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Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities

Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities

3.7 3
by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

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Isaac Newton was as strange as he was intelligent. In a few short years, he made astounding discoveries in physics, astronomy, optics, and mathematics— yet never told a soul. Though isolated, snobbish, and jealous, he almost single-handedly changed the course of scientific advancement and ushered in the Enlightenment. Newton invented the refracting telescope,


Isaac Newton was as strange as he was intelligent. In a few short years, he made astounding discoveries in physics, astronomy, optics, and mathematics— yet never told a soul. Though isolated, snobbish, and jealous, he almost single-handedly changed the course of scientific advancement and ushered in the Enlightenment. Newton invented the refracting telescope, explained the motion of planets and comets, discovered the multicolored nature of light, and created an entirely new field of mathematical understanding: calculus. The world might have been a very different place had Netwon’s theories and observations not been coaxed out of him by his colleagues.
Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids paints a rich portrait of this brilliant and complex man, including 21 hands-on projects that explore the scientific concepts Newton developed and the times in which he lived. Readers will build a simple waterwheel, create a 17thcentury plague mask, track the phases of the moon, and test Newton’s Three Laws of Motion using coins, a skateboard, and a model boat they construct themselves. The text includes a time line, online resources, and reading list for further study. And through it all, readers will learn how the son of a Woolsthorpe sheep farmer grew to become the most influential physicist in history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Hollihan introduces readers to the scientific brilliance, as well as the social isolation, of this giant figure, blending a readable narrative with an attractive format that incorporates maps, diagrams, historical photographs, and physics activities."  —Booklist

"Written for children, this book is also a great resource for teachers and parents."  —Connect

"Sanitized, sculpted, and politically correct stories of human luminaries are typically fed to schoolchildren. Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan, however, offers middle-grade readers a refreshing and comprehensive look at the man touted as the greatest scientist who ever lived."  —BookLoons

Hollihan introduces readers to the scientific brilliance, as well as the social isolation, of this giant figure, blending a readable narrative with an attractive format that incorporates maps, diagrams, historical photographs, and physics activities.
Written for children, this book is also a great resource for teachers and parents.
Sanitized, sculpted, and politically correct stories of human luminaries are typically fed to schoolchildren. Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan, however, offers middle-grade readers a refreshing and comprehensive look at the man touted as the greatest scientist who ever lived.
Children's Literature - Cindy Schofield
Isaac Newton was a "boy like no other" and Hollihan's book describes both his scientific discoveries and his early determination to never let anyone take him for a fool. The author explores Newton's independent, slightly quirky nature as a boy and his years as a misfit at Cambridge University. As Newton began to realize that he knew more than his masters about natural philosophy and mathematics, he began to question some of the basic theological teachings about the nature of God. When he left the university, Newton spent time in secret studying alchemy in the years before he eventually began to formulate the laws of physics that he is so famous for. After publication of his book, Principia, Newton became a fixture in London society. He fulfilled his wish to leave a legacy as "one of history's most prominent scientists, if not one of the most famous people who ever lived…" In the process of describing the life and work of Issaac Newton, Hollihan also describes the theories of Aristotle, Galileo, Halley, Hooke and others. A timeline puts his discoveries and explorations into historical context and twenty-one hands-on activities bring Newton's musings to life for today's young scientists. Illustrations and diagrams, including reproductions of primary source material, add clarity to each chapter. This book will be a treasure trove of facts and activities for any child who is motivated by timeless questions of natural history and scientific inquiry. It will be equally valued by educators either to be read cover-to-cover or to use in chapters, with interesting readings that culminate in fascinating activities. The title will be an asset to any library, and will be especially valuablein curriculum centers or other settings where teachers will find it. This title about the "brilliant and bizarre Isaac Newton" is highly recommended. Reviewer: Cindy Schofield
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—An opening time line commences with the 1642 marriage of Newton's parents and closes with his death in 1727, and a general introduction describes the man and the times in which he lived. The text touches on Newton's childhood in Woolsthorpe, his studies at Cambridge, which led to his three laws of motion, and his time as master of the Royal Mint and president of the Royal Society. The activities elucidate, for example, concepts in mathematics ("What Are the Odds?") and physics ("Create Optical Illusions"), and reveal more historical details. For example, in a section on the 17th-century plague, readers are provided with instructions on how to make a mask like those worn by doctors of the time. The activities will generally not be suitable for science fairs, but are likely to engage readers. Lengthy sidebars provide additional information about pertinent subjects ("Comets," "Churches, Kings, and Freedom of Speech") as well as individuals and events that influenced Newton's work. The writing is clear and detailed, but is best suited for motivated readers. Black-and-white illustrations on every spread consist primarily of reproductions of art and of scientific diagrams. Some of the further-reading suggestions, including two tiles by Newton, are for adults. This will be a handy supplement to a physics curriculum and would be a useful selection for school and public libraries.—Maren Ostergard, King County Library System, Issaquah, WA

