If you want me to learn, tell a story

I'm sure that someone explained it to me in school, but I feel as if I have just learned for the first time why airplanes can fly.

A key part of the explanation is Bernoulli's principle, and the only reason I know it is that someone took the time to tell me a story about who Bernoulli was, and how he eventually figured out that the faster a liquid or gas moves over a surface, the lower the pressure it creates. Wings are curved so that the air on top moves faster and the pressure is lower than it is on the underside of the wings Â- and up goes the plane.

That someone is Joy Hakim, and that lesson is one part of her "The Story of the Atom," courtesy of the latest issue of American Educator. Ms. Hakim, who has been a teacher, a journalist, and a history-textbook writer, is now penning a set of science textbooks (due out in 2003). As the excerpt's subtitle promises, it's "aimed at middle schoolers, fascinating for adults."

The last time I dug into science reading so eagerly was when I picked up the popular book "Longitude," the true story of an 18th-century clockmaker's solution to a navigational conundrum.

Adults wouldn't have rushed to recommend a dry, technical text to their friends, so it's not rocket science to think that young students, too, prefer well-told stories over texts that reduce scientific discoveries to a flashcard set of names and dates.

By linking scientists' quests to the larger questions of life, by telling sometimes-funny anecdotes about their family or school life, and by using metaphors and simple language rather than lingo, Hakim's textbooks Â- or others like them Â- may just bring students (and their parents) along almost effortlessly as they learn how the world works.

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