Monday, April 27, 2009

Joseph starts with J. Adam starts with A...

I have six, six year olds in my classroom. Some of them are 6 1/2+. Four of these older third and fourth year students are boys. The majority of these boys can read, write, do word problems, money problems and much, much more. Because of their abilities, they sometimes get restless and a little too silly. But, they also LOVE themselves and everything that has to do with THEM, which is typical of a six year old boy's ego.

The other day when I was working with my youngest student and the teen boards, I simply could not concentrate as the older boys were so silly. I excused myself for a moment and went to where the boys were "working."

"Please put this work away. I have something very important that I would like each of you to do," I said with a mysterious smile.

They immediately cleaned up and where standing next to me in a matter of minutes.

"What work do you have for us, Miss Dyer?" Joseph asked.

"I would like each of you to get a dictionary and make a list of words that begin with the first letter of your name," I said with a huge smile. "Joseph, you will make a list of words that start with J. Adam, you will make a list of words that start with A. Jack, you will make a list of words that begin with S. The first letter of your last name."

The boys looked at me for a second and then were off. I couldn't believe they agreed to do the work. They got three dictionaries from the shelf, several pieces of paper and went to work.

They wrote for the remainder of the morning and then came in the next day and continued writing. I have never seen any of the boys write this much. When they finished finding words that started with their names, they found words that started with the letters of their parents and siblings names. The greatest thing though was that they were really enjoying the work and encouraging each other to continue. I was so pleased.

Also, when I returned to the teen boards, the student had successfully completed it themselves. Love it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"The concept of an education centered upon the care of the living being alters all previous ideas. Resting no longer on a curriculum, or a timetable, education must conform to the facts of human life."

Maria Montessori

- The Absorbent Mind :: Clio Press Limited, 1994 :: p. 12

Friday, April 24, 2009

What is so oily about oil?

On Monday, the first day after Spring break, Zoe walked up to me, having been in the classroom for less than ten minutes, and said, "I had an idea on Saturday and waited until today to ask you about it," she said.

"What is your idea?" I answered.

"Oil and water don't mix, I know that. But what's in oil that makes it not mix with water?" she asked.

"How do you think you can answer that?" I replied.

"I want to get out the oil and water tray and try to figure it out," she said.

A half an hour later, she and Meaghan were busy testing a variety of substances to see if oil would mix with them. They asked for small bowls so often that eventually I gave them permission to go where almost no one goes but me - my storage cabinets. They were very respectful and carefully took what they needed. They did this the first time, the second time and the third time.

I could not help but think of Maria Montessori's story regarding her assistants' reports of children breaking into cabinets to get to the materials. In actuality, they loved the work so much that they simply could not wait to re-experience using them, day after day. Maria Montessori wrote extensively about this in-built desire to do challenging and purposeful work.

An adult coming into my classroom might think that Zoe and Meaghan were also "breaking in" or more likely touching what was not theirs to touch. But, they had been given permission and they simply wanted to find the materials that they needed to accomplish their work.

The amount of writing that they were doing was also impressive. They stated their question : Why does oil mix with things like food but not water?

Then listed the various combinations that they were testing to see if they would mix together:

1.oil and water
2. oil and flour
3. oil and food coloring
4. oil and sugar
5. oil and alka seltzer
6. oil and hands (they got a lot of oil on their hands)
7. oil and vinegar

They decided that if they could pour off the oil (photo below)

or if they could remove it from the surface (photo below) then the oil did not mix with the other substance.

Just before the end of the morning, the two girls came to me and said, "Oil and water don't mix. Okay, but water freezes. If we freeze a bowl of oil and water will the oil freeze too? And, can we freeze all of our bowls with the other things like oil and sugar to see if they freeze?"

I looked at two girls who had spent almost three hours writing and testing various combinations to find the answers to their questions regarding oil and its ability to mix with a least 7 separate substances.

"You can freeze samples of your work but not large bowls as I don't have enough room in the staff freezer. A sample of each should give you your answers," I said while a four year old tugged on my sleeve anxious to report that another four year old had told her that she was not her friend anymore.

"What is a sample," Zoe asked.

"It's like when they take a sample of your blood for a test at the doctor's," I answered while the four year old looked at me with fresh tears running down her face.

"Yeah, they can only take a sample of your blood for tests because if they take all of your blood you die," Meaghan interjected with a matter of fact tone.

I excused myself so as to redirect the weeping four year old. By the time the other children were lining up for the playground, Zoe and Meaghan had prepared several small dishes to be placed in the freezer.

When they arrived the next morning they were anxious to see the results. I suggested that they first make a list of what they had put into the freezer so that they could note what samples froze and what did not. They went right to work:

Above: They got out the sight (puzzle) words to help them with their spelling.

Above: I placed the tray of samples that had been in the freezer overnight on their table.

Below: They examined the samples and found that the oil separated from all the substances and did not completely freeze:

Below: The girls examine their samples.

