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Big Learning News 1-13-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:2 January 13, 2004

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Table of Contents

Breaking news: Big Learning News Book Give-Away #2
Activity: Snow Stuff
Book Review: Guerrilla Learning

Breaking News
Announcing.Big Learning News Book Giveaway #2

In two weeks, on January 27, Big Learning News will give away a copy of Guerrilla Learning. Anyone who subscribes before the drawing is eligible to win, so tell your friends to subscribe at http://www.biglearning.org . You can read all about the book in the review below.

Snow Stuff

     They're predicting snow in our neck of the woods, so we're getting ready for a no-school snow day, just in case. Following sledding, hot cocoa, and a short round of a game we call "tired brothers arguing loudly," we might try some snow-based activities I found on the Internet.
     (My apologies to subscribers who live in warm climates or the southern hemisphere - some of these activities work with crushed ice, but otherwise you can skip down to the book review).

Look at pictures of really really deep snow : There's a gallery of historic snow photos at http://nsidc.org/snow/gallery .

Look at a table of snowfall records : ( http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/servlets/SCoptions110 ), and try to imagine a snowstorm producing 15 feet of snow in four days.

See how much water is in the snow : I always heard that one inch of water equals ten inches of snow, but the ratio actually varies. Get one cup of snow and let it melt, measure the results. Here's a site that lets you send in your data and compare it to what others have sent in: http://astro.uchicago.edu/cara/southpole.edu/flaky.html .

Try to capture snowflakes : You can make "snowflake impressions" by catching snowflakes on cold glass sprayed with cold hairspray, and then view the results under a magnifying glass. Here's a full description of the activity: http://www.learninghaven.com/crafts/articles/snowflake_impressions.htm . (At this point my mother is frowning, thinking, "She doesn't own any hairspray!" Guess I better get some.)

Try to make the famous Maple-on-Snow candy : We're reading Little House in the Big Woods, which mentions this candy made by pouring hot maple syrup on fresh snow. Here's one of many web links that explains how: http://www.massmaple.org/sos.html . While this site recommends heating the syrup to 234 degrees, some of the other sites recommend 270 degrees.

Send us your favorite Big Learning snow activities, and we may publish them in a future issue.

Book Review
Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education with or without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. (2001).

     Even people who think about learning and schooling a lot can be baffled by the day-to-day decisions that come with guiding a child's education. How much power does the school system have over our lives, and how much should we allow it to have? Do I have to make my kids stop reading to do their homework? What are the consequences of the labels the system proposes to tag my child with?
     Guerrilla Learning blows away the fog. Part critique, part inspirational half-time speech, and part day-to-day decision guide, the book sets out to help us define our ideals about learning and make them a reality for our children. During my first reading, I had to keep stopping to let my heartbeat return to normal. There are so many gems that I had trouble picking out a few to share with you here:

"Start to see learning not as the province of experts but as the province of the family. Learning belongs to you , not to schools and government administrators. It's a function of human wonder and curiosity and love for the world."

"[Learning] happens at home. It happens when children are read bedtime stories, and in dinner-table conversations, and on family vacations... We're all 'homeschooling,' all the time ".

"Interests are not arbitrary or capricious. They are intrinsically related to a child's special, irreplaceable vision and gifts."

"[School] doesn't have to define who your child or your family are. It doesn't have to be the only, or even the main, source of your child's education."

"School can be a poor master but a good servant."

     After an inspiring set of chapters that lay out the Guerrilla Learning philosophy, Llewellyn and Silver introduce "Five Keys to Guerrilla Learning:" Opportunity, Timing, Interest, Freedom, and Support. They spend a chapter on each one, developing the ideas and issues that surround each key and providing activity ideas and resources for further reading. For example, in the chapter on the Opportunity key, the authors discuss different sources of educational opportunity, and then provide activity suggestions related to reading, writing, arts, math, and several other subjects. The activity ideas are general (not step-by-step, cook-book type) and few are new, but there are some surprising twists. To me, the five keys seem a little muddy as categories, and are more like a rhetorical device to organize the presentation. You find yourself thinking, "Now, would that fall under Support or Opportunity?"
     Although some of the ideas may seem a little oversimplified (as in, "that would never work with my kids"), there are delicious finds in every chapter. Big Learning parents won't want to miss this eminently practical field guide to learning-related opportunities and strategies.

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