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Big Learning News 10-28-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:2 October 28, 2003

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Table of Contents
Tools for Learning: A Garage Sale Scale
Book Review: Fizz, Bubble and Flash: Element Explorations and Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun!
Web Site: Building Big

Tools for Learning: A Garage Sale Scale
    Our town had its big garage sale this week, and we picked up a real gem - an old mechanical utility scale for $3.00! The scale shows weight in pounds and ounces, up to twenty-five pounds. The first thing the kids did was try to put twenty-five pounds of pressure on the platform by pushing with their hands, and marvel at how hard that was. The scale makes a great addition to the toy cash register my sons use to play "store." Now they can weigh things before "selling" them.
    Scales are good for building sense of weight - what does a pound or an ounce feel like? Just reading the scale develops the skill of substituting numbers for tick marks, which comes up in all kinds of measurement. The scale also sparks great math discussions about the relationships among pounds, ounces, and fractions of a pound (half-pound, etc.), for example, how many ounces are in a half-pound? How many quarter pounds are there in two pounds? The scale display lets kids solve these problems visually and sets them up for the more formal techniques they learn in school. When kids use the scale with a calculator-type toy cash register, they can sell things by the pound or by the ounce, which helps develop intuitions about ratios. Not bad for a three-dollar investment.

Book Review
Fizz, Bubble and Flash: Element Explorations and Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun! By Anita Brandolini, Ph.D. A Williamson Kids Can!® Book published by Williamson Publishing, Charlotte , Vermont (2003).

     I run the science fair at our elementary school, so I have tons of science project books. Fizz Bubble and Flash is one of the best. Taking a fun, hands-on approach suitable for a wide variety of age levels, the author makes chemistry accessible without stripping away its coherence or big ideas. This author clearly loves chemistry and you can't help loving it with her.
     The chapters are organized by the sections of the Periodic Table of Elements - with catchy titles like "Meet the Halogens!" Each chapter works with one class of elements, revealing its properties through experiments, explanations, and even funny little poems. The experiments use easily-obtainable materials and substances from around the house - some you may not even know you have. Did you know that cola contains phosphates, which can shine dull pennies with an overnight soak? The book explains why and suggests other experiments in extensions called "Take it to the Science Fair." Each section also includes interesting chemistry-related historical events and applications, many with a slight gruesome edge to capture a kid's interest.

Web Site
Building Big: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig

     How do they make a tunnel under water? What's the tallest building in the world? If your kids express curiosity about big structures, they'll have fun exploring Building Big. The site is part of a whole suite of products based on a 2000 PBS series - the suite also includes five videos, a book, and curriculum materials for teachers. Building Big teaches engineering concepts related to five kinds of structures: bridges, dams, skyscrapers, domes, and tunnels.
     The very coolest parts of the site are the interactive labs. Each lab lets kids apply an engineering technique to a structure and see the results. For example, in the "materials" part of the skyscraper lab, kids can use a slider to stretch or squeeze blocks made of wood, aluminum, and other materials to see how much stress they can take before breaking.
     Also clever are the "challenges." In each challenge, kids are given a scenario and asked to make engineering recommendations based on the techniques they've learned. The Bridge Challenge presents a map showing four proposed bridge sites. Kids, acting as engineers, have to recommend the best bridge type for each site.
     Many engineering techniques on the site transfer easily to children's building projects. When your kids get frustrated with a Lego structure that keeps falling down, maybe all they need to do is add a sheer wall, a thick beam, or diagonal bracing - all covered in the Skyscraper lab.

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