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Big Learning News 12-02-03

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 1:7 December 2, 2003

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Table of Contents

Big Learning on the Road: Franklin Institute's Franklin Air Show
Book Review: Fandex Family Field Guides
Web Site: Candy-making

Big Learning on the Road: Franklin Institute's Franklin Air Show

     The Franklin Air Show is a new permanent exhibit at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute science museum. It's a terrific exhibit not to be missed if you're in the Philadelphia area. We spent over an hour in this one exhibit (not including the time spent outside in the cold wind without our coats, due to an unscheduled fire alarm!).The rest of the Franklin Institute is also great, so plan on several hours of big learning fun.
     The Air Show is about the "history, majesty, science, and technology of powered flight" and offers over 20 hands-on activities of interest to preschoolers on up.
The exhibit has the carnival feel of a real air show. Hanging high above the exhibit booths is a restored Model B flyer last flown in 1914. There's also a flight simulator that rises and rolls like a real airplane.
     Our kids were most interested in the interactive exhibits. In one booth, you can stand before powerful fans wearing foam wings on your arms, and feel the lift and drag as you change the angle of your wings. In an exhibit that especially charmed my 5-year-old, you can launch paper helicopters and airplanes over fans blowing air straight up, and watch them spin down from heights of twenty-five feet or more. In the kite flying simulation, the kids pulled on long cables to control a virtual kite on a large flat-screen TV above. By using the cables to adjust the kite's bank right or left, they were able to keep the kite from crashing.
     For an exhibit description and photos, go to http://sln.fi.edu/tfi/exhibits/aviation.html . For Franklin Institute hours, directions, and exhibit information, go to the Franklin Institute home page at http://sln.fi.edu/visit.html .

Book Review
Fandex Family Field Guides : Workman Publishing

     The Fandex series has changed our lives three times. Workman publishes these book-mark shaped reference books on at least fifteen topics, including cats, trees, first ladies, and butterflies. The books are bound at the bottom by a pin, so the pages of the book fan out - hence the name Fandex. Each page covers one instance of the book's topic - for example, each page of the Trees Fandex covers one species. The top of each page is a cut-to-shape painting of the page's subject.
    So far the three books owned by my older son have each, in turn, led to multi-month obsessions involving the whole family, starting with the 50 States Fandex, followed by Presidents and Mythology. The only failure we've had was the Civil War Fandex - maybe we're not quite ready for that one, or maybe the subject doesn't fit the Fandex format as well.
     I don't know what it is exac tly, but kids seem to love these books - the reviews on Amazon tell me my son isn't the only one. My son says it's easy to find information, because the shape and clever fan-out design makes it easy to flip to any page almost instantly, and the picture tells you when you've arrived. He also says they're easy to hold and carry - he should know, since he has taken his Fandexes everywhere. He likes that there are levels of information - each page has a picture, some quick facts, and then more involved text below. The pictures that top each page, far from being afterthoughts, are full-color beauties.
     The really great thing about these books, at least in our family, is that they are such great starting points. They provide a familiarity and working vocabulary that makes more complex references suddenly accessible.

Web Sites: Candy Making

     Candy-making is hot during the holiday season - a great way to make inexpensive gifts sure to please. Get your kids to help, because candy making involves plenty of sugar-coated science.  Most candy recipes call for heating a sugar-and-water solution to a certain "stage," indicated both by the temperature of the solution (as measured by a candy thermometer) and the behavior of a spoonful dropped into cold water. Here are some sites that explain it all:

Exploratorium Sugar Stages page
http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.html
This one has videos you can play with RealPlayer or QuickTime that show how the sugar looks and behaves at each stage.

Baking 911
http://www.baking911.com/candy_chart.htm
In addition to this chart showing the sugar stages, you'll also find recipes and techniques for making all kinds of candy, and, sadly, nutritional information for various kinds of candy (do you really want to know?).

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