By William Hageman, Tribune Newspapers
January 9, 2013
Jerome Pohlen, a former elementary school science teacher, has given kids and parents an excellent educational opportunity with his new book, "Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments" (Chicago Review Press).
The book is largely a biography of Einstein (1879-1955), presenting his life to a young audience — it's aimed at readers 9 and older — who might know his name but not a lot about him.
"Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids" is one of a series of books from Chicago Review Press aimed at young readers. Also in the series are "Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids" by Kerri Logan Hollihan, and "Darwin and Evolution for Kids" by Kristan Lawson.
"I've always been interested in science," explains Pohlen, who is an editor at Chicago Review Press and has edited children's activity books, quirky nonfiction and popular science books and has written a dozen award-winning science kits. "My father was an engineer, and my undergraduate training was in engineering. For a while I was an editor of children's science books. I've always thought he was a fascinating individual and thought this series needed an Einstein book."
There are also dozens of photos, short biographies of other scientists who were Einstein's contemporaries, quotes by and about him ("I have no special talents," Einstein said of himself. "I am only passionately curious.") and other resources. What there isn't is a lot of math, thankfully.
"I acknowledge the math is well above any child's head," Pohlen says. "But the concepts don't have to be. You can put aside the math and get a feel for what's going on … with the math. I mean, the math is over my head."
Pohlen took time to chat about Einstein and his book. An edited transcript of the conversation follows:
Q: Do kids in school today learn about Einstein? They must know the name, but how much about him do they know?
A: It's probably unlikely in the lower grades. But that doesn't mean it isn't impossible for them to get something out of (the book). The other titles are subjects who aren't necessarily part of the core curriculum, but they're things children will need to know at some time in their life.
Q: Have you always been a fan of his?
A: I've always been fascinated with him as an individual. I think the most enlightening thing about him, as I was writing this, was his personal life and some of the issues he was involved in.
Q: You also have experiments and projects to give kids a better understanding of some of Einstein's science. Do you have a couple of favorites?
A: I definitely liked the expanding universe one (using a microwave and a Peep). I think it's a great activity, just on a visual level. And I liked the explanation of critical mass, why the bomb explodes, using dominoes. That's something that makes it much more understandable for a child.
Q: Thought problems are very Einstein.
A: Einstein was not a hands-on physicist. He was mostly a theoretical physicist. And he did these thought experiments in his own mind. It shows you can solve tremendous problems through your own thought processes and imagination.
Q: Something else people can get from the book was how Einstein was more than a scientist. He lived in very complicated times, and he didn't avoid taking stands on things.
A: Just his life story and how his research and thoughts played out against the backdrop of history is fascinating. He's not just working alone in the lab. He was very much a part of history. Toward the end (of his life), he used his good will with the case of (W.E.B.) Du Bois (the civil rights activist, historian and educator was caught up in anti-communist fervor and was to go on trial, and Einstein offered to appear as a character witness). In addition to his intellect, the fact was he was right about so many things. Not just science, but the threat of war, problems faced by people across the world. He was right about civil rights before it was an issue. He was worried about and was right about nuclear power before anyone gave it a thought.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC