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Big Learning News 4-25-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:11 April 25, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Tail wagging
Activity: Make a Wallet
Book Review : Run Jump Hide Slide Splash
Education News: The Gap
Web site: Where's yours

Math Moment

Tail Wagging and angles


Does tail-wagging = happy dog? Not always. Sometimes dogs wag their tails when they are anxious. According to the New York Times, you can tell the difference by watching to see if the tail rotates farther to the left or right. Right (dog's right) means happy or positive emotion, and left means negative emotion. There site has a great video of dog's tails wagging - click on the link "The Tail's Tail" to see it.

At the top of the article are photographs of dog's tails, showing the angle the dog's tail rotates in either direction, with a diagram overlaid on the photo. If your child has never seen a protractor or used it to measure an angle, you can lay one over the photo and show them the concept. If you don't have a protractor, print this one from our web site.

Many kids who do know how to measure angles have never seen it done sideways, or have never measured in two different directions. Real world math like this example is a good way to help kids generalize the concepts they learn in school.

More Fun Math for Kids



Make a wallet


Can't get enough of paper folding around here. My son seems to look at these projects as if they were magic tricks - a complex set of steps you can learn in order to amaze your friends. And of course, I love the mental exercise he gets, interpreting the diagrams and instructions.

This project is fully functional wallet your kids can make from an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. Here's a picture of the one we made. As you can see, it holds bills and credit cards, and can be decorated with markers.

More fun with paper

Make an origami crane
Newspaper forts
Paper doll math


Book Review

Run Jump Hide Slide Splash: The 200 Best Outdoor Games Ever by Joe Rhatigan and Rain Newcomb


So much Big Learning in outdoor games, especially the Rhatigan and Newcomb versions. There's all the social skill development, agreeing on and enforcing the rules. Then there's the fine and gross motor development, memory and strategic thinking requirements - it goes on and on. Most important, these games are fun and engaging.

....Read the rest of the review and get information about the book at http://www.biglearning.org/book-review-best-outdoor-games.htm.



Brute Force Narrowing of the Achievement Gap

Education News

Why do I get a queasy feeling almost every time I read a news report about "narrowing the achievement gap" ( that notorious, persistent, and pernicious gap in test scores and graduation rates between Asian or White students and Black or Latino students)? I think the gap itself is beyond shameful, and I'm glad efforts to close it are in the news so much.

But with a more careful look seems to indicate a free-for-all for everyone who likes their minorities (and teachers) corralled in a neat little box. So many of the news stories show photos of smiling uniform-clad children, surrounded by signs bearing slogans, hands in the air as their teacher reads from a scripted reading lesson. The message is, "see, it's fun to be controlled." Students get several hours of reading and math per day - often from materials that look suspiciously like standardized test questions. Music, art, and other "extras" get cut.

This article trumpets success of one school in raising test scores for minority students. The article is crammed with references to strict discipline, hours of nightly homework, and a 7:30-5:00 school day. And this article suggests that the military model may be the best way to educate minorities.

Apparently, the belief is that it's time to end the fun and games, get serious, and pound literacy, math, and whiteness itself into those unrepentant minority heads. The sloganeering smacks of a creepy propaganda campaign to get children to buy into this sterile, constrained daily routine.

Second-grade teacher David Keyes wrote recently in the Washington Post that the No-Child-Left-Behind has created a "caste-like system," where all the high-level thinking curriculum goes to the kids who don't have to worry about their test scores. He writes,

As it comes up for reauthorization, members of Congress should consider the unintended consequence of the act: a new gap between poor and minority students, who are being taught to seek simple answers, and largely wealthy and white students, who are learning to ask complex questions. In my work as an elementary school teacher, I have seen this new gap and I worry about its impact on my students' future prospects.

And in a letter to the Des Moines Register, Mary Kundrat points out that the reading achievement gap in her district is rising as school librarians are cut from the payroll while there seems to be plenty of money for reading consultants.

These "reforms" are often presented as research-based, but the fact is that there's plenty of research to support school programs that are more carrot than stick. Art, music, good well-staffed libraries, theater programs, and real-world science all have good research support. This article reports that four different reading programs all produced about the same gains, despite widely differing approaches. The scripted, phonics-only program wasn't the answer after all. In fact, the most influential intervention in the study was teacher training in things like guiding discussion.

It's time to quit accepting the characterization of student-centered, respectful, thinking education as touchy-feely and unscientific. These are children we're educating, and we need to stop treating them like lab rats. If you feel uncomfortable about boot camp as a model for education, don't believe those sad head-shakers who say that "these children" need it to be that way.

You can read a very interesting, short scholarly paper on the unwarranted influence of some very bad research, here:

Journal of Educational Controversy - Article Return of the Deficit

Recent Education News Columns

Dark Side of Parent Involvement Initiatives
Quick fixes in education
Using test scores to evaluate teachers
Extending the school day


Web Site

Where's Yours?

Ages 8 and up with help

The scene: you and your child in front of the computer. The task: find a destination for an outdoor vacation or day trip. This fun little site lets you pick an outdoor activity, like backpacking, canoeing, or fishing, and search for places in the U.S. by state.

The search results give you a satellite map and a street map. You can zoom down to street level to take a look around. You can also click the "place page" link and see a description of the place, with photos included.

An additional little Big Learning benefit is that the site displays the latitude and longitude as you roll over the map. Use the U.S. map to zoom down to your own street, and see what your latitude and longitude are. Then go to a globe and look for the same latitude and longitude.

More map activities

Google Earth vacation preview
Measure your walking distance with Runningmap
Book review: Geography Crafts for Kids



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Big Learning News (c) 2007 Karen Cole

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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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