Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching Children To Look and To Study: A Lesson On How To Use A Slide Viewer

I will never forget watching slide shows in my Aunt Gale's living room when I was a child and a young adult. Nor will I forget visiting my grandparent's farm in Upstate, New York. My grandparents bought the farmhouse, which had been a general store in the late 1880's, after they retired. I spent hours looking through their stereoscope at the vast number of slides that were amongst the hundreds of Victorian objects acquired with the property.

Perhaps it was this early experience in looking, at studying a single image, that lead me to love photography, not as an act, but as a study. Living in Rochester, New York until I was in my thirties, I often visited the Eastman Kodak Museum. Looking at one image and studying that image lead me to two of my favorite writers: Susan Sontag and John Berger. When I wrote as an art critic, I often referred to their books and to the theoretical discussions around the gaze and the problematic act of looking.

Problematic in that making eye contact with another of the opposite sex or above your social status has historically had a range of consequences including the ultimate punishment, death. Even studying an image for more than a minute or two is called "staring," which is socially labeled as misconduct or rude. To look and to examine is something small children often do and, when considering Maria Montessori's writings regarding "the absorbent mind," must.

At the movie theater, both adults and children are free to look directly at something which they are otherwise restricted to view in both public and private places.

I remember taking my own son to see a particular foreign film when he was around ten. I was captivated by his face as he stared at the screen. The main character of the film was a blind child. My son told me later he never looked at anyone blind before because he didn't want to embarrass them and he, himself, did not want to feel uncomfortable. The dark theater allowed him to look without social punishment.

In my classroom, I keep a slide viewer and slides (4 or 5 at a time) available for children to look at and study.

The viewer is kept by itself in a lidded box (to the right of the mirror on the shelf: image below). The slides are kept in a small, handwoven envelope (in front of the leather-looking box).

When I present the lesson, I remind the children how to hold a color tablet. The color tablet is held at its white edge.

(image above from montessorischoolofdunwoody.com/primary.htm)

I then show the child how to hold a slide at its frame and tell them to never touch the slide itself as it could damage the slide. Some slides have arrows that show which side is to be placed first in the viewer so that the image is correctly positioned for viewing. Others require looking at the label on the slide to determine which side is to placed in the viewer. Arrows can be drawn on the slides, and this is perhaps the best solution. Also, I have at times included a single, child sized, white glove as one might find in a toy magician kit. Children place the glove on the hand that will touch the slide. It is very curator-like and adds a step to the work that reinforces the care needed in using the slides.

I was given some free white gloves from CVS photo department but they were too big. So, it remains absent from the tray until I find another magician's glove (thrift store genie are you listening?).

The child places a slide in the viewer and holds down a touch sensitive button. This button turns on the back light. The child sees the slide by holding the viewer close to his eyes. When finished, the child removes the first slide, places it carefully on a small tray and then inserts the next slide for viewing.

The children are captivated by this work. I am captivated by their faces as they study the single image.

Slides have become difficult to find. Years ago, you could buy slides at museums. No longer. They have been replaced by CDs. I rely on thrift store finds for mine. I am very particular in what I want so my collection grows slowly.

The slides I prefer compliment the continent folders.

Also, I try to find slides of children from different time periods. Believe me when I tell you that children are just as amazed at "how strange" children dressed in the seventies as in 1920's or earlier. These slides are history lessons captured in a single image. When you ask them about what they are looking at. They will tell you about hair and clothing styles, about types of eyeglasses and cars. They will tell you if the people in the slide look happy or sad, young or old. They are learning to look and to examine.

Later, when they are painting a copy of an art card, this ability to see details and to capture them in both their memory and on the page comes into play.

There is no shortage of splashy, fast paced images flashed across huge commercial billboards and television\computer screens. Television screens fold down from the interior ceilings of mini-vans replacing simply looking out the window and viewing the world around you.

This constant exposure to non-stop images has been linked to hyper-activity in children. The question arises "What are children really seeing and how much of it can they take in?" Acknowledging all of this, it makes sense then that in a Montessori setting a single, color image of a woman making tortillas in Guatemala would capture a young child's attention.

