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Katherine Shields's Blog

Katherine Shields is an Assistant Editor at Education.com. A former tutor and world traveler, she currently spends her free time watching movies and, of course, crafting. Katherine has a BA in French and Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara.

Recent posts

Blogger Spotlight: Ingspirations

Friday, January 17th, 2014 by

Blogger Ing writes about parenting, educational activities, and family fun at Ingspirations. Through personal narrative and family photographs, Singapore-resident Ing shares her knowledge as a mother and educator to help parents foster early learning in their homes. Ing spoke to Education.com editor Katherine about her philosophies on education, teachable moments, and project-based learning.

Ing portrait

KS: You’re a big supporter of child-directed activities. Why do you think it’s so important for little ones to take the lead in the great learning adventure of life?

Ing: Watch a child at play or doing something he’s interested in, and you’ll see a high level of engagement and focus. I’m really attracted to this kind of engagement in my own children and students in my classroom. Children are born with an innate desire to learn and explore the world around them. Letting them take the lead in what they’re interested in is usually more productive than trying to get them to learn something they have no interest in. I know this may sound idealistic, because children need to learn things that they have no interest in. A child who dislikes numbers still has to learn math in school and use numbers in daily life. In such instances, it is a challenge for the parent or educator to find ways to arouse the child’s interest in the subject.

KS: I’ve read quite a bit about STELLAR (Strategies for English Language Learning And Reading) on your blog. Could you explain what it is and share with us a little bit about why you think it’s such a promising approach?

Ing: STELLAR is a program for teaching English [to non-native speakers] in the lower grades in Singapore primary schools. A typical STELLAR lesson begins and revolves around a big book, which is a bigger version of a children’s story book. Teachers will read the story to the class, and conduct activities to highlight and teach different components of English, such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, speaking, listening and writing. This approach allows children to learn the language in context, instead of simply memorizing isolated language rules or vocabulary meanings.

KS: What big book was the biggest hit with your Primary 1 classes?

Ing: There are a number of books which my students enjoyed in Primary 1, including There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet.

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KS: A new classroom approach called “project-based learning” has started gaining traction in the United States. Are you familiar with this approach?

Ing: Yes, we have an approach that resembles project-based learning in Singapore too, although I’m sure there are a few differences. We place students into pairs or small groups and they work together to solve a particular problem or do research on a particular topic, depending on the subject. The success of this approach really depends on the teacher’s objective: What do you want to achieve by using this approach? Teaching the importance of learning to work with others? Developing learning skills, such as researching, thinking, negotiation, planning, or independence? The level of success depends on the facilitation of the teacher.

KS: What are a few of the most memorable student learning moments that you’ve had the privilege of witnessing?

Ing: One unforgettable moment I experienced was with one of my Primary 1 classes. It actually happened outside the classroom, in a non-academic setting. That day, there was a team-building activity for all Primary 1 classes. Each teacher had to get all of her students form a line holding hands, and pass through obstacles without letting go. Along the way, I could see a few of my students getting tired and frustrated. I casually told the whole class, “Come on, we can do it!” and these six and seven year-olds surprised me when they started to chant, “We can do it! We can do it! We can do it!” As they made their way through the obstacles, they began to chant louder and louder. The frustrations and negative attitudes soon disappeared and we made it all the way through the obstacle course! Although our class didn’t come in first, I know all of them learned a lot that day: the power of teamwork, focusing on goals, and positive reinforcement.

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KS: Is there a favorite craft or activity you’ve recently discovered, but have yet to do with your little learners?

Ing: That would have to be snow dough! I’ve read so much about it but have yet to try it with my kids. It seems so simple, but I need to find a good time for them to play with it, due to the potential mess.

KS: Can you tell us about an all-time favorite or most memorable activity that all three of your children enjoyed?

Ing: That’s a tough one. I’d say when they were younger (two to four years old), they looked forward to our daily bedtime reading. We would cuddle on the sofa and either my husband or I would read them a book or two before their bedtime. I’m thinking they loved the bonding as much as listening to the stories! Painting is a close second favorite activity. All three kids love to paint. And, of course, water play and bubbles never fail to captivate them! We’re also very into outdoor activities and letting the kids explore nature; they enjoy building sand castles, cycling, feeding fish, and having picnics at the park. And the most memorable activity that our two boys have tried is parasailing!

