Interview with Janet Lee Hamilton, Author and Educator

About Janet Lee Hamilton

20160918_155719Janet holds both a Bachelor of Education and a graduate degree in early childhood education. She has worked in classrooms for nearly 40 years, where she has put all her theories to work.

The Project Approach

During the mid-1990s, under the mentorship of Dr. Sylvia Chard, co-author of Engaging Children’s Minds, Janet piloted the Project Approach with her kindergarten students. Her classroom became a site for many local and international visitors, educators, and consultants interested in observing inquiry-based learning in a public school setting.

In addition, Jan has conducted numerous workshops for early childhood organizations including the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), science councils, teacher conventions, and North American educational conferences in Texas, Illinois, and Washington, DC.

Teacher of Excellence Awards

In 2007, Janet was presented with two Teacher of Excellence awards for both Edmonton Public Schools and the Province of Alberta, Canada.

Her outstanding contributions in the area of international partnerships began nearly 20 years ago, when she accepted a twinning relationship with a school in northern Japan. Since then, letters from schools in Norway, Sweden, Whales, and England have flooded her classroom, providing many interesting opportunities for her young students.

Mentor for Public Schools and Universities, ATA Facilitator

As a mentor for Edmonton Public Schools, University of Alberta, and MacEwan University, she enjoyed sharing her love of children and her educational expertise with beginning teachers, student teachers, and teacher interns.

As an active member of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), Janet facilitates book study programs and assists in the planning and implementation of professional development activities for teachers.

Janet also has an interest in Philosophy for Children International (P4C).

(Adapted from ABOUT THE AUTHOR in Maddy the Curious Builds a House.)

Janet, how do we apply your book, Maddy the Curious Builds a House, to a classroom?

How to use this book, who it is for, the best way to use it, and using story with kids

Maddy the Curious Builds a House is a publication with a dual purpose.

maddycover3-bestOn one level, this is the story of a very bright, very curious, self-motivated kindergarten learner (Maddy) who convinces her first teacher to let the students build a house in the kindergarten classroom. The entire project is documented from the seed idea right through to “cutting the ribbon” on the completed project. It is a real framed house on the exterior and painted drywall in the interior. All aspects of house building are included (blue prints, framing, roofing, shingles, drywall, painting, etc.) as the project unfolds. Several other unique characters join Maddy, such as Janavi, the two Eddies, Alex, Sievert, and Star. All of the student characters bring their rich culturally diverse backgrounds to the classroom project. As well, the teacher, Mrs. Owen, is very progressive in her approach to teaching in that she views her students as natural scientists anxious to discover, explore, and engage in new learning.

A chapter book for young children aged 4 and 5 is a somewhat unexplored genre but one which holds literacy value because it encourages the natural ability of young children to retain information, make predictions, and sustain a high level of interest. It is especially impactful when children are encouraged to discuss and debrief each chapter and aspects of the project as it continues.

The second and equally important purpose of this book is that it offers a professional development opportunity to early childhood educators interested in implementing inquiry-based learning in the classroom.  Although the story is fictitious, embedded within it are the phases and structural features of inquiry-based learning and a project that could be implemented in a similar form in an early childhood classroom. A project develops quite naturally, much the same way as a story develops, in that it has a beginning, middle, and end. Aha! Literacy within a context!  The three phases and structural feathers are revealed and exemplified through the story so the book can be used alongside a similar project or a completely different one using the same structure.  In this way the teacher uses the book as a reference to a current project.

For complete guidance and understanding of project-based learning, please refer to an excellent resource titled Young Investigators THE PROJECT APPROACH IN THE EARLY YEARS Second Edition by Judy Harris Helm and Lilian Katz, 2011, Teachers College Press, Columbia University. It contains a Project Planning Journal available for free download and printing!

Free copy available

If you would like to receive a free copy of Maddy the Curious Builds a House, please e-mail me at allaboutmaddy@hotmail.ca (put “free book” in subject area) and I will send one out to you for the cost of shipping.

Highlights from TEACHER SECTION in Maddy the Curious Built a House

What is the optimum learning experience for young children?

The question preoccupied me after I had spent many years teaching kindergarten, using my skills of observation and a reflective practice. The question led me on a quest until eventually I implemented a form of inquiry-based learning in my classroom.

I have embraced the Project Approach as the best practice in early childhood education. Although the popularity of inquiry-based learning has waxed and waned over the years, the unfolding field of brain research has led policy makers to examine and question traditional and systematic ways of teaching in the early childhood classroom. Brain development and child development go hand in hand. What is good for the developing brain is, therefore, good for the developing child. The two concepts cannot be separated.

Consider the question: On meeting a young child, what strikes you first? The child’s many questions, perhaps? If so, we can assume the young child learns by asking questions.

Learning begins with a question or a stated desire to learn about a particular topic. Should that not be our starting point?

  • Children are naturally curious.
  • Children enjoy learning in a social context.
  • Children are self-motivated to learn about something that is meaningful to them.

Parents, grandparents, and early childhood educators can attest to the fact that a young child’s signature quality is curiosity. Children also enjoy relationships, dialogues with friends, and sharing observations and reflections during their exploratory play. When children initiate questions with regard to topics that interest them, they become self-motivated learners.

Curiosity, social learning, and self-motivation are all at the forefront of the Project Approach. I believe these qualities are best cultivated in an inquiry-based learning environment, and that they embrace this approach.

Personal definition of project work during the early years

My graduate work at the University of Alberta and years of developing projects, I offer my personal definition of project work in the early years:

A project is an intensive study of a particular topic in which the in-depth investigation includes asking questions, hands-on observations, investigations using primary resources, collaboration among students and adults, and reflection of learning. A project requires sustained effort, possibly over a period of weeks. During the project, the teacher does not pre-plan and pre-determine its outcome, but acts as a facilitator, problem-solver, and resource seeker. The teacher becomes a learner alongside the students.

That’s authentic learning!

About the book Maddy the Curious Built a House

maddycover3-bestAlthough the story of Maddy the Curious is fictitious, embedded within it are the phases and structural features of the Project Approach so the project can be implemented in an early childhood classroom. The project is a story in three phases–beginning, middle, and end–that may or may not overlap.

I hope the development of the story will allow educators to glimpse the benefits of inquiry-based learning in the early childhood classroom. I hope, too, that the early childhood educators will see the value of project work, understand the role of the teacher, and view a classroom of students as a community of learners.

From my experience, inquiry-based learning is the most effective, the most natural, and the most stimulating environment for young children.

Janet, how can we contact you?

I can be contacted by e-mail at allaboutmaddy@hotmail.ca.

I am offering free copies of Maddy the Curious Builds a House for the price of shipping. If you e-mail me, I can find out the shipping fee and give you a quote. Please include “free book” in the subject area.

20160918_154955

Janet Lee Hamilton with her pear tree.

About Eva Blaskovic

I am a multi-genre author of literary fiction and fantasy, and writer of non-fiction articles on parenting, writing, education, health, and travel. My background encompasses both the sciences and the arts. I teach at a specialized clinic for learning difficulties and mentor young authors. In addition to writing and teaching, my passions are weather, Indian food, gardening, and music. I have played eight musical instruments and spent many years immersed in taekwondo and karate. In my youth, I was an avid canoeist. I was born in Prague, Czech Republic, grew up in Ontario, Canada, and moved to Alberta in 1988, where I raised four children.
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5 Responses to Interview with Janet Lee Hamilton, Author and Educator

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