Thursday, September 10, 2009

Metal Inset and Fraction Work - Don't Forget the Frames

I have observed children in many different classrooms doing metal inset work using only the insets having left the metal frames on the shelf. In my training, we never left the metal frame at the shelf. Both the inset and the frame were meant to be brought to the table together.

The child is suppose to first trace the inside rim of the frame without the inset.

The child then removes the frame, positions the inset over the initial outline and then draws the outside rim of the inset. When the inset is lifted there are two outlines - not one.

Regarding the empty space of the frame, this space is a visual reference for the child when they are drawing around the rim of the inset. If the child looks up for a moment from their work, they see before them the image of the shape they are tracing. Often a child's hands cover the majority of the inset's shape. I have heard many children say out loud to themselves something like, "Ellipsoid. Okay, now I remember," when they are doing metal inset work and forget for a second what shape they are tracing. They stop in the middle of the work, hold their hands still, visually check the frame's empty space (which echoes the shape they are tracing) and then complete their work.

A second work that I have observed children leave half of on the shelf is the fraction circles, specifically the metal, Montessori fraction circles. This material is both a sensorial and a math material. Four year olds should be using this work to simply manipulate the material and position/reposition the fractions into the formation of a whole or 1.

In regards to its use as a math material, the frames need to come to the table or floor with the fraction insets or a major element of the work is missing. Maria Montessori built into these materials zero. When the child lifts the whole circle representing 1 from its frame what remains is an empty circle or more specifically zero. Don't leave the zero on the shelf. Also, each time one of the fractions is removed from its frame the negative or empty space represents the absent quantity.

If the metal insets didn't need the frames to be brought to the table then why have them and their space occupying shelf? The same could be asked of the fraction materials. If the frames have no significance than why purchase them? The answer is of course that they do have a significance. They are part of the presentation/lesson.

Final Comment:

In the photo above you can see that both the inset and the frame where brought to the table by the child. But, (and I have talked to both AMS and AMI trainers about this and they agree) look at how the child's wrist is lifted up onto the rim of the tray. This lift in the wrist is maintained while the child (not seen in photo) bends their wrist down so as to lower the pencil to meet the paper. This is not a proper positioning for a child to write or draw. The metal inset work is a preliminary writing material. This lift in the wrist is actually a similar positioning to that made by adults that work at older computer keyboards. Many of these adults suffer from a wrist injury commonly known as carpal tunnel syndrome. I never write on a tray. Do you?

Also, the materials in the photograph are too crowded and the child does not have ample room to use them. Metal inset work should not be done on a tray. And yes, I too have seen the lovely metal inset work trays sold by various Montessori material companies.

But, at the AMI Centennial Conference in San Francisco, the trainers warned teachers not to be seduced by unnecessary and, at times, inappropriate materials. Believe me, I have purchased my fair share of similar materials at various conferences. Some of these materials are wonderful extensions to the Montessori work, but others do not serve the child and their development.

Next winter when the AMS National Conference is in Boston, I am sure I will be right up there at one table or another eyeballing all of the Montessori candy. If you see me there remind me of this post...


Emily said...

Enjoyed your observations, they rally helped me. I have the lovely and, I'm now realizing, functionless, custome metal inset trays in my primary environment and I have been puzzling over why the insets aren't used more and why the frames are often left on the shelf when I know I have never presented the work in that way.

Child's said...

Hi Susan, this is Susan from Child's Way in NJ-so glad you are back online! We are using the new year to implement your idea of returning the tray to the shelf as placeholder before doing the work. I look forward to reading your posts so much-they inspire me to keep our approach fresh and true to our mission-thanks!

mrsmelva said...

More very wise insights, thank you. I have the "lovely work trays for the insets" and then had to cut paper to fit them. As I haven't introduced the insets yet to my students I am thinking of repurposing those trays and having the students work directly on the table with the insets. When you have the children work on the table with the insets do they use regular paper or paper cut smaller?

Susan Y. Dyer said...

1. Emily - I would suggest that one morning you simply sit down and do the metal inset work yourself using both the frame and the inset. Quietly work and soon you will have many guests watching. This is a wonderful way to represent work.

Also, when a child uses one of your wooden metal inset trays sit besides them and simply watch their wrists to see if they lift and then bend over the wooden edge.

2. Susan of Child's Way - so nice to hear from you. Have a wonderful year!

3. Mrs. Melva - as I noted to Emily - observe them using the trays and watch their wrists - if they lift up and their pointer-finger knuckle bends up and down question its use.

I use metal inset paper - purchased or cut. My trainer had the child carefully match all of the corners of the frame with the corners of the paper - it resonates the folding of a cloth work - corner to corner, but without the folding as the frame is the final step in one of the initial folding works - the square.

All of the material should flow/resonate from one area of the room to another so that the child's muscular memory returns to them again and again. To me this is one of the major keys in normalizing a child. The child is in sync with the flow of the environment. The prepared environment - the normalized child - a perfect pair.

YIKES - I do go on...

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet

My Boys' Teacher said...

Great post. Thank you Susan!

Melly said...

Susan, thank you. I am so glad to see your blog has returned. In my AMI training, we were also taught to have the tray unloaded, and pushed up. The blue inset remains on the tray for the beginning of the lesson. I was taught to pause during the initial presentation after unloading the tray,and centering the frame paper.
At that point, I give the child a turn to repeat the lesson up to that point. This emphasizes the need to first push the tray away. At that point, the lesson is repeated by the directress, and it continues with the actual pencil and paper work. Still, there is never a week that goes by that I don't glance around the room and see a child working from the tray! I have to signal to my asst. to go over and help the child remove their work from the tray. Perhaps I will try your method of unloading the tray and then returning the tray to the shelf before the work begins. I like the explanation, however, for why we do so many of the things that we do the way we do: We do it this way because this is the way we were taught.

montessorimoments said...

Ah, I hate those trays! We have them at my school, and while they're great for carrying all the items to the table, I always have to remind the children to take the paper out of the tray before starting. I keep meaning to get rid of those stupid trays, now I'll DO IT! :)

montessorimoments said...

Just wanted to let you know that I got rid of those nasty trays and the children didn't even bat an eyelash! I am also enforcing the use of the whole inset, not just the pink frame, and I realize now how often the children take out the pink frame only. This applies especially to the children who make metal inset drawings expressly to show their parents what they did at school. It's so sad, but I now have a new awareness!

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Dear Montessori Moments...YEAH!!!

The children's response echoes your own intuitive - trained thoughts. This isn't my post in action, but you following your own insights.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet