Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Skate Around the Rim of the Leaf's Shape," I said softly.

After witnessing the beautiful work the morning children did with the amaryllis, I felt a strong desire to re-present the botany cabinet's tray. Yesterday afternoon, a second year student (4 1/2 yrs.) came to me and said, "I don't know what work to do." Ahhh, here was my moment. "I remember working with the botany trays with you last year. Let's do it again," I said. She followed me to the cabinet and soon we were sitting side by side.

When she first started she looked at me as if waiting for instruction, so I said to her, "Skate around the rim of the leaf's shape." She smiled slightly and began. Using a small wooden stick as a replacement for the orange stick noted in my albums, I watched as she carefully traced the inside of the frame and then the inset. Her wrist moved so gracefully. It was poetry in motion. When she would trace the inside of the frame and momentarily forget to trace the inset, she would say, "I almost forgot..." And then she would trace the inset with such grace and such intentional purpose that I simply sat besides her watching silently.

During a winter when snowfall is reaching record levels, children are examining flower petals, gathering pollen and skating the edge of a leaf's shape. I return to the story I love so much again..."Frederick," by Leo Lionni.

In the winter cave of our classroom, let all that has been stored and gathered during the earlier months serve us now.


I also re-presented how to find the botanical shape of a leaf. It is very obvious that many leaves do not appear to match the insets found in the botany cabinet. There is a wonderful lesson that demonstrates that in fact they actually do.

The picture below shows a leaf and its matching botany inset. Visually, they do not appear to match. So, first mark small dots at the farthest tips of the leaf with a pencil. To be more specific - put a dot at the end of the stem and the top. Put a dot at each of the farthest points around the entire leaf. If the leaf has rounded edges do the same just mark the places farthest out from the stem.

Now, draw a line to connect the dots so that an outline appears.

Lastly, fit the leaf inset into the outline to show the children that they do match (no picture - sorry) and then draw the veins on the leaf. This is done by drawing a line from the stem to one of the dots along the leaf's edge. If possible, connect this work to the the parts of a leaf puzzle and classification cards.

Now, using a watercolor paint set, illustrate the leaf. Here are two examples -

The botany materials are so beautiful and are so under used. I find that using the materials myself first, and I don't mean once or when the children are hovering but instead at the beginning or end of the day, I feel more confident presenting the work and present it more often. Also, we too often group leaves into a fall lesson plan. There is no specific season for any of the Montessori materials. They are available to be used 365 days of the year.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Like Bees, They Gathered the Pollen

Last Thursday, in the middle of the night, I heard a loud crash. I was so tired I didn't get up as it sounded like something had fallen rather than someone trying to break-in. In the morning, I went into my office to check my email and there it was. My amaryllis had fallen over with the weight of its flowers and crashed to the floor. There was dirt everywhere. The stem was broken. I went to the kitchen, got a trash bag, returned to the scene and cut the flowers free from the corpse of the plant.

When I got to school, I took the flowers from the bag, placed them on trays and put them on two separate tables. I placed magnifying glasses besides them. The small felt case that holds the tweezers was also placed on one of the tables.

When the children arrived, I invited them to dissect the flowers. Two of the children immediately accepted my invitation. After a few minutes of carefully opening the petals to examine what was held within, they went and got some q-tips from the polishing area. Carefully, they gathered pollen onto the tips of the q-tips. They were very focused on their work.

While they continued their investigations, I put out a rug and laid out the "Parts of a Flower" classification cards. They soon came looking for the names of the various parts of the flowers.

Later, one child illustrated all of the sheets that match the "Parts of a Flower" classification cards.

This work did not last all morning. The first two children worked with it for about 45 minutes or so. When they walked away, another child engaged the work. He stayed for about 20 minutes. It did take the child who illustrated the booklet most of the morning to finish her work.

Just before I rang the bell to end the morning work period, I gathered the petals and botanical remains and threw them away. For a couple of hours the beauty of my amaryllis drew the attention of a few five and six year olds. What I love about the pictures above is how serious the children look and how careful they are handling the flowers. Perhaps, they are so interested because they are most often told not to touch flowers. I am sure that they are not often given q-tips to gather pollen. Perhaps, in that case, though, it is bees which warn them to stay back, to look but not touch. Living creatures can be so territorial.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sit Right Down and Have Your Portrait Painted

After doing several self-portraits,

Zoe came up with the idea of painting portraits of her classmates. She has decided that she wants to put them in a book for all of the students to enjoy. I think she did five or six yesterday. At one point I heard her say to a child who she had asked to sit, "Don't worry, I am pretty good at this so it won't take that long, but you do need to sit still."

