Sunday, May 24, 2009

Outdoor Botanical Exercises

We had several hot days last week. I was hoping to do some classroom work outside. Luckily, during our playground time, a few children asked for paper so that they could do botanical drawings. Patti went inside and got a couple of sheets for them. I watched them work for a few minutes before going inside to my classroom to get the botany cabinet. I put it on one of the picnic benches to see if anyone would choose to use it. They did and I was so glad that I had taken it from its shelf. I wondered about it for a minute as it is a pretty expensive material. But I had a flash memory of a black and white photo I had seen when I was at the Centennial Celebration in San Francisco two years ago. The children in the photograph were working outside in their garden. I reflected on that remembered image for a moment and then picked up the cabinet and carried outside to where the children were.

After they drew a couple of shapes, they took flower petals and a rock and hammered color from the petals onto their drawings. We did a lot of work like this - only with a hammer - when we made our classroom auction project which was a hammered flower and leaf tablecloth with matching napkins. I was really pleased that the children so easily recalled the work and modified it for the tools at hand - no hammer, use a rock.

Some of the older students decided to write down all the names of the flowers using the plastic labels that came with the plants as guides.

I noticed that several of my younger students were also drawn to the garden but were not interested in drawing. I encouraged them to select a leaf shape and try to find a match in the garden. It was lovely to see the younger children so engaged. Some of them came back again and again to the botany cabinet exchanging one shape for another.

After a long, hard winter we have come outside to work. We have even joined the children on the swings - well I have:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Planting Day Pictures

Planting Day is an annual event at our school. Parents arrive with a variety of flowers and greens to plant in the gardens with their children. Parents come to the school during their child'd playground time. They bring every garden tool imaginable and ear to ear smiles. It was so successful this year. Both the parents and the children had a wonderful time. When the day came to an end, the school grounds looked wonderful. Here are a few of my favorite shots:

For me, I sat back and watched as Stepanie Coyne (above photo - Dylan's mom) shared her gift for gardening with the children.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Focus On The Details

When teaching art or creative writing to my students, I often say to them, "Focus on the details." While it seems a simple enough statement recent work done by my older students, who have heard it stated so many time over the past couple of years and who have sometimes acted on it and have sometimes not, showcases its significance.

When my older students paint self-portraits their eyes now have pupils and eyelashes. When they draw an outline sketch the work is so remarkable that I have to hold my tongue so that I don't say,"Wow! That is so beautiful!"

Their stories now have multiple characters and the narrative tells a good, often funny, story. No longer are the older students content with a single page of writing, they now write stories that require page numbers. One student wrote a small chapbook that included three chapters.

I hear this attention to details even in the way they describe a scene or relay information. I have two great examples to share.

A few days ago while we were on the playground, Suzy fell and slightly bruised her knee. She was very upset. I had her sit on one of the picnic benches to calm down. She started coughing and said she did not feel well. Two of her kindergarten friends had joined her to keep her company. I asked Zoe if she could feel her forehead to see if she felt warm. She put her hand on Suzy's face for a moment and then turned to me and said with a serious tone in her voice,

"She's warm like when your hot cocoa finally cools down."

"Oh, just like that. Interesting. I think she's okay," I replied.

Suzy was up off the bench a few minutes later and I was writing what Zoe had said on my ATM receipt.

Second example: At circle time last week, I was attempting to help the children understand the concept of being in the middle. We had middle recess that day and it is often confusing to the children. They always ask, "Are we coming back in or are we going to lunch?"

I used a very common metaphor, the hamburger. I said that first recess was like the bottom part of the roll, middle recess was the hamburger and last recess was the top of the roll. As I said all of this, I noticed Dylan smiling and looking out the window. His face was aglow with thought.

Dylan suddenly raised his hand and said, "I know Miss Dyer, I know."

"Yes, Dylan, do you have something to say," I inquired.

"Well, its like this," he said and then continued. "Okay, its like the trees, the sky and the sun. The trees are below the sky and the sky is below the sun. So the sky would be the middle."

After he finished telling his "discovery," he continued to look out the window. It was a Walden moment. My class is downstairs, below the first floor. So when we sit at circle and look out the window, the trees and the sky are what we see. Dylan's was right.

And while it is their work, I must admit that when they come to show me what they have accomplished and they say, "I focused on the details, Miss Dyer, just like you tell us to do," I feel proud of the work that I have done with them, too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"May I Have Another Piece of Wood, Miss Dyer?"

"May I have another piece of wood, Miss Dyer?" I was asked this question many times last week. A carpenter friend of mine dropped off two buckets of scrap wood and such for me to use as I pleased.

I put it in the classroom. One of the students who first noticed the materials asked me, "What is that wood for?"

"I don't know because no one one has made anything yet," I answered.

"Can I make something with it?" the child asked.

"Absolutely!" I replied.

"How many pieces of wood can we use?" This question came from a second student who was standing next to a third.

"Three pieces. You each may use three pieces of wood," I answered. I have never been much of a one-piece-each kinda of teacher. I just don't think the notion of getting one shot, making one try - succeed or fail - is a very Montessorian practice.

Before long the classroom looked like a make-shift, woodworking shop.

I took many photos of the work being done and yet I missed so much. One of the projects that was done by many students was name plaques for their rooms. I must have tucked 4 or 5 of these into various school bags.

Two of the boys made rulers and then measured several students before taking them home.

One student made a life-sized painting of herself.

Some painted abstract images.

Others composed beach scenes.

Zoe using her twirling-brush-to-make-waves technique, above. Kai painted a lovely Minimalist beach scene, below.

Dylan painted tubing to use with his Legos.

My friend dropped off another bucket last night. He was generous enough to sand all of the pieces of wood so that the children wouldn't get splinters. When I thanked him he expressed his own gratitude. He said he never imagined children so young would enjoy making things with what he called his scrap. He said it inspired him to do woodworking with his grandchildren. It's all good!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Story Problems Inspire Authorship

from Robert Recorde’s Whetstone of Witte

A couple of my oldest students (6 yrs.) came to me the other day and asked if I could write some new story problems for them because they had solved all of the ones that were in the basket where they are kept.

"I am very busy working with these other students. It would be great if you two could write several yourselves so that I could add them to the others," I suggested.

"Write them ourselves? But then we would know the answers," Adam answered.

"Well, what if you both write a few on your own and then swap them. That way you could see if they read well enough to be solved by the other students," I said.

"That is a great idea and I am already thinking of one," Zoe said as she headed for the stack of writing paper.

Two months ago, I introduced story problems to these two students and after only a few problems they mastered the concept. By the end of the week they had finished all of the addition, subtraction, division and multiplication problems.

Adam does them in his head. Zoe used the large bead frame.

Both did excellent with the ones that I had prepared. My only concern about them writing their own was regarding whether or not they would invest time in the short narratives that make a story problem interesting. I was excited to read what they had composed when they approached me with their finished work. I had nothing to worry about.

Here are a few of their problems:

Above: There were five fish and two went to lunch. How many fish are there now?

Above: There was 10 bats. 5 went away. How many were left?

Above: There was one bird and three came. How many birds was there now?

Above: There was six cupcakes and two got eaten. How many cupcakes did they have now?

PS. Montessori by Hand (Sew Liberated) has a wonderful tutorial for making story / word problems and a felt envelope to keep them in. Follow the link below:

Montessori By Hand - Story Problems

Friday, May 8, 2009

Have You Ever Done The Metal Insets Blindfolded?

"Miss Dyer, may I do that work next," asked one child and then another.

I wanted to re-present metal inset work to my four and five year olds. I find myself reminding them again and again not to add rainbows and flowers to their work. I wanted to add an extension to the work so as to draw them back to the work's original purpose. I decided that adding a blindfold to the lesson would work.

One morning last week, I invited the first child that arrived to join me at a chowki, or small table. I did the work first. The child gave me an odd look when I put a metal inset and frame on my table, along with a blindfold.

"Why did you get the blindfold?" the student asked.

"I am going to use it," I answered with a smile.

I placed a tissue over the blindfold and then put it on. I slowly moved the tip of my right pointer finger (I am left handed) to the interior edge of the frame. I then placed the tip of my pencil at that place. I carefully moved my pencil around the edge of the shape. I must admit that it was a very centering experience. It reminded me of doing the bell game.

Then the child did the work. I watched her place her finger at the interior edge and trace the absent inset's shape. It was such purposeful movement.

Moments after she completed her work, I heard a child ask, "Miss Dyer, may I do that work next?"

I heard that question over and over again for the next hour and a half. I was glad to hear it.

My youngest student did the work:

And my oldest: