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Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Blasts Off! (From the Highly Scientific Notebooks of Phineas L. MacGuire)

Last updated Thursday, April 4, 2024

Author: Frances O'Roark Dowell
Illustrator: Preston McDaniels
Date of Publication: 2008
ISBN: 1416926895
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Apr. 2024

Synopsis: Houston, we have a problem! Phineas L. MacGuire (a.k.a. Mac), is less than up-to-date on planetary happenings. (Marsquakes? Who knew?) If he's going to be the best scientist in the fourth grade, Mac has to set his sights a little higher. Well, actually a lot higher: Outer Space. But, space camp is expensive and Mac's mom says he can go only if he earns the money himself. But, where is he going to find enough money for a week on Mars (or a pretty close simulation thereof)?

Houston, we have another problem: a gigantic, slobbery dog named Lemon Drop. Mac can earn the money he needs walking Mrs. McClosky's Yellow Lab, but first he needs to survive the walks! Good thing Mac is a scientific genius with friends like Ben and Aretha. Together the three of them discovers that Lemon Drop is no ordinary dog - that Lab is a real-life Lab-oratory.

Note to readers:
•  The text mentions that the ingredient agar is "just like Jell-o" but you may compare gelatin versus agar.
•  An experiment with steel wool is included below however eye and respitory protection should also be noted.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Can anyone name some steps from the scientific method?
•  Have you used positive thinking to reach a goal? What was the goal?
•  What animals do you think have been studied for their saliva? Why?

•  Marketable - Contains qualities that are in-demand or valued.
•  Prompting - Encouraging or reminding someone to do or say something
•  .Remarks - Comments, observations, or notes.
•  Physarum - Short for Physarum polycephalum. Bright yellow mold. Fondly known as "the blob" or "the many headed slime" among mycologists (scientists who study molds and slimes or people who study wild mushrooms).
•  Petri - Test sample dish named after bacteriologist Julius Richard Petri.

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Mac is disappointed Mars isn't an explosive planet. What geographic features qualify as explosive?
•  What documentary would you make and is it scientific?
•  Hypothesize or guess the outcome of the drool experiment using theories that can be tested.

Craft ideas:
•  Fish Fidget Toy - Slightly inflate water balloon with air then tie closed. Enclose in tape leaving tip exposed. Place inbetween two pre-cut paper fish shapes with the tied end towards the tail. Tape together but leave opening near mouth. Press to make the fish blow bubbles (or "spit").
•  Model Rocket - Using 3 clothespins, clip to one end of a toilet paper roll like a tripod. Tape the top of a plastic easter egg on the oppositse end. Decorate and display!
•  Origami Bookmark - Cut index card in half. Fold in half like triangle (ok if not perfectly lined up). Take the top point of the triangle and fold down in half. Fold left and right sides upward into a diamond. Tuck into the edge created from the previous step. Your bookmark is ready to use!
•  Earth Day is April 22,2024. Make a poster or flyer about something pertaining to the day.
•  Draw a picture of something you did on your spring break.

Special activities:
•  (Life on Mars p. 937) Using 3 sealed containers, fill each with sand then separately add a small amount of yeast, salt, and baking powder to individual jars. Refrigerate overnight to simulate the cold Martian atmosphere. Add sugar water to each jar and reseal. Observe over a few days if life can be activated in these varied conditions.
•  (Oxidation p. 948) Using caution like a true scientist, combine in container either steel wool or a nail, sand, and water. Check back daily for orange-like changes in coloration and evidence of oxidation.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don't have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!