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
For Kids Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.40(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids

His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities

By Kerrie Logan Hollihan

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2009 Kerrie Logan Hollihan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-212-9



* * *

On a dark September day in 1658, 15-year-old Isaac Newton was sitting on his bench in school when the wind began to blow all across England. Within hours, an enormous storm raged throughout the small country. As the boys at Isaac's school would soon learn, another storm, this one a political crisis, was unfolding in London. Oliver Cromwell, England's Lord Protector, was dead. Who would rule England now?

But Isaac Newton wasn't worried about the rain, nor was he thinking about England's troubles. The storm brought something else: a chance for Isaac to perform an experiment. As soon as he could, Isaac dashed outdoors to be with the wind. First, he jumped into it, and then he jumped with it. Against the wind, with the wind, over and over, all the while marking the length of his jumps.

Later, Isaac compared these jumps with others he made in calm weather, so that he could understand more about the wind and its magnificent force. Isaac's experiment showed that the force of the storm enabled him to jump one foot farther than usual. His schoolmates likely doubted Isaac's findings, so he proved it by showing them where he marked and measured his leaps.

Considering Isaac's perilous birth, it was a miracle that he was alive to experiment at all. When he was born at home on Christmas Day in 1642, the midwife who helped his mother surely thought he would die. Baby Isaac was so tiny he could fit into a "quart pot." The household servants who went on an errand after his birth didn't bother to hurry back, because they were sure he would be dead before they returned. Allnewborns' heads wobble, but this little baby was so weak his caregivers made a special collar to support his head.

After Isaac survived those first critical days of life, his mother took him to the small church in Woolsthorpe, a tiny village, to be baptized. The ceremony, as with every baptism in Woolsthorpe, was recorded on the parish register:

Baptizd Anno Domini 1642
Isaac sonne of Isaac & Hanna Newton
Ian. 1.
[Jan. 1]

There was no father watching as Isaac was baptized. His father, also named Isaac, died when his mother was six months pregnant. Isaac's father, according to the tax records of the day, was a yeoman (YOE-man) farmer, a man who owned land and dwelled in a small manor home. Isaac's father used an "X" to sign his name on the tax register because he could not read or write. He also had a bad reputation — a "wild, extravagant, and weak man," one witness said.

This "bad boy" caught the eye of Hannah Ayscough (AZ-kew). In that day, girls rarely received a formal education, but Hannah's family allowed her to learn a bit about reading and writing. Hannah's brother, William Ayscough, probably introduced Hannah to Isaac Newton, and Hannah's parents approved the match. She came to the marriage with her own money, as well. Hannah's parents gave her farmland that produced an income worth 50 English pounds a year — far more than an average household earned in the young couple's day. Why Isaac Newton's father died at the age of 36 remains a mystery.

Isaac's family was not rich by London standards, but the Newtons lived in comfort. Hannah Newton inherited her husband's property as well as everything on it — buildings, barns, sheep, cattle, and tools. Hannah learned how to oversee the farm and the people who worked on it. Hannah had every reason to think that her new baby would grow up to inherit the farm and run it just as his father had.

The name of Isaac's hometown fit exactly how its people made their living there as sheep farmers. Woolsthorpe, in the county of Lincolnshire, sat just a mile from the great road that led from London to the north. Even so, most folks in Isaac's day traveled very little. Many of them passed their whole lives and never ventured farther than a few miles from home.

