Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: Box of I.D.E.As.

I'm probably going to find myself nominated for Geek of the Month, but I love it when our schooling takes something simple and mundane and peels back the layers to reveal something really fascinating.  I'm willing to bet that every home in America has a shaker of salt somewhere, but have you really every thought about that kitchen staple.  Growing up, my father used to work for Morton Salt so I was at least aware of some difference kinds--kosher salt, rock salt, salt for the driveway, and (my personal favorite) ice cream salt.  When I learned we were going to be reviewing the Salt module from Book of I.D.E.As., I assumed we'd be covering its ability to lower the freezing point of water and other science experiments.  There was a lesson on the science of salt, but so much more I'd never considered in this salt study geared for 9-16 year olds.

The History of Salt

Can you believe salt could play a role in the outcome of a war?  During their retreat from Moscow, thousands of Napoleon's troops died because their wounds wouldn't heal properly and their lowered resistance to disease.  The cause--inadequate salt in the diet.  Cities were established and named for the salt nearby, world famous ones like Saltzburg, Austria and closer to home French Lick, Indiana.  Salt was a form of currency.  A slave was said to be "worth his salt" if he worked hard, since he was purchased with salt.

The Language of Salt

You've certainly heard and probably used phrases like "rub salt in one's wounds" or "back to the salt mines."   How about taking information "with a grain of salt."  Here's you chance to learn the origins of the terms.  I learned that the word "salary" is a derivative of salt because  Roman soldiers would receive salt as part of their pay.

The Need for Salt

All creatures need some salt in their diet, but this lesson goes on to cover that we can get to much of a good thing.  The activities for this lesson had us looking at nutrition labels for sodium content and planning meals with the recommended allowance for sodium. ( tasks near and dear to my heart as I try to lower my blood pressure).

Preserving with Salt

The main reason towns and cities grew around salt licks is because before refrigeration, salt was used to preserve food.  Of course, there's one culture that used it to preserve much more than food--Egyptian mummies!!  There was a link in the PDF file to an experiment with mummifying apples (I thought this was a much better plan than some labs I've seen that use a fryer chicken).

Producing Salt

Like many food staples, we only see what we buy in the package at the grocery store.  But how did it get on the store shelf in the first place?  We explore dry and wet mining and evaporation methods of collecting salt.

Science of Salt

Now we were in familiar territory--experimenting with salt lowering the freezing point of water.  The experiment compares rock salt to Ice Melt.  It follows the scientific method of coming up with a hypothesis,
details the materials needed and procedures, we record and analyze the data, and end with a page of open ended discussion questions and a place to write our conclusions.

The Salt March

Here was another lesson where I was surprised to connect salt with social studies/history.  I was aware that Mahatma Gandhi was famous for his peaceable protests of British Rule in India.  It was news that one of the many things he protested against was a Salt tax imposed on every person in India.  It inflated the price beyond what many could afford, but anyone who collected their own salt was subject to a 6 month jail sentence.  Gandhi led a 240 march to the sea where he manufactured his own salt in plain sight of the authorities.  The lesson activities includes making a timeline of events and a map of the march.

The Salt of the Earth

I confess a little disappointment that this lesson wasn't about Christ's reference to salt in the Sermon on the Mount.  (There is an exercise in The History of Salt lesson that has you look up Biblical references).  It's actually a geography lesson in countries that produce salt around the world.

The Wall that Salt Built

China was the first country to build an empire with money raised from the sale of salt.  It actually paid for most of the construction of the Great Wall of China.  A game in the lesson helps teach facts about the wall itself, but the rest of the lesson actually covers the economics of a monopoly.

Very Salty

A geography lesson about hypersaline (very salty) lakes.  I was able to share my first hand experiences floating in The Dead Sea.  The lesson covers a dozen such bodies of water around the world.

The other PDF files include an overview of the Box of I.D.E.As. products and how to use the curriculum in your school.  There's also a test and answer key.  Most modules provide flash cards to be printed and used for games and activities, but there are a few worksheets, lab sheets, and maps.  The lesson introductions give a brief overview of the topic, but most learning will come through the web links provided in the text.  It is unfortunate fact that web pages are moved or removed frequently and I received a fair number of 404 error messages.  I was able to go to home pages of these sites and search for the information I needed.  Another negative is the high price--$49 for PDF download and $79 for a hard copy.  That's a bit high for a study that falls outside our required core curriculum. 

Box of I.D.E.As. also offers modules on World War II--Pearl Harbor,  Quilting, Laundry, and a theme on the number Eleven (think Apollo Eleven for starters).  More topics are in development--Cemeteries, Olives, Pines.   Again, they seem to be taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.  Salt is far from the mundane subject I had taken it for and now when someone asks me to pass it at the table I'll have an interesting story or two to share.


Disclaimer: I received a free PDF version of Salt for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my opinions.

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