The air, land and water materials include three bottles (recycled baby food bottles are often used). The bottle labeled air is sealed without adding more than air itself. The land bottle contains some dirt, as the one representing water contains that liquid (some teachers add blue food coloring to highlight the water). There are several cards that go with this work and show pictures of things/places/animals that either are in the air, on the land or in the water. The child is given a lesson on placing the cards beneath the appropriate bottle. These are standard materials in a Montessori Primary classroom. I have had them on my geography shelves next to the Land Forms for most of a decade and never saw the need to add or subtract items on the tray. That is until a couple of weeks ago.
Myself and another teacher from Blue Hills Montessori School were fortunate enough to attend the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts (www.msmresources.org) Annual Conference held at the Inly School in Situate, MA. last month. Diane and I signed up for the afternoon workshop titled, "I Wonder What's Out There?" presented by Joanne DeFilipp Alex. At its conclusion, we both walked away with several new ideas for our classroom on how to teach the solar system and those who and the objects that venture out into it - astronauts and space shuttles/rockets.
I was impressed by some of her simplest ideas - like making glasses of Tang, the drink of astronauts, in the Practical Life area or comparing a single golden bead/unit to the million cube as a pretty close exactness in size as between the Earth (the golden bead) and the sun (the million cube). Another example is her use of a large tray of flour dusted with a layer of cocoa powder to demonstrate the impact of a meteorite. Simply by tossing a small rock onto the cocoa powdered surface a child can visually see what a meteorite's impact on a landscape might look like. I also really treasured her use of the phrase "giving an impression." She explained that we are not teaching these young children the complex scientific details of the solar system but instead giving an impression which they may later recall.
But, she really caught my attention when she spoke of the air, land and water materials. She said an element had been forgotten. The element that she noticed absent was fire.
My school has a no candles policy. So, I immediately started to ask myself, "How am I going to represent fire in a school that doesn't even allow candles to be lit for the birthday walk?" And then she gave us a few ideas, one of which I was able to purchase the very next day: a solar powered rotating prism to hang in one of my classroom windows. When I left her workshop, I asked Diane why we had never thought of this before - the absence of the fire element that is. We just looked at each other with a somewhat blank stare and then we both said we'd find ways to amend the tray.
After purchasing the solar powered prism, I also found a large textile that I now use during the walk around the sun which children do for their birthdays. I place it down, over the large rug children sit around during circle time. It is almost the same size; just a little smaller. The birthday child takes off his shoes and while carrying the globe walks around the border of the light weight cloth with the wonderful sun and stars pattern.
The Earth goes around the Sun. The Earth goes around the Sun. The Earth goes round and round the Sun. The Earth goes round the sun. 1-2-3-4-5 times around:
Now you are five!
Now you are five!
In my storage closet I found the planets and their language cards. I haven't put out the Tang work yet, nor have I demonstrated the impact of a meteorite. However, the rotating prism has really displayed to all of the children that the sun has energy which we also associate with fire/heat.Solar-powered, rotating prism
When the sun hits the prism just right, rainbows swirl around the classroom. Also, the absence of rainbows might signal a cloudy day, and too that the sun moves and when it is higher or lower in the sky it does not charge the panel. All around, it has been a very positive inclusion to the work and the classroom.
I am just about done making a collection of cards for fire to be added to the air, land and water tray. I am not sure what I am going to put inside the fire labeled jar. As they are all permanently sealed I may put in a box of matches or a picture of a flame. This is the last thing I need to consider. Ideas are always invited.