom’s blog post here.

Mr Shaha Snippet

Mr Shaha Says…

There’s a handy section at the start that explains how to use the book. The ‘Mr Shaha says’ sections are great for expanding on the knowledge gained from making the machine with further scientific explanations and carefully considered questioning. He invites you to adapt, experiment and make changes.

In the podcast3 he said he’s purposefully kept the designs simple so that they could be starting points to take your own designs further. I love this idea as for me science isn’t something static. The very nature of science is that it moves on, it transforms, it refines and improves. That’s the nature of a scientist. To work out how and why and what they can do to adapt and change.

It’s ok not to know – the Joy of Discovery

Alom wants us as children and adults not to be afraid to say we don’t know. That the joy can be in discovering together. When teaching I very much saw my role as giving the children ways and means to be able to discover what they wanted to know for themselves. This book is a great way to guide us adults to be able to do just that. More often than not, we learn right alongside our children.

Science for All

Something that I think is wonderful is how Alom has put up several videos on his website of how to make some of his marvellous machines. He wants science to be accessible to all – not just those that can afford to buy his book. One of his simplest machines is the balancing bird and you can find out more about this magical contraption here on his website.

Science for all means Alom has tried to make it so that the parts required can be found around the home. You can use packaging you’d be throwing away to recycle into your marvellous machines.

Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines Recommendation

A book I believe should have a place in every home and primary school. If we can make science accessible and opportunities available to all then we will inspire future generations of scientists.

Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines is a book that is absolutely an investment in science capital for the next generation and beyond.

If you’re looking for some more science experiments you could try these or these.

Thanks to Scribble for sending me a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.

References

  1. Archer,L. ‘Engaging Children with Science A ‘Science Capital’ Approach’. Primary Science. 154 (2018), 5-7 (p.6)
  2. Hoath,L. ‘Focus on… Science Capital’, Primary Science. 154 (2018), p.3
  3. Gamble, N. 2021. Alom Shaha: The Pleasures of Discovering Science and Making Machines. In The Reading Corner. [Podcast]. [27/09/21]. Available from: https://justimagine.co.uk/podcast/alom-shaha/

You can find more of my book blog posts here.

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