Kathy Ho, this week’s Educator of the Week, created an art project focused on the colors of Arctic sea ice. Through this creative activity, students learned about a region of the world that was previously unfamiliar to them. They also considered the impact of climate change on Arctic sea ice and the animals that rely on it. Kathy teaches 5th through 12th grade at the Packard Children’s Hospital School at Stanford in Palo Alto, California.
What is it like teaching at a children’s hospital?
It’s an interesting environment because we have kids who are here for really long periods of time, for example while waiting for an organ transplant, and then we have kids who are here for just one day. On any given day, there are kids getting discharged and new ones being admitted. That makes it difficult to do a lesson that is long and ongoing. We try to do a lot of self-contained projects, but we have themes that extend over multiple sessions.
We also operate kind of like a one-room schoolhouse, although technically we have two rooms: a K- through 4th-grade classroom, and a 5th- through 12th-grade classroom. The kids in these broad age groups work in the same room and while they have different assignments, it’s also fun to have collaborative projects where the older kids mentor the younger ones.
How would you describe yourself as an educator or your teaching philosophy?
I am definitely the kind of person that likes to try new types of projects, and I don’t like to Xerox worksheets. I try to be hands-on. I want the kids to be excited about learning and the world around them.
I also try to expose students to things that they may not get at their home schools. After I went to the Arctic Svalbard as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I was able to bring that experience back to my students. Most kids had never heard of such a place and were completely in awe. Sparking that sense of wonder is kind of the whole point.
Tell us more about how you turned the expedition to the Arctic into a class project back at home.
I introduced students to the concept of polar ice and the animals who rely on it by showing them pictures and videos from my journey. They learned about the colors found in the Arctic and created a torn paper collage depicting sea ice. While we worked on the art project, the students and I discussed the importance of the ice and the impact climate change is having on it.
Do you have advice for other teachers who are interested in making their personal travel experiences into tangible learning experiences for their students?
Share the things that you are excited about. That’s going to be the most fun and engaging for the kids. When they know you’re passionate about something, they’re more likely to get on board. They can tell when you’re teaching something you don’t really care about.
The personal aspect really does make a big impact in the classroom. It was different for them to look at a picture of a polar bear that I had actually taken rather than one we pulled up on the internet. It made it more real, and it made them want to learn more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.