Saturday, May 10, 2008

Passionate Pentagons And A Mouse Named Frederick

There are moments in our lives that stay with us for years and years and they nourish us. I am reminded now of Leo Lionni's story about Frederick.

Frederick was the mouse that brought beauty and poetry to his community of mice on a winter day when they had hardly any food. He brought them the warmth of the sun with his words and when he did so they acknowledge his unique gifts. He was a visionary and he saw that what was needed to sustain life included pleasure and wonderment. Frederick gave this by sharing what he had stored in his mind.

When we as Montessori teachers understand and acknowledge that third year students have so much stored in their minds via the absorbent mind, the sensitive periods, lessons, observations, touch, work, communal conversations and the freedom to explore over the years then we must provide the opportunity for them to reveal, to display and to express for themselves and for the entire community some of what they have gathered, like Frederick.

I must also state that these student need space, a lot of space - like a graduate student having their own lab table or office. And like our assistants protect us during presentations from other children attempting to get our attention, we need to protect these children and serve as their assistants in so much as providing and preparing materials, listening to their plans and how they hope to achieve them, allowing them to not participate in circle time or with specialists. I watched one child on Friday leap from one thought to another and it was like watching a small bird grow the wings of an eagle. I felt as if I was witnessing a great mind at work: Picasso, Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Montessori. This student working recalled these great minds yet most important his uniqueness - his voice - was the constant.

More than once I returned to his table to glimpse his work and felt tears crest along the ridge of my eyes. I had to walk away. I had to turn back and allow myself to be enveloped by the other children and their immediate and ever constant needs. Near the end of the day, I sat with a young four year old and witnessed her own leap or explosion into writing which was so acutely expressed when she said to me, "I'm not done. I have more to write."

The older child was working just behind us. I thought to myself, "This is my passion, my great love - my work here in my classroom where I am free to explore the universe with the great minds of the very young."


Something I need to add here is what came immediately before the third student began to do this work. We have been studying the "Geometry of Place" via door mobiles, folding cubes from paper - as well as all of the other geometric solids, exploration with the sensorial materials and, most recently, work with both the superimposed geometric figures and a single shape from the geometry cabinet: the pentagon.

I often use an earlier presentation to help the children try new materials. Moments before tracing a starfish and connecting the dots to reveal a pentagon, I re-presented leaf tracing. Children did this work alot in the fall. Now it is out of storage and back on the shelf. In the spring I put work that was popular in the fall back on the shelf and reinvite the children to explore and use the work.

The presentation of leaf tracing seems like magic as it reveals what is hidden. How many times have students brought leaves to school excited to try and find its shape in the botany cabinet. However, instead of finding it they become frustrated as the shape is not represented on any of the trays. Or is it? To find the true shape of a leaf you must first place it on a table and, using a pencil, mark small dots at the base of the stem and at the fartherst points on the leaf. Make sure you make markings from left to right, arching around the perimeter of the leaf. Then remove the leaf and find what looks like a dot to dot illustration. Now draw a line from dot to dot connecting them. Next draw the midrib and the viens. Generally, after this the child hand illustrates the leaf with watercolors. Below are a few photos demonstrating this work:

Leaf Tracing to Find Its True Form

I selected a leaf that I had laminated from an assortment on a small tray. I told the children I was going to guess which botany shape it would be and placed that on the table near my work. In the second photo, I have marked the dots around the leaf.

Above: I connect the dots with a pencil.

Above: Next, I drew the midrib and the veins. Then I placed the botanical leaf shape over my tracing and showed that it matched.


Tracing a starfish to find a pentagon:

Above: Mark dots on the paper denoting the farthest points of the starfish.

Use a ruler to draw a straight line from one point to the next. Draw an outline of starfish within the pentagon. Compare the pentagon from the geometry cabinet with the one made with the starfish.

I next sliced an apple through its center to show that there was a star. Another pentagon was discovered within the apple!



As I noted in the first few paragraphs of this post, the third year student whose work had me on the verge of tears spent nearly every minute of four three-hour work periods drawing the superimposed geometric figures last week. This would ultimately serve as perliminary work for the pentagon presentation. See below:

Above: The results of a lesson I gave on how to make a triangle (or two) using two circles.

Above: Doing the Superimposed Geometric Figures (these are what my school has).

Above: Third year students need space to think and to act on their thoughts.

Examples of two of his illustrations.



This particular third year student was now sitting in a circle with his other classmates watching me like a hawk. I moved away from the small chowki with the starfish work still on display and reached for a pile of construction paper pentagons that I had cut during my afternoon class the day before. I gave each child three or four paper pentagons that were mostly made from black construction paper. The others (only a handful) were cut from a variety of colors. I was wonderfully pleased at what the children collectively created.

The children placed one of their pentagons at a time onto the easel paper matching a flat side to another flat side.

The end results of the class working as a team.

Above: During a group lesson, I gave each child three construction pentagons. There were only a few colored pentagons in the whole stack - I did this on purpose. After I handed out the pentagons, I placed two large sheets of easel paper in the middle of the rug and invited each student, individually, to place one of their pentagons on the paper. The rule being that one flat side had to touch the flat side of another. To start I placed the pentagon from the geometry cabinet out first. Each child eventually placed all three of their pentagons on the paper.

After the pentagon presentation, I handed the student who had done so much work with the superimposed geometric figures a stack of construction paper pentagons to explore. It was then that he lept from taking in all the information via his hand to using that same hand to construct, manipulate, move and finally fix into place a single construct that represents: math, art, movement, color wheel, dance and so much more. Here are some photos of the work as it unfolded:

It was almost the end of the day when he came to get me and show me that he had completed the placement of the individual pentagons and triangles. This singular piece is truly a masterpiece. Look:


Julie said...

I want to be in your class! :)

Rachel said...

I don't know you, and you don't know me. But I want you to know how important your blog has been to me. I'm homeschooling Montessori for our 5 year old and our 2 1/2 year old. We have an entire classroom of quality equipment but no other children. While equipment is wonderful, learning from other children is key in Montessori. Your blog has sort of filled in that gap for our son. He loves to see what your students are doing, and it's an inspiration to him (and me). Thank you!

Aline said...

Do you know the name of this beautiful painting you put on your blog? Tme mum, the child and the book? I am really interested in it!
Your blog is fantastic!