Reviewed by: Scott Sells, Andrew Serff, Bas Hamer
The Capsella 90 Weather Station claims to allow the user to "Discover the Fun of Science in Motion!" It attempts to accomplish this by providing 40 interlocking parts to construct six different projects. These include a rain gauge, thermometer, sundial, compass, wind speed indicators, and wind direction indicators. While some of these tools can be used together, it is not possible to use all six at once. The product further claims that "children of all abilities from age 7 and up will be fascinated with tangible demonstrations of real-life concepts." As we will see, this is not necessarily the case-these real-life concepts are not explained.
The rain gauge is a simple plastic cup with a stick-on ruler. Two rulers are available: a metric ruler with millimeters, and an American ruler with inches. As these rulers were not available at the time of evaluation, it is not clear whether they are easily interchangeable. By leaving the plastic cup outside during a rainstorm, it will presumably fill up with an accurate amount of rainwater, which can be measured by looking at the ruler. If the cup is checked each hour, the user can determine whether the storm has dropped Light Rain (less than 0.5mm), Moderate Rain (0.5mm - 4mm), or Heavy Rain (more than 4mm). These terms are rather ambiguous, but give a general idea to the user.
The thermometer is a temperature-sensitive liquid crystal strip attached to a piece of plastic. It provides both Fahrenheit (which, in the instructions, is spelled "Farenheit") and Celsius measurements of the temperature, which gives the user a general idea of the differences between the two. No mention is made, however, of why there are two different ways of measurement. The temperature is supposed to be marked in green color, yet none of the colors are actually green (they range from black to navy blue, cyan, dirty yellow, and back to black).
The sundial is a hemicircle of plastic with small plastic pins that can be inserted around the perimeter of the hemicircle. These pins have the numbers 1 through 12 on them. The pins can be placed anywhere along the perimeter of the hemisphere, which makes the sundial highly inaccurate. There are no directions explaining how to "synchronize" the sundial to the correct time of day before reading it. There is a small mention that "a long, long time ago, people used sundials like this one to measure time," but again, there is no mention of why.
The compass resides inside of one of the interchangeable parts. It is used in the sundial project to make sure the sundial is facing north. It is also used in the wind direction project to align the compass rose (plastic appendages with N, S, E, and W indicators) to the north. Unfortunately, there are no instructions explaining how to read the compass. This could be a problem simply because the needle has a white side and a red side, and the user may not know which side is the pointer.
The wind direction project uses the compass rose pieces as well as a rotating arrow on top, similar to those found atop weather vanes. Once the project is aligned with north, using the compass, the arrow on top will rotate to point in the direction that the wind is blowing. This does not always work as planned, since the arrow sometimes points in the opposite direction of the wind flow.
The wind speed indicator is a rotating ball with four stems. Each of the stems has a cup facing in the same direction. When the wind blows, the structure rotates. There is absolutely no way to measure the wind speed. The directions simply say, "When the wind cup spins quickly, the wind is gusting. As the wind cup slows down, it indicates that the wind is calmer." The project may be fun to watch, but it has very little educational value.
All together, the biggest flaw with this science kit is that it does very little educating. The instructions give detailed project construction directions, but offer no explanations of the weather processes being observed. In some cases, directions for reading the instruments are either unclear or nonexistent. Included in the kit should be a book containing diagrams, pictures, and written explanations of some of the basic weather processes that can be observed with the kit, as well as a few weather experiments the user could perform in order to better understand the complexities of weather systems. The fact that the parts are interchangable really has no meaning with this kit, since only a few small projects can be built (thus stifling the user's imagination and creativity). In summary, the Capsella 90 Weather Station is not recommended for teaching children about weather, or for stimulating their imagination.