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Big Learning News 1-20-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:3 January 20, 2004

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Table of Contents

Big Learning News Book Give-Away #2
Toy Review: DK Ultimate Rocket Kit
Book Review: Kids Shenanigans: Great Things to Do That Mom and Dad Will Just Barely Approve Of
Web Site: U.S. Documents

Big Learning News Book Give-Away #2

Tell your friends to subscribe to Big Learning News this week, and be automatically entered to win a copy of Guerrilla Learning , one of the best books ever written for parents about learning. All subscribers are eligible to win.

Due to a small scheduling difficulty, the drawing has been postponed by one day, to Wednesday, January 28th. There will be no Big Learning News next week, but the winner will be notified by e-mail. We will also announce the winner at http://www.biglearning.org .

Toy Review
DK Ultimate Rocket Kit. DK Publishing, Inc. About $29.99

OK, let's just say right up front that you'll be paying about thirty dollars for a bunch of flimsy paper parts, with some foam pieces thrown in. This is a pet peeve of mine with nearly all science kits: the parts are so small and cheap. You just have to take a deep breath and decide you're actually paying for the privilege of having someone figure it all out and put the kit together for you.

Another thing to say up front is that the title is highly misleading - this is not the ultimate rocket kit - not even close. It's an air-powered paper rocket that goes about 15 feet in the air. It's designed for indoor use.

All that said, I'll admit that we are having a lot of fun with the Ultimate Rocket Kit. The kit has a story line: you are in training for the rank of Space Commander. To become a Space Commander, you must build and launch four rockets. Each rocket has a different gizmo attached. The first rocket has a "space probe" that flutters to the ground after the rocket comes down. The second has a "space shuttle," a paper airplane that rides the rocket up and glides back down. The third rocket has a "landing capsule." Before launching this one, you stick little paper planets to the ceiling. The nose cone of the landing capsule has sticky putty on it, and you try to aim your rocket so it sticks briefly to one of the planets on the ceiling. The last rocket has a space station, which hangs down by a thread from the landing capsule after it sticks to the ceiling.

The instructions are actually the sturdiest part of the whole kit, printed on heavy laminated "mission cards." For the most part they're clear and well-illustrated, and include little tidbits of space-travel trivia. The procedure is repetitive - once you've built the first rocket, the other three go together in much the same way. It's a good kit for kids who haven't built many models. Our kids, at the young side of the suggested age range of 8 and up, needed adult help. The parts are assembled with double-sided tape, which we had to help peel. The instructions use so much space vocabulary that my kids weren't always sure what they were referring to; is the "fuselage" that little paper tube? But at launch time, hard times were forgotten as we enjoyed the triumph of our launch.

Book Review
Kids Shenanigans: Great Things to Do That Mom and Dad Will Just Barely Approve Of by the editors of Klutz Press. Klutz Press (1992).

Remember that show-off kid in 4th grade, the one who could hang a spoon from his nose? Everything you need to be that kid is here - the Grape Through Your Head Trick, the Upside-Down Water trick, instructions for hand-whistling, and even supplies and directions for making your own whoopie cushion. Big Learning News would like to go on record as fully supporting this brand of spunky, goofball fun. Although it's not always clear what a kid is learning from it, you can just tell it's good stuff. If that's not enough to convince you, I'll add that kids who resist reading probably can't resist this book.

My favorite activity in the book is "How to Sneak Around," The four illustrated pages of practical advice include how to walk quietly on squeaky stairs (you walk close to the wall and try to support some of your weight on the railing and wall), indoor and outdoor sneaking, choosing high-quality hiding places, and more. Another fun essay explains how to send odd objects through the mail without any packaging. Then there's the page of kid facts, including "Trying to read in the dark does not ruin your eyes."

The book may be a little hard to find. It has been in print for a long time, and I don't think I've ever seen it new in a store (I got mine at a second-hand book shop). But it is widely available online - a real gem from the Klutz Press lineup.

Web Site
Our Documents
U.S. Historical Documents

Schools do a pretty good job of letting kids know about the existence of important documents, but not as well making the documents tangible. It's hard for kids to understand that somewhere along the line, these documents were written or printed on an actual piece of paper (or parchment), and people held them and read them, and had their lives changed by them. And although kids read about important documents, they are rarely exposed to the actual text, and so don't get a chance to make informed judgments about, for example, what kind of gun rights the second amendment should guarantee.

The Our Documents site provides direct access to 100 documents that, in the opinion of the National Archive staff, are the most influential in American history through 1965. In addition to the obvious choices, like the Declaration of Independence, you'll also find the Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act, and letters and speeches by important historical figures. Each document page has a window that displays part of the photograph of the document. You can scroll around the photograph just by rolling your mouse around the picture. It gives a sense of actually handling the document. You can see the whole document at once by clicking on the window. A "transcript" (a readable text version of the document) is available, which is necessary because many of the photos are unreadable. The site also provides information about the each document's historical context and influence.

Young children may be unlikely to browse the site, but kids 12 and older might. It's a great reference site to have in your virtual pocket when kids ask questions related to important U.S. documents.


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