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Big Learning News 9-27-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:32 September 27, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Math Moment: Walking to School
Activity: Acorns and Pinecones
Book Review: They Did What?!
Education news: Tracking...it's baaaack
Web Site: Inner Body

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Math Moment

Walking to School

My daily battle with the kids over whether to walk or drive to school goes something like this:

Mom: We live a HALF MILE from school. It's a nice morning. Why would we get in the car and pollute the air when we could have a nice walk?

Child: But my backpack is extra-heavy and I'm TIRED and plus it's late and we'll never get there on time. [then, holding tightly to the car door handle] I LOVE you Mommy.

Mom: I said, we're walking.

For awhile, though, we did have success motivating the kids to walk by keeping track of our cumulative miles. Each day, a half-mile for walking to school, another half mile for walking home. The reward was an all-chocolate celebration when we reached 100 miles, which we did sometime in the spring (I am more of a pushover when it's cold).

Depending on the age of your child, there's lots of math to get out of this.

Younger kids: Tally marks and multiplication prep. Have your child make a tally mark for each mile traveled. Show how to group tallies by fives. Practice counting by fives to see how far you've walked.

Kids who know about fractions or decimals: Not everyone is lucky enough to live an even half-mile from school. Let the kids watch the car odometer to figure out how many tenths of a mile you live from school, and let them practice adding tenths of a mile each day.

Large distances and radius: When we had walked 100 miles, we did have a little celebration. I made my son a map with our town at the center, and a hundred-mile-radius circle drawn around it (easy to do with Google Earth). That way he could see all the places he could have walked if he'd walked 100 miles in a straight line.

More Fun Math for Kids

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Gather Pinecones and Acorns

(Safety Note: Do NOT do this activity if your child has a nut allergy. Acorns are nuts and some species of pinecones contain pine nuts that can cause a reaction.)




Well, I learned some botany today, and so can you and your kids, as you take a closer look at the pinecones and acorns that fall from trees this time of year.

Botanically, acorns are true nuts. A nut is the combined (and inseparable) seed and fruit of a plant, in this case an oak tree.

If you gather acorns, it's quite easy for kids to crack them with a gentle hammer blow or squeeze of pliers or a nutcracker. Then you can peel off the thin shell and see the nut inside. These nuts, unlike many your child may have eaten, need to be prepared for eating by grinding and then rinsing out the bitter tannin they contain. Then the meal can be used like flour to give recipes a nutty flavor. This article tells explains the process from start to finish and even includes some recipes.

Pinecones have a seed on each petal. In fact, they are no more than carriers for seeds. The petals open in dry weather to release the seeds, and close in high humidity. Scientists think this may help the seeds disperse farther. To see for ourselves, we dunked the top half of an open pinecone in a glass of water, and sure enough it closed up.

You can remove the seeds and plant them to grow your own pine seedlings, but this article gives the impression that it's not a straightforward process. If anyone manages to farm their own Christmas trees this way, let me know.

More autumn nature activities

Preparing Bird Feeders for Fall
Find a New Hiking Trail
Preserving Leaves
Project Feederwatch

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Book Review

They Did What?! Your Guide to Weird and Wacky Things People Do by Jeff Szpirglas, Illustrated by Dave Whamond (Maple Tree Press, 2005)

Ages 9-12

From hoaxes and stunts to pet pampering and outlandish spending, this book is full of fun. Kids already think adults are completely crazy, and this book will reinforce that notion. They'll learn that people dropped a 2,600 rubber band ball from an airplane, hoping it would bounce (it didn't). And about the man who held 109 bees in his mouth for ten seconds (he didn't get stung that time, but has been stung more than 75,000 times during his bee-stunt career).

This is a great birthday-party present book that almost any kids would enjoy.

More Information

Related Reviews

It's Disgusting and We Ate It
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

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Education News for Adults

Tracking - it's baaaack...


This commentary, written by a high-school teacher, describes how educational resources are split between remedial instruction and accelerated instruction, leaving average-achieving kids to choose between boring remedial classes or AP-type classes that are too hard for them. His solution: Bring back more tracking, creating a third track in the middle. He explains that tracking was eliminated over the past couple of decades, but says that doing so was a big mistake.

Aaaak! It just drives me crazy, how invested we are in the idea of sorting and labeling children. Researcher Jeannie Oaks specializes in the study of tracking. Last year she published a new edition of her book, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. Her points about tracking are worth trumpeting:

- Tracking perpetuates racial and economic inequality: Minority and low-income students populate low tracks, while white and affluent students populate the high ones. Once in a track, it's rare to move. This is just as true, and in some places more true, than it was 20 years ago.

- Tracking doesn't even do what it's supposed to do. Summarizing her research, Oaks writes, "Tracking does not meet individual needs. Moreover, tracking does not increase student achievement."

That second point is hard for many people to believe, since it seems so logical to group kids whose achievement levels are similar. Oaks and her team went into classrooms to see what was going on, and found that low and average-tracked classrooms tended to shut off students from exposure to high level concepts, actually constraining their achievement (people call this "dumbing down."). Even more significantly, high-tracked classrooms still had so much variation in student ability and learning styles that those students didn't achieve more than similar students in mixed classes. In short, the idea that there is a large group of identically-brilliant kids being held back by their not-so-bright peers is nothing more than an illusion. And because we are so fond of that that illusion, we've lost precious years we could have been using to help teachers zero in on what each student needs and get it for them quickly.

So back to the USA Today commentary. In today's assessment-heavy schools, sorting students takes tremendous time, money, and energy. If we put that energy into developing curriculum and teaching styles that help teachers teach a highly-varied population, and put that money into reducing class size and teaching load, then you'd see some real gains in achievement and improvement of opportunity.


Recent Education News Commentaries

Free to roam?
Everything is starting earlier

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Web Site: Inner Body Anatomy

Ages 7 and up, with help


Washington Nationals baseball player Nick Johnson broke his femur this week, so the names of human bones became briefly interesting around here.

The Inner Body website lets you explore drawings of human systems, showing you the name of each part as you mouse over it. Click on the part and you get a detailed description. Most kids will have trouble understanding the language of the descriptions without help, so explore this site with your child.

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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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