Baby Isaac lived with Hannah, his grandfather James Ayscough, and his grandmother (whose name is lost) in the manor home in Woolsthorpe. About the time that he turned three and was "breeched" — dressed in boys' clothes instead of the baby dresses that all little children wore — Isaac's life changed. A well-to-do minister named Barnabas Smith, who had a parish in North Witham, a few miles from Woolsthorpe, had lost his wife and was looking for a new one. Hannah Newton's name came to his attention. The widower sent a messenger to see if Hannah would consider marrying him.

People with recently deceased husbands or wives did not remain widowed for long during those times. To the Reverend Smith, Hannah was a good catch; she had land and obviously could bear children. For Hannah, the prospect of marrying a respectable clergyman with a guaranteed income meant that she could leave widowhood, as well as the hard task of running a farm by herself. She agreed to marry Rev. Smith.

But there was a stumbling block. The Reverend Smith did not want anything to do with three-year-old son Isaac. Only Hannah was to move into his home in North Witham. Isaac was to remain at Woolsthorpe to be raised by his grandparents. To Hannah's credit, she made sure that Isaac was financially secure before she left. Under the terms of her marriage contract with Rev. Smith, the minister guaranteed Isaac "a parcel of land" — the same land his mother brought to her first marriage — and the yearly income it produced.

Quite possibly, Isaac felt abandoned and neglected by his mother when she left him at Woolsthorpe. As a young man, Isaac left some evidence of his feelings in a notebook. In it, he recalled that as a little boy, he hoped the Smith house would burn down around the family. Still, Isaac remained devoted to his mother all her days until she died in 1679, even mixing medicine for her when she was ill. But Isaac appeared to have no special affection for the grandparents who brought him up. Once he left Woolsthorpe, he never spoke about his grandmother to anyone outside his home.

Hannah came back to Woolsthorpe when Isaac was 10. The Reverend Smith, who was old enough to be Isaac's grandfather, died in 1653, but not before he had fathered three children with Hannah. When she returned to Woolsthorpe, she brought Isaac's three half-siblings with her. Now Isaac had to share his mother's attention with two small children, Benjamin and Mary, as well as baby Hannah.

Like many small boys in the villages around Woolsthorpe, Isaac learned a little bit about reading and writing at village schools. Parents of his schoolmates hoped that their sons could learn enough to be able to read the Bible and grow to manhood in a godly fashion. (Their sisters, if they learned to read at all, learned at home.) In the households of Isaac's fellow schoolboys, there was little else worth reading, if there were any books available.

But there were books to read at Woolsthorpe. When Hannah returned there, she carted along piles of them from her dead husband's library. Isaac must have taken note of the leather-bound volumes that had belonged to his estranged stepfather. In tiny Woolsthorpe, as throughout all of England and Europe in the 1600s, books were rare and precious. One of them, a notebook that the Reverend Smith had used to outline his great thoughts about God, was nearly empty, but its blank pages of heavy paper were far too precious to throw away. Isaac later filled that particular notebook with brilliant ideas.

From the Back to the Front of the Line

When Isaac turned 12, it became time for him to go to a larger, better school. By now, Hannah was a wealthy woman, and it seemed fitting that her son should go to the King's School in Grantham, a larger town six miles from Woolsthorpe. It was too far for Isaac to walk to school, so he lived in Grantham at the home of a Mr. Clark, the town apothecary, who had a shop where he mixed medicines to treat the ill.

Upstairs, Mr. Clark lived with a wife and stepchildren, and Isaac moved in with them. Isaac found himself a friend to Clark's stepdaughter, whose name is lost to history. With Clark's stepsons, Edward and Arthur, things were different. Isaac was smaller than most boys his age, and his odd habits made him the target of their jokes. It was the same at school. Isaac just didn't fit in with the rest of the boys.

Isaac spent a great deal of time living in his own head. He enjoyed being by himself, and he spent long hours with no one else around. But he didn't waste time. Isaac liked to use his hands and was a gifted artist. Mr. Clark did not mind that Isaac decorated the walls of his room on the house's top floor with fanciful drawings of beasts and people like King Charles I, the most famous man in England, and Isaac's schoolmaster, Mr. Henry Stokes.

Isaac also liked to make complex models of mechanical objects like clocks and watermills. He planned and built a clock operated by water power that hung in the Clark's home. In Mr. Clark's shop on the ground floor of his house, Isaac watched how the apothecary combined chemicals to create new substances.

When the town of Grantham erected its first windmill, Isaac built a small replica of it. Isaac hitched up a mouse to the contraption, named it "The Miller," and watched it make the mill wheel turn. Not only did Isaac build little models, he made his own tiny tools to aid him in his handiwork. He liked Clark's stepdaughter and her friends and "would frequently make little tables, cupboards & other utensils for her & her playfellows, to set their babys & trinkets on," as one storyteller recalled. The girls must have thought Isaac a very talented boy when he built a four-wheeled cart he could sit in and crank to make it move.

Despite his cleverness at making things, Isaac appeared to have few gifts for school-work. At school in Grantham, boys were ranked by their grades. Isaac stood near the end of the line. Things changed, however, after a student ahead of him gave Isaac a strong kick in the stomach that sent him reeling. Isaac took his revenge, launching a pattern that he followed for the rest of his life. Isaac called out his attacker in the schoolyard, beat him up, and threw the other boy into the wall of a church. Isaac Newton never allowed anyone to take him for a fool.

Then Isaac got even with the rest of the boys in another way. He took a serious look at his schoolwork and decided that his place should be at the head of line. To become "head boy" at King's School would be sweet revenge, and Isaac won the coveted spot. Now he wanted to learn everything he could. He mastered Latin, the language that well-educated people both wrote and spoke all across Europe. He studied Greek so that he could know more about the works of scholars like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Isaac also learned basic arithmetic and possibly a bit of multiplication and division. Algebra and geometry weren't part of the curriculum at the King's School. Mathematics wasn't considered an important subject when Isaac went there, and only tradesmen like carpenters and shipbuilders studied geometry. However, once Henry Stokes, the schoolmaster, saw Isaac's gifts, he very well might have tutored Isaac in all the math he knew.

Isaac also learned "shortwriting," a type of shorthand writing similar to today's text messages. During a time when students used quill pens and dipped them into ink — often with messy results — shortwriting proved useful in writing letters and taking down notes from books. The English that Isaac and his schoolfellows wrote also looked and sounded different than today's English. He used terms like "ye" for "the," "yt" for "that," "wch" for "which," and "yn" for "than."

Isaac spelled words differently as well. In one of his notebooks, a heading read:

Of ye Sunn Starrs & Plannets & Comets.

In that notebook, he wrote a recipe for making gold-colored ink:

How to write a gold colour.

[Take a new laid egg, make a hole at one end & let out the substance then take the yolk without the white, & four times soe much quicksilver [mercury] in quantitie as of the former grind them well together & put them into the shell stop the hole thereof with chalk & the white of an egg then lay it under a hen that sitt with 6 more for the space of 3 wekes [weeks], then break it up & write with it.

Isaac went to school in a town where many people couldn't read at all. Most of his fellow citizens in England lived simple lives and did not ask many questions about the world around them. Most did not have clocks to mark the passing of each day, so they used the sun's position in the sky to get a rough idea of the time. Some households had hourglasses filled with sand that supplied a means of measuring time. If there was an emergency, someone had to ring the bells in the church tower to alert everyone in the area.

By the time Isaac was born, educated people had accepted the idea that the world was round, but some refused to believe that the earth orbited the sun. People lived close to the rhythms of the earth. Why would their eyes lie to them? They could see for themselves that the sun rose in the east, tracked across the sky, and set in the west.

Still, some ideas were beginning to change. A few people looked at the world with a fresh view. Isaac Newton was one of them. He started to experiment with things that interested him, to observe and measure them. For instance, Isaac watched as sunshine poured against a wall of his house and saw how the light shifted from day to day and week to week. He marked the stream of light with pegs in the wall, adjusting them as the days grew longer in the spring and shorter in the fall. Over time, Isaac created a fairly accurate sundial, and passersby could tell the time by "Isaac's dyal."

Isaac's neighbors were superstitious. If twin calves were born on a farm, it was a sign of God's anger. If a black cat crossed their paths, certainly it was time to say a prayer for good fortune. If a comet appeared in the night sky, surely bad luck would follow. England's history had "proved" this in 1066, when a comet appeared. Shortly thereafter, Harold, King of the Anglo-Saxons in England, was slaughtered during the Battle of Hastings. Harold's enemy William the Conqueror, along with William's fellow Normans from France, overran the country and changed England forever.

Sometimes Isaac used this kind of knowledge to make mischief. At least once, he managed to frighten a good number of people when he built some kites, tied candlelit lanterns to their tails, and flew them at night. Many of the townsfolk thought they were seeing comets and feared the worst.

A Farming Failure

In the late 1650s, when Isaac was in his mid-teens, his mother called him home from Grantham. Hannah thought that Isaac had learned quite enough at the King's School and was ready to manage her land. There were sheep and cattle to raise, hay to rake, buildings and fences to mend, and servants to manage. All of this was a big responsibility, and Hannah Newton firmly believed that it was time for Isaac to take on his duties as a future landowner.

It didn't take long for the servants to see that Isaac Newton was no sheep farmer. He sat under hedges and read books when he should have been looking after his animals. When he and a servant went to market in Grantham, Isaac spent the day with his books in his old room at Mr. Clark's home while the servant did Isaac's work. One day, as Isaac returned home on horseback, he dismounted to lead the horse up a hill. Somehow the horse slipped out of its bridle. But Isaac never noticed. He continued on home, dragging the horseless bridle behind him. Indeed, Isaac was miserable at farming, and he was miserable while farming, too.

To Isaac's good fortune, two men in his life intervened with his mother. Hannah's brother, Isaac's uncle William Ayscough, and his schoolmaster, Mr. Stokes, visited Hannah to plead for Isaac to return to the King's School. Mr. Stokes even agreed to drop Isaac's fees in order to persuade Isaac's tightfisted mother to let him go back.


Excerpted from Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids by Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Copyright © 2009 Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Kerrie Logan Hollihan has written for Boy’s Life magazine.

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Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
storiesforchildren More than 1 year ago
Who might you think was the greatest scientist of all times? Various people will likely have different opinions in answer to that question, but certainly everyone should be able to agree that one of them was Sir Isaac Newton. Born in 1642, Newton is perhaps best remembered for the story, which may or may not be true, of how he developed the law of gravity from watching an apple fall to the ground. However, Newton was truly a phenomenal figure in the history of science who contributed to the study of optics, calculus, astronomy, and chemistry, as well as his work in physics, and additionally served his country both as a Member of Parliament and first Warden and then Master of the Mint. Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan not only chronicles the history of Newton's life and work but also introduces students to the methods of scientific discovery, including rational questioning, systematic experimentation, and rigorous exploration by the inclusion of 21 activities, with step-by-step instructions and detailed illustrations, to help stimulate interest in science. Some of the activities include building a sextant, conducting a series of tests with a pendulum, and mixing up a batch of homemade ink. There is also information about many of Newton's Enlightenment contemporaries and friends, such as mathematician Galileo Galilei and architect Christopher Wren. Newton was certainly not a "perfect" human being but had his faults, and this book does not gloss over them. However, two things stand out about Newton. "He firmly believed that God was the creator of all things" (p. 70). Also, in spite of what some revisionist historians have concluded, "Newton's reputation as a great man of science stands firm" (p. 120). Some parents may not care for the fact that reference is made to the claim by some twentieth century writers that Newton may have had homosexual relationships with John Wickins and Fatio de Duillier (which one source I checked says is purely conjectural and much disputed). Otherwise, Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids is a fascinating look at a great scientist who, despite his personal weaknesses and failings, contributed much to our understanding of the physical universe.
KellieMoster More than 1 year ago
Written in the comfortable narrative style that children prefer and filled with interesting facts and fun activities that parents and teachers hope for, Kerrie Logan Hollihan's Isaac Newton & Physics for Kids is a must have. The author reveals Newton in his own era and shows the reader how the time and pressures in Newton's life drove him to discover the genius within. Newton's development of scientific theories is expressed in language that Middle Grade students can understand. Educators and educationally minded parents will appreciate the invitation to apply Newton's theories through hands-on experiences. This book is perfect for the classroom or the young science enthusiast.