Big Learning News 8-5-04
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My son once declared it his destiny to see a bird species known as the scarlet ibis. So imagine our delight when four of them were soaring overhead just as we entered the rain forest exhibit at the Biodome. We were hooked.
The Biodome, housed in the velodrome built for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, has four huge habitat zones: tropical rainforest, Laurentian forest, St. Lawrence marine, and polar. Each habitat is an integrated whole with animals, plants, and geological features. You can't stop oohing and ahing over the rare and impressive animals that cross your path at every turn. It's a beautiful place too, with natural light filling many areas from the semi-transparent dome above.
At the information booth, we got a full-color bird-identification guide and a checklist, so we could identify the species we saw in the various habitats. We also rented a pair of binoculars which came in handy for far-off animals and detailed viewing. You can also get a tape-recorded audio tour for a small extra fee.
As you wind your way along the habitats, there are some great surprises. One of our favorites was the bat cave - several species of live bats flying around behind glass on either side, some carrying babies. There's also a great penguin area with several species of penguins cavorting in the water and waddling on the rocks. You can see that for yourself courtesy of a web cam that feeds live pictures, at
If you're far from Montreal, you can at least enjoy the Biodrome web site at
Check out the "Ecosystems" link to see some great photos of the habitat displays. The "Animals at the Biodome" link allows you to search for species by name, habitat, and many other attributes. You can just browse by choosing a habitat and clicking the search button. You'll get data and sketches of each animal and photos for most. There's a similar link for plant species. The kids will enjoy the Kidspace area that has little activities to do and coloring pages to print.
Coin Collecting for Kids by Steve Otfinoski, Illustrated by Jack Graham (Innovative Kids, 2000).
It's a coin-collecting guide! It's a coin album! It's a guide AND and album! This kids' guide to U.S. coin collecting introduces kids to general coin collecting concepts and interesting coins and history. Each page presents kids with a coin-collecting challenge, such as finding pennies for each year from 1960 onward. There's a circular indentation for each coin, so kids have a spot keep the coins they find.
Graham's cartoon illustrations combine with Otfinoski's lively and simple text to give a wacky "Hey Kids!" feel that makes coin collecting sound like cool detective work. At around $10.00, it makes a great birthday party gift for those tired of the same old toy-store finds.
Languages and memories
Here are a couple of Big Learning tips from our recent family travel experience.
Language Learning: Our vacation took us into the French-speaking province of Quebec. We tried to learn a little French before we went, but our library let us down - we couldn't find any good-quality instructional tapes. Besides, it's so much easier to get excited about a language once you're immersed in it.
To help everyone attune to the language, each of us used the French-English dictionary to make a list of ten French words to look for. We tried to think of the sorts of words you might see on road signs, stores, or menus. We made it a game to be the first to check off all our words. This turned out to be fun and we all learned more words beyond what was on our own lists. The game might also work for beginning readers traveling where their native language is spoken.
Memories: Our other successful travel idea was taken from Judith Atlee's Educational Family Travel on a Shoestring. Before we left we bought a scrapbook and a roll of tape for each child. In the car and hotel room, the kids drew pictures of things we did, and taped in postcards and other small memorabilia we collected. The kids thought it was a good idea to work on the books during the trip, "because," as my younger son said, "you might not remember stuff when you get back home."
Teachers Hunt Dragon Flies: Virginia teachers did real field research with Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Environmental Studies, and learned techniques they can take back to the classroom.
Hunger Takes No Summer Vacation: Without free school lunches, food banks must step up to feed kids during the summer.
You can help! Give to America's Second Harvest.
These headlines and more at http://www.biglearning.org .
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