By Awnali Mills
Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a little embarrassed by how excited I am about the Howtosmile app (iPad/iPhone, Free). I was fairly skeptical when I downloaded it, but it was free, so why not? Free apps aren’t always the best, but this was developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science, the public science museum and research center at the University of California, Berkeley. University and museum apps tend to be higher quality, in my experience, so I figured I might find something useful.
This app pulls from sites all over the internet to make a database of science and math experiments (can you see me bouncing in my seat? I’m bouncing!).
On the first page, you can use the search bar, you can browse by topic, go to the top 20 activities, or go to the Howtosmile blog. Wait, a Howtosmile blog? That’s right. The app was created by the folks at Howtosmile.org. The app is just the website in miniature! How could I have missed these resources?
I have an upcoming Science and Stories program on magnifying glass science, so on the search page, I put in “magnifying glass.” I got a list of returns as long as my arm. While several would not have worked for my program, (the app is designed for use in K-12 classrooms, and I am working with preschoolers) there were several others that would have worked very nicely with a little adaptation. Where was this app when I was doing all my planning? I started searching for experiments for other upcoming programs, like flight science.
If you click on one of the search results, the app gives you a description of the experiment. It has a Quick Guide that lists prep time, learning time, materials cost estimate, age range, resource type, and language. It also lists keywords, materials needed, subjects, what students need to be able to do (see, touch, etc.), learning styles, components of the resource, where the resource is from/who created it, and a link to the online resource from which the listing has been pulled. With some of these search returns, all I would have needed to replicate the experiment was within the app—just the general idea was enough to go on. With others, there were resources I needed from the experiment site (like a printout of a paper helicopter).
In the interest of being thorough, I went to the browse by topic. One of the listings was “Historical Reenactment.” Huh? You KNOW I had to click on it. Turns out it’s pretty cool. These are experiments where science and history collide—recreating Galileo’s famous experiment with a feather and a heavy weight, breaking a Mayan Math code, making your own mummy, etc.
I can’t even begin to tell you how geeked I am about this app/website. I do a lot of science programming, and the internet is a big place full of badly done/unsafe experiments. I love Pinterest passionately, but the science quality can be iffy. Books are wonderful, but not as easily searchable. My hope is that this app will save me time and give me inspiration.
One caveat: the internet is fluid, dude. That means that stuff moves, changes, and disappears. I clicked on several links, but only one site was no longer viable. Of all the links I looked at, none were from “mom and pop” blogs, but from “official” type sources like NASA, which may give them more longevity.