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Big Learning News 1-10-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:1 January 10, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Googol Math Contest
Activity: "Paint your own pottery" party
Toy review:Electronics playground
Explaining the News: Climate Change
Web site: KidsHealth

Math Moment

Contest - how do you use math?


If you've been reading our Math Moments for any length of time, your kids should have plenty of fodder for entering this contest. Kids submit ways they use math in the real world, and the best ideas can win fabulous prizes.

You can check out last year's winners here.

If you want to review our math moments, check out the archives here.

More Fun Math for Kids



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Have a "Paint Your Own Pottery" Party

My older son and I recently spent a lovely morning at one of those paint-your-own pottery places. It's very pleasant to chat and decorate at the same time.

There was a birthday party going on while we were there, and my son commented that it looked like fun, but all I could think was how expensive it must be - the pieces aren't cheap.

But you can bring the concept home by letting kids paint air-dry clay bowls you make in advance. Air-dry pottery can take days to harden, so make sure you plan ahead.

Then, at the party, let the kids paint the pots with acrylic craft paint. When the paint is dry, you can spray them all with acrylic spray to seal them.

Here's a photo of the results.

Tips from the pottery place

Here are some things the pottery store did that are worth copying:

1. Have all the paints in one place and give everyone little trays to hold blobs of each color they want. You don't need much to cover a lot of area, so that cuts down on waste.

2. Have sponges, paper towels, and water handy for spills and splatters. But don't get the clay wet.

3. Put out stencils and masking tape for making patterns and stripes.

4. Encourage kids to paint several (at least 3) thin coats - the color is dramatically better that way. Thick coats take forever to dry, but thin coats take just a few minutes.

Tips for Big Learning

Decorating pottery is one of the oldest art forms. Print pottery designs from different traditions from Internet photos and put them in a binder for kids to use for inspiration (make sure you label each one with its origin so the kids will know which is Greek and which is Egyptian, for example). Or, hang them up on the walls in the room for decoration.

Here are some web sites with good photos. Often you can get nice large images by right-clicking on the photos and selecting "View Image."

Contemporary Native American

Ancient Pottery

Native American Indian Designs and Symbol Guide (Don't know how reliably accurate this one is).

Next week, I'll tell you how to make the bowls. For now you can order clay or get it at your local art supply store. My favorite brand is Omyacolor Plastiroc, which you can get online at Dick Blick. You can get 11 pounds for under $20.00, including shipping. It also comes in 1lb packages.

More pottery articles

Pottery at home

Plastiroc Air-Dry Clay (product review)


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Toy Review

Electronics Playground by Elenco

Ages 9 and up.

This is a really well-designed electronics lab, especially for the money. It gives kids experience making circuits and working electricity projects with real components - they connect real pieces of wire to real resistors, capacitors, etc.

Electronics Playground's play surface is equipped with several levels of resistors and capacitors, a variable resistor, LEDs, a transformer, a speaker, and more. It comes with a big packet of insulated wire. And a really great instruction book with fifty-one projects, starting with a basic circuit that lights up an LED.

Each component has a little spring that sticks up out of the board. To connect a wire to that component, you just pull the spring sideways and stick the un-insulated part of the wire between the coil. It's very easy to get the wires in and out and build a circuit quickly.

And the booklet. Oh my, it's quite a thing - a complete course in beginning electronics. The text is too high level for kids but great for the adults helping them along. The book clearly explains all the components and how they work, using a water pipe analogy.

Each project also features a step-by-step wiring guide that kids can follow on their own. So while they need an adult for real understanding, they can build everything in the book independently just by following the cookbook instructions.

All in all, this is one of the best values around in educational toys.

Buying information

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

Children's Books


Unusual winter temperatures

"Explaining" is a new type of current-events feature we're offering in Big Learning News, rotating with "Education News for Adults" and "News to share with Kids."

In "Explaining" we offer resources for explaining current events that affect kids - things they might ask you about that make you wonder if you remember ANYTHING from all those high school science classes.

This week, we're looking at the weird winter weather. On the East coast, we're having, well, no winter at all - it's been warm and things are blooming in January. Other parts of the U.S. are experiencing other unusual weather. So kids are asking, "Is this global warming?"

These articles examine the source of the weird weather, as well as its relation to possible global warming. In a nutshell, they say both short-term phenomena, like the position of the Jet Stream, and long-term global warming may be at work. They all emphasize that one season of unusual weather is not the same as long-term climate change. But they point out that nine of the warmest winters on record have happened in the last 15 years, and that does start to look like a trend.

Here are some links.



Catch up on our education commentaries!

Here are our recent commentaries on education-related news.

Holding back kindergartners
Closing the achievement gap
Great playgrounds, great toys
What it takes to be great
Raise children with a wild streak

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Web Site



I bet your kids made resolutions this January to eat better and exercise more in 2007. HAHHH! Just kidding. But I bet they'll like KidsHealth.org nonetheless. It's got all kinds of resources for learning about the body, staying healthy, and getting fit. There are little animated "movies" about how the body works, recipes for healthy snacks, information about and information about grown-up health problems that kids may have to deal with in their families, such as Alzheimer disease.

More health and fitness resources

Nutrition information resources
Fast food nutrition
Get Physical site review
Caffeine content of soft drinks
Using the Food Pyramid

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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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