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Big Learning News 2-28-07

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 5:7 February 28, 2007

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Table of Contents
Math Moment: Get ready for Pi Day
Activity: Make a balloon-powered car
Book review: Engineering for kids
Education News: Extending the School Day
Web site: The People History


Editor's Notes
--------------------
Do you live in the Washington, D.C. metro area? Sign up for one of our Family FUN workshops!
You can see the workshop schedule and handy online registration form here.

BigLearning.org has a new "Front Door" - check out our new home page at www.biglearning.org.

Our workshop kids have been hard at work making birdfeeders - see what they came up with at http://www.biglearning.org/treasure-bird-gallery/gallery.htm

-KC


Math Moment

Get Ready for Pi Day

http://www.piday.org/

http://www.tenet.edu/tctm/downloads/TMT_Fall_04.pdf (scroll down to page 6, "Slices of Pi").

Oh, the excitement is building...International Pi Day is right around the corner - March 14th, 2007. I really loved the Texas Math Teacher article (second link, above) - lots of genuinely interesting information about Pi. Some quotes to whet your appetite:

"The first use of the Greek letter π to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter seems to have been in the textbook Synopsis Palmariorium Mathesios, written by William Jones in 1706. He chose pi because it was the first letter of the Greek word ‘perimetrog’, meaning ‘surrounding perimeter’."

"Digit contests (or huge posters of the first several thousand digits) should be kept in perspective with the knowledge that knowing pi to as few as 50 digits more than suffices to estimate the circumference of a circle the size of the known universe to the accuracy of the size of a proton!"

There are also lots of activity ideas, many of which are NOT pointless - a refreshing departure from most Pi Day lists).

And now a family-friendly activity for International Pi Day. Bake round desserts! I recommend cookies. Cut out circles of dough in many different sizes. Use a piece of string to measure the circumference (distance around) and the diameter (distance across). No matter how big the cookie, it's always a little more than 3 times longer around than across - or 3.14etc. times longer, to be more precise. Measure before and after baking - the sizes are different but the ratio is the same. Try not to get dough on the calculator.

I know this activity seems a little nerdy and abstract, but I have to say that I have found it handy many times, in little everyday measurement tasks, to know that that a circumference of a round object is a little more than 3 times the diameter.

 

More Fun Math for Kids

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Activity

Make a balloon-powered car

These are fun little things - I remember getting one as a cereal box prize when I was a kid. You blow up a balloon attached to a car, set it down and let it race across the floor. And even using a store-bought one, you have an illustration of the principles of rocket engines and Newton's Third Law of Motion (the equal-and-opposite force law). That is, the balloon pushes the air back, and that pushes the car with equal force in the opposite direction. This is the same principle that makes real rocket engines work in space - the engine pushes out hot gasses from the combustion inside, and that pushes the rocket forward in space.

Designing your own balloon car puts you up against all sorts of fun mechanical challenges and is full of Big Learning opportunities related to mechanics. Here are two designs I looked at, which each use recycle-bin materials:

http://quest.nasa.gov/space/teachers/rockets/act2ws1.html

http://www.questacon.edu.au/html/squad_activities/balloon_powered_car.html

I really liked the first design, but you make the whole car from a styrofoam meat tray, which I didn't have. So I worked from the second design.

Parts of a Balloon Racer

No matter what design your child chooses, he or she will need the following parts:

A body - something to hold the balloon that will power the car. The first design uses styrofoam; the second uses cardboard.

Wheels - the first design uses circles cut from the meat tray. The second uses bottle tops. You can use any round object. I even made wheels from craft foam in one of my versions.

Axle - the straight stick that holds the wheels. The first design uses straight pins, and the second designs uses bamboo skewers.

Bearing - Something for the axle to turn inside. The first design uses the Styrofoam body itself. In the second, the bamboo axle is threaded through a drinking straw.

Engine - In this case, the balloon. Both designs use a balloon rubber-banded to a straw so you can easily blow it up once it's on the car.

Your child can find these same parts on a real car or a toy one, though sometimes they are hard to see.

What will you do?

So a Big Learning task for your child is: figure out what you have on hand that can serve for each of the parts above. Maybe you don't have a meat tray, but you have some poster board. With each choice of materials you make, your child will have to figure out what implications that choice has for the design. Help your child keep in mind what she's making - for example, an axle, by using the vocabulary words when you talk about it.

For example, here's what we did. We had the materials on hand for most of the second design, but I didn't like having to punch holes in the plastic drink caps - that's really hard without a drill, and I figured we'd poke a hole in our table or hands. It also calls for plasticine (modeling clay) which I didn't have.

So we hot-glued the bamboo skewer axle to the bottle caps, using big blobs of hot glue. That worked really well.

And I as long as I had my glue gun out, I decided to use my beloved jumbo craft sticks to make the body. To me, using cardboard for anything just makes it look junky.

You can see how it turned out here:

http://www.biglearning.org/article-balloon-car.htm.

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Book Reviews

Engineering for Kids

If the activity this week ignites your child's interest in invention and mechanical design, you might need a book on these subjects. You can find lots of ideas on BigLearning.org, including these:

Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself
http://www.biglearning.org/book-review-amazing-leonardo.htm

Inventing Stuff
http://www.biglearning.org/book-review-inventing-stuff.htm

The Best of Making Things
http://www.biglearning.org/book-review-making-things.htm

Imaginative Inventions
http://www.biglearning.org/book-review-imaginative-inventions.htm

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Education News

Extending the School Day

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/02/25/us_schools_weigh_extending_hours_year/

This doesn't sound so bad.

Usually people who talk about extending the school day are the same people who want to take away recess, hands-on science, and literature.

In this effort in Massachusetts, though, the extended hours go to elective classes that reinforce basics without focusing on them - sounds kind of like Big Learning to me. Examples are cooking and forensics. I'm especially hopeful because these are efforts focused on low-income kids, and reform programs almost never let them have any fun at school. So if kids have to be in institutional settings all afternoon anyway (because their parents work, for example), I hope this is the direction of the future.

Recent Education News Columns

Education News: Accountability movement encroaches on preschool and college
5 Myths about U.S. Education
Holding back kindergartners

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Web Site

The People History

http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/

Ages 6 and up (with help)

This site features memories about the 1920's through the present decade. It's a great place to browse for stories about the good old days, and to jog the memories of those of us whose childhood belongs to "ancient history." The links about cost of living and cars are fun to read.

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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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