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Big Learning News 9-21-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:36 September 21, 2004

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Table of Contents

News: A New Smithsonian Museum
Activity: Get your bird feeders ready
Book Review: Report Card
Web Site: Wildlife Art Activities


A New Smithsonian Museum Opens Today

Today is the grand opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington D.C. We haven't made it inside yet, but we did go down to the Mall to see the celebratory procession of an estimated 20,000 Indians representing hundreds of nations from all over the western hemisphere. And that was just the marchers. All around us in the crowd were Indians from far-flung locations, all shouting greetings to familiar faces in the procession. It was quite a party - at once grand and poignant. You can find out more about the museum at the official web site.


And I couldn't resist posting some of the pictures we took at the procession.



Get your bird feeders ready

It's that time of year again, when food sources for birds become more scarce in many areas. If you have never had a bird feeder in your yard, think about taking up this hobby. It's a great Big Learning experience for adults and kids alike, bringing wildlife up close like no other activity.

  • If you stopped filling your bird feeders during the summer, clean them before filling them again. Brush away old seed clumps and other debris and wash with warm water and mild soap or detergent. Some experts recommend disinfecting with a mild bleach solution (1/4 cup of bleach in two gallons of water). Others say the bleach can be harmful to birds, so rinse well if you do use it.
  • Buy some seed. Black sunflower will attract many species, and safflower is supposedly less attractive to squirrels. The squirrels in our yard must be less finicky than most - they're very happy to eat safflower seed.
  • If you are new to feeding and want to keep your financial investment low, you may want to try making your own feeders. You'll find out quickly if squirrels are going to be an issue for you - we had to buy commercial squirrel-proof feeders to keep them from gorging all day on our seeds.

Here are some sites with make-your-own bird feeder designs. I notice that most of the milk-jug designs tell you to cut a large hole - I can tell you that if you do that you're more likely to attract squirrels and pesky large birds like jays and crows.






Book Review

The Report Card by Andrew Clements( Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2004)

Ages 9-13

If you suspect that your kids are developing unhealthy ideas about grades, intelligence, or tests, a copy of The Report Card should be just what the doctor ordered. It directly confronts these issues from a kids' point of view. The Report Card is a great way to get kids thinking and talking about what it means to be smart, what grades do or don't show, and what test scores prove or don't prove.

The story is about Nora, a genius who has everyone, including her parents, believing she's just an average student. She hatches a plot to challenge her school's overemphasis on grades and tests. As her plan unravels, she realizes she'll be forced to come clean about the intelligence she's been hiding for years. The ending is surprising but not altogether satisfying, and brings up lots of interesting questions about the relationships among academic success, intelligence, and happiness.

If you're a fan of Andrew Clements, as I am, you may agree with me when I say this isn't his best book. The parents are too clueless, and some of the situations seem unnaturally placed in the book just to take another shot at testing. I nonetheless feel grateful to him for taking on these issues, and hate to fault him for his obvious passion about them. So if you're not finding yourself in need of a good children's book about grades and test issues, give the guy a break and check out one of his other books, like Frindle, School Story, or The Landry News - all terrific reads with lots of heart.

Buying Information for The Report Card

More from Andrew Clements


Web Site

Wildlife art activities from the National Museum of Wildlife Art


Ages 9 and up.

Is it learning about wildlife through art, or learning about art through wildlife? This site does both, and the "games" page is no exception. There are four activities, mostly well thought-out and beautifully executed (as you would expect from an art museum). The activities use paintings from the museum collection in all sorts of interesting ways. Most of the games require Flash to play, which you can download at the site.

My Life as an Elk: Players take on the role of a baby elk, and learn about the elk life cycle, predators, migration, and more. Throughout the story they get to make decisions - for example, whether to run or hide from a predator. The story is illustrated with paintings from the museum collection.

A Brush with Wildlife: Kids learn about principles of composition (how the objects in a painting are arranged on the canvas). In the "Composition Studio" they can place, and re-size animals in an artistic background. The activity explains seven principles of composition and asks players to re-evaluate their composition in terms of each one.

Art Tales: Players take on the role of a museum curator, frontier explorer, or field guide writer. Then they select paintings from the museum's collect and create a story or guidebook, typing text to go with each picture. If they like, they can submit their work to the museum for display on the site. Kids can look at the work of other kids who have done the activity.

Animal Athletes: These are active offline games to play with a group of kids.



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