Home Education Magazine
May-June 2003 - Articles and Columns
Good Stuff - Becky Rupp
Everything, in homeschooling, connects; sometimes home education has a lot in common with "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." You know how it goes: you're reading Aesop's "The Grasshopper and the Ants" and somebody asks how grasshoppers are different from crickets; and in no time at all you've wandered off into how to determine the temperature by timing the rate of cricket chirps and then they decide to read The Cricket in Times Square and then somebody wants to know how the New York City subway works and then... You all know what I mean. A case in point around here was the study of measurement.
Starting in kindergarten or so, according to the math manuals, kids should be encouraged to investigate the science and mathematics of measurement in active hands-on fashion, comparing and contrasting the lengths, heights, weights, areas, and volumes of various objects using nonstandard (how many pencils long is the kitchen table?) and standard (inches, feet, yards, centimeters, meters) measures. My initial forays into this flopped: our kids, no matter how charmingly encouraged, showed little interest in determining how many paper clips could be lined up end to end across a desk top or how many teaspoons it took to equal the length of the piano bench.
Instead what caught their fancy was James Thurber's Many Moons.
Many Moons (Harcourt Brace, 1971) is the enchanting picture-book story of the little Princess Lenore, who falls ill (of a surfeit of raspberry tarts) and will only be well again if she can have the moon. Nobody, however, can get the moon: the Lord High Chamberlain insists that the moon is 35,000 miles away and as big as the princess's bedroom; the Royal Wizard claims that it's 150,000 miles away and twice as big as the palace; the Royal Mathematician announces that it's 300,000 miles away, half the size of the kingdom, and made of asbestos; and the Royal Goldsmith thinks that it's 500,000 miles away and made of bronze. The Court Jester comes up with a clever solution to the dilemma and all ends happily -- at which point, after a satisfied pause, one of our kids said, "Well, how big is the moon anyway? And how far away is it?"
Yes, I thought.
Faith McNulty's How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World (HarperTrophy, 1990), the story of an innovative small boy managing to do just that, inspired another wave of measurement-minded questions and investigations: "How far away is the center of the Earth?" "How deep is the deepest hole in the world?" "How deep is the Grand Canyon?" "How big is the biggest cave?" "How deep is our well?" "What about the Pacific Ocean -- how deep is that?"
This isn't to say that there's no place for pencils and paper clips, since home-and-garden-variety comparisons do help kids put standard measurements in perspective. It's just that there's no need to settle solely for the prosaic when there are so many mind-expanding alternatives.
Along these lines, one marvelous resource is Russell Ash's Incredible Comparisons (DK Publishing, 1996). "From an early age," writes Ash in his brief introduction, "people ask such questions as 'How big is it?' or 'How fast is it?' But even when we learn the answers, it is often hard to grasp what they really mean, especially when dealing with the extraordinary or the unfamiliar. We really want to know how things compare with the commonplace -- with the weight of a human, the speed of a car, or the height of a house." This absorbing and graphically spectacular book is crammed with creative and comprehensible comparisons. (A blue whale is as long as 18 scuba divers, including flippers; the biggest hailstones ever recorded were the size of bowling balls; Mount Everest is as tall as 27 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other). Each oversized double-page spread (or quadruple-page foldout) covers a different collection of related measurements: "On the Surface," for example, compares features of the Earth's land masses (the tallest sand dune in the Sahara is as tall as 23 four-story townhouses); "Into the Earth" compares canyons, craters, caves, and graphically details the composition of the Earth's crust; "Water" compares volumes of water in the oceans, heights of waterfalls, and sizes of waves. Other categories include "Mountains," "Great Lengths," "Animal Speeds," "Going Into Space," "The Human Body," and more. All measurements are also given as both English and metric standard measures.
