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Big Learning News 4-26-06

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 4:14 April 26, 2006

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Is a billion a billion?
Activity:Summer project from Feederwatch
Web Site: Kidzworld Get Physical Education News for Adults: Teaching to the Test
Web sites: Fun with Fungi

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Math Moment

What kind of billion do you mean?


Got large-number-loving kids? Help them name numbers transcontinentally. As shown in the chart, Europe and the U.S. have different meanings for the words "billion," "trillion," and other large-number names. For example:

In the U.S., a billion is this number: 1,000,000,000.

In Europe, a billion is this number: 1,000,000,000,000, which in the U.S. is called a trillion.

More Fun Math for Kids

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Count your birds for science


Looking for a real science project to do with your kids this summer? Sign up for "My Yard Counts." MYC is a new citizen science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

To participate, you fill out a short questionnaire about your yard, and then do a 20-minute bird count once a week and submit your count to the lab. The lab is trying to figure how yards help support the larger ecosystem and improve bird health.

More Bird Watching for Kids

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Web Site

Kidzworld's "Get Physical"

Ages 9-13


Here's a kids' sport site with its head on straight. The writing is friendly and smart throughout. Kids can learn about their favorite sports and heroes, but the site pays equal or greater attention to helping kids get active and stay healthy - be it through organized sports or by jumping rope. There's an advice column called "Quiz the Coach" with all sorts of interesting kid-questions, like "Will weight training stunt my growth?" For skateboarders, there's a column called "Ask Simon" where kids can get advice on how to learn particular tricks or even find out how to get sponsored.

I like the "Gear" part of the site too, I expected to find a catalog of stuff to buy, but instead I found product reviews and tips on choosing and caring for sports equipment. A featured article tells how to break in a new baseball glove.

Comment on this article here.



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Education News for Adults

Teach to the Test?

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews sure created a stir when he wrote this column, suggesting that "teaching to the test" is a good thing.

Critics of high-stakes standardized testing say that the practice encourages teachers to teach only what they think will be tested. As a result the curriculum can be both narrowed (no more writing a class play - that won't be on the test) and dumbed down (no time for in-depth discussion or further exploration of topics).

Mathews argues that teachers do neither in practice - instead they carefully and conscientiously push their students to meet those tough state standards.


It's hard for me to believe that Mathews hasn't seen the life sucked out of education by the tests - I see it everywhere. Teachers who still teach in-depth consider themselves rebels.

So this week, Mathews published responses from two of his teacher friends, Kenneth Bernstein and Mark Ingerson.


Bernstein, a high-school social studies teacher, teaches both required test-driven classes, and non-test driven electives. He thoughtfully analyzes the way the test influences his teaching and his students' learning. Here's a partial quote: "The existence of external tests inevitably influences what occurs in my classroom. I cannot avoid my responsibility for preparing my students to do well on those tests. That takes time away from other things I might want to explore. It limits my ability to respond to events in the world and in the lives of my students that might be far more meaningful in connecting them with the domain."

Bernstein's response is excerpted from a longer post here:


Ingram argues that high-level thinking and learning of facts must go hand-in-hand: great thinking requires mastery of facts. I absolutely agree with that, but the problem is that a lot of test-driven instruction leaves facts disconnected or meaningless.

Comment on this article here.


Web Sites

Fungi Fun



"Beautiful mushroom" always seems like an oxymoron to me. But lately I have noticed a really, well, showy mushroom - shiny and deep brown, and I have wondered what it is.

These sites are good for starting to learn about mushrooms and other fungi. On the first site, don't miss the time-lapse movie of a mushroom growing, right on the home page.

On the second site, go to this page:


and scroll down to the bottom for instructions on how to make a "spore print," which sounds like a fun art activity even if you aren't trying to identify a mushroom.

And if you 're thinking of eating your finds, heed this warning from the second site:

"A person really can kill himself or herself by eating the wrong mushrooms."

More Nature for Kids and Families

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