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The Periodic Table Gets Hip

WledfsIt may sound strange but think of Bunpei Yorifuji’s “Wonderful Life with the Elements” as what happens when Anime goes to a chemistry class. The 205-page hardbound book from No Starch Press may look whimsical but it is stuffed full of interesting and useful information about the Periodic Table and the elements, but with a twist. Rather than the expected atomic symbols, protons and electron orbitals, elements are represented by quirky cartoons.

For instance, elements take on a human persona and each of the chemical groups in the periodic table is represented by a different haircut. The uses of the elements are shown as different costumes they wear on what looks like bobble head dolls. When the elements were first discovered is shown by how old the doll looks and gases are shown as things that look like ghosts. For example, Scandium shows up in the book as a nerdy celebrity and Carbon is seen as something akin to a Zen master. 

Wle_spread_hydrogen_1The overall effect of Yorifuji’s book is a mixture of bemusement, curiosity and interest. The look is odd to say the least, which is compounded by the book’s cream colored paper that’s printed with only black and yellow ink. On top of the expected melting-, boiling- point and density data on the elements, the book takes an oddball approach with things like the elements in breakfast and the conductive elements arranged as an orchestra. There are also pages describing the prominent elements in ancient times through today.

Each element gets a short description, cartoons as well as a nickname that can help kids remember it. For instance, because of its use as a paint pigment, Chromium is called the tortured artist and helium is the lighthearted gas that raises our spirits and voices. Overall, the book is overflowing with information but can’t compare with established reference books like the Merck Index. Still, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” is presented in a way that its contents have a better chance of being remembered than typical textbook information.

Wle_poster_sample_0A great way to get to know the elements, the book’s informality works at many levels. It’s a great introduction to the complexity and depth of the elements without being burdened by heavy math. It all comes together in what Yorifuji calls the Super Periodic Table, a 13.5- by 11.5-inch pull-out poster that’s included at the end of the hardbound book. It’s too small for a whole class to see and I wish that it was available in a larger format. 

All told, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” succeeds at many levels and can turn a boring recitation of properties to a fun and memorable experience. The printed edition (ISBN: 9781593274238) costs $18, but there’s an ebook for $15; together you can get the set for $20. While some will dismiss it as soft science I was quite taken by the book and see that it can have a place in a middle- and high-school science class. In fact, every chemistry classroom or school library should have at least one printed or ebook copy.


“Wonderful Life with the Elements” by Bunpei Yorifuji

ISBN: 9781593274238

Book price: $18

eBook price: $15  


+ Whimsical approach to science education

+ Filled with key facts

+ Names and cartoons can help remember facts

+ Includes poster

+ Available as printed or eBook


- Odd look

- Can’t compete with traditional reference book

New World and Old

Almanac coverWhat do Justin Bieber, Eli Manning, a tree frog, a girl gymnast and Jennifer Lawrence have in common? They’re all on the cover of the latest World Book Almanac for Kids. Aimed at kids 8 and up, the 2013 edition costs $14 and can be a class’s font of knowledge about everything from the rise of Islam in the seventh century to the world’s largest cities. There are several quizzes and puzzles as well as excellent up to date maps and country profiles, including an entry for the youngest country, South Sudan. A copy should be next to the dictionary in every class, plus there’re lots of additional online goodies at the publisher’s site.

Freebee Friday: Classics on the Cheap

Mzl.hfiebzrs.320x480-75Chances are that if you’ve set up classrooms with iPads that you can cut out the cost of buying some of the reading material traditionally done with books. Lexcycle’s Stanza works with pads, iPhones and many iPods to deliver a variety of free classics from tis library of 50,000 books. It provides access to catalogue of Project Guttenberg and Feedbooks as well as other sources. 

Required Reading: Test Takers Manual

Test success cover
All too often the intelligence of the smartest and most creative kids doesn’t show up on standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT. With a combination of proven test-taking techniques and stress management, Ben Bernstein’s “Test Success!” can help any kid do his or her best. The 200-page book deals with everything from calming down and being confident to the differences among popular tests and special sections for parents and teachers. It costs $20.




Required Reading: Tech 101

Tech 101There’re thousands (maybe millions) of technophobes in schools out there and we know who you are. There’s help, and all it takes is reading a book. Abby Stokes’s “Is This Thing On” is a simplistic and humorous look at basic computing. It’s more than enough to get a teacher started on the road to loving the digital classroom with chapters on buying hardware, securing your online identity and a primer on Twitter, Facebook and Instant Messaging. The book contains a page of essential keyboard shortcuts glossary and a great troubleshooting section. It’s available for about $10.



Required Reading: Educaching

Educaching-coverYou’ve heard of geocaching, where enthusiasts conceal trinkets in a hidden place, located only by a set of GPS instructions, Once found, the participants take the item and leave a different one. Apisphere has opened a new Web page that can help turn geocaching into educaching with help integrating it into a geography curriculum. In addition to the company’s expected handheld Geomate Jr receivers, the site has classroom starter kits and a book with lots of geocaching ideas. It’s called “Educaching,” has 20 lesson plans, classroom materials and even help getting grant money to pay for it all; it costs $32.  


Required Reading: A new Approach to Calculus

Brief_Applied_Calculus (1)Throw those dusty calculus textbooks out because Cengage Learning’s “Brief Applied Calculus” rewrites how advanced math should be taught. Written by James Stewart and Daniel Clegg, there’s a 560-page textbook that emphasizes intuitive math and real world applications. There are also an enhanced ebook as well as online and video adjuncts to help teacher and student. You can read through Chapter 3, which goes over techniques of differentiation, for free.

Required Reading: A Helping Hand

Educating america cover smallAny solo teacher can tell you that it’s a lonely job. Having some help, well, helps, and “Educating America 101-- 101 Strategies for Adult Assistants in K-8 Classrooms,” by Padd Eger is a good place to start. The 170-page book makes a good case for parents, specialists and the community to participate in educating our children. It provides good advice for teachers and those contemplating lending a helping hand. The paperback book goes for $15.




Freebee Friday: Are You a Software Pirate?

BSA piracyYou may not know it or be able to do much about it, but the chances are that your school has a slew of stolen or pirated software, according to a poll prepared by the Business Software Alliance. The eighth annual software survey, the report looked at 15,000 PCs last year in 32 countries and found that worldwide 42 percent of software was bogus or unlicensed. Here, in North America, that figure is a more reasonable 21 percent. Still, that’s one in five programs that are pirated or unpaid for.



Required Reading: Innovation in the Classroom

415m3K9qVaL._SL500_ Does you classroom have the feel of the classroom you spent your early years? It may not be all bad, but a lot has happened to make teaching more efficient, easier and more rewarding for students and teachers. “Breakthrough Teaching and Learning” is an eye-opener that can help teachers and administrators to adapt personal learning techniques to their schools and drive innovation in the classroom. You can read chapters of the $129 book.







Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.