For an interesting extension of this post go to http://deweydecimalca.blogspot.com/2009/10/stereographs-view-masters-and-slides-oh.html#comment-form and read about another blogger and her information on making your own stereoscope.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pumpkin Patch...The Puzzle of Language

This is the time of year that many schools have their first field trip. I remember years ago sending home permission slips to take my class to a local farm to pluck apples right from the branch and to pick a pumpkin out of the patch. I talked to my class about the trip for two weeks. Each day I reminded them of the upcoming event by reading stories about such adventures, or with art projects that included fall-leaf rubbings and apple printing. All of the children seemed so excited. All of the children but one, that is.

Each time I brought up our field trip to the pumpkin patch, Jollene's head dropped and she sighed. I remember encouraging her to engage in the project of the day. She would raise her head, look at me for a moment with the saddest face and then settle into the activity. I was really puzzled by her mood.

The day before the field trip, after reminding the children of how we were going to get to the farm (parents had volunteered to take several children in their mini-vans) and how to behave after we arrived, Jollene asked to speak with me. She looked me in the eye and said, "Miss Dyer, you and I are not going to be able to get a pumpkin patch." As she said this a tear ran down her cheek. She slowly raised her left hand. Next she cupped her left hand over the left lens of her eyeglasses and continued, "We can't get a patch because we wear glasses."

Her shoulders shook as she wept with anticipated disappointment.

I took her to the library and showed her a photograph of a pumpkin patch. She was so relieved. My heart went out to this little girl who was so upset over a misunderstanding. But, when did I ever describe a "patch" of land? It isn't one of the land forms on the geography shelf. So how would she know what it was without previous knowledge or experience?

I recently told this story to some of my fellow teachers while sitting around the staff lunch table. "That sounds just like something from an Amelia Bedelia book," one of the other teachers said. "Amelia takes everything literally," she explained. "Like when she was told to 'draw the drapes,' and she drew a picture of the drapes."

I thought about this conversation when I drove home. How much do we assume children understand, have knowledge about and can determine implied meaning? What language activities do we have in our classrooms to assist them and how can we, as their guides, choose words and give directions without assuming knowledge?

My mental conversation reminded me of a writing project I worked on a decade or so ago. My chapter in the communication textbook was focused on women's grassroots communication patterns ( My name at the time was Susan Dyer-Bennem). I wrote several pages on quilting.

After my editor reviewed my first draft, she wrote me a note stating that I needed to re-write several paragraphs as I assumed knowledge. I took for granted that individuals all over the world knew what a quilt was and how it was made. I did several sketches of quilts and then thought through each step in the construction of one. I re-wrote the paragraphs. My editor found my second draft to be much more clear and informative. I broke down the steps so that the reader could piece together the information as a quilter pieces together a coverlet.

These two moments in my life return to me again and again. They remind me to do all of the orientation games with my new students, to rotate the objects in my sound box, to present again and again classification cards, to include practical life labeling in my label the environment cards, to present the sight/puzzle words and to include more specific information in my definitions of words and descriptions of places.

Now when I talk about a pumpkin patch, I include a description of a patch of land, of a farmer, a hay wagon, types of pumpkins and apples, corn stalks that may be used in the making of scarecrows, a description of scarecrows and so much more. It slows things down a bit, but perhaps that is also the point.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Montessori Memory Game/Activity and Concept of Zero Lesson

"Look at zero and you see nothing, but look through it and you will see the world," Robert Kaplan "The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero."

Zero is a poet's puzzle. It is the single stroke of a Zen artist.

It is the circumference of a circle recalling the rim of a favorite bowl or the thin band of gold or silver that we wear on our ring finger. It is the celebrated symbol of mathematicians, young and old. As the wonderful title of Robert Kaplan book states, it is "the nothing that is."

The Memory Game:

The Montessori math exercise titled the Memory Game is a celebration of nothingness. It confirms for the teacher that the child understands zero as without quantity. It also reveals to the teacher whether or not the child is mature enough to move forward with the math materials.

Maturity in a child is not always that easy to recognize in regards to the stability of the maturity. One of my trainers, Mrs. Fernando, stated that a child who continues to use metal inset work to make rainbow pictures and to use as many colors as possible drawing hearts inside their ellipsoid outline is an immature child. She said that it did not mater how many times we asked a child not to draw butterflies and flowers all over their metal inset work if the child was too immature to resist the wonderful display of colors before them at the metal inset shelf. "Too immature to resist the colors," is a statement that still speaks to me. Instead of observing the behavior as not listening and a misuse of the materials, note that the child remains too immature to not include colorful drawings in their metal inset work.