Pros and Cons of Project-Based Learning

Sunday, January 12th, 2014 by

Project-based learning is an educational approach that has become increasingly popular in the last few years. So, what is project-based learning, or PBL? It’s an approach in which students adopt an investigative approach to learning. And, fittingly, it emphasizes the completion of all kinds of projects. Work is often performed in groups, and the environment encourages kids to band together and think creatively in order to solve problems and complete assignments.

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Like nearly all educational philosophies, the success of the approach depends greatly on the teacher. However, there are some pros and cons of PBL that are worth discussing.

Pros

  • Students more easily develop team-building skills, which are essential in future work environments.
  • The learning process puts greater emphasis on creativity, and students can see how their ideas can be successfully adopted and carried out to complete projects.
  • Students are autonomous, yet they are also able to interact with one another freely.
  • Real-world connections are more easily derived from the learning materials.
  • Students get to know their peers better.

Cons

  • Teachers who are not properly trained or equipped with the skills needed to facilitate a PBL classroom might not be able to help their students learn key concepts effectively.
  • Conflicts between students might become more common and possibly more difficult to detect.
  • Group projects that are not heavily monitored by teachers can lead to uneven division of tasks between students.
  • It’s hard to determine how much each student contributes to a group project, which could mean that while some students are learning, others are letting their peers do all of the mental heavy-lifting.
  • Parents might struggle to figure out how best to help their students, as homework and take-home assignments are hard to understand when taken outside of a group context.

The benefits of PBL are not only educational, but also social. The cons, for the most part, center around the difficultly of navigating group dynamics and how they affect the learning process.

When I was in school, I remember dreading group projects. Depending on the group you were assigned to, you could end up doing a lot of someone else’s work if you wanted to receive a good grade. That being said, there was hardly any structure or teacher involvement in these projects. Teachers were little more than passive observers. Now that I’ve gained a little perspective, I do feel that I would have greatly benefited from more extensive interaction with my peers, especially in the upper elementary school grades, as well as in middle and high school. When students are required to work collaboratively, they learn from one another and gain a better understanding and appreciation of what their peers have to offer the group.

To learn more about project based learning and how it works, check out this article.

Do you have any experience with project-based learning? Do you feel this approach should be more widely adopted? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Printables and Activities for World Gratitude Day

Friday, September 20th, 2013 by

Thanksgiving may be in November, but World Gratitude Day is right around the corner.

Any time is a good time to take a moment and reflect on all the reasons you have to be grateful. So why not do it on World Gratitude Day?

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Growing up, my mom made a point to constantly remind me of exactly how lucky I was. I heard some variation of “You may not have everything, but you sure have a lot,” all the time.

Thanks to my mom it’s a whole lot easier to take a metaphorical step back during times when I’m feeling down or when life isn’t going the way I planned. So if I start to feel a little blue, I try to keep my chin up and mentally chant the words of the immortal William DeVaughn: “Just be thankful.”

This Saturday, no matter how busy you are, spend a little time being grateful for everything, regardless of how much or how little you have.

Need some inspiration? Check out this article about gratitude, and here’s a slideshow of printable thank you cards for every kind of occasion and every kind of kid.

Related Content:

Write the Sight Words: “Thank”

Write a Thank You Note

Thank You Kiss

Leaving an Imprint on Fingerprint Day

Friday, July 26th, 2013 by

In fifth grade, we had a unit completely devoted to fingerprints. This was, not surprisingly, during the era when the C.S.I. craze was at its apex and the study of forensics was deemed supremely cool. My classmates and I examined the different types of fingerprints and learned about famous cases where fingerprints brought down the bad guy. Fingerprints captured my imagination. I found them visually fascinating and was amazed to learn that although my fingers would grow larger, the prints wouldn’t change. At this age, I was just beginning the process of figuring out what set me apart from my peers, and I considered fingerprints as a kind of proof that I was one of a kind.

fingerprintOur fingerprints form when we’re still in the womb and are truly an exact science. Their shape is determined by the combination of our position in the uterus and the density of amniotic fluid that is flowing around our tiny fingertips at a precise moment in our development. It is all but impossible that any two people during the course of human history have had identical fingerprints.

Fingerprints are what make us all unique, and that’s something to celebrate! In fact, there’s a whole day devoted to them: Fingerprint Day, which falls on July 28th this year. Though it’s mostly observed within science communities, we have a wide variety of projects in our activities section that feature little handprints and fingerprints. From a distance all these paint projects may look more or less the same, but when you look closely you can see the complexity of the hands and fingers that make these prints and give each project a personal touch.

In these painted projects I see more than just prints, I see expressions of individuality. The prints stand as proof that in spite of the similarities we share, there is something about each of us that distinguishes us from everyone else. So the next time you’re presented with a silly little hand or fingerprint creation, take a second to reflect on how truly unique it is.

Blogger Spotlight: Jen Robinson

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by

As part of our Summer Reading mission, we interviewed the blogger Jen Robinson. On her blog, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, she provides great tips and book recommendations. She also recounts personal reading stories, many of which feature her child, affectionately referred to as Baby Bookworm.

There are tons of reasons to love literature. Can you share with our readers what you consider to be the best part of picking up a new book?

For me, it’s the escape into a new world, and the chance to see things from someone else’s perspective.Jen's bookworm

One of my proudest literacy moments is:

When my daughter, then almost three, came bounding in to tell me, triumphant, that she had drawn an “A.” The fact that she had done this on the floor in no way diminished the accomplishment. I also love it when she demands that we immediately open any packages that come in the mail, in case there are any books for her. This tells me that I’m doing something right.

Recent insights you’ve come across in the pages of a book:

“There is one person on Earth upon whom you can always rely. Yourself. Be grateful when others show generosity toward you, but always be prepared to pay your own way, pack your own parachute, or change your own flat tires. Helplessness and greed are not attractive qualities.” — Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers, by Kirsten Miller.

“… there’s no such thing as a part-time family member.” – Underneath, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

In one of your blog posts you discuss your favorite book, D.E. Stevenson’s Listening Valley. When talking about why you love this book so much, you explain that when the protagonist arrives in the town her family is originally from, you feel as if you too are coming home. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of creating a home for your child in literature?

For me, some of my strongest memories are of “homes” from literature. They provided comfort and solace from the normal trials of an overall happy childhood. From Laura’s Little House in the Big Woods to the Velvet Room in Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book of the same title to Pippi Longstocking’s Villa Villekulla, I grew up with dozens of homes. I want that for my child, too. One of the wonderful things about homes in books is that you CAN go home again. You just have to find another copy of the book.

I also think that for kids who have unhappy childhoods, safe places in books can provide a real lifeline, and hope for the future. The value of that is immeasurable.

One of the many tips you have for raising a book lover is that at least once in a while, you should let them stay up late to read under the covers. Do you have any more useful pointers for parents who have a voracious reader on their hands?

Keep books everywhere, and never leave home without them. Your child will never complain of boredom, as long as there are books available. For voracious readers, eReaders are your friend on vacation (since you can pack so many titles onto a single reader).

Let your child self-select books and read some of the books that your child is reading. This will open the door to fabulous discussions, and show your child that you value her choices.

What about the kids who don’t seem to enjoy reading as much?

Listen to audiobooks in the car on long trips (or short trips, for that matter).

Try graphic novels. They can often be gateway books for kids who are slower to engage in reading.

Don’t discount nonfiction. Any kind of reading counts, from the comics section of your paper to The Guinness Book of World Records.

If your child has a passion, find books about that passion, whether fiction or not.

Any particular books you are looking forward to reading (or rereading) this summer?

I’m looking forward to reading Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson (sequel to Hattie Big Sky), and to reading the new 7th edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (a book that I recommend ALL parents read). I’m also eagerly awaiting The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, but that won’t be out until September.

Read more about Jen’s adventures in the world of children’s and young adult literature on her blog.

Editor’s Picks: Coloring Pages That Take Me Back

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by

Unlike many kids, instead of a dog or a cat, my first pet was actually many pets—a whole ragtag school of fish. At the local pet store, my sisters and I enthusiastically picked out a few tiny mermaidneon tetras, two strong-willed guppies, and a spotted catfish that we oh-so creatively named Snowy.

To house the newest members of the family, my dad set up a beautiful aquarium. We made sure that these fish would want for nothing. The bottom of the tank was padded with a generous layer of gravel and outfitted with plastic seaweed and coral of varying sizes and colors. At the center of this aquatic world was an elaborate, technicolor castle.

Over time, this pristine little aquatic world began to captivate my imagination. I watched the fish circle the castle and tried to imagine not only what they might be thinking or feeling, but also what it would be like to live among them, maybe as a mermaid. As a result of the endless hours spent peering into that glowing neon tank, my first ever pets and the world of fantasy would for me be permanently linked.

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