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Big Learning News 8-09-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:25 August 9, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Google Earth on Vacation
Activity: Camping fun
Product Review: I Made That - Wood Kits
Education News: Back to school
Web sites: Field Museum Underground Adventure
Giant-sized Croquet

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Math Moment

Vacations, Scale, and Google Earth


We used Google Earth to orient ourselves to our vacation destinations - Chicago, IL and Traverse City, MI. Google Earth lets you "fly" over any place on earth and see satellite images of the area. It is a program you download and install, free, from the Google Earth web site. You can read our earlier review of Google Earth here.

So to preview our vacation, we used Google Earth (GE) to fly over Chicago, and then from there to Traverse City.

Ok, the math. Since we were driving from one city to the other and taking a ferry across Lake Michigan, we used the ruler feature to measure distances. By clicking on the beginning and end of the ferry path, we found out it's about 85 miles across Lake Michigan.

There are several mathematical directions you could go with the ruler tool as you explore places with your child.

How far is our destination from homes? You can measure other trips familiar to your child and compare. How far to school? How far to something familiar that is about an hour away? That will help your child develop their real-world understanding of distances.

Understanding map scale. You can use the Google Earth ruler to help your child understand a basic truth about maps - no matter what scale you draw the map, you're still representing an unchanging real-world distance. Zoom in tight, measure a distance between two places. Now zoom out, and measure the same distance again. Even though your ruler line is much shorter, the distance in miles will be about the same (allowing for a little error in clicking).

Using numbers to describe places. Lake Michigan is much longer, north to south, than it is wide. By measuring with the ruler tool we can find out how many times longer it is than wide. If I tell you that Lake Michigan is over three times longer than it is wide, that's a more specific description than "a lot longer than wide." It also allows you to draw a rectangle about the same shape as Lake Michigan, without ever seeing a map. Aren't numbers great?

More Fun Math for Kids

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Camping Activities


Sure, camping sounds like fun, but what will you do all day? If you're new at camping, these pages have lots of ideas for fun things to keep kids busy and even involve them more in nature and the camping experience.

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Product Review

I Made That wood craft kits for kids

Ages 4-8 with adult help, 9-12 independently

If you've shopped for toys lately, you'll agree that clever design is a rare and precious thing.

Especially clever design that inspires creativity while developing practical skills, hands-on.

Well, I've got one for you.

I Made That woodworking kits let kids get the feel of creating wood furniture from start to finish. The pre-cut pieces slide together. There's a cute wooden hammer included for pounding in the pegs that hold the pieces together. In fact, everything's included - you don't need to get up to get anything once you open the box.

My kids made the stacking box and the stepstool. It took them about 15 minutes to glue and assemble each unit. The painting (paint and brush included) takes a little longer. You can see their finished items here.

The kits are all-inclusive, the directions clear, and the designs strong, simple, and easy to put together. My only quibble is that there's not enough of each paint color - you have to use several colors to cover the object, and there's not enough for a second coat. But maybe that is a conscious choice too, because the paint problem probably inspired my kids to create a more creative finish.

More Woodworking for Kids

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Education News for Adults

Back to School Prep


This article asks, is the spending spree before school really necessary? It got me thinking about the whole back-to-school hoopla. I searched Google News today to see what everyone's writing about "Back to School." Here's what I found out:

  • Almost all the articles deal with either fashion or trendy school supplies
  • Most of the remaining articles are about getting your kids to go to bed earlier
  • There were also a few about talking to your kids about their fears and concerns.

So, in a nutshell, the advice isn't very helpful to those of us thinking about learning. I guess I'll have to make my own advice to myself:

1. Think about the unique opportunities for development that summer presents, and be better about taking advantage of them in the few remaining weeks. More free summer concerts, reading, playing outside, playing music together, and making things.

2. Squeeze in a few things, like typing practice, that will make school easier for kids.

3. As the day approaches, do something to encourage excitement and positive anticipation, like going out to lunch with a school buddy after meet-your-teacher day, and maybe a school-supply project. Here's a lunch box project that's the kind of thing I mean.

For those of you who haven't started school already, what are you doing to prepare?

Click here to share your ideas or see what others have said.


Web Sites

Field Museum Underground Adventure


This is a virtual tour of the Chicago Field Museum's Underground adventure. The exhibit lets you walk through soil as if you were a half-inch tall and meet the critters that live just below the surface. It was our favorite exhibit when we visited the Field Museum last week.

The site also has resources to help your child explore the soil at home. There are lots of activities and this downloadable and printable field guide,

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Giant-Size Croquet Game


We played a lot of croquet on our vacation at the lake. If your family likes croquet as much as ours does, they'll enjoy this video of people playing Mondo Croquet - croquet played with giant wickets, bowling balls, and sledge hammers. Not necessarily recommended for kids to do, but fun to watch. I like the idea of teaching kids that they can modify well-known games in funny ways.

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Big Learning News (c) 2006 Karen Cole

Content meant for adults and provided for informational purposes only - readers are responsible for previewing all materials and activities for suitability and safety before sharing them with children.
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