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Big Learning News 1-19-05

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 3:2 January 19, 2005

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Table of Contents

Activity - Decomposers
Book Review : Lightning
Web Site: Inca Investigation



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Science Activity: Decomposers

In forests, decomposer organisms (bacteria and fungus) break down dead trees and leaves to nourish the soil. We tried out this simple activity from Janice VanCleve's Biology for Every Kid (Wiley and Sons, 1990). The activity shows how yeast (the same stuff you use in bread) can act as a decomposer.

1. Make two thick slices of banana. Try to make them the same thickness.

2. Put each in a separate zip-top bag.

3. Sprinkle one liberally with active dry yeast (available in supermarkets in the baking section).

4. Let set for several days (up to a week).

After several days, our plain banana slice was just a little darkened but otherwise intact. But the yeasty slice was a pile of mush. Also, the yeast bag was kind of puffy, presumably from the yeast's biological activity. But the plain banana's bag was still flat against the banana slice.

We also used our microscope to compare the yeast that had spent several days on the banana to dry yeast. The banana yeast was puffy like popcorn (but maybe that was just banana residue) and the dry yeast was a small, neat cylinder.


Book Review

Lightning by Seymour Simon (Morrow Junior Books, 1997)

Ages 7-12, younger with help

Seymour Simon has a flair for spotting the interesting detail that makes a page of nonfiction memorable. Did you know that Tucson, Arizona typically gets ten thousand strokes of lightning per night during the rainy season? Or that the temperature of a bolt of lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun?

Lightning is full of details like that. Even more memorable are the photographs - at least one full-color, full-page, spectacular photo per page, showing lightning in all its forms and in all its glory. My favorite, for sheer "eeek" potential, is the one of a pool packed with cavorting swimmers - playful except for the dark sky and bolts of lightning in the background. "Get out now!," you want to scream at the swimmers.

Young kids will love the pictures, but there's plenty of science for older kids too. Too bad the designers forgot to put in headings and stuck with the full-page width, double spaced text format that is typical of much less interesting books. Tell the kids not to be fooled - it's actually a good book.

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- Art books

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Inca Investigation


Young archaeology buffs will love this little investigation. You click on different parts of an excavated Inca site to learn what buildings and artifacts were found there. Then you have a chance to guess what that area was used for. In the process the site teaches you about the process of archaeology.

The site is part of a larger site on other science topics from the American Museum of Natural History. Click on "ology home" to see them or go to


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Big Learning News 2005 Karen Cole
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