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Big Learning News 11-18-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:5 November 18, 2003

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Table of Contents
We Have a Winner!
Materials for Creating: Paper Sculpture
Book Review: Geography Crafts for Kids: 50 Cool Projects and Activities for Exploring the World
Web Sites: Weather Prediction Folk Wisdom

We Have a Winner!

The winner in our Kids Make Music book giveaway is Susan Ludwig of Iowa City, IA. Everyone else stay tuned for more giveaways in the future.

Want to know how I selected the winner? I used the random-number generator at http://www.random.org/nform.html , and asked for one random number between one and the total number of subscribers. It came back with number "9," and Susan Ludwig happens to be subscriber number 9. Call me a geek, but it was quicker than putting numbers in a hat!

Materials for Creating: Paper Sculpture
For this article I'm pleased to introduce my niece and nephew, Gracie and Leo, ages almost-8 and 5. Gracie and Leo have discovered paper sculpture, and go through reams of paper and miles of scotch tape in pursuit of artistic excellence. Sculptures they've created from paper include a giant ravioli, a dog exerciser, and the Great Wall of China.

"Sometimes it's hard," says Gracie. "you have to push a the paper down against the tape to get it to stick." In a fit of pre-dinner creativity she had just made herself a quick pair of shoes by molding the paper around her feet and taping it in place. This technique of molding and taping works for many creations, like the mug pictured here. In her "Wreath," construction paper leaves are layered around a ring of toilet-paper tubes. You can see more creations at www.biglearning.org/papersculpture .

"The most important thing about it is they feel no limitations," says their mother. "They imagine it and then they build it, and if it comes out looking like something else that's OK too." She says secondary benefits include a growing engineering vocabulary - how to make solid things, stuffed things, and how to make things stand up. They're also learning about materials - Popsicle sticks are stronger than pipe cleaners (though not flexible) but not as strong as rolled-up paper.

Artistically, she thinks they're "barking up the same tree" as Claus Oldenburg, famous for large sculptures of conventional objects. To read about him and see photos of some of his sculptures, try this article at from Hand Carved Magazine at http://hcmagazine.com/magazine.cfm/content/articles/0,3,0000212,00.html .

Tell us about your kids' Big Learning projects, and we might feature them in a future issue.

Book Review

Geography Crafts for Kids: 50 Cool Projects and Activities for Exploring the World by Joe Rhatigan and Heather Smith (Lark Books, 2002).

Geography Crafts for Kids is a beautifully produced and occasionally fascinating hands-on introduction to geography. It successfully carries the message that geography is more than knowing the names of countries and capitals. The projects seem appropriate for kids in upper elementary grades or older.

The book is at its best using interesting facts and compelling stories to entice kids to explore geography. Did you know, for example, that in Middle Ages, cartographers just made up parts of the map no one had explored? Maps showed things like the land of "dog headed people ruled by a dog-king."

Where the book seems to fall short is in the nitty-gritty of the projects themselves. The first project in the book, making a navigation instrument called an astrolabe, requires drilling a hole through a 5" x 1" x ½" block of wood (have one of those lying around?). Since the rest of the astrolabe is made of cardboard, one has to wonder if there wasn't an easier solution. This is a problem with several of the projects - they seem overly complicated for what you get out of them.

Still, this is a great book to at least borrow from the library, because there are several great projects in it that seem easy to do, and lots of interesting facts and pictures to browse. One of the more clever projects is, "Make a Contour Map of Your Friend's Face." Kids paint heavy, concentric circles around the high and low points on the friend's face, such as around the forehead and nose. Then they press paper against the wet paint to make a print. My favorite image is a composite of satellite photographs yielding a panorama of both hemispheres of the Earth at night. You can see the cities densely lit up, the rural areas sparsely dotted, and the dark wilderness.


Web Sites: Folk Wisdom about the Weather

We got interested in weather prediction at one time, and started trying to use science to predict the weather. We were utter failures - did you know barometer readings often rise before a storm, even though they are supposed to fall? It turns out predicting the weather is harder than we thought.

Maybe we'll have more luck with some of the folk wisdom related to weather prediction listed in the web sites below. These sites include rhymes as well as reasons why the folk signs are often accurate.

Classroom At Sea: http://classroomatsea.noaa.gov/shipops/rhymes.html
Quiz from Athena Weather Curriculum: http://inspire.ospi.wednet.edu:8001/curric/weather/hsweathr/folklssn.html

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