So they came one by one and sat pretty still. Another child said, "That doesn't look like me at all." Zoe responded, "Yes it does. It looks exactly like you. I am the artist and I paint you how I see you. This looks just like you." She has grown confident about her artistic skills. Here are few shots of students sitting for her and her finished portraits.

Two of her sitters:

Two of her portraits:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Lessons on Painting a Self-Portrait

I found this amazing mirror last summer at a local thrift store. I think I paid $3.99 for it. It has been sitting on the top of my dresser for months now. I hemmed and hawed over whether to bring it to school or not as I was worried it may break and I would lose it. This morning I packed it in my bag and took it to work. The time had come to begin a series of lessons on self-portraiture.

I placed it on the top of the art shelf. Soon a student approached me and asked me what it was for. While I described self-portraiture to her, I watched as other children caught glimpses of themselves in the mirror.

I used several art cards to assist my description of a self-portrait. I especially liked the Van Gogh because this self-portrait captured him painting at his easel. I asked the student if she could see her face without a mirror. She quickly answered no. I showed her the mirror, pointing out the beautiful image on the back, and asked her to study herself in the mirror. It was a very slow paced, self-study. First she re-arranged some of her hair. She sat up straight and she adjusted her shirt.

I instructed her to use a pencil to make the initial sketch of her face. She did and she was very serious. She then used markers to finish her painting.

Soon another child was doing their self-portrait.

And another...

I think I will put color copies of these self-portraits into a book pairing paintings with photos of the students. One of the most popular works in the afternoon class was made from extra class pictures of the students and teachers. Cristina cut out individual pictures of students and teachers (two of each), glued them to construction paper and laminated them. This favorite pairing work is used by matching pictures. I have heard, "It's you Miss Dyer," blurted out excitedly by a child using the work many, many times.

The self portrait work allows the children the opportunity to boldly look at their face in the mirror - something they love doing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Geography - That's A Lot of Ground to Cover

Four Days of Geography Lessons:

Day 1 -

First half of the lesson - Demonstrate that the globe of the Earth and the continents map display the same information - land and water bodies found on the Earth.

The lesson flowed from one topic to another. I felt so good about the presentation after I finished. I was almost startled by the work that it inspired later. I have so much to share...

Some lessons become annual rituals. Shaping a small ball out of clay with my hands to replicate the globe is one of them. I acted out this ritual last Monday. Before doing so, I asked the children if, when using the globe, they could see Africa when they are looking at South America, etc. They collectively answered no. I showed them how I needed to spin the globe around to see the other side. I explained that this became an obstacle for mapping routes across oceans and land, as the map maker could not lay the globe flat on a table and draw from one port to another. So, they flattened the globe and made it possible to see all the continents and oceans at one glance.

Before I flattened the ball of clay, I drew a line around the middle of the ball and labeled it (verbally) the equator. I told the children that the equator was like the belt around their waist. The equator separates the Northern and Southern hemispheres. I next cut through the center of the ball of clay, and flattened the two halves so that they resembled the circles on the continents map.

I paused for a moment letting the children absorb this.

Once, I had established that the globe and the continents map where the same in terms of what they illustrated, I asked them whether or not the Earth was in fact smooth and flat like the surface of the colored globe or the continents map. They answered no. One four year old added, "The Earth has a lot of pot holes." (teaching geography in winter can result in interesting comments) I asked them if mountains or canyons made the earth's surface smooth or rough. I described areas specifically in the United States that were mostly flat like deserts and the Wyoming landscape. I desribed rough terrain including various mountain ranges and the Grand Canyon. I also spoke to them about my own visit to Yellowstone several years ago and described for them my memories of "Old Faithful."

Following this conversation, I set aside the colored globe and the continents map and put on the table in front of me a glass globe on which I put a small amount of flour so as to keep clay from sticking to it. I then took the two continent circles that I had made earlier and placed them on the surface of the glass globe and began spreading the clay. I worked hard to cover most of the surface but kept a small crack between the two halves. I talked to the children about rivers that cut through the land, about cracks under the Earth's surface called fault lines. I told them that the Earth was not one solid mass but instead composed of several pieces called plates.

I left the clay for a moment to get a bowl and a towel. I put the towel on the floor beneath the bowl and poured some water into it. I told them that sometimes the Earth shakes and trembles near fault lines and that effects of the trembling can be seen on the surface of bodies of water - the water vibrates. I asked the children to jump up and down so as to mimic the Earth's surface shaking and I asked them to watch the water to see if its surface rippled or if a wave rose up. It did and they noticed.

After I cleared away the bowl and water, I returned to talking about earthquakes and how the Earth's crust can crack open. I explained that earthquakes can cause trees, houses and bridges to collapse. That when the Earth cracks open, slightly, people, animals and plants can fall into it. I said that dinosaurs may have fallen into these cracks. Then when the trembling settles and the Earth closes itself back up, what has fallen within becomes fossilized. "They dig all of that up Miss Dyer. Like they dug up dinosaur bones." A child stated. "Well, if the Earth is going to crack open I better let my mom know so she can get the car ready to take the babies away," another child, Sam, said. Sam is almost five and has a 2 year old sister and twin baby brothers. I told him that there weren't any fault lines under Boston so not to worry. "Well, all of this never really happened. Right," asked Zoe, one of my kindergärtners. "Yes, it has happened many times," I answered.

Second half of the lesson - Plate Tectonics

I returned to the clay covered glass globe. I had placed three small rocks behind the globe so that the children could not see them. I held up the stones and said that sometimes the Earth's plates shift and crash into each other. I then slammed the rocks together causing them to break and lift up in my hand.

"When the Earth's plates crashed into each other what do you think was formed?" I asked as I pushed two "plates" of clay together on the glass globe's surface. "Mountains," one child answered. "Right," I replied.

After repeating this entire presentation in the afternoon, a child, using the clay materials, made a globe, cut it in half and then flattened it to make the circles of the continent map. I love the last photo, although it is a little blurry, because I love how she has her hands clasped together signaling her satisfaction with her work.

Day 2 -
Inner Earth

I placed the colored globe and the "Inner Earth" globe on the table. All of the children got chairs to sit on - this was going to take a few minutes. I placed the "Inner Earth" classification cards on a working rug.

I focused on the term "crust" and asked if they knew anything else that has a crust. "Pie," answered several children. Under the crust there are several layers. I handed a piece of the "Inner Earth" globe to several children, laid out the cards that matched and did a revised version of a three period lesson. I pointed to a card, asked who had that part, asked them to place it on top of the card and to name the piece.

It was hard for many of the children to grasp that there was something under the crust of the Earth other than the dirt you would find in a garden. I reminded myself that my goal was just to give the children a good visual and mental impression of "Inner Earth.

After describing the plates, fault lines and variations in the Earth's surface, I returned to volcanoes. The children love volcano work and anything that has to do with volcanoes in my classroom. Volcanoes run a close second to dinosaurs with my students. Now that we had talked about and viewed a construction of the Inner Earth, I could talk about how the inner core of the Earth was so hot that it needed to have places on the Earth's surface for the heat to escape. I mentioned two - deep ocean chimneys and volcanoes. Repetition is so important with these types of lessons. Using the clay again, I pushed the Earth's crust up into a volcanic form leaving an opening at the top.

I put out some illustrations for the children to color. One was of a volcano and the other was of a woman checking a seismograph machine. I told how the seismograph machine is watched by scientists and that the public is notified if there are signs of a strong earthquake starting. I explained that this gives people time to protect themselves. The children seemed somewhat relieved. They did such a good job coloring the seismographs.

Day 3 - Apple Pie

This morning Sam brought in a small colorful ball of clay. He gave it to me and said, "Miss Dyer, this is like your lesson on the globe. I made it when I went home. I hope you like it. It is the Earth."

I told him I had a surprise for the class. Something that would give everyone an impression of how a volcano works. "I think I smell it Miss Dyer," Sam answered. "I think you do," I said as I walked away.

The pie came out of the kitchen and into our classroom cooked to perfection. It was placed on a table and all of the children were told that it was very hot and they were to step away and not touch it. They looked stunned. When was the last time Miss Dyer brought a pie into the classroom? I never had before.

As children gathered around the steaming apple pie. I asked,"What is covering the apple filling?" "Crust," was their collective answer. "What do we call the surface of the Earth?" "Crust," they answered again. Cristina invited the children to carefully lean their heads close to the opening at the center of the pie (so like a volcano) and to listen. One at a time they leaned, listened and reported hearing a bubbling sound.

When we examine a volcano we see that there is an elevated surface and that heat flows up the volcano and empties steam and smoke into the sky overhead, I explained. Also, deep inside the volcano is magma, hot-hot magma. The children in the circle were very focused on what I was describing.

Cristina and I returned our focus to the pie. We pointed out cracks in the crust and described them as fault lines. I asked Cristina to cut into the pie. The steam rose up out from the center of the pie and the children gasped. The hot apples inside simply drew to mind hot magma. We placed the classification card for the "Inner Earth" next to the sliced open pie. I was so happy with the image the two made.

I let them take in all that I was describing and excused them from the circle. A few moments later they were each enjoying a small piece of apple pie

Soon, the volcano work was out and the Dancing Raisins work. Photo of Dancing Raisins below:

Another child went right to the clay work and made a volcano.

Day 4 -

First part of the lesson: Pangea - One Becomes Seven

These are the final lessons in this series of presentations. I returned to the globe and the continents map. I placed them on a rug in front of me. I asked the children if they remembered how I had covered the globe with clay and how I described that there were various plates covering the Earth rather than one solid smooth mass. They all answer yes. I then said that the continents were bodies of land that were named by people and the oceans were bodies of land that were named by people. I said, "I have a secret to tell you. A long, long time ago there was only one continent. It is called the super-continent, Pangaea. The plates of the Earth shifted, the water currents pulled, the earth shook, the weather beat down and very, very slowly the super-continent pulled apart and became seven separate continents.

I put a picture of Pangaea on the rug next to the continents map. I took all of the continents out of the puzzle frame and positioned them side by side as they were in the image. I slowly slid them apart. I then asked them what would happen to a river if it was pulled apart? Where would the water go? Would it hover in the air, would it go up or down? "Down" was their answer. "So the water would fall?" I continued. "That is a waterfall, Miss Dyer," stated Ellie, a four year old first year student.

I passed around pictures of Angel Falls in South America. I explained that it was the highest waterfall in the world and that it was higher than the Empire State Building. I asked if they could imagine, while looking at the exposed Earth around Angel Falls, that the Earth had pulled apart. That what was one was now seven. They each said they could see how the earth had changed.

I asked them, "How could the people and the animals travel from Africa to South America? There is so much water between them. An ocean is between them." "They would have to swim," one child answered. "A boat! A boat! The people could use a boat," answered another excitedly.

I asked them each to get up from circle and to take a seat at the white table. Cristina had carefully prepared all of the materials needed for the next part of the presentation - the making of a small ship.

Each child was given a single egg cartoon cup. They were given markers to decorate what was now being referred to as the hull of their ships. They were each then given one coffee stir stick - the ship's mast. They were also given one yellow post-it for their sail taken from a pad of such. They were given colored pencils to illustrate their sails (on the non-sticky side of the post-it). Next, they were given a small amount of clay. The clay was put into the the base of the hulls. The sticky edge of the post-it note sail was wrapped around the upper length of the coffee stir stick (a little bit of tape held it stay in place). The mast bearing a sail was stuck into the clay which was placed in the bottom of the egg cartoon hull.

They were all now ready to set sail. I instructed them to return to the rug.

I got out a large wooden compass puzzle (any compass will do) and I labeled the oceans. I asked Carolina to place her boat on the continent map control chart, which I had also placed on the rug. I asked her to sail her boat east across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. I next instructed her to sail south down to the tip of Africa. She docked her boat at the coastline. I continued with this type of instruction until all of the ships had sailed some requested distance and were docked somewhere on the map. It was a lovely moment to see the children moving their ships so carefully. It was very quiet in the room during this work.

I must admit that I was exhausted after school on Thursday. I had Parent Conferences all day Friday. I will share with you another time the map making the older children have begun.

Next week, sand art to illustrate layering and starting on papier mache globes.

I am glad this is a four day weekend.