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Big Learning News 12-30-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:11 December 30, 2003

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Table of Contents
Activity: Draw Cartoon Faces
Book Review: How to Talk to your Dog
Web Site: Calendopaedia Calendar Site

Activity: Draw Cartoon Faces

     Learning to draw expressive cartoon faces gives you a lot of bang for your buck. That is, it's fairly easy to learn how to represent funny facial expressions, and they make even simple stick drawings lively and engaging.
     To develop your technique, experiment with the elements of the simplest face: eyes, eyebrows, and mouth. For example, eyebrows slanted in and down, combined with a smile, makes an evil leer. Combine the same eyes with a down-turned mouth for an angry face. Now, what happens when you slant the eyebrows up and in? Make the eyeballs off-center? Make the mouth an "o" shape?
     If you can't bring yourself to try this on paper, download the cartoon-o-matic machine (classic version, for Windows computers) from http://www.nfx.com/dl . This fun little machine has sliders for changing eyes, nose, mouth , facial shape, and other stuff on a cartoon face. After you save the file, open toono.exe, then click on "extract all." Then click again on toono.exe to start the cartoon-o-matic machine. It's worth the trouble.
     These two web pages have sample cartoon faces that are fun to copy and embellish:

http://www.cartoonconnections.com/1.pdf (note: free Adobe Reader software required to view this file. If you don't already have it, you can download it from http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html )


   You can use these pages to play "Collaborative Cartooning" - here's how. First, print the pages for reference. To play, one person, playing the role of "artist," copies one of the expressions. The artist, without commentary, asks the other player to look at the face in the drawing and make up what just happened to it. Then the artist draws the rest of the scene. Or, the second player can complete the scene. Then switch roles.

Book Review

How to Talk to your Dog by Jean Craighead George (HarperTrophy, 2000).

     Jean Craighead George has intrigued millions of fans with novels that focus on children's interactions with wild animals, such as Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain . In How to Talk to your Dog , she provides advice kids can use to communicate with their pets in "dog language," much as Julie in Julie of the Wolves learns to communicate with wolves by observing and mimicking their natural behaviors.
     In simple straightforward text spiced with gentle humor, George explains canine behaviors for greeting, saying goodbye, expressing dominance, and other common situations.  Illustrations by Sue Truesdell show how to execute the behaviors - for example, using your hand as a makeshift "tail." Throughout the book never loses its emphasis on gentle, loving behavior toward dogs.
     Ms. George has been rightly criticized for not including impor tant warnings: these behaviors are for use with your pet, and could be disastrous with a strange dog. Depending on your dog's size and personality, you may want to avoid all the ideas that involve getting near the dog's teeth. But taken with a grain of salt and a good dose of common sense, this book is a great way to learn important lessons about animal behavior from your very own pet.

Web Site


     If the New Year holiday provokes questions about calendars, check out the Calendopaedia. While I can't vouch for the site's accuracy, it's an impressively broad collection of information about the many ways people construct calendars.
    The site suggests that you start with the comparison of calendars, but I also enjoyed using the pull-down menus to find out about specific topics. There are two menus: one with topics like "New Years" and "Kepler's Laws," and the other with different kinds of calendars, like the Chinese, Hebrew, and Egyptian.
     Sometimes I had to look in a few places before finding the information I wanted. For example, I wanted the rules about when we have a leap year in our calendar. I found that on the "Gregorian Calendar" page - there is no separate page on leap years.
     This is a fun site to browse - lots of good physics, history, and cultura l information related to calendars. The reading level is adult, but with your help kids can get a lot out of this site.

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