The human body, in ancient times, was the reference point for units of measure. The earliest standard measure of length, for example, was probably the cubit, from the Latin for elbow, which equaled the distance from the point of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger; the medieval foot was said to be based on the foot of Charlemagne; and the original inch was based on the width of the average thumb. Since thumbs, feet, and forearms vary, such methods made for a lot of upsetting waffle in measurements, and led eventually to standardization. Rolf Myller's clever picture book How Big Is a Foot? (Random House, 1991) deals with just this problem: the king wants to give the queen a bed as a birthday present; the apprentice, disastrously, builds the bed based on the length of his own foot, which turns out to be much too small.
David Adler's How Tall, How Short, How Faraway? (Holiday House, 1999) is a catchy introduction to the history and practice of measurement, variously covering ancient measures (among them the Egyptian cubit and the Roman pace), the reasons for standardization, the metric system, and modern measures of length, height and (faraway) distance. New from David Schwartz -- author of How Much Is a Million? (1985) -- is Millions to Measure (Harpercollins, 2003), in which Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician returns to take four kids (and a dog) on a humorous and informative tour through the history of measurement, from prehistoric times to the present.
Loreen Leedy's Measuring Penny (Henry Holt, 1998) details a creative math project for young animal lovers: Lisa sets out to measure her black-and-white Boston terrier, Penny, using a combination of standard and not-so-standard methods. She ends up recording every possible Penny statistic, from the length of Penny's tail (one dog biscuit long) to the width of her paw print to her height, weight, highest jump, food and water consumption, and comparison, size-wise, to other breeds of dog. A nice possibility for other measurement-minded pet owners.
Sandra Markle's Measuring Up! (Atheneum Books, 1995) is a nice collection of measurement-related experiments, puzzles, projects, and information, targeted at ages 8-12. The book, illustrated with color photos and diagrams, is divided into five main sections: "Measuring Sizes and Distances," "Measuring Quantities," "Measuring Weights," "Measuring Temperatures," and "Measuring Volume, Perimeter, and Area." For example, kids make clinometers, hodometers, and balance scales; calculate the lengths of beds for basketball players and the weight of football gear; and solve the troublesome "Beanstalk Caper."
For measurement resources online, see:
A long list of lesson plans for grades K-6, including printable worksheets and puzzles.
Measurement Lesson Plans
Lessons cover measures of length, time, volume, weight, money, shapes, and more.
Resources on English and metric measurements, plus a long list of lesson plans covering everything from "Inchworm Measurement" to "Sizes of the World's Oceans."
Lesson Planet: Measurement
120 lessons, rated and categorized by grade.
20 varied lesson plans on area, volume, distance, time, and the metric system.
Children's Literature in Mathematics
A long list of children's books, categorized by math topic, many with associated links. Topics include Addition and Subtraction, Counting, Fractions, Geometry, Measurement, Money, Multiplication and Division, Number Sense, Probability and Statistics, Problem Solving, Ratio and Proportion, and Time. Under Measurement are listed 50 different titles, among them Leo Lionni's Inch by Inch, Robert Wells's What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? and Is the Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?, and Susan Hightower's Twelve Snails to One Lizard.
P.S. The deepest (manmade) hole in the world is on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. It's 7.5 miles deep.
The Cartoon History of the Universe III
The third volume of Larry Gonick's history of the world is just as clever and addictive as the first two (for those of you who missed them: The Cartoon History of the Universe I: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great and The Cartoon History of the Universe II: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome). This one, subtitled "From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance" (W.W. Norton, 2002), uses the same combination of zany little pictures, humorous dialogue, scholarly history, and helpful little illustrated maps to provide a detailed, accurate, and human-interest-laden tour of world history from the beginnings of Islam to the departure of Columbus for the New World.
The main theme of this volume is the rise of Islam and its spread across the globe -- and the controversies this inevitably engendered, most notably the Crusades. The account isn't a single-minded straight shot, however -- history, after all, isn't -- but digresses to cover such topics as the kingdoms of Africa, the Mongol empire, China and Japan, the Viking settlement of Russia, the Norman invasion of England, and the Black Death.
Nine hundred years in 300 creative pages; historically accurate, often hilariously irreverent, always memorable, and equally appealing to the history-enthralled and the history-resistant. The series is recommended for teenagers and adults, but our kids have adored it since the age of ten.
(And there's more coming. The book ends with the message "Next: Quetzalcoatl!") $21.95 from bookstores or online booksellers.
Hullabaloo, "The Children's Magazine That's Going Places," is an information-crammed multicultural and multinational magazine targeted at ages 7 to 13. Each 47-page issue, illustrated with drawings and photographs, focuses on a different country: past issues, for example, have covered Japan, Mali, New Zealand, and Guatemala; in the works: India, Brazil, Senegal, China, and Spain.
Each country is approached through a range of concepts and activities: there are fiction and nonfiction articles, legends and folktales, letters and postcards from typical kids, descriptions of key cultural features and geographical landmarks, a two-page pull-out map, games, puzzles, contests, and the "Hullaba-Library," a supplementary list of country-related books, categorized by age.
The Japan issue, for example, includes "Tanabata: The Story of the Star Festival," "Momotaro," the folktale about a tiny boy found inside a magical peach, a nonfiction article on Japanese anime, a month-by-month descriptive calendar of Japanese holidays, and a panel-cartoon account of kabuki theater -- along with shorter pieces on Japanese government, money, and food, haiku, sumo wrestling, and the kanji writing system, a photo tour of the city of Kyoto, and a "Language Lab" of Japanese phrases.
There's also a retelling of the story of Sadako, the young girl who died of leukemia, brought on by the radioactive aftermath of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II: Sadako ultimately inspired children all over the world to begin folding paper cranes as a symbol of peace. The Hullabaloo version shies away from explaining leukemia; and never quite states that Sadako dies (instead her grandmother comes down and carries her high above the clouds) -- it's understandable to try to soften harsh truths for younger readers, but sometimes euphemisms become just plain confusing. (See Eleanor Coerr's Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Puffin, 1999).)
I found the cartoon illustrations somewhat homely -- Hullabaloo's main character is a talking world atlas that looks a lot like a squashed blue cereal box -- but this may not bother your kids. In general, Hullabaloo -- Sadako aside -- looks like a good resource.
For a sample issue, send $5.50 to Hullabaloo Magazine, Sample Copy, 954 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024; a one-year subscription (6 issues) costs $23.00 from Hullabaloo Subscriptions (see address above); (310) 824-6566; www.hullabaloomagazine.com. (Also see Faces, Cobblestone Publishing's excellent magazine of world cultures and geography for ages 9-14. An annual subscription (9 issues) costs $29.95; (800) 821-0115; www.cobblestonepub.com.
Science Year by Year
The 20th century was an era of spectacular change. The airplane was invented during it, as were television, antibiotics, artificial satellites, and microprocessors (and the planetarium, the electric toothbrush, and the zipper). Popular Science: Science Year by Year (Scholastic Reference, 2001) documents this process every step of the way: this book is a perfectly fascinating illustrated compendium of scientific innovation, invention, and discovery, presented chronologically, year by year from 1900 to 2000.
Each year gets its own creatively designed newspaper-style double-page spread: bold headlines introduce the featured discoveries. For each of these, there's an accompanying paragraph or two of catchy text, plus assorted intriguing graphics, including diagrams, drawings, and period photographs. Featured discoveries range from the large and landmark (Sputnik, DNA) to the small and homely (clementines, the erector set, aspirin), and represent all possible branches and permutations of science, from biology, physics, and earth science to archaeology, astronomy, oceanography, forensics, transportation, communication, and entertainment.
Selected "Focus" topics get special treatment: detailed double-page spreads of their own, each with a timeline of discovery, diagrams showing how crucial features work, and capsule biographies of influential scientists. Sample topics are "The Automobile" (the accompanying diagram explains the innards of the combustion engine), "Structural Materials" (find out how skyscrapers stay up), "Nuclear Energy," "Plastics," "Genetics," and "Home Computers."
