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Big Learning News 1-31-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:3 January 31, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Coin tosses aren't random!
Activity: Green building for kids - recycled structures
Book review: Seedfolk
Education News: U.S. Kids aren't so bad
Web site: High-speed photography

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Math Moment

Coin tosses aren't exactly random


Hope this doesn't rock your kids' world too much. That treasured first lesson in probability, the 50-50 random coin toss, isn't quite as simple as we thought.

Statistician Persi Diaconis decided to test the randomness of coin tosses. He built a little machine that would toss a coin the with the same force and direction every time. He found out two things:

1. If you toss a coin the same way every time, it will land the same way every time.

2. There's a slight bias for coins tossed by humans to land on the same side they started out.

But letting a coin bounce on the floor introduces more complication and may bring the probability closer to 50%.

More Fun Math for Kids



Green Building for Kids

I'm a big believer in the power of hands-on building to develop math and science know-how. These activities work by giving kids endless, varied opportunities to solve problems related to shapes and structures - how to make them support weight, stay together, and stand up.

So I'm always on the lookout for cheap raw materials for kids to build with. This week, developing a tree workshop for the Jewish holiday Tu B'Shevat (the birthday of the trees), I came upon a great way to use rolled newspaper to build structures (or trees!). I especially love this because kids are recycling while they play.

You take a large sheet of newspaper and roll it diagonally as tightly as you can. Start in one corner, making teeny-tiny folds until you get a roll started. Roll slowly and as tightly as you can toward the opposite corner diagonally, not letting any air space get in. When you get to the opposite corner, tape the corner down with a little piece of masking tape.

That will give you a strong little stick about 3 feet long and a half inch in diameter. You and the kids can make a bunch of them in a few minutes. Kids can tape them together in lots of ways:

- In a bunch to make a strong, thick post
-Twisted together

To make our sticks look like tree branches, we wrapped them in strips of brown crepe paper attached with scotch tape. You can see our little tree we made here. It's a generic tree, but you could increase the Big Learning by trying to make it look like a particular species.


More Big Learning with Paper

Paper sculpture
Paper boxes
More box folding
Paper plate math
Paper doll math



Book Review

Seedfolks by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen

It may be midwinter, but that's a great time to start your garden propaganda campaign, so that by spring the kids will be itching to help you out in the garden. Seedfolks - a slim and utterly charming book about an urban garden, is a great way to start. Click the link below to read my full review.

Read complete review or get buying information....



Looking for more books for your kids? Try this list.

Children's Books

Education News

Five Myths About U.S. Kids Outclassed by the Rest of the World - washingtonpost.com

At first I thought this was going to be just another of those "hey, our test scores aren't so bad" commentaries. And indeed it does start out that way. At worst, the U.S. is in the middle of the pack internationally, about equal with Europe in most things, and improving over time.

If you care about test scores, you'd say "But is the middle of the pack really good enough?" A fair question.

But don't miss the second page - the article gets good. The author, Paul Farhi, makes the following points:

1. Our international competitiveness is still very good despite 25 years of hand wringing about our "inadequate" education system. Drops have been attributed to other causes, such as extreme national debt.

2. Countries with high test scores themselves admit that you can't equate test scores with, well, anything important. Says the education minister of top-scoring Singapore, "We both have meritocracies," he replied. America's "is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well -- like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

3. Maybe if we want to make our country an object of international envy, we should start with top notch child care, low poverty rates, and good health care.

Perhaps with that, the test scores would take care of themselves.

Catch up on our education commentaries!

Here are our recent commentaries on education-related news.

Holding back kindergartners
Closing the achievement gap
Great playgrounds, great toys
What it takes to be great


Web Site

Cool Slow Motion Photography


This is the gallery of a company that sells high-speed cameras, showing off what their equipment can capture.

My favorite is the movie of a water-filled balloon being pierced by an X-acto knife. The balloon falls away almost instantly - and then the water holds the balloon shape for an unbelievably long time. I guess it's a great example of the way water molecules stick together.

Also very cool - though a little scary - is a rattlesnake biting a boot (no foot inside, thankfully). I also liked the fly flying upside down and the golf club hitting a golf ball. In that last one you can see the golf ball flatten as the club hits it.

Some of the other movies are a little dicey topic-wise - gunshots and car crashes, so check them out before you show your kids.

More slow motion video

Ping Pong

Book of Cool




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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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