This is the same in regards to the Memory Game. It is this game/activity that assists the teacher in determining a child's maturity while simultaneously demonstrating whether the child has or has not grasped that zero is nothing.

I have seen some very lovely Memory Games with the wooden numbers placed in hand sewn envelopes. I have also seen store bought numbers placed in small store bought envelopes. I made some for a younger class where I just used glitter paint on the underside of pre-cut pieces of felt to write the numbers. The children flipped over the felt piece, saw the number and then flipped it back over. See below:

Both worked well. What is important is that the game be done.

In eleven small (ex. 2" x 2") envelopes place one of the numbers 0-10. Place these in a lovely box or basket. Ask several(no more than eleven) children to come to the rug and make a circle. If six children are in a circle, remove five of the envelopes from the basket but make sure that the envelope with the zero is included.

Next, hand an envelope to each child. Ask them to carefully look at their number but not to show the other children. Then instruct them to either put their number back in its envelope and leave it at their spot in the circle or carry it with them as they go and gather a number of items equal to the number in their envelope. A child who gets two might go and get two flowers from a vase or if they get ten bring ten pairs of scissors to the circle.

Even if a child has not had a lesson on the hierarchical materials or chains, they may select 8 golden beads or 4 short chains (example) for this activity.

(Note: children will hide their items under their shirt (as in the first photo above), behind their backs, etc in an attempt not to let the other children see what they have chosen before their turn)

This provides them with a rare opportunity to touch materials that they have wanted lessons on but maybe aren't ready for. Too, if a child repeatedly picks the same materials that they haven't had a lesson on for this game, it reveals the child's interest in that work. This is also an excellent game to help the children become more familiar where materials are kept and to actively look at the shelves in all areas of the classroom.

The child that gets zero is to go into the environment and act like they are looking around for a specific material that they want a quantity of. They can be very clever about this. I have seen children cup their hands and then close them as if they were holding something. The mature child loves to get zero and acts like they got ten. They come to the rug with their hands cupped together. When it is their turn to show their quantity, and to see if they correctly matched it to the card in their envelope, they look each of their peers in the eye and then dramatically and happily announce, "I have zero! I have nothing!" They open their hands slowly and reveal the empty space between their palms. It can be quite a performance.

The immature child generally does not like to get zero. When the do they (a) throw it down, cross their arms and declare that they want to pick another envelope (b) cry (C) get up and go to a shelf where they get as many of a single item they can, like 15 crayons. Then when they come to the rug with their 15 crayons and reveal that they had actually got the zero, the other children then call out, "Zero is nothing." The immature is not often pleased at the declaration of their peers.

It is an important step that the child counts out the quantity of their objects in front of the other children in the circle. They then re-remove their number from their envelope and check to see if the quantity and symbol match (or in the case below, turn the number over.)

This is Cards and Counters as a movement and group activity. If the quantity does not match the number, the child immediately returns to the environment to get more or to return the extra of the specific items that they chose.

Children love this game and I am always fascinated by what some children chose. I have seen children bring flags, cotton balls, scissors, spindles and so many other objects. All of the objects in the first photo below are used in flower arranging:

Again, reinforcing where things are in the environment, the children return all of their items to the correct places on the shelves before playing again. I often play the game 5 or 6 times.

Concept of Zero:

Have several or all of the children gather in a circle. Tell them that you are going to ask each of them to do something a certain amount of times such as touch your toes four times. As the game continues and you have asked individual children to do a variety of things like jumping like a frog, spinning like a ballerina and hopping like a kangaroo, ask the next child to (ex.) do zero somersaults. When they look at you and say, "I can't. Zero is nothing," use all of your inner acting abilities and respond, "I am your teacher and I have asked that you do zero somersaults, so please do them."

(above image - jenniferwigmore.com)

The child and perhaps others will again repeat, "Zero is nothing." Then maybe cover your eyes with your hands and act like your crying and repeat the request, "Please do zero somersaults, please for me." By now the children are rolling with laughter and they will again deny your request. Then move on to the next student and ask something that can be done ex. Blow 5 kisses.

As with the first Memory game/activity, have the child count as they do the action. So they would say out loud, "One, two, three, four, five kisses." This is very important as often a child will not count out the correct amount and will have to repeat their counting and the action. (Or not, if the child is very young...its an individual call.) All the children, 2.8 through 6 love this game. Love it!!!!