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Big Learning News 4-4-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:9 April 4, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Early Baseball Standings
Activity: Play the Nest Identifcation Games
Activity: Learn a magic trick
Product Review : Basket weaving sampler kit
Education News: Quick fixes
Web site: Everyday Mysteries

Math Moment

Early Baseball Standings


I love the early baseball standings, because each team has only played a few games. So it's really easy to see how the win-loss totals relate to the rankings and the "percentages" (technically a percentage would only be two decimal places, but in the standings it's three.

For young kids, just help them notice and compare the totals. For example, see if they can explain why is one team ahead of another when they've won the same number of games? Either one has lost more than the other, or they're actually tied - but just listed in alphabetical order.

For older kids, talk about the win/loss percentages and have them compare the numbers to fractions they know about - like .500 is 1/2.

More Fun Math for Kids

More Baseball Math

Math moment: Hit that baseball

Math Moment: Batting averages




Play the Nest Identification Game


Lots of birds are building nests in our neck of the woods, and so it's a good time to learn about nesting habits of various species. This fun little "game" (really a multiple-choice quiz) asks you to identify a nest from a photo, given three choices. If you read the hints that go with each choice, it's pretty easy to choose the right species on the first try. Kids will learn some names of species and how they vary in the places and materials they choose for nest building.

More Bird Articles

Bird books for early spring

Backyard bird watching sites

Book review: Backyard Bird Watching for Kids




Learn a magic trick


I've had a passing interest in magic for years, but it's hard to find tricks that are easy enough for kids to master without live in-person instruction.

This page has some fairly simple ones. There's nothing fancy but the illustrations are good and the explanations are straightforward. So pick one out and learn it - it's fun to have a new trick to show and share.

I like the "Loose Thumb" trick the best.

More Magic

Book review: Big Book of Magic


Product review

Kids' Sampler Set from Basketweaving.com


It's a shame basket weaving got such a bad reputation as a lame activity. When I was growing up, "basket weaving" was a code phrase for an easy class with no real content.

But, basket weaving is fun! And educational! Well at least a little educational. It's a great exercise in patterns for young kids, and it's an ancient craft with practical value. I think everyone should weave a basket at least once - just in case you're stranded on a reed-covered island and need something in which to carry your stuff.

So, order the Kids' Sampler from basketweaving.com and make it a family affair. You'll get a large bundle of thin reed strands, four different pre-drilled plywood basket bases, and a bag of decorative beads in assorted colors. You soak the reeds in water to make them pliable for weaving. The instructions explain just what to do and the only tool you need is a pair of scissors.

You get enough stuff to weave four small reed baskets with plywood bases and decorative bead trim. The instructions are minimal but adequate. The kit is generous with materials and you can't beat the price - $11.95 for everything.

More weaving projects

Make a cardboard loom

Weave a change purse


Education News

Don't we love those "quick fixes"?


Well, we consumers eventually get our just rewards for accepting teeny little research results as if they were truth revealed from on high. We pay good money for quick fixes, and then we feel betrayed when the results are later revealed to be inaccurate or oversimplified..

So it is with learning and intelligence. Refusing to believe that learning is a multi-facetted, complex process and that intelligence gets built over a lifetime, we look for the quick fix. This week brought news of two quick fixes that didn't pan out: it turns out toys that are supposed to make smarter babies don't work, and educational software doesn't even raise test scores (the article doesn't seem to mind equating that with improving education).

Have we learned our lessons? Well, the same day I read about the educational software, I read some big news: that playing music has been shown to make kids smarter.


I guess I ought to market a product called "Baby Plays" that teaches babies to play concertos - make a quick buck while I can.

But think about it. Our minds have evolved over millions of years to learn from meaningful, varied activities over a long period of time. So we really ought to be very skeptical that one kind of activity, one piece of technology, one toy could make the difference between life success and failure, or between intelligence and stupidity.

Sometimes truth flies in the face of common sense, but I don't think this is one of those times. And research seems to bear me out in the long run. So save your money and do Big Learning. It may be old-fashioned, but it works.

Recent Education News Columns

Using test scores to evaluate teachers
Extending the school day
Education News: Accountability movement encroaches on preschool and college
5 Myths about U.S. Education


Web Site

Everyday Mysteries


(A page for adults and kids to explore together)

This page is a collection of intriguing questions researchers have asked the librarians at the library of congress. Questions include "Why do bats sleep in caves," "Why do mosquitoes bite me and not my friend," and "Why does turkey have white and dark meat." The answers, while written at an adult level, are clear and non-technical, and often include great photographs from the Library of Congress collection, links to related web pages, and other good resources.



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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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