Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fanning the flame...

One of the many things that I think is a brilliant part of Montessori education is that the students are not graded. Each student is guided to work to the best of *their* ability, not matter what other students are doing. What we most often see is that students work far beyond what would have earned them an "A" if we had been grading them.

There is no artificial stopping point. In a tradition system the "stopping point" is when the student has done enough work to get the desired or expected grade. With no grades the stopping point is when the child has satisfied their need at the level at which they are capable. We build on the child's natural interest in the world around them - we wait for a spark of inspiration and then we fan the flame.

I have a boy in my class who is seven and a half years old (almost exactly). He came to me to tell me that he was doing a research about helicopters. I helped him find some books - some from our classroom and some from the library.

He asked for some guidance on how to approach it. We sat together and came up with some guide questions that he was curious about that he could answer as the basis for his research. These included questions like, "Who first thought of helicopters?" and "How are they different from airplanes?"

He read several books about helicopters and he also read a book about Leonardo da Vinci when he read that da Vinci had thought of a helicopter-like machine. Then, with his books *closed*, he answered his questions in full sentences. These were his notes.

After he had taken his notes we cut them apart and arranged them into sections of similar topic. These became his paragraphs. When we had arranged them he saw that he needed to clarify two of his notes and he did so.

He then recopied this all as his "rough draft" and I *loosely* corrected his spelling. I stress that I did this loosely, because he is seven years old (a "second grader" in traditional school). He is not expected to be a perfect speller. I corrected things that would have been difficult for others to understand and some common words that he could be expected to spell correctly. I left much of his spelling uncorrected.

He used this corrected rough draft as his guide for his final draft. He used his best handwriting (though you can see that he got slightly sloppier on the second page as he anticipated being done). He did a beautiful job and was so, so proud of himself. He then did the illustrations and glued them into the report (it was done on a large sheet of lined paper folded in half to make a booklet). A cover was made and the report sewed into it (by the child) using a pamphlet stitch.

Now he wants to make a large paper-mache model of a helicopter. We'll start tomorrow!

A helicopter is a vehicle that can fly. A helicopter can hover, fly straight up and down, fly backwards and forwards, and some kinds can fly oblique. In Greek the word "helicopter" means spiral and wing.

Leonardo da Vinci had the first idea of a helicopter. He spent most of his childhood in a village called Vinci, and his adulthood in Florence. Around 1503 he made the first helicopter. It was based on a toy. As far as we know no body flew in it.

Unlike airplanes, helicopters do not have wings and have their rotors on top. Most helicopters have 1 set