Informative, absorbing, and thoroughly interesting. I tried it out on assorted persons, ages 9 to 45. All had to be dragged away from it. About $19.95; from libraries and bookstores.
Way Cool Science
The Way Cool Science series is a collection of informative 30-minute videotapes on -- so far -- rocks and minerals (Rockfinders), plant and animal habitats (Biotrackers), and weather (Stormchasers). All are hosted by the somewhat in-your-face Max Orbit, an adult "science enthusiast" who provides factual explanations and the occasional silly aside, and generally keeps the ball rolling.
The videos are nicely organized, fast-paced, varied, and include lots of terrific film footage -- Rockfinders, for example, swings from the crystalline innards of caves to the Grand Canyon to the pyramids of Egypt -- and all provide simple straightforward introductions to the featured subject. Rockfinders gives viewers basic definitions of "rock" and "mineral," briefly explains the layers of the Earth, runs through the three major kinds of rock (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic), surveys fossil formation, the weathering process, and the rock cycle, and ties it all up with some helpful hints for rock collectors. (The script refers to paleontologists generically as "he" while clearly showing a she, which is a quibble; and talks about "plate movement" without ever explaining the concept of plate tectonics, which is an unfortunate lack.)
Biotrackers defines "habitat," covers the world's major climate zones (polar, temperate, tropical) and the kinds of plants and animals that thrive in each, and compares and contrasts various types of habitats on land (tundra, grassland, desert) and in the water (freshwater, saltwater); Stormchasers covers the causes and effects of weather, with brief descriptions of the layers of the atmosphere, air pressure zones and air movement, the water cycle, the major types of clouds and precipitation, and storm formation.
The videos touch on the high points of each topic and are nice jumping-off points for more in-depth science studies. They are recommended for ages 8 and up -- I'd call it more like ages 6-9, especially if your kids are reasonably science-oriented.
$14.95 from Thinkeroo at www.thinkeroo.com; for more information, contact Thinkeroo, P.O. Box 1831, Bristol, CT 06011; (800) 583-1988 or (860) 585-9060.
Teaching Tolerance magazine was founded to promote anti-bias programs in the schools: its goals include promoting respect for differences, appreciation of diversity, and other issues in tolerance education -- issues which are becoming even more compelling in the divisive and conflict-ridden global climate of today.
The magazine includes an "Idea Exchange" section of creative teaching suggestions, annotated lists of new and useful educational resources, and major articles on curricula, programs, and problems in tolerance education. Features in the Spring 2003 issue, for example, variously cover a program fostering American Indian cultural traditions through stories and songs, a curriculum on the history of eugenics, the "Hands Across the Border" program encouraging communication between American and Mexican students, approaches to dealing with verbal abuse and the plight of the homeless, and "Open House," an article on the Unschoolers of Memphis, a "support group that welcomes home schoolers of any religion, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation." This group, the author writes, is remodeling the concept of homeschooling which, across the country, "has the reputation of being exclusive, at least in terms of religious beliefs."
(And more power to them -- though I do have an issue with that "remodeling:" there are a lot of us who are, and have been for many years, determinedly inclusive homeschoolers.)
Teaching Tolerance has an excellent Web site at www.teachingtolerance.org, filled with information, articles from current and past issues of the magazine, news, resources, projects, and lesson plans. Among these last is the "One World Mural," an online collection of pictures, poems, and messages celebrating unity, peace, justice, and equality. You can view the whole thing at the Web site and kids of all ages can add their own contributions.
Teaching Tolerance is published twice a year; subscriptions are free to teachers, administrators, and counselors (write them a letter on school letterhead) and to "educators in training" (write them a letter on plain ordinary paper detailing your career plans, interest in the Teaching Tolerance program, and plans for using their resources): Teaching Tolerance, Order Department, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104; (334) 956-8374.
An excellent resource to suggest for your local library.
© 2003 Becky Rupp
May-June 2003 - Articles and Columns
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