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Big Learning News 6-07-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:18 June 7, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Motorcycle Lean Angles
Activity: Thank the Teachers
Book Review: The All New Square Foot Gardening Book
Education News for Adults: Shallow textbooks
News to share with Kids: World cup
Web sites: Mysteries to solve

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Math Moment

Angles: Tipping 40%


Vespa has a hot new cycle design with a "lean angle" of forty degrees. I assume, not being a motorcyclist, that a lean angle is how far the rider can lean the bike sideways without falling flat.

With your kids, draw a vertical line on a large piece of paper. Use a protractor to measure 40 degrees off that line and draw the 40 degree line. Then let your kids lean over along the 40-degree line to see what it would feel like to lean over 40 degrees on a bike.

More Fun Math for Kids

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Thank your teachers

Teachers...even thanking them is educational. The writing of the note, the etiquette of the presentation, the choosing or preparation of the gift.

This year, my sons and I are giving little baskets with home-baked cookies and a book store gift card. But don't just take my word for it - there are tons of ideas out there. Here are a few places to look.


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Book Review

The All New Square Foot Gardening Book by Mel Bartholomew (Cool Springs Press, 2006)


Gardening is one of the all-time richest Big-Learning activities, and with this book even you brown-thumbers can do it. Even your kids can. All you need is a small, square space (4-foot square or even smaller), and no digging required! With a small initial investment you can expose your kids to math in real life (plant spacing, area in square feet), plant life cycles, insect identification, fresh food, and lots more.

I know I told you that Square Foot Gardening is THE gardening book in my earlier review. But even if you own that book, go get this new edition. The fully updated "All New" book has an improved method, lots more pictures and visuals, and new information on pest control. The ideas for building garden structures take advantage of new materials that didn't exist when the original book was written in 1981.

Sidebars add lots of fun and practical touches. The planting section has "Kids Corner" sidebars. These suggest fun ways to involve kids in gardening. There are lots of "penny pincher" sidebars throughout that tell you how to get lots more for your gardening dollar.

As much as I like the new edition, I'm not throwing out my original book. The original had a nice crop guide appendix that listed common vegetables in alphabetical order. Each vegetable type had a page or more of information including planting, growing, pests, harvesting, and preparing or cooking. I still refer to it all the time and I'm sorry to see it missing from the new edition.

The other problem with the new edition is its over-the-top confidence that the novice gardener will want to construct an endless stream of garden structures. For example, the square-foot gardening method revolves around raised-bed gardens, which the book suggests you construct from lumber. I wanted cedar, which is hard to get in my neck of the woods, and it was already late in the season when I started. So I ordered raised bed kits from I.P. Woody's and have been very happy with them. sHere's the link:


Square Foot Gardening can't be beat as a gardening method. The book is highly recommended to novices and experts alike.

Buying Information

More Gardening

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Education News for Adults

Shallow Textbooks


The education press has been complaining about those fat, boring textbooks ever since I was in school - probably longer than that. But since so little progress has been made, it's nice to hear someone shouting about the problem now and then. If nothing else, it motivates those of us who care about Big Learning to read lots of truly interesting books with our kids over the summer.

This article blames the state textbook adoption process, which put unwarranted power in the hands of Texas and California. These states have so much purchasing power that publishers essentially write their books to Texas and California requirements (I've heard New York also has a big influence). It amounts to, as the article observes, a de facto national curriculum, and a bloated, dull, and inaccurate one at that.


Comment on this article here.


News to share with kids

Where in the World is World Cup Soccer?


It's World Cup Soccer time, which also means it's time for...you guessed it...world geography! Thirty-two countries participate in the tournament - that's thirty-two countries your kids can learn about. The Washington Post KidPost site has a cool interactive map. Show your child how to roll the mouse over a country and see the country's team uniform, along with its population, soccer ranking, and more.

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Web Site

Mysteries to solve

Ages 7-11


These short text mysteries make good reading practice. They're solvable but not obvious, and fun to think about. The site also has a whole section of mysteries written by kids, winners of an earlier contest. Maybe it will inspire your kids to try their hand at mystery writing.

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