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Big Learning News 4-13-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:14 April 13, 2004

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Table of Contents

Big Learning on the Road: Wright Brothers at the Smithsonian
Notebooks in Science Museums
Book Review: The Enchanted Gardening Book
Web Site: Earth Science Picture of the Day

Big Learning on the Road: Wright Brothers at the Smithsonian

If you're planning a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, you're in for a treat with the Wright Brothers exhibit, which opened last October. The original Wright Flyer plane, which previously hung high up near the museum ceiling, now is on the floor as the centerpiece of the exhibit. Everything in the exhibit carries through this idea of getting a close-up view, and there's something there for almost anyone.

The kids might enjoy scanning Wilbur's report card (mostly high marks with the exception of a certain algebra grade) or one of only five remaining Wright-made bicycles. Although you aren't allowed to touch the actual Flyer, there are touchable examples of all the parts - the wire, the fabric, and the wood struts. There are control-handles to pull and other slightly interactive exhibits, though nothing as wild as the Air Show at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Although there is plenty of information about the Wright's scientific and engineering achievement, the designers wisely opted for a well-rounded approach, giving glimpses into the Wrights' personalities and the times they lived in. We enjoyed the parlor with its interactive juke box that plays "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" and other recordings from the Wright era. There are also two photo albums of early flight pictures to browse. These all helped put the Wrights into a historical context - all in all a great Big Learning experience.

If you won't be near the Smithsonian anytime soon, you can enjoy many of the artifacts from this exhibit online at http://www.nasm.si.edu/wrightbrothers/interactiveExperiments/index.cfm (click on Artifacts Gallery).

Notebooks in Science Museums

A few months ago, we discovered that our kids' enjoyment of art museums was greatly enhanced when they took along sketchbooks and took time to draw the paintings and sculptures. Today I'm happy to report that this technique has worked for us in science museums too, especially those that are low on interactive exhibits.

Each of our kids now has a science museum notebook - another sketchbook like their art museum notebooks. So far they've taken them to a natural history museum, where they sketched the animal and sea-life exhibits.  We also used them at the Air and Space museum, where they copied the symbols for the nine planets, drew the Wright Brothers Flyer, their bicycle, an Apollo launch pad and a few other things. Since science museums allow flash photography, we also took pictures of some things and will add them to the notebooks when the photos are printed.

The notebooks do what we've never achieved before - getting the kids to slow down and really look at things in detail. This makes the whole visit more satisfying and less tiring.

Book Review
The Enchanted Gardening Book: Ideas for Using Plants to Beautify Your World, Both Indoors and Out by Alice Herick, Illustrated by Linda Dockey Graves (Random House 1997).
Ages 5-9 with adult help.

This is a really girly gardening book, which made me wish for a companion volume for boys with the same fantasy approach. Enchanted Gardening proposes lovely, imaginative little gardening projects with a magical feel missing from more practical gardening books for kids.

The projects include a garden for dolls, a "Secret Garden" based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a rain forest, a friendship garden, and several more. Each idea includes instructions for planting and building decorative accessories, plus things to make out of the plants - for example, the Scented Garden chapter tells how to make herbal bath powder.

The projects in this book will appeal mostly to younger kids, yet the reading level and complexity of the projects seem to imply adult help. Adults and kids could have a memorable summer sharing some of the projects in Enchanted Garden.

Web Site
Earth Science Picture of the Day

Each day, this site puts up an interesting photo illustrating some principle of Earth science. Each photo is accompanied with an explanation of the science involved, written in clear language that kids in fourth or fifth grade could understand on their own.

Fight Hunger
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http://www.thehungersite.com .

Big Learning News © 2004 Karen Cole
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