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Big Learning News 12-09-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:8 December 9, 2003

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Table of Contents

Improvements at BigLearning.org
Activity: Make the Cutest Little Boxes.
Book Review: In Schools We Trust
Web Site: Kid-Lit Children's Literature

Improvements on BigLearning.org

    The Big Learning web site is less than two months old, and we're already remodeling. We have moved many links from the Links page to a whole new section, called " Big Learning Treasure Troves. " You'll also find lots of new links on the Links page. Check it out ( www.biglearning.org ) and let us know what you think by replying to this newsletter. If you like what you see, tell your friends!

Make the Cutest Little Boxes.

     A top-secret gift project at our house required a paper cone, and I can never remember how to cut one out of a flat sheet of paper. On the Internet I found not only a cone template, but templates for all sorts of geometric solids. If your kids have been dying to make their own dodecahedrons, this is their lucky day. I also found templates for take-out boxes, pie-slice boxes, and other interesting shapes. You know me - I can never resist a good spatial relations project. Here are some links:

Geometric Solids: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/math/geometry/solids/
Odd-shaped gift boxes: http://www.paperzone.com/cornerboxes.htm
More gift boxes: http://www.paperandmore.com/articles/box_templates/

And the cone? It's just a circle with a slit cut from the outside to the center. To make the cone more narrow, cut out pie-slices until the cone looks right when you pull the two corners together. I got an ice-cream cone proportion by cutting out ¾ of the circle. See this rocket project for an example:

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/astronomy/rocket/index.shtml .

Book Review
In Schools We Trust by Deborah Meier (Beacon Press, 2002)
(A book for grown-ups)

     Lovers of big learning may be noticing less and less of it in their schools lately, as schools are pressured to concentrate more exclusively on activities that will raise test scores. The "accountability" train has gathered steam since passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, broad federal legislation which mandates annual standardized testing and "adequate yearly progress" for schools that receive federal funding.
     Many parents assume that the mantra, "hold schools accountable," equals testing, and that testing plus consequences equals school improvement. With In Schools We Trust , Deborah Meier explains the fallacies that surround these equations, with the credibility that comes from operating successful public schools in the toughest urban environments. She provides an alternative vision for creating truly trustworthy schools. Actually, it's more than a vision; Meier reports strategies already successfully in use. She also tells you about ideas that didn't work and why.
   She slams the standardized testing juggernaut for attempting to discredit human judgment and replace it with a one-size, blunt testing instrument. "When parents and teachers no longer believe they can directly judge a child's reading ability," she writes, "when they see indirect evidence of tests as more credible, I fear for the relationships between children and the adults they must depend on to grow up well.For a teacher who sees a kid day in and day out to admit that she won't know how well he reads until the test score arrives is not good news."
     Meier isn't advocating letting ineffective teachers or schools off the hook. She describes mechanisms for both internal assessment and external review that provide accountability to the public while building trust and mutual respect among teachers, parents and students. She freely admits that this kind of accountability takes hard work to achieve, but denies that it requires superhuman teachers or administrators. The strategies she suggests "attract some extraordinarily good people, and what's more, enhance the work of otherwise quite ordinary people."
     Meier doesn't claim to have all the answers. Many times you'll find yourself thinking, "Yes, but what about." Still, the work of Meier and her colleagues should be required reading for anyone who cares about creating effective and caring schools.

Web Site

     What's a parent to do when the kids have already read all the good children's books the parent remembers from childhood? The parent can check out Kid-lit.com, a friendly and useful children's book search tool.
     Kid-lit lets you search for book suggestions by your child's age, reading level, gender, subject (called "keyword"), featured ethnicity, title, and/or author. Search results include a synopsis and short review, and reader comments if any have been submitted.



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