Saturday, September 27, 2008

Architects in the Montessori Classroom

The pink tower is an architectural achievement based on the decimal system. It is built with ten cubes and is self presenting in that it is displayed as it should be constructed. It is a constant representation of the numerical values 1-10. And, as I stated in my first sentence, it is an example of architecture. The children build it. It stands constructed. When placed horizontally alongside the brown stair it sings a duet of the power of ten and the beauty of their design.

It should be no surprise then that children want to merge materials into broader and higher constructions. I have witnessed over the past few weeks children standing on their tippy toes attempting to place one final prism or cube. Their entire beings were focused on this task. They were silent and they strove for perfection. They achieved it. Using both Montessori materials and architectural blocks that included columns and arches, these children built cathedrals, palaces and designed cities. A child who often travels referred to a structure she built with another student as the Eiffel Tower and a second as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I keep on display models of famous examples of architecture in the geography area. They have often been used by children to compare and assess their own designs.

(Note: In the last photograph of the above four you can see the childrens' drawings of their constructions in the far right hand corner)

I must confess that I find the photograph below to be one of my favorites. In the foreground is an amazing piece of architecture constructed early in the day. In the background, sitting besides a ray of sunlight, is another child quietly and independently doing the hundred-board. She worked most of the morning on it and finished placing all of the pieces correctly. There is a spiritual element to the photographed scene.

It answers the question regarding whether or not stillness can be maintain in the midst of movement. It reminds me of a famous line in one of t.s.eliot’s poems,

"The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hexagon Happenings

During the last two weeks, I presented a couple of hexagon projects to the class. As I wrote in an earlier post, I am focusing on hexagons this year. When I am looking for new ideas and resources (ie., definitions, explanations or links), I often go to high school or college level geometry sites for teachers. I find that this information is so simplified and broken down that it easy for me to pick and choose components of the work rather than the entire project. I often find that on-line elementary lesson plans - especially, early elementary - either include cartoon characters or need to be done on a computer utilizing interactive software. As neither of these appeal to me or are appropriate for a Montessori classroom, I seek out college lesson plans for my 3-6 year old students.

After placing several hexagons on the center rug, I began positioning coffee stir sticks. I told the children that the sticks should be placed in such a way as to touch one point or angle of two hexagons. The children were very involved, including some of my youngest. After all of the stir sticks were placed, I stood up and invited the children to do so also. We walked around the hexagon construction. I asked what larger shape could now be seen. This was when the parallelogram was recognized and the hexagon geometry card (thin outline only) was positioned on the rug below the hexagon shape.

I left this work out for a couple of days for the children to observe. Then I introduced hexagon tessellations. I showed the children a hexagon template that my assistant Cristina made for the lesson. I made a point of comparing it to the metal insets. Next, I placed the hexagon template or “frame” (that is the term I use with the metal insets – the frame and the inset) over a magazine page looking for a green area that was suitable for my green tessellations. Tessellations are constructed from one non-overlapping pattern of the same color. It is similar to tiling.

When my hexagon frame was positioned over a green area, I traced the interior rim – again as one does with the metal insets. I removed the frame and cut out the hexagon. Next, using a prepared pattern sheet, I glued the hexagon into one of the spaces on the sheet. After all of the spaces were filled, my tessellation was finished. It came out quite nice.

Cristina and I put together a folder of magazine pages that had large color spaces. These were sorted into specific color piles. Each child was given a pile with the color that they were using. As a means of eliminating the competition for favored colors like pink and purple, I asked Cristina to have a child choose a color tablet from color box II and that color was matched to that specific pile of magazine pages. It worked like a charm.

Observing the children working on their projects, the most interesting moments where when an individual child used the frame as a sort of isolation, editing and selecting device. It seemed very mathematical, as well as creative. They rejected some areas that filled the frame for others. They constructed their work with a critical eye. The results were stunning.


The next hexagon project involved a lot of sampling and pre-assessment before it was prepared for the children. Cristina and I tried several ideas with hexagons, selected one and then had to figure out the most efficient way for 3-6 year olds to successfully make them and have them work. We changed the materials a couple of times and now they are ready to be presented next week. The image below – on the lower right hand side – shows a spinning hexagon top. To its left are several prepared tops with short crayons inserted in their centers. We tried pencils and other objects, but these worked best. The children will glue three triangles on the top of a prepared, hexagon cut from blue paper. Therefore, every other triangle will be blue. When the hexagon top is spun and you look down at it – a very obvious circle emerges. But it is a circle with six small triangles appearing at its edge or circumference. This is a lead in to fractions for the older students, which was touched on at the end of last spring. See the third image below.

Also, I placed one of the hexagon templates/frames in a tray with a felt mat and a puncher kept in a red, retangular box. The younger children are doing this work as prelimary work the more advanced punching used to make continent maps.

My fellow staff members, including the head of my school have joined my class’s hunt for hexagons. I received a hexagon tile from the head of my school’s bathroom along with an accompanying photo, as well as several photos taken by a another teacher of hexagons she found in her home - including one on the base of her hair blower. Geometry – it is everywhere!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Continent Dolls Puppet Show

The pictures above and below are of the initial materials given to create the continent dolls and of the four small and one large figures that sparked the work.

There are times in our lives as teachers/guides that the phrase "follow the lead of the child" becomes so immediate that you don't dare hesitate our you will be left behind in the dust. The children become so focused on a specific work and the actualization of that work that your participation as an adult is peripheral, at that. When these moments come, the reason why Montessori adults are referred to as "guides" becomes so very obvious.

Recently, I bought four small Asian/Indian dolls from the Thrift and one larger doll. I was working with an older four-year old whose family is from this part of the world. Together we got out the continent map, the Asia continent folder and the dolls. We talked a bit about the pictures in the folder and about the costumes the small dolls were wearing. And then I said something completely unplanned, I suggested a work I have never had children do in the ten years that I have been a Montessori guide. I asked the child if she would like to make her own continent dolls. I am not even sure why I called them that. The words fell from my mouth. And then she looked at me, smiled and said yes. That was the beginning of work that lasted a week and eventually involved two other students. Finally, last Friday, they gave a puppet show/performance for the entire class and for the head of our school which had me almost in tears. We had only been back to school for a total of eleven days when all of this amazing work was achieved.

There were days that I looked at my assistant Patti and asked if we had better step in. Most of the time we decided not to. I used the new almost three year olds as a sort of gauge. I would see these three girls occassionally draw in other students or hear their voices raise and I would look over to see what the three year olds were doing. Everytime, they were completely engaged in one exercise of Practical Life or another. As long as they were able to maintain their focus, I pretty much felt that the girls doing the continent doll work were not disrupting the class.

However, there were a few times that we did step in. The first time was in regards to keeping their work area organized and not letting it get too messy.

The photos above and below show the students working on their "dolls."

The second was in regards to writing their play. I asked Patti to sit with the girls and help record their play and the songs that they were writing for it. The photo of this shows remarkable focus.

On the third day, they used the cover image of a book on India to assist them in designing jewelry for their performance. They made several other children not involved in the project bracelets also.

After they wrote their play and songs, they constructed the puppet theatre - stage. They used what was available. Nothing was brought in from home to assist in making it. In a wonderful moment of creative thinking, when tape failed to secure the ribbon "curtain," they found the laundry basket and used some of the clothespins.

Thursay evening, Ria's mother (Ria was the child who I first suggested the continent work to) emailed me and said that Ria would be arriving in the morning in a sari and that she was sending in several for the other two students to use. She also said that Ria was prepared to sing a song in Sanskrit for the class. I called the head of our school and suggested he have his camera ready.

The above photo is how Ria looked when she arrived. Below is a photo of some of the clothing sent in by her mother.

Zoe and Meaghan picking out ther outfits.

Below, Patti helps the girls get ready for their performance.

And then it began. First Zoe gave her performance:

Next, Meaghan:

And Ria:

Just before the end of the performance, all three girls came forward. Ria sang her song in Sanskrit three times. Next, they collectively sang the song they wrote, which included the lyrics -

"We are three sisters from India
The largest continent in the world..."

It was amazing. The other children loved it. They were so quiet and still during the entire performance.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Hexagon Hunt Begans - Updated

Last year the students spent a good deal of time working with pentagons. This year the focus is on the hexagon. Last week, the first full week of school, I began the first of a series of lessons I assembled over the summer. The lesson followed the same format as last year's introduction to pentagons. I laid out several rugs and on one I placed the hexagon shape from the geometry cabinet and two of the matching cards. I also placed the hexagon box.

I slowly pieced the hexagon together from the triangles within the box. I kept the lid on the rug beside it.

Next, I placed several hexagons cut from construction paper on the second rug. I pointed out to the children that they should be placed so that at least one side of two hexagons touched. After I placed mine, I distributed the rest to the students and called them one at a time to place theirs down.

The pentagon work last year with the construction paper shapes resulted in an almost spiral pattern.

The hexagon placement was a bonded assemblage. It appeared dense and stable. It lacked a sense of motion or fluidity. Instead the hexagon formation revealed what it is often associated with - construction, assemblage, fortification. I use these words as they are what come to my mind when I think of bee hives, hornets' nests and quilting.

On Friday, I performed a science experiment for the afternoon class: I began growing a crystal garden. I used ordinary rocks (ones with noticeable white stripes or deposits) and vinegar. The children sat motionless while I poured the vinegar over the rocks. They held their magnifying glasses in hand waiting to observe the rocks fizz from the vinegar bath.

Now, we wait for the sun to evaporate the vinegar and for the residue to form into crystals. The complete directions for the incredibly inexpensive science experiment are noted below. Please be advised that the crystals take several weeks to grow. Enjoy.

Crystal Rocks

To grow a crystal rock garden you will need a dish, a glass, vinegar and a handful of rocks of roughly the same size. Look for rocks that contain white streaks.

Pour a little vinegar into the glass. Drop one rock into the vinegar. If the rock starts to fizz remove it and place it on your dish. Put the rocks that do not fizz back outside. Pour vinegar over the tested rocks and into the dish until just the tops of the rocks are visible above the surface. Leave your dish in a sunny place and watch what happens over several weeks.

As long as it contains calcium carbonate - those white streaks - even an ordinary rock will sprout beautiful crystals. Vinegar reacts with the calcium carbonate in the rocks and starts to break it down. That is what makes the rock fizz. As the vinegar evaporates from the dish, tiny bits of calcium carbonate are left behind, clinging to the rocks. Over time. these bits join together and build up into lumpy aragonite crystals. To keep the crystals growing simply add more vinegar.

See: 101 Science Activities for Emerging Einsteins,
by Tracey Ann Schofield Teaching and Learning Company pg. 81

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Photographic Album September 2008 (1)

Here are some images from our first full week of school. My assistants and I had set up the classroom pretty much the same as when the children had left in June with a few changes here and there. In a three year program there really should not be an "end of a year" as that segments the program into year long periods and in a way it promotes children leaving after a year rather than encouraging a commitment to the entire three or four year stay. So when the returning children came back to school after their "holiday" they went right back to work. Some had work that needed to completed still in their folders from June and independently returned to that work. One child came in, walked straight over to the math area, found his number scroll and sat down to continue it.

After a day of my assistant Patti being asked numerous times to help older children extended their number scrolls, she put together a self-help tray with graph paper strips, a stapler, an eraser and, next to the tray, scotch tape and pencils. It worked wonderfully. They even helped each other now that the materials were available. The returning students picking up their work like knitters pick up a dropped stitch is great in regards to classroom management.

Above: A second year student goes right to the carrot work.

Only the new children lack something to do on occassion, which provides an opportunity for a lesson. This Friday there was so much work being done by the older children that I was able to give several lessons to the new children. Already, older children have lead groups with the youngest new children. All and all, the year has begun well.

Above: A new three year old was so engrossed in his leaf washing work that he even washed the stones placed in the soil around the plant.

A new three year old carefully used the tweezers with his Indian corn work.

Above: Another new three year old does bread crumb work.


Above: Kindergarten children explore with the sensorial materials.


This year, I decided to focus on the hexagon in our geometry area. Therefore we did some work with that geometric shape and have begun growing crystals. As we move towards the winter months, our work with crystals will continue. Then when spring arrives we will shift to the study of bees and the hexagon patterns used in making hives. I have also decided to focus on the sense of smell this year. This does not mean that I will not being using all of the geometric solids and such or using all of the sensorial materials. It simply means that my extension-lessons will focus on the hexagon and on the sense of smell.

I continue to carefully complete the room finding hand embroidered towels for the hand washing table (above),

replacing the old sand tray table with one I purchased at the thrift (above) and completing the continent folders (my assistants Patti and Cristina did a wonderful job mounting and laminating the pictures I found).

Above: Also, I was so lucky to find an amazing piece of furniture for the children's work folders.

Another tremendous find where the above architecture models for the geography area. I love them and so do the children.

We ended the week with the bell game. Here a child walks the bell across the room and places it in front of a child who then walks it to another. The goal of the game is to not have the bell ring. New children get three rings when they first try. If the bell does ring the child carrying it returns with it to their place in the circle and tries again. This is not a punishment but a new opportunity to deliver the bell without it ringing. Children really enjoy this game. Years ago, I saw a child try 5 times before he was able to walk across the room and place his bell in front of a fellow classmate without the bell ringing. The room was completely silent as he walked and when he finished the children spontaneously began clapping. They were so pleased at his success.

My last word is this: Welcome aboard Mrs. Patti Ryan. I am glad you have joined the classroom.