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Big Learning News 11-30-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:39 November 30, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Take a ride into space
Announcing our newest Treasure Trove: Cooking!
Activity: Make pretzels
Book review: The Big Book of Magic
Education News : What it takes to make a student
Web Site: Runningmap

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Math Moment

What does it cost to take a spaceship ride?

Exercise your child's understanding of money - money in large amounts - with this story about pricey rides into space (for $200,000 you get to enjoy five minutes of 0-g weightless fun). There are good statistics at the end. For older kids, help them figure out how long it would take to save up enough allowance to pay for a ride. Ask them why they think the capacity of a human stomach was included in the statistics at the end of the article.

Here's another article with additional details:


Here's an oh-so-slow but stylishly rendered video simulation of the experience:


More Fun Math for Kids



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Cooking Together

A New Big Learning Treasure Trove


We've got:

Fun recipes kids love to make and eat
Cookbook reviews
Nutrition math and food science
Tips for teaching kids to cook

Go see it now!


Make Pretzels

We've been a regular soft pretzel factory around here lately. They're fun to make, and taste so good right out of the oven. We've tried out three recipes so far.

Making pretzels is a great family or group activity. You just divide the dough up into little balls, and everyone gets to roll out their own and shape it any way they want. When they come out of the oven you can add different toppings too, like cinnamon sugar instead of the traditional coarse salt.

Check out our recipe, combining the best features of all the ones we tried, here:


And for more recipes, visit our new Cooking treasure trove!


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Have you visited the Big Learning Craft Stick Idea Palace? Your child will love these projects - real wood toys and gifts they can make, using jumbo craft sticks for the wood. Parents love the way the projects teach math, science, art, and other important subjects.

Book Review

The Big Book of Magic Fun by Ian Keable (Barron''s Educational Series, 2005)

Ages 9 -12 (slightly younger with help)

I've been watching for a good magic book for quite some time, thinking that there's got to be a lot of Big Learning in the study of magic - the history, the stage patter, the construction of trick apparatus, and the visual thinking required to understand a trick.

The Big Book of Magic is the first really clear book for beginners that I've come across. By that I mean, I can understand most of the tricks just by reading the instructions and looking at the photos, but without actually trying to do the trick. Most magic books, even for beginners, aren't like that.

Most tricks use basic around-the-house stuff, and a few use simple home-made equipment you build or cut out of paper in advance. There are tons of tricks, all photo-illustrated both with what the audience sees and the "secret view" the magician sees.

The front part of the book is full of fun information about magic - history, famous tricks, stage patter, hints for misdirecting the audience's attention, and other fun stuff. This book would make a great gift for any kid starting out in magic.

Buying information

More Hobby Books for Kids

Sewing with Felt (sewing) Buying Information

Woodshop for Kids (wood projects) Buying Information

Picture This: Fun Photography and Crafts (photography) Buying Information

The Cartoonist's Workbook (cartooning) Buying Information

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Looking for more books for your kids? Try this list.

Children's Books

Education News for Adults

What it Takes to Make A Student


New York Times Magazine editor Paul Tough has written a fascinating examination of the No Child Left Behind law. It's long but worth reading the whole thing. His main point is that, for poor children, it takes enormous resources to provide them with what their middle class peers get at home. He writes,

"The absence of any robust federal effort to improve high-poverty schools undercuts and distorts the debate over the responsibility for their problems. It is true, as the Thernstroms write in their book, that “dysfunctional families and poverty are no excuse for widespread, chronic educational failure.” But while those factors are not an excuse, they're certainly an explanation; as researchers like Lareau and Brooks-Gunn have made clear, poverty and dysfunction are enormous disadvantages for any child to overcome."

And so, regarding the slogan "No Excuses," he continues,

"The slogan came to suggest that what is going wrong in the schools is simply some sort of failure of will — that teachers don't want to work hard, or don't believe in their students, or are succumbing to what the president calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations” — while the reality is that even the best, most motivated educator, given just six hours a day and 10 months a year and nothing more than the typical resources provided to a public-school teacher, would find it near impossible to educate an average classroom of poor minority students up to the level of their middle-class peers."

As an example of the enormous resources it takes to help kids catch up, he cites the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools, often hailed as a model for successfully educating low-income kids. At KIPP schools, the school day goes from 8:00 to 4:00, and teachers work 15-16 hours a day. And, with all that, it's open to debate whether the KIPP program is really working as well as many have claimed.

I'm glad Tough has made this important point so well and so thoughtfully. But I can't help feeling uncomfortable with the way KIPP keeps getting held up as a model. As I understand it, KIPP is a pretty back-to-basics, rigid and regimented model. So many people say, "well, that's what poor kids need" and maybe it is.

But it's all too comfortable for wealthier people to believe that those scary poor people need to be controlled and pounded into learning something. That's the basic assumption behind NCLB, no? That if we just MAKE them learn (and make those "lazy" teachers teach), they will. And before you know it, no recess, no science labs, no art. As a result, the education gap is not just about who's learning at a higher level, but who is learning life-enriching things vs. who spends the day parroting reading drills. I wish someone would start up an equally successful model that had a more broad-based view of learning and equality. Poor kids might need more school, and maybe even more structured schools, than their wealthier peers. But they also need brighter, more lively places that bring the outside world to their doorstep.

Great Playgrounds, great toys
What it takes to be great
Raise children with a wild streak
Must we teach to the test?

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Web Site



Is that shortcut through the neighbor's yard really shorter? Now you can find out. Runningmap.com lets you measure off the distance of any twisty, turning route you can draw on a map, even if you go off of roads. We used it to check the two routes to school we walk, and found out that one is a whole 4/100 of a mile shorter.

Click the "Elevation" button and you'll get a second window that shows your up- and downhill climbing distance. We found out that the shorter route to school is also 42 feet more of a climb.

Besides the obvious math here, I liked doing this with the kids, because I'm always trying to drill a sense of direction into them. So as we drew our route I asked them, "OK, now what direction are we walking when we turn here?"

More Map Activities

Google Earth
Google Earth Vacation Preview
Census Data Math
Book Review: Geography Crafts for Kids

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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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