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Big Learning News 6-14-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:19 June 14, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Radius
Activity: Mentos + Diet Soda = Geysers
Book Review: Cartoon Workbook
Education News for Adults: Runescape civics lessons?
Web site: RIF Bookzone

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Math Moment

Radius and scary volcanoes



These news story chronicle the recent volcanic activity at Indonesia's Mount Merapi. The first says that villages were evacuated within a 7-kilometer radius. The second has an update about Wednesday's eruption, with a good photo.

Share the story with your child. Then ask, what if Mount Merapi were in your back yard? What or who (besides you!) would be within the evacuation area? First, if you live in the U.S. you'd want to convert kilometers to miles, by multiplying by 0.6:

7 kilometers x 0.6 miles per kilometer = 4.2 miles, or four and two-tenths miles. Round that to 4 if you like.

Then, get out a street map, find your house, and use the scale of miles and a compass (the circle-drawing tool, not the north-south kind) to draw a four-mile-radius circle with your house at the center. Use the term "radius" to remind your child that the radius of this circular area is four miles - the distance from the center of the circle to the outside. Then look at what's inside that circle and talk about what would be evacuated - the school? The grocery store? Grandma's house?

See, in one easy activity you've reviewed or explained three math concepts: converting between miles and kilometers, scale distances on a map, and the radius of a circle.

More Fun Math for Kids

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Mentos + Diet Soda = Geysers




My son says this one is old news, but I just read about in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal. Drop a roll of Mentos candy QUICKLY into a 2-liter bottle of diet soda, and stand back as a 10-foot Geysers of soda erupts. Check out the science site in the first link for an explanation of why this happens. The NPR site has a fun audio story to listen to about how the news staff decided to reproduce the experiment. The last site has soda-geysers-as-art: a 200-bottle fountain show.

If you've got a lot of soda on hand to waste, this is great fodder for a science project - do other candies work? other sodas? Does temperature matter (outdoor temp or soda temp)? Would little ice cubes work? Heck, using the soda for activities that feed your child's brain might be its most nutritious possible use.


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Book Review

The Cartoonist's Workbook by Robin Hall

Ages 8 and up

If your kids like to draw, here's a really fun book they'll come back to again and again. This funny, clear guide to drawing cartoons is packed with practical tips kids can use right away. For example, a chapter deals with the question, what if you want to draw an object but don't have a model or photo handy to work from? You could spend hours looking for one, or you could use any of several other approaches Hall develops (for example, work from a part you can visualize clearly), complete with pages of examples.

The book is comprehensive and doesn't assume any expertise in drawing. It's concise with words but generous with examples. My eight-year-old started with the facial expressions, but as he gets older he'll probably appreciate the pages on anatomy for drawing realistic figures. Maybe he'll even get to the chapter on selling your cartoons, and make us all rich.

Buying Information

More Art Books for Kids

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Education News for Adults

Civics Lessons from Online Communities?


Like the children of the author of this article, my kids have played the online game Runescape. They create characters for themselves, meet friends online, and try to advance in the game. Runescape is dragon fighting sort of enterprise with a medieval setting. Players worldwide can talk and interact with one another, typing messages in real time. They can trade their online possessions (their swords, armor, or gold) and team up to help each other out.

The game has rules against profanity, verbal abuse, and the like. Players can report violators and the violators can be booted from the game.

The author of the article argues that when kids learn the rules of these communities, they are learning valuable lessons about civics and citizenship, and that maybe these lessons will translate into a more civic-minded populace offline. And what if there were games that were fun and actually taught history?

Well, OK. But I think kids learn rules of engagement in all communities of which they are a part. They learn that people look at you funny if you drool; they learn who at school to avoid and who to befriend and how to stay uninjured if you have to be lab partners with the school bully. They learn these behaviors in a much richer way in the real world. In fact, I think kids like online and computer-based worlds because they are simpler - the interactions are constrained and safe (you're not going to be physically injured) and fairly predictable. That simplicity can be seductive and I don't let my kids get too used to it, though I do let them play during their allotted half-hour of computer time.

Why? Because it's part of their real-world culture. The kids at school talk about it, they compare stories, they exchange tips and tricks. Now we're talking. Literally. For them, at certain points, the game has greased the wheels of their real-world social interaction, and I think that's a good thing. I just don't count on Runescape to teach them not to drool in public.

My younger son says you DO learn stuff from Runescape - you learn to type a lot faster!

Comment on this article here.


Web Site


Ages 6 -12



Here's a site your kids can really interact with. Bookzone is the part of the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) site that lets kids search for a book to read by subject, age level and by title or author. Once you get the list of books, you can read what other kids thought of the book, and you can write and post your own review.

The second link is for their "Meet the Authors and Illustrators" feature. Kids can read interviews with their favorite authors, and best of all submit questions to ask authors featured in upcoming interviews.

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