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Big Learning News 10-21-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole’s Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:1 October 21, 2003

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Table of Contents

Out and About in Autumn: Identifying Trees and Tracks
Book Review: Take a Look Around: Photography Activities for Young People
Web Sites: Backyard Birding

Out and About in Autumn: Trees and Tracks
My son keeps picking up pretty autumn leaves, and I’m kicking myself for never learning to identify any but oak and maple. So I was thrilled and relieved to come upon What Tree is It? (http://www.oplin.lib.oh.us/products/tree/). The site lets you identify trees by leaf, fruit (like the acorn), or by name. You might need a twig with a few leaves on it to get through the identification process, but at the end you are rewarded with a page that shows you several photographs of your leaf and the name of your tree.
As we explore the autumn woods we’re also finding quite a few animal tracks. We love our track book, Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes, but the backpack was getting heavy with all the field guides. To the rescue comes the Peterson Flash Guides (Animal Tracks), a laminated, fold-out guide that includes tracks of over a hundred common animals. The Flash Guide Series is available at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute's online nature store at http://www.withoutbricks.com/rtpi. The guides are also available in science/nature-oriented bookstores.

Book Review
Take a Look Around: Photography Activities for Young People by Jim Varriale
It’s not surprising that kids like to take pictures. Of all the art forms, photography requires the least manual dexterity. So why do most photography classes for kids start at age 12 or so, long after the drawing and painting classes? I assume it’s because they focus on darkroom technique, with its attendant exposure to nasty chemicals.
Take a Look Around is a photography book that just helps kids take better pictures and leaves darkroom/digital editing issues aside. The book is a series of activities that focus (no pun intended!) on ways to get an interesting shot. Each activity builds awareness of one technique or issue, such as framing, composition, shadow and light, and camera angle. The book is printed in black and white, but each activity has one or more beautifully shot sample photos to inspire kids and adults alike. Even better, all the photos were taken by kids, using a low-cost 35mm camera. The sample photos all depict familiar, kid-friendly scenes, such a soccer goal or a swimmer in a pool. Take a Look Around makes photography seem so accessible you may want to sneak a few shots yourself.

Web Sites: Backyard Birding
Backyard bird feeding lets you and your kids observe nature close-up, without leaving home. Whether you are just considering hanging up a feeder or you’ve been feeding birds for years, you’ll find much of interest on these sites:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://birds.cornell.edu/): One of my favorite sites for backyard birding, and home of Project Feederwatch. When you join Feederwatch, you become a citizen scientist with opportunities to contribute real data about the birds you see at your birdfeeder. They also send you a full-color poster to help you identify birds and other cool stuff.

National Birdfeeding Society: (http://www.birdfeeding.org): Another great site that includes some plans for making your own feeders – either out of recycled containers or more durable materials.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center birdsong page (http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/songlist.html): If you’d like to start learning to recognize bird songs, this page has a nice list and doesn’t seem to require special software like RealPlayer. The page isn’t organized at all, but still fun to use. If the long list of birds is overwhelming, try the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “sound of the week” (http://birds.cornell.edu/sow/index.html).

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