Then they wrote a description that matched most of the samples that had been kept in the freezer overnight:

Its not lick wid like wotr
Its not solid like a rock
its spredubl
its a thic lick wid like jam


It is not liquid like water
It is not solid like a rock
Its spreadable
It is a thick liquid like jam

Their work has inspired me to make cards for the classroom similar to the Land, Air, Water and Fire cards, only these will be Liquid, Solid, Gas.

Friday, April 17, 2009

They Jump and they Leap

They jump and they leap. That was the only way I could figure out how to state the behavior of my older students in regards to their studies. The jumping refers to contemplative and speculative thinking. It refers to a mental exhale after months of inhaling.

I often think of the winter months as a time of mental hibernation. The children seem less motivated to work independently and thrive on new lessons. But, they may not choose the work after the lesson.

During the winter months our weeks are broken up by holidays and snow days. The flow of the classroom stalls and then re-energizes for a few days and stalls again.

Now, spring is here and all that was stored and observed is acted upon. The head of my school came into my classroom last week and said, "It is like a beehive of activity in here." It was exactly like that.

This week was the same. In the botany area of the classroom, two girls dissected flowers and then made their own perfume.

In another area, two boys were measuring the cubic volume of water held in various sized containers.

Another two girls were making their own Baric containers.


Then today, the last day of school before Spring break, the older children returned to the Montessori concrete materials with renewed focus and refined skills. This is the leap. They leap forward academically.

Zoe decided she would illustrate and label all of the "Animals of the Continents" booklets. She finished five. Each booklet had a least 6 pictures of animals in them.

Dylan, who was one of the boys measuring volume, sat with the metal insets and produced excellent work.

Jack, who also worked on measuring volume, returned to the stamp game and then used the constructive triangles to duplicate an image of a turtle.

This is a short list of the work done this morning. There are times I admit to wondering whether or not I should put more limits on my student's exploration work. That maybe the next time a child says that they want to make a material or build a catapult that I say, "I think you should spend more time working with the division board," But then I observe, again and again, children who have been allowed to creatively and constructively act on their own scientific or artistic ideas return to the concrete materials with such focus and attention to detail that I decide I should just keep on saying, "I love that idea. What supplies do you need."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Baric Materials Are Finished and In Use

Today, I was the student and Zoe was the presenter. I found pairing her Baric containers difficult to match. The variance between one pair and another is subtle, but established. I paired two of the sets correctly and was incorrect in pairing the other two. Then Cristina, my afternoon assistant, tried. She found it challenging also. See below:

Only three of seven children who used the materials matched all of the pairs correctly. Zoe, working with Kai, even put colored stickers (they colored and cut them out) on the bottom of the containers. There are four sets with four different colored stickers. These stickers are used as the control of error for the work.

Zoe also tried pairing her own materials. She had to really concentrate and then she successfully paired all four sets.

The material is now on a tray in the Sensorial area of the classroom.

Love it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Equivalence - Part Two: The Work Continues

As soon as she arrived this morning, she was right back at her rug along with the same observer as yesterday. I walked over to her and said, "Do you remember the cylinders we have that look the same but don't all weigh the same. It is a pairing material. Let me go and get it for you."

I brought her the Baric cylinders (I don't have the tablets, instead I have the cylinder shaped material).

"Oh, yeah. I had a lesson on them when I was really little," was her answer.

"Why don't you use the scale to pair them," I suggested.

I walked away and left her and her companion to their work. I returned about ten minutes later.

"Miss Dyer, I know they don't all weigh the same even though they look the same. I get that. But what is inside them that makes them that way?" she asked with a very serious expression.

"Maria Montessori designed these materials and she called it built in abstraction and isolation of properties," I said knowing that this made no sense to the child and why would it.

"Well, can I have a hammer so that I can crack them open and see what is inside?" she said with an even more serious expression.

"I can't let you do that, but you could make your own set of this material. You would be able to see in making them why some may be heavier or lighter than others. I will get you some supplies. You get an apron and a place mat," I said while wondering to myself where I was going to find all of these promised items.

Luckily, I had several plastic, label containers and some paint designed for decorating glass or plastic. I also had a good supply of sand that I keep on hand to replenish the sand tray. Whew!

I brought the materials over to her table. Her observer was now an active participant. Soon they were painting the containers so that you could not see how much sand was inside of each of them and visually determine pairs instead of actually weighing them.

It wasn't long before I saw them pouring sand into two of them and weighing them so that they would be a matched set.

It was pretty amazing to see them working so passionately on the making of their own Montessori materials.

They will finish them tomorrow. I will post a photo of the material when completed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It Started Out As A Lesson on Equivalence and Then The Child Took Over...

Equivalence - well actually, it started out with a preliminary lesson on fractions given by a four year old to a small gathering of 6 year olds. As the lesson continued, one of the 6 year old stated that they were starting to get some ideas for extending the lesson and wanted to know if they could when the first lesson concluded. I agreed and then made every effort to over hear what the 6 year old's lesson involved while remaining committed to another child's work.

The 6 year old retrieved the power of 2 cube from the shelf and gave a quick version of a lesson I gave her on equivalence with the material a couple of months ago.

Next, the pink tower caught her attention. She walked back and forth several times between the tower and her rug until she found the pink cube that matched the power of 2 cube. She then made a huge mental leap. Before she did though, I watched her facial expression. She became so still. Her eyes were fixed on a point overhead but really nowhere. She was thinking her thoughts through. She was mentally analyzing and assessing her next move / her next words. I thought, "This is the normalized child."

Her leap. She looked at me and asked if I could come to her rug for a moment. She said, "They look the same. But, when I pick them up I can tell they don't weigh the same. Miss Dyer, can two things look the same but not weigh the same?"

"What material in the room can you use to answer your question?" I answered.

"The scale," she said almost before I finished my sentence.

She got the scale and begin weighing various cubes.

"Miss Dyer, two things can look the same but they may not always weigh the same. I think I want to work on this some more. I have some other things to try," she said. Her eyes were no longer looking at mine. Her hands were moving with great purpose.

At the end of the day, she came to me with a short list of her determinations:

1. Things that look the same may not always weigh the same.

2. Things can be divided into unequal parts. These parts collectively [put all together] weigh the same as the whole[thing].

3. The hundred chain and the hundred square are equal in weight. But, the glass-beaded thousand cube is not equal in weight to ten glass-beaded hundred squares (taken from the bead cabinet). The thousand cube is much heavier. (see photo above)

She asked to continue her work tomorrow. Absolutely!

P.S. The four year did finish his lesson and walked proudly over to the snack table to tell his accomplishments to a couple of other children. These other four year olds were eager to listen and I imagine composing mental notes on lessons they might give. It's all good.

Note: Re-reading this post, I need to note that the Baric tablets all look the same in size but do not weigh the same.

This is the circle of work, of the materials, They recall earlier work via muscular and mental memory. However, if I was to simply say, "You already know that. You did that work when you were three with the Baric tablets," it would have put out the light she lit with her own mind: her inquisitive thinking mind. She is looking at a bigger picture now. She is pondering the cosmic universe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Is It In Your Albums?" A Commentary

(the above photo taken from "My Montessori Journey")

I recently read an article published in a well known Montessori journal in which an observer or visitor to a classroom inquires about a work on the shelf that has caught her eye. After she approaches the lead teacher about the material she asks,"Is it in your album?" in a scrutinizing way. I cringed when I read this because early on when I first became an AMI Directress I would ask this same question with that same tone. Years later, reading the article and hearing that question ring out in my mind, I felt apologetic for the times I had said it.

I am not the monitor of another Directress's albums. I am not in a position to judge or dismiss another trained teacher's effort. I feel that asking such a question immediately positions the one asking in a place of judgmental authority. If my trainer asked me I would listen to why she was doing so. Also, my trainers, Mrs. Fernando and Molly O'Shaunessy, are much more respectful than to pose the question in that manner. They would perhaps ask me to present the lesson, examine the individual elements of the work, assess its physical qualities as well as how much time I put into preparing the work, ask what its purpose was and inquire as to its control of error.

I just heard myself repeat the question, "Is that in your albums?" to myself and hairs stood up on my arms. Are we that judgmental and condemning of each other? Are we that competitive that we need to suppress the creative and intellectual advancements of our peers?

I was so unnerved by the article that I spent the entire night yesterday reviewing in my mind my reasons for being so. After years of working with the materials, my own mind "leaps towards abstraction." I listen to my mental thoughts during these times and write them down. I draw from these notes extensions for the work.

I don't think we should add a second pink tower or have bronze beads alongside the golden beads. That is not what I am suggesting at all. I respect that we have the most amazing set of materials to work with and that Maria Montessori was a genius.

This past year when I was trying to figure out a way to teach painting a thick or a thin line of paint with the same brush, I turned to the brown (broad) stair.

When I was trying to describe the color gray a cloud becomes just before it rains, I placed the color box 3 on the table and drew from it six shades of gray.

I have become passionate about discovering the relationship between all of the materials. I have stopped trying to isolate them and see them now as an organic whole. My lessons flow from one area of the room to the other and the children sense the relationship between the materials. They too have responded by recognizing and identifying parallel and overlapping qualities.

Too, how could it be that Sink and Float or Magnetic / Non-Magnetic are to be the only science materials in the classroom? Are we not to use our own scientific minds to present lessons that cover multiple areas of scientific study? And what about botany? Does not Maria Montessori invite us to go out into the garden and discover the natural world with our students? Are these lessons in our albums? Some, but not all of them.

Lastly, I have one lesson in my album regarding working with money and teaching time. I needed to research and assemble materials that responded to these necessary subjects for kindergarten-aged students. This year I have nine of them.

I don't think our shelves need to be littered with unnecessary materials and paper work. I do think all of the Montessori materials should be out and available for the children. I also think we are capable of making materials that provide lessons on science, botany, time and other subjects that are not in conflict with the method but compliment it, represent it.

I still have the lesson I made during my student teaching - how to use an ink well. It was that first piecing together of a tray that continues to help me assemble them today.

So if I ever visited your classroom and asked with a condescending tone,"Is it in your albums?" I am sorry. I won't do it again.