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Big Learning News 5-18-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:19 May 18, 2004

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Table of Contents

This Week's Education News on BigLearning.org
Book Review: Battery Science
Software Review: PhotoParade Essentials


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This Week's Education News on BigLearning.org

Each week Big Learning keeps you up to date on the latest issues and trends in schooling and learning. This week you'll find the following articles:

Retention Advocates Ignore Research : Politicians who say they want everything backed by solid research put on blinders when it comes to forcing kids to repeat a grade. The evidence is clear that retention increases dropout rates and doesn't help kids catch up. So why is the policy growing so popular?

Gym Class Revisited: It's not your father's PE anymore. The emphasis has shifted from team sports to individual skills that build lifelong fitness habits.

Check out these and other headlines at http://www.biglearning.org

Book Review
Battery Science: Make Widgets that Work and Gadgets that Go by Doug Stillinger (Klutz, 2003). Ages 8 and up.

Here's a quick and easy introduction to electricity from Klutz Press. Their trademark elements are all here - the hands-on approach, the stuff you need packaged on the front cover, and of course, the wacky personality.

The book comes with a C-cell battery, a motor, a propeller, some wire, alligator clips, a buzzer, and miscellaneous parts and do-dads useful in particular projects in the book. The parts are reasonably sturdy and held up through our initial tries at the projects.

The 12-plus projects in Battery Science go beyond the typical light-a-bulb and buzz-a-buzzer. In each one, kids build a cute little toy that takes advantage of the spinning motor, light, or buzzer. There's a walking bug, a swamp boat, and other fun stuff. To complete the projects, kids need a few additional materials from around the house such as index cards, foil, and tape.

There are great little techniques in the book, like how to use foil to make contacts for the batteries, and how to build various kinds of switches. Kids can start with this book and build their own things using the techniques they learn.

The text explains a little about the science of batteries and circuits and the history of electrical science. Unfortunately, these subjects are a little complex to fit on the pages of a typical Klutz book. The resulting minimalist treatment may leave your kids giving a quizzical "huh?" and then moving on to the next project. The science explanations also seem to stop suddenly - you turn the page to read the rest and all that's there is another project.

Then there's "The Impossible Project" on page 44. It's the most complicated project in the book. I read it three times and I'm not sure what it does. There's no introductory text to explain it. A mystery.

All in all, though, this is a fun introduction to electricity that will appeal to both boys and girls.

Buying information

Software Review
PhotoParade Essentials 5.0
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP

PhotoParade Essentials is quick and easy photo software. It's not clearly aimed at kids but it is simple enough for kids to use. Here's what they can do with it.

  • Look at digital photos, whether from a digital camera or from a photo CD.
  • Share photos with friends via the web.
  • Create slideshows with captions, titles, music and even spoken narration.
  • Print photos.
  • Do very simple editing, such as cropping and red-eye reduction.

The program is a snap to learn. E-mailing photos is especially simple. You fill in a form with the recipient's name and e-mail address. PhotoParade creates a web page with your photo and sends the recipient a link. If they want to download and save the photo, they can, but they don't have to. Nice for people with dial-up connections.

The editing functions are also nice, because they work on a copy of the picture, not the original. Your kids can edit to their heart's content, and your original will remain pristine.

Your budding film makers will enjoy creating slideshows. You just select the photos you want to put in the show, and add titles, captions, and spoken narration. You can choose from variety of backgrounds and themes to give the show a polished look. The program puts everything together and the shows come out looking very slick. Kids could take a set of pictures themselves and use the PhotoParade Essentials to make them into a digital storybook.

Kids can e-mail their slideshows too. The recipient just has to download the slideshow and a free player from the PhotoParade website in order to view the show.

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