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Big Learning News 5-23-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:13 May 23, 2007

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Table of Contents

Editor's Notes
Math Moment: Fastest Tennis Serve
Activity: Make a Mobile
Education News: The National Spelling Bee
Web Site: Animations from WikiMedia
Web Site: Mixing colors

Editor's Notes

As we told you last week, Big Learning is now a nonprofit corporation, Big Learning, Inc. Our mission is to provide hands-on, real-world learning opportunities for children and families. Our official web address is now www.biglearning.org (instead of .com), and we have lots of new stuff in store. This week, we announce (drum roll....)

Our Toymaker's Toolkit - everything your child needs to start making real wood toys with moving parts.
With summer coming, you'll want to your kids to have this source of endless fun. Order online today!


Do you live in the D.C. Metro Area? Join me at a Big Learning Family Fun Workshop! Upcoming workshops include Making Toys, Gardening Together, and Making Kites.

Go to http://www.biglearning.org/workshops for schedule and online registration.

-Karen Cole

Math Moment

Fastest Tennis Serves



The first link is a table put together by physics students. It lists the fastest tennis serves on record, in miles per hour and meters per second. The fastest is "Big Bill" Tilden, with a serve of 163 miles per hour, or 73 meters per second, in 1930. (Note to grownups - to convert mph to m/s, you need to know that there are 1,609.344 meters in a mile).

So, my question was: At that speed, how much time would the other player have to hit the ball? Assume it went the full 42 feet from serve line to serve line (see diagram at the second link above). 42 feet is just short of 13 meters. So at 73 m/s, it would take the ball about 2/10 of a second to reach the other side (13 meters / 73 m/s = .178 seconds).

More Fun Math for Kids


Activity: Make a Mobile

No, you don't need a wire coat hanger. Turns out it's not so hard to make a mobile that's attractive and doesn't hang in the closet. Do this project with your child - it takes a little fine motor skill. But it's chock full of Big Learning, because mobiles have to balance and use levers. Balance projects help kids develop intuitions that are useful when they study physics later on - for example, if you sit farther out on a balanced see-saw, will you go up or down?

Our mobile project is designed to let your child work with balancing objects by moving them in and out. Here's what you need. You can find complete instructions and a photo of the finished project here:


More Crafts

Engineering for Kids
Photography for Kids
Art for Kids


Education News for Adults

The Scripps National Spelling Bee and Other Strange Activities


Adults have built some pretty faulty infrastructure for kids - massive, strangely magnetic organized activities that lead, well, almost nowhere. There are some hopeful signs that things are changing, but we still have a long way to go.

Take the Scripps National Spelling Bee, now just days away. This has always struck me as a sort of cruel joke - we offer kids fame and fortune for spending hundreds of hours memorizing the most arcane words in the dictionary. Thousands of words. And they do it!

The above article, from WMAZ in Georgia, is about a 13-year-old on his way to the national competition. His family seems pretty sane about the whole thing, quizzing him while he shoots baskets outdoors. But the child's comment is telling:

"It's a little fun, but it's not fun enough to be doing this without a prize."

Here's what I ask myself when considering a new activity for my kids. Will putting extensive time and money into a certain activity (1) make my child really happy now, and/or (2) build knowledge or character traits with lifelong benefit? The best pursuits do both. Optimally, intensive training for kids is a snowballing enterprise that rolls smoothly into adulthood. Most of the infrastructure we build for kids only does that for a small percentage of participants.

For example, music education is still highly focused on orchestral instruments played in very large-group settings. But few people keep playing that oboe after high school. What if instead, we encouraged small-group collaboration (rock bands, chamber music, etc.)? What if everyone left school knowing how to sing and play a front-porch instrument? Hard to imagine the world wouldn't be a better place.

So the National Spelling Bee seems like a throwback, an arcane activity where the ratio of time spent to benefit achieved - both in fun and development - seems way out of whack. Lots of kids spend a lot of time for very little benefit.

I think spelling bees are popular because we're lacking an example of competitive academics that the public can understand in a soundbite. But if your academically-inclided kid is willing to skip the fame and fortune there are lots of better alternatives - Destination Imagination and Invent America for younger kids, Global Challenge for older kids, for example. You can find a great list of programs here.

Read and comment on our Bigger Learning blog - http://www.biglearning.org/biggerlearning


Web Site

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2006

Here are some very cool animations to share with your kids from Wikimedia.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Lunar_libration_with_phase2.gif - a time lapse photo animation of the moon's phases during September, 2005.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Zipper_animated.gif Animation of a zipper zipping.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Muybridge_race_horse_animated_184px.gif Animated version of high-speed photos of a race horse galloping.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:2004_Indonesia_Tsunami_Complete.gif Animation of the 2004 Tsunami showing the wave spreading across the globe.


Web Site

Mixing Colors


I know, we all learned that the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. But this site teaches kids about two related ways to describe colors that use different primaries: RGB (Red Green Blue) for mixing colored light, and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black - k stands for Key Color) for mixing paint or ink colors.

This site lets kids play around with mixing these colors online.

The cool thing is, these primaries actually correspond to the receptors in the human eye, and are useful in Photoshop and other computer art programs.


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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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