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Review of Science Naturally and Study Guide Review by Leah Courtney

Ghost in the Water
Sue Garcia
Science Naturally
725 Eighth Street SE
Washington DC 20003

Ghost in the Water is a mystery story intended for kids ages 10-14. It’s the first in what is going to be a series—the first League of Scientists Mystery. It is a 176-page paperback divided into twenty-five chapters. At the end of the book is a glossary defining some of the scientific and other lesser-known words in the story. The book is considered STEM fiction because the characters in the story use their talents in the areas of science, math, and technology to solve mysteries they encounter.

In the story, John, a seventh grader is new to East Rapids Middle School. He’s the target of the school bully as he tries to adjust to the new school. But he finds a group to be a part of when the League of Scientists, a group of fellow seventh graders, invite him to join. This group is made up of kids with knowledge of biology, logic, robotics, and chemistry who use that knowledge to solve mysteries. When Casey, the school’s star swim team member, runs into a supposed ghost in the school’s pool, he is determined not to get back in the water. But the swim team needs him in an upcoming meet. The League of Scientists pools their talents to unravel the mystery of a ghostly presence in the school swimming pool.

Ghost in the Water is unique in that it combines a good mystery story that will appeal to middle grade readers with educational concepts. The book aligns with Common Core standards for science and math. It presents math and science concepts that might be difficult for kids to understand in a way that helps kids to grasp them and see them at work in a practical setting.

I was pleasantly surprised that the book was very interesting and readable despite the distinctive educational focus. I wondered when I read the synopsis how math and science concepts could really be presented smoothly enough to be an integral part of the story without them standing out as “lessons,” interrupting the flow of the book. But the book is a high-interest story that can keep the attention and interest of the kids who are reading it.

In addition to the book, the Science Naturally website has a link to a teacher’s guide for Ghost in the Water. This is a printable PDF file that can be used in a classroom or homeschool as the book is read. The guide is very complete, with over fifty pages of material that can be used in conjunction with the book. The teacher’s guide is considered interdisciplinary because it covers a variety of educational subjects, including history of scientists, language arts, world history, math, science, engineering practices, computer programming, and social studies.

The teacher’s guide is divided into several sections. There is information about its suggested use at the beginning. There is a breakdown, chapter by chapter, of science and math concepts that are covered, and there are many suggested activities, complete with printable pages for students. There is also a page of discussion questions to use after kids have read the book. The guide isn’t a lesson plan guide. The activities are not divided up by what activities to use with each chapter. The guide is set up, primarily, for a team of middle school teachers to use. It is suggested that the teachers of multiple disciplines choose activities on a specific theme to carry out in each of their classes.

I found that the book doesn’t really flow as a read aloud. It’s interesting and can definitely draw upper elementary and middle school-aged kids into the story, but some books just don’t sound as good when read aloud. There are also puzzle-type clues and codes that are more easily understood if the kids are reading and seeing them for themselves. So I think the book is best read by kids independently.

Although the teacher’s guide is written primarily for school teachers, I found that I could use it in our homeschool in this way. The kids could read the book independently. After they read each chapter, we discussed the chapter to see if they discovered the science and math topics covered. The discussion questions I will save until the end of the book because they don’t go with specific chapters. As the kids are reading through the book, I can pick and choose activities from various subject areas to complete once or twice a week.

The only thing I wish were a little different about Ghost in the Water actually has to do with the study guide and not with the book. The study guide has so many great extra resources, but I wish it were a little more structured so that I could more easily pick activities that went with specific chapters. That way I could assign a chapter of reading, we could discuss it, and then I could pick activities to complete that specifically related to the chapter they had just read.

Ghost in the Water can be a great supplement to a regular curriculum. With an interesting mystery story, the book can teach STEM concepts in a natural, practical way. And with the very nice addition of the teacher’s guide, we can find a lot of great educational activities to have fun with as we are reading.

-Product Review by Leah Courtney, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2015