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Big Learning News 11-25-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:6 November 25, 2003

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Table of Contents
Activities: Thanksgiving Stuff
Book Review: Constructions for Children: Projects in Design Technology
Web Site: Scribbles Kids Art Site 

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Activities: Thanksgiving Stuff

Your faithful Big Learning editor has perused Thanksgiving websites to find historical information interesting enough for dinner conversation. This year's table-talk award goes to two History Channel pages:

A Meal Without Forks : http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/thanksgiving/thnkmeal.html
The fact that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated without the benefit of forks - that was news to me, along with the other tidbits about colonial and Indian food-related practices.

Thanksgiving Myths: http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/thanksgiving/thnkmyth.html
Half of what we've always heard about Thanksgiving isn't quite accurate, and this page will assure you have plenty of opportunities to interrupt conversations with a slightly superior "Well, actually."

On a slightly more serious note, many families have gratitude-related Thanksgiving traditions. Writing thank-you notes is a popular one that comes in handy during the December holidays too. If you or your kids never know quite what to write in a thank-you note, try this tutorial:
http://www.tutorials.com/05/0547/0547.asp

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Book Review

Constructions for Children: Projects in Design Technology by Barbara Eichelberger and Connie Larson. Dale Seymour Publications (1993)

There's a powerful "big idea" in this book: Kids can make cool machines out of simple, everyday materials like cardboard, rubber bands, and recycled packaging. Aimed at teachers, the book also works as a child's project book. Although the book claims the projects are for children in grades K-4, it has a lot to teach parents (like me!) who don't happen to have much experience with mechanical design.

The list of projects is enticing: Dump Truck with Pneumatic Lift, Clock with Gears, Hopping Kangaroo with Drive Mechanism, to name a few. The book is organized according to the mechanism that powers the projects: gravity, rubber-band, air (pneumatic), water (hydraulic), gears, and levers. Each project makes clever use of everyday materials to illustrate these mechanical principles. Many mechanisms are similar to those that power manufactured toys. Because the projects are designed for low-budget classrooms, the materials are truly low cost and easily obtainable.

But I'll tell you, my kids are completely uninterested in this book, because the projects look clunky and the black-and-white, low resolution photographs are far from inviting. The book almost screams "school."  If your children can see past that kind of thing, they'll find that the directions are clear and the ideas generalize to all kinds of inventions. In my house, I use the book as a reference. When my kids are trying to make something work and they ask for help, I can look really smart now, because Constructions taught me some simple, useful ways to make thing that move.

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Web Site

Scribbles Kids Art Site: http://www.scribbleskidsart.com

It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a life time to paint like a child. -Pablo Picasso

Doesn't that make you want to frame your kids' paintings? I got that quote from the "quotes" page of Scribbles, a fabulous art site for kids. It's an all-around art resource that celebrates creativity and doesn't care whether or not you already know how to draw.

Scribbles runs several contests every month that cater to kids with different art-related interests and abilities:

* A vote-driven art contest, where artwork that kids submit is displayed during one month, and site visitors vote for their favorite (note that, in order to vote, site visitors must enter their email addresses, and the privacy policy on this was hard to discern.)
* A monthly art history quiz contest
* A distorted-painting task, where contestants try to identify a famous artwork that has been distorted.
* Find the Scribbles dog "Doodle," hidden on a different place on the site each month.

Each month, winners of each contest get art-related prizes donated by the site sponsors.

The site is also loaded with resources for artists and art buffs. There's information on great masters, art project ideas, money-saving tips on art materials. You'll also find computer-art programs to download, an on-line coloring book, and other fun stuff.

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