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Big Learning News 2-7-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:4 February 7, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Tetris
Activity: More recycled structures
Game review: Rush Hour
Education News: Accountability movement encroaches on preschool and college
Web site: Make your mark with a Tenner

Editor's Notes

This issue turns out to have a bit of a theme - the first three articles all have ways to help your kids improve their visual-spatial thinking skills. Enjoy!

Do you live in the Washington, D.C. metro area? Sign up for one of our Family FUN workshops!

Upcoming workshops include Birdfeeder and Beyond, Making Toys, Build a Castle, and Gardening Together.

You can see the workshop schedule and handy online registration form here.

Math Moment



In geometry, kids learn three ways to change the position of figures - they can move the figure, rotate it, or flip it across a line. These are called, translation, rotation, and reflection.

So, the game Tetris is a good way for kids to practice rotations (teach your child this math vocabulary as they play!). They have to rotate each figure as it falls to make it fit into the pattern of figures at the bottom of the game screen. That, it seems to me, is also a good way to prepare to pack a large amount of luggage in a small hatchback, an important life skill.

A 1994 study provided some sketchy evidence that playing Tetris may help build more general visual-spatial skills. But then another study concluded that playing Tetris may mostly help you get better at mentally manipulating Tetris-like shapes, and not much more. And a third study noted that kids who are already good visualizers benefit less from video game practice than kids who are not good visualizers.

A reasonable conclusion to draw from all this is: go ahead and play Tetris - it's fun and it might build some brain power.

But don't put all your eggs in the Tetris basket. Look for many ways for your kids to build their visual-spatial skills.

Here are some other math activities in the visual-spatial arena

Paper doll math

Mobius strip math

Paper airplane designs for kids

And also, the next two articles in this issue have more ideas for exercising visual-spatial skills,



Newspaper forts and geodesic domes - more green building for kids

Last week I wrote about how you can make all sorts of cool things from newspaper sheets rolled tightly into sticks.

Reader Barb VanDerKamp wrote with tons of great suggestions:

"In our Cub Scout pack here in Hawaii we have been having "Newspaper Night" for several years- using your same described method (or using a pencil-thick dowel, or pencil to start, makes it easier for kids to roll a really tight uniform piece), we build triangles using 3 of the "sticks." Since the triangle is THE strongest engineering shape, the boys have been able to make igloos, lunar landing modules, forts, USS (unidentified standing structures) and of course weapons. We spend almost 2 hours rolling tubes and building and coming up with whatever they come up with!!

I got this idea years ago from Family Fun's article on recycling and "geodesic domes" - basically the igloo shape.

This site was also really helpful

I know your subscribers would love this project- engineering, recycling, creativity, and fun all rolled in to one activity- fun for the whole family or a party or school group or :-) a Scout group!!"

Thanks Barb!

We had a snow day here this week, and started a huge newspaper fort. The boys decided to make a long wall around half the living room, using alternating newspaper triangles. This is the same pattern that is often used to make model bridges.

We used flat sheets of newspaper to paper the walls and start a roof, but by then we'd used up this week's recycling bag and had to stop. You can see photos here:


Last week's article - with additional pictures




Game Review

Rush Hour by Thinkfun

Ages 7 and up.

This is game is actually a series of puzzles. You set up a layout of plastic cars and trucks on a grid. Then you have to move them around in turn, clearing a path so that the one red car can "drive" in a straight line out the "exit."

Everyone who's played it around here thinks it's great fun.

Click the link below to read my complete review.

Read complete review or get buying information...



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

Children's Books

Education News

Accountability movement encroaches on more real learning

Standardized tests reshape how pre-K is taught - Houston Chronicle

Panel Explores Standard Tests for Colleges - New York Times

It used to be that, at the preschool and college level, society still respected people as learners. We knew that preschoolers didn't need any prodding to learn - unless you tried to teach them something silly like advanced academics. And college students, newly liberated in an intellectual wonderland and paying big bucks to be there, could similarly be trusted to work hard and learn deeply.

Not any more. Apparently, despite the fact that fewer and fewer people are happy with the effects of the standards, testing, and accountability movement, those in the movement are working really hard to make sure it touches everyone, from preschoolers to college students. The underlying assumptions are that no one learns or teaches unless you make them, and that people are incapable of directing their own educational activity or free time productively.

It's amazing to me that the accountability people seem so sanguine about their invasion into people's learning and lives. They talk as if they're all for improving education and equity, but I think they're just big bullies drunk on their own power. I'm sure they'd evaluate our dinner conversation if they could, and send us a little report with our percentile ranking. "Your family spent 87 minutes this month discussing reality TV and 5 minutes discussing world affairs. That puts you in the 9th percentile of families in time spent discussing world affairs. Attached please find a handy list of world affairs conversation starters. Please check them off as you use them and return a signed copy to your child's teacher."

You may think I'm kidding, but my son's school already requires "Family Math" activities every week. We do our own family math several times a day - but we still have to play the games they send home. I'm happy to have the school send home the activities, but couldn't there be a space at the bottom where we write what we did instead?

So now, the accountability folks are gearing up to tell preschool teachers that finger painting is out and alphabet drills are in. And they're ready to tell college professors that they can't give an in-depth account of their research - they have to stick to what's on the national Chemistry-1 exam or whatever.

Yeah, if they can just keep up the intrusion in to real learning, they might just kill it for good.

5 Myths about U.S. Education
Holding back kindergartners
Closing the achievement gap
Great playgrounds, great toys


Web Site

Make Your Mark with a Tenner



"Andrew Reynolds, Patron of The Prince's Trust and founder of The Entrepreneur Channel, has donated £100,000 to give teenagers the chance to prove they are tomorrow's top socially-minded entrepreneurs." -starttalkingideas.org

Here's a cool contest going on in Britain. 10,000 teen-age students each get a £10 (ten-pound) note - it's just a start-up loan. They try to make either a profit or a social impact. At the end they do their best to at least pay back the original £10. Winners get £1,000 to do with as they see fit - either keep going with their enterprise or pocket the profits.

You and your kids can see what the contestants are up to by following the tenner blog (second link above).

More business and service for kids

Tips for a successful lemonade stand

Stock market for kids

Summer volunteering

Doing good together



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Big Learning News (c) 2007 Karen Cole

All Rights Reserved.

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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