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Big Learning News 1-25-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:3 January 25, 2006

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Table of Contents

Math Moment: Heights of tall buildings
Activity: Clean your pennies
Book Review: Making Things
News to Share: A big week for space exploration
Web Site: Health quiz

Math Moment

Heights of tall buildings



All towers are not created equal. My son asked me today if the Leaning Tower of Pisa is as tall as big skyscrapers. Not even close, it turns out. According to the web sites above, the Leaning Tower is about 56 meters or 185 feet tall. The Empire State Building is 1250 feet tall.

Ask your kids how much taller that is - subtract to find out how many feet, or divide 1250 by 185 to find out how many times taller. Rounding 185 to 200 and 1250 to 1200 tells you that the Empire State building is over 6 times taller than the Leaning Tower. If your child is young, build six "leaning towers" from Legos or other building toy. Then stack them to show how they equal one "Empire State".

Check out the heights of other tall buildings at the infoplease site above. Compare that to the height of the building where you live.

I also learned that, in the world of tall structures, there is a distinction between buildings and towers. This page has the heights of the world's tallest towers:


This page has some great photos of tall structures - click on the photo on the left-hand side of the page to start viewing.




Clean up your copper pennies (or any copper object)

We recently came across a two-inch souvenir copper penny we bought a long time ago, and found it had tarnished badly. We'd been successful before in soaking old pennies in cola to restore their shine. The tarnish is a coating of copper that has combined with the oxygen in the air. The phosphoric acid in the cola bonds with the copper to remove the coating. But the Coke just didn't do it for us this time - too much tarnish.

These web sites suggest that acid + salt make a more powerful remover:


So we soaked the big penny in a bowl of lemon juice mixed with a big spoonful of salt. This is a much more interesting experiment than the cola version, because you can see bubbles released and the color of the lemon juice darkening as the chemical reaction proceeds. The cola's color and fizz make all that invisible. But even left soaking overnight, the penny wasn't new and shiny again.

So this morning we tried hot sauce - the main ingredients are vinegar and salt. Wow did it work - we could see the penny brighten before our eyes.

Cautions: If you try this experiment, make sure to protect your skin and eyes - those hot peppers can pack a nasty sting. Also, the penny's surface is a little pitted now - but we're not sure if it was already like that or if the cleaning did it. We don't recommend experimenting on anything valuable.


Book Review

It's Disgusting and We Ate It: Food Facts from Around the World and Throughout History by James Solheim, Illustrated by Eric Brace

Ages 8 and up.

This is a smart, funny, and interesting book about the amazing variety of food humans consume, now and throughout history. Despite the title, the book's message is that disgust is a subjective, cultural thing. Foods American kids wouldn't consider eating are delicacies elsewhere, and foods we take for granted - milk and honey - are kind of gross when you think about them and where they come from.

The book is packed with juicy food lore - Christopher Columbus's son's story of eating in the dark aboard his ship so he wouldn't see the worms in his biscuits, a nomadic tribe that drank blood directly from the veins of their horses as they traveled, and scientists who couldn't resist trying a bite of 36,000-year-old frozen bison meat (it tasted like mud).

Buying Information


News to Share

Pluto and Comets


This was a big week for space exploration, with both a take-off and a landing. The New Horizons probe blasted off on its nine-year journey to Pluto, and the Stardust craft landed with a belly full of comet and interstellar dust.

Here are resources for kids from the project web sites:


The Pluto Mission page has a good "fun facts" question-and-answer section. I learned my personal contribution to the cost of the mission is twenty cents per year.

The Stardust page has a game Tails of Wonder - actually a multiple-choice quiz - about comets. But much more interesting, to me, anyway, was the information about aerogel. Aerogel is the material Stardust used to capture the comet dust. It's so light it looks like smoke made solid. There's a poem, Ode to Aerogel, that explains it in verse. Go here to hear it read aloud:


Go here and scroll down a little to see a photo of a hand holding some aerogel:


Web Site

Health Quiz and Games for Kids


This quiz helps call attention to basic nutrition and exercise information for kids. Just five multiple choice questions with funny choices to get you started talking about nutrition. Click "Smallstep Challenge" to take the quiz.

Then click the "Games and Activities" button to play the games. "My Pyramid Blastoff" is tedious but educational - you have to load up your space ship with a day's worth of healthy food. Much more fun and less educational is Taz's Munch and Crunch - you use your arrow keys to play a Pac-Man-style game, where eating grapes gets you 50 points, but eat the cake and you lose 100 points.


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