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Big Learning News 3-16-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:10 March 16, 2004.

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Table of Contents

News about Big Learning News
Activity: Geography by the Numbers
Book, CD, and Video Review: Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Web Site: Evolution 101


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News about Big Learning News

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So now you can find Big Learning News at biglearning.org, busyhomeschool.com, or as always by free email subscription.

Activity: Geography by the Numbers

"Is Spain a big country?" Kids' curiosity about the world begins with some pretty specific questions, and now, thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever to find some answers. A quick check on the Yahooligans World Fact Book ( http://yahooligans.yahoo.com/reference/factbook ) tells us Spain has an area of 504,782 square kilometers.

"But is 504,782 square kilometers a big country?" Yahooligans tells us it's a little more than twice the size of the state of Oregon (helpful to American kids, anyway).

The Holt Reinhart Winston Atlas ( http://go.hrw.com/atlas/norm_htm/world.htm ) sports a clickable map of the world. Click down to Spain, and you get a nice page of statistics, including area in both square miles and square kilometers, and that same comparison, "slightly more than twice the size of Oregon."

"But which international treaties has Spain signed, and what is their oil consumption in barrels per day?" If your kids have outgrown Yahooligans, then try the CIA Fact Book ( http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook ). It has pages of statistics and other information about each country, including descriptions of governmental branches and institutions. It even tells us that Spain is, you guessed it, "slightly more than twice the size of Oregon."

Book, CD, and Video Review

Beethoven Lives Upstairs
CD by Classical Kids (Children's Group - #84236, 1995).
Book by Barbara Nichol (Orchard Books, 1999).
Video (Wea/Atlantic/Children's Group, 1999).

One characteristic of Big Learning (the idea, not the newsletter) is that new facts and ideas are embedded in bigger experiences. We do; therefore, we learn. The more emotional connection we have with these experiences, the bigger the learning, the longer it lasts, and the more it fires our curiosity.

So as a way to learn about the history of classical music, you can't go wrong with Beethoven Lives Upstairs , which you can enjoy as a book, CD, or video.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs tells the story of a fictional relationship between a young boy, Christoph, and Ludwig van Beethoven. After Christoph's father dies, his mother takes in a strange boarder: the mad composer Beethoven. At first Christoph is mortified by Beethoven's eccentric behavior, but gradually gets to know and appreciate him. The story is told as a correspondence between Christoph and his uncle.

There are all sorts of historical details embedded in the story, as well as poignant examination of Beethoven's experience of deafness and ways he tried to compensate for his hearing loss.

Of the three media types, the CD is my favorite. The text is the same as the book, but as we hear the voice of Christoph or his uncle, Beethoven's music cleverly forms the musical soundtrack. This adds considerable emotional punch to the experience of hearing the story, and introduces some of Beethoven's works.

The book version is also beautifully done, illustrated with paintings by Scott Cameron. In fact, I think the ideal way to enjoy this story would be to follow along in the book while listening to the CD.

Our family found the video a little slow. It's a much-expanded version of the story, with all sorts of subplots and unnecessary complications. It does have the advantage of rich visuals. The depiction of Christoph's house and lifestyle brings nineteenth-century Vienna to life. There are lovely scenes that show Beethoven rehearsing his new Ninth Symphony.

Web Site
Evolution 101

Wow, have things changed since I took biology in high school. The Linnaean Classification System (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, etc.) is out, replaced by a new classification scheme that accounts better for recent discoveries. And that's just the beginning. Given that I've got a newsletter to write today, I've just spent way too much time on this site, but it's so interesting and well-written, I couldn't stop.

This site is part of a bigger site for science teachers. The Evolution 101 part explains, in clear and simple terms with fascinating examples, the current thinking in evolutionary science. You'll find yourself up to speed in short order, and your older kids will enjoy it too.

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