The Baby Board Books I Recommend to My High School Students

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

So many people think that you learn a scientific concept when you are able to identify the scientific term. We have heard many students say things like “That’s a polymer”. But if you ask them “What is a polymer?” they can’t explain it. This is why our focus at The Laboratory Collective is to let students experience a concept, be able to explain it in their own words, and focus on the scientific term afterwards.

Being able to articulate a concept in your own words is such a huge part of learning, so I was thrilled to discover the Baby University series by Chris Ferrie. I discovered the series when I was looking for books for my toddler, but I bought them for my high school classroom. The books use simple language and illustrations to tackle complicated topics, like: Quantum Physics, General Relativity, and Organic Chemistry. The books typically begin in the same way. They show a simple circle and say “This is a ball”. Depending on the topic of the book, it might continue to say “This ball is moving” (Rocket Science), “This ball is red” (Optical Physics) or “The ball feels the force of gravity (Newtonian Physics).

It shows students how even concepts that are supposed to be complicated can be broken down into simple terms. If you really know something, you should be able to explain it in a way that even a “baby” could understand.

I used these in my classroom when I was working as the Diverse Learning Specialist co-teaching Juniors in a general level Trigonometry class in Chicago Public Schools. The students I worked closely with had diagnosed learning disabilities which made it difficult to calculate numbers even with the assistance of calculators. Many of my students had just passed from math class to math class thinking they would never be able to reach that single right answer required in math. They had basically given up.

We created a project to de-emphasize finding “a single correct answer” in math to focus further on the thought process of explaining how we approach higher-level mathematical ideas. We used these books as examples to create our own children’s-style books to use simple terms explaining how to tackle higher-level mathematical concepts. We found students who struggled with calculations were excited to a different way to explore math. Students who found calculations came easy to them were challenged in a different way to articulate their process.