Children jigsaw puzzles – A study of Jillian


Do you remember doing jigsaw puzzles as a child? I was born in the 1970s and raised in the 80s, so Super Mario Bros. and MTV certainly had my attention. But I also remember the fun, challenge, and pride experienced from doing unplugged activities. Puzzles, paper mâché, playing cards… I have rediscovered this simple joy as I unplug the iPad and reconnect with my childhood vicariously through my own children.

So why puzzle-based learning? As fun as puzzles inherently are, they also develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Many students do not learn how to think about solving problems in general. Throughout their education they are often constrained to concentrate on textbook questions at the end of each chapter, solved using material discussed earlier in the chapter. This constrained form of “problem solving” is not sufficient preparation for addressing real-world problems—on entering the real world, students find that problems do not come with instructions or guidebooks (Michalewicz , Falkner, and Sooriamurthi, 2010).

Puzzles are Memory Builders
It amazes me how my children will do the same puzzles over, and over, and over again. In addition to the satisfaction they experience from confidently completing the puzzle, they also enjoy explaining how they fit the pieces together. The aforementioned authors call this the “Eureka Moment.”

Puzzles Develop Fine Motor Skills
It takes a lot of practice to develop the hand strength and coordination required for so many life skills. Puzzles are a fun way to prepare children for writing, typing, or cutting with scissors. For toddlers and preschool children, try using puzzles with knobs in both large and small sizes.

Puzzles Develop Eye-Hand Coordination
Learning with puzzles teaches children to use visual cues like patterns, colors, or shapes to fit pieces together. There is subsequently a connection between thoughts and actions, eyes and hands.

So moms and dads out there, the challenge has been sent. Unplug you 21st century digital child and go old school! Call your mother-in-law that refuses to throw anything away and ask for some of your spouse’s childhood puzzles. Trust me – she has them! Did you notice the puzzle my daughter was holding in the picture at the top of this post? Circa 1984… Awesome.

Playing the Goodnight Moon Game with my daughter


My two obnoxious sons were away with grandma, the baby was asleep, and mom was off doing mom stuff. This gave me the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with my 2-1/2 year old daughter Jillian. We took the Goodnight Moon matching and memory game out of the closet and got busy!

The Goodnight Moon game has six variations for ages 2-1/2 through 6. Children ages 2-1/2 to 6 are just developing socially. This game provides them the opportunity to show respect for their playmates by taking turns and playing fairly, while developing the important skill of visual discrimination.

When playing with children under three, it may be best to limit participation to me child at a time. Remember, not all children develop at the same rate. If your two year old is restless and does not seem interested in the activity, do not be concerned! Put the game away and try again in a few weeks.

Use lots of praise to make the game fun. For instance, saying “Great job!” when a child completes a match, “You are very good at taking turns,” and “It’s great when you let your little sister do it by herself,” are good ways to help young players develop the skills of encouragement, cooperation and patience.



Children at age 4 and over excel in memory activities. This game helps them to strengthen memory skills and offers them the opportunity to learn tactical and strategic thinking.

The activity of distinguishing a single desired image against varying backgrounds is an important visual and cognitive skill known as figure-ground recognition. This skill is essential in learning to read.

This game is enjoyed by children ages 5 and over. Players will further develop skills of observation, cooperation, fair play, and strategic thinking.

Be sure to enjoy the classic bed-time story Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. Published in 1947 – it is a true children’s classic!

Top 5 Educational Technology Trends for 2012

What are the top five education-technology trends to watch in 2012?  According to a recent article in THE Journal,  we will see an increase in mobile learning, plus an increase in the number of students learning online. Experts also foresee greater use of social-networking websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in the classroom, and the adoption of more learning-management systems. They also expect more teachers to lead one-to-one computing initiatives in their schools.  We’re seeing teachers who shied away from technology just 10 years ago take more proactive stances about getting IT into their classrooms, and this has a significant impact on the use of instructional technologies and the shift in pedagogy. has a wide variety of resources to help teachers use technology in the classroom.  Browse the entire selection of instructional Technology Resources including bookssoftwareinteractive whiteboard lessons, clip art CDs, and more.

Income-Based Achievement Gap is Growing

The achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers has grown by roughly 40% since the 1960s, according to a recent study by researchers at Stanford University. Another study from University of Michigan researchers shows a 50% increase since the late 1980s in the imbalance between rich and poor students completing college. Furthermore, researchers say they expect the gap to widen amid the effects of the economic downturn.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.  Additionally, the gap also exists at the college level.  In a study conducted by The University of Michigan, researchers looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.  Some experts maintain that the recession over the past few years has not only impacted the gap but will continue to widen it.

Read the entire article here at with additional information about the research data. carries a wide selection of resources to improve teaching and learning in preschool through high school.  Also, browse our materials designed to help parents support the learning process at home such as  Parental Involvement resources,  resources for home school kidsearly childhood, standardized test prep, and learning games for kids.

Is Standardized Testing the Monster of American Education?

Education historian, Diane Ravitch, became known for her push to establish national standards for K-12 education.  From 1997-2004, she served as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and marshaled the federal testing program.

Now, in her book, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, she maintains that the use of these tests do not serve the needs of children. “We are so test-obsessed that schools are being closed based on test scores, even when those test scores reflect that the schools have a heavy enrollment of very poor kids or heavy enrollment of children with disabilities and children with all kinds of other needs,” says Ravitch. “We don’t look at the needs.  We don’t evaluate the problems that need to be solved in that school. We just say ‘These are low scores. We have to close the school.'”

Ravitch goes on to say, “I used to think that our society and schools could use tests to improve. But what’s happened with the test – and I don’t think I understood this until No Child Left Behind really went into full implementation — is that tests have now become the linchpin of education.”

“The problem,” as Ravitch writes in The Life and Death of the Great American School System, “was the misuse of testing for high-stakes purposes, the belief that tests could identify with certainty which students should be held back, which teachers and principals should be fired or rewarded, and which schools should be closed–and the idea that these changes would inevitably produce better education.”

It’s an interesting debate as we sit on the precipice of the Common Core Standards movement.  Will we learn from the past, or will the new assessment measures be another version of “standardized testing”?  Will this be another way to evaluate which teachers keep their jobs or which students proceed to the next grade, or will the Common Core assessments be an effective metric for college and career readiness as PARCC has proposed?

Learn more about a new  professional development workshop, Preparing students with the Common Core Standards,  designed to provide an in-depth look at the criteria and development of the standards, what the Common Core Standards mean to educators and students, and practical instructional strategies to prepare students for college and beyond. carries the best online selection of instructional resources available for students in preschool through high school including differentiated instructioncritical thinkingstandardized test prep, and response to intervention.

The Shift to Common Core Must Include Professional Development

The Common Core Standards are becoming a reality for 46 states and the District of Columbia.  This is a major step toward better preparing our students to graduate from high school and be career ready. And while most buy in to the premise of a change in creating a coherent national framework for what students should know and the way they learn, there is a disconnect in the lack of professional development for teachers to transform their classroom practice to align to these new benchmarks.

In speaking with teachers about the Common Core Standards, a large majority of them groan with the prospect of working through another standards change, mapping gaps, and understanding what and how will be tested at their grade levels.

In many cases, the professional learning opportunities provided to teachers does not currently support the substantive changes required of teachers to meet these new standards for English/language arts and mathematics.

Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the groups behind the common-core initiative, made this point directly to state leaders recently when he asked them: “What made you think you could transform teacher practice and student learning with traditional models of professional development?” To their credit, most states understand and acknowledge the contradiction as they struggle to prepare teachers to prepare parents and students.  Even so, few states are providing adequate professional development. That must change.

Learn more about a new  professional development workshop, Preparing students with the Common Core Standards,  designed to provide an in-depth look at the criteria and development of the standards, what the Common Core Standards mean to educators and students, and practical instructional strategies for success in diverse classrooms. carries the best selection of instructional resources for students in preschool through high school including differentiated instructioncritical thinkingstandardized test prep, and response to intervention.

Optimism for the Common Core State Standards

“For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation,” said President Obama.  He’s referencing the Common Core State Standards, a new set of benchmarks now adopted by 48 states that received top billing in the State of the Union address.  Allison Jones, vice president for postsecondary collaboration at the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, said he really believes “the stars are aligned.”

“We’re going to have systemic change in K-12 and in higher education as a result. … I think it’s going to be successful.”

Jones was part of a panel of education officials who spoke to Illinois educators and community members Thursday evening about those standards and assessments and their impact on higher education at the Elgin Community College District 509 Alliance for College Readiness meeting.

The Common Core Standards were adopted in 2010 by Illinois school districts  for students in kindergarten through grade 12.  And educators and administrators around the state as well as around the country are beginning the transition of addressing this new initiative.  The primary goal for all of the states:  Ensure that our students are “college-and-career ready.”

Illinois is one of 27 states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC is currently working on developing assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers.  While the assessments won’t be in place until the 2014-2015 school year, the ultimate goal is to include scores that will indicate a student’s “college-readiness.”

As educators and administrators struggle to, once again, implement a changing set of standards, this initiative seems to be aimed at providing students what they really need to succeed rather than just another set of standardized tests.

For information about professional development designed to provide an in-depth look at the criteria and development of the standards, what the Common Core Standards mean to educators and students, and practical instructional strategies for success in diverse classrooms, contact Chicago Education Consultants. carries the best selection of instructional resources for students in preschool through high school including differentiated instruction, critical thinking, standardized test prep, and response to intervention.

January 25 is No Name-Calling Day

Did you know that this week is No Name-Calling Week, an annual week of educational and creative activities aimed at ending name-calling, bullying and harassment in our schools.  And today is National No Name-Calling Day.  That means that for at least the next few days in schools across our country, educators will be engaging students in activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds.  And, the hope is for many schools, that these activities launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

No Name-Calling Week was inspired by a young adult novel entitled “The Misfits” by popular author, James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Motivated by the inequities they see around them, the “Gang of Five” (as they are known) creates a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. Though they lose the election, they win the support of the school’s principal for their cause and their idea for a “No Name-Calling Day” at school.

No Name-Calling Week was officially launched in March 2004 as a co-created project of GLSEN and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, and now has over 40 partnering organizations to help share resources and information about effective ways to prevent bullying in schools.  GLSEN and he National Association of Elementary Principals have created a free elementary school lesson plan pack.  This 46 page document contains all five lesson plans from GLSEN and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), plus additional resource material.  Click here to download the free No Name-Calling elementary lesson plan pack for your school or community. carries a wide selection of resources to facilitate learning experiences and conversation to prevent bullying in schools.  If you have an anti-bullying program in place that has made a difference for the children in your community, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

Closing the Achievement Gap for ESL/ELL Students

The Latino achievement gap has been an ongoing challenge for years.  Studies show an early and persistent gap between the achievement of Hispanic students and that of their white peers. The gap appears by the time students have reached the 3rd grade and remains fairly consistent throughout their school careers impacting graduation rates and college enrollment. This topic hits home for me, as it was the focus of my doctoral research at the University of Akron.  My learning was that the Hispanic achievement gap is complex and multi-faceted steeped in cultural differences, language barriers, school climate, environmental factors, and student motivation.  While there seems no debate about the disparity in achievement, we’ve yet to find a solution.

Federal funding for initiatives aimed at closing the gap is out there, but many of the dollars go unspent for various reasons.  Educational experts do agree that reform for English language learners requires professional development, opportunities to improve parental involvement, and high-quality resources.  In her second post this week, former Los Angeles elementary-school teacher Patricia Dickenson, a member of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders Program, offers suggestions for schools on closing the achievement gap for English-language learners. For starters, schools should divert funding for testing to purchasing high-quality books and other resources for ELL students, she writes. Other ideas include creating policies that promote multilingualism and language learning, and reduce disparities apparent at low-income and affluent schools.  Read the entire post here. carries a wide variety of instructional resources and visual aids to enhance instruction for English language learners in preschool through high school.  Browse the selection of ESL teaching and learning resources including flashcards, games, resource books, decoratives and more.

A Few Things You Should Know About Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standards are a creating quite a conversation buzz in the education world right now.  Adopted by 45 states,  the mission of the Common Core State Standards initiative is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” (

Previously, every state has worked from its own set of academic standards, meaning public education students in each state are learning to different levels.  The Common Core standards have been designed so that all students are prepared to compete with not only their American peers in the next state, but with students globally.  Change is not easy and many teachers are lamenting yet another shift in the standards movement.  But in many ways the Common Core State Standards are perfect for the 21st Century educator.

Technology Integration

Not only are technology strategies included in the standards, but many are facilitated through the creative use of technology. For example, standard W.F.6 states: “With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.” This goes beyond simply publishing a document by reinforcing the benefits of collaboration and authentic audience utilizing blogging tools and social media vehicles to enrich educational experiences. Other standards promote technology integration across the curriculum such as Including multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Teachers who have access to interactive whiteboards now have some great resources to utilize them as instructional tools and really engage students and meet the standards.  One example is Math Lessons for the Smart Board for Grades 4-6.  This book features ready-to-use lessons to teach grade-level math concepts using the interactive whiteboard.

Project-Based Learning

Teachers who include project-based learning in their classrooms will be pleased to know that there are two specific standards, Research to Build and Present Knowledge and Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas, that develop fundamental ideas in project-based learning. For example, one standard states, “Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation.” Almost every standard can be met and surpassed through the use of project-based learning.

Science is the perfect place to incorporate project-based learning.  Science as Inquiry:  Active Learning, Project-Based, Web-Assisted, and Active Assessment Strategies to Enhance Student Learning is a wonderful resource for teachers striving to include project-based, cooperative-inquiry Earth, life, environmental, and physical science lessons. Theoretical discussion of constructivist learning introduces the detailed lessons, many of which hinge on reproducible handouts to present a puzzling scientific phenomenon for students to investigate.

Fostering Creativity

Common Core State Standards help promote students to the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy – creating. Ultimately, the goal is to equip students with the skills to “create a new product or point of view (i.e., assemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, and write).” The standards list numerous curricular skills but do not dictate the manner in which to achieve the skills. There are plenty of opportunities to encourage creativity and meet the standards at the same time.

Cross-Curricular Learning Experiences

Common Core standards are fundamentally cross-curricular. Reading and writing standards, such as, “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts,” can easily be addressed throughout the curriculum. A creative social studies project on civil rights including research, collaboration and presentations reaches across the curriculum silos and includes ELA, history and even math.

History, Social Studies and Science

Common Core standards do not have separate standards for history, social studies and science. So, on first glance it appears these subjects were left out. However, they are still in development. The current ELA standards include Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. has the best selection of educational resources to meet the Common Core Standards and engage students in preschool through high school.  Browse our selection of e-Books for Teachers, interactive whiteboard and differentiated instruction resources, teaching materials for elementary and upper grades across the curriculum, and early childhood resources.