by Alvin silverstein, Virginia Silverstein, and Laura Silverstein Nunn

Price at time of review: $31.93
112 pp.
Lerner Publications Co.
Minneapolis, MN
ISBN: 9780822534341

Grade Level: 6-8

Reviewed by Juliana Texley
NSTA Web Field Editor

This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book blends middle school level concepts with an informal writing style. The book's design incorporates expository text features that increase student interest and, in the best books of this genre, serve as a model for teaching strategies to read and comprehend the more challenging texts found at middle and high school.

This is an important concept area for middle school. The National Science Education Standards state “understanding adaptation can be particularly troublesome at this level. Many students think adaptation means that individuals change in major ways in response to environmental changes (that is, if the environment changes, individual organisms deliberately adapt).”

NSTA Recommends reviewer Kari Augustine has noted a number of areas to which teachers should pay careful attention when using the book. Although the text clearly states that species (not individuals) adapt, some of the examples need clarification to avoid this misconception.  For example, the adaptation of athletes to high-altitude air pressure is temporary and unrelated to evolution. Because it's of high interest, it might be the one students remember. The glossary defines evolution as “the process by which species change over time as they adapt to Earth’s conditions." In a sidebar entitled “Evolution in Action,” the authors say that “the peppered moth is one species that adapted rapidly to environmental changes."  The example of the peppered moth has become controversial in recent years because of the methods that H.B.D. Kettlewell used, so an instructor would benefit from background reading in this area.

The reviewers on the CBC/NSTA Outstanding Tradebook committee were especially enthusiastic about the book's photographs and diagrams. Sidebars provide informal, second-person stories of facts that middle level students will remember--adaptations of familiar organisms like sharks and cave fish. But other text elements that might help reluctant readers are missing. Glossary words are not shown in bold when embedded in the text.  Given the key role that vocabulary plays in reading comprehension, this omission significantly affects the text’s potential to assist the struggling reader.

Websites listed at the end of the book are also varied in value, level, and quality. The first reference links to a Grade 4 site with blackline masters of various animals, whereas the description for another says that “users can also play an adaptation game and sing an adaptation song." These are not developmentally appropriate to the content, in the view of reviewer Augustine. So teachers should preview the websites before use.

Overall, this book provides valuable information on an important topic. But to make it most useful, teacher support will be needed.

Review posted on 11/28/2007

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