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Big Learning News 6-22-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:24 June 22, 2004

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Table of Contents

Toy Review: Mystery Detective Forensic Science Kit
Web Sites: Origins of Words and Expressions


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Toy Review
Mystery Detective Forensic Science Kit
Ages 9-12 independently
Ages 6-12 with help

A waitress named "Ivana Tip"? That's just one of the engaging little touches that make Mystery Detective more fun than your average science kit. Fingerprint and DNA analysis, chromatography (analysis of ink colors), and a little chemistry - all these are embedded in a game format where kids solve crimes. Better yet, the mysteries are set up so kids can solve them more than once and the solution will be different each time. At the end of each of the eight mystery scenarios, kids have to make up the crime story based on the evidence. My kids really had fun with that part - oddly, space aliens seemed to be involved in every crime.

The kit is a home adaptation of some very cool-sounding school kits from the GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) project at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Teachers may want to check out their site ( http://www.lhsgems.org/gems.html ), which has kits addressing this and other areas of science, plus professional development and networking opportunities.

The kit does gloss over some of the science in the name of simplicity. For example, one mystery story explains that a certain mystery powder "must be baking soda" (rather than "might be") because it fizzes when vinegar is added.

Also, the set up and instructions are long and complicated - you have to do a lot of cutting, organizing, and mixing before you can start the first mystery. The instructions do make sense, but only if you read them while you're doing the setup.

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Web Sites
Origins of Words and Phrases

Kids wonder about words and expressions more than adults do, just because they haven't heard them as much. If someone asks you why we use a certain phrase or where a word comes from, here are some sites that may provide the answer (assuming you don't have an unabridged dictionary at your house).

http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0769301.html : A one-pager with origins of common phrases like "close but no cigar."

http://www.etymonline.com/ : Online etymological dictionary. Although it's written for adults, contains tons of cryptic abbreviations, and uses unwieldy search technology, this site may be your best hope for getting the origin of a word online.

http://www.rootsweb.com/~genepool/meanings.htm : More phrase/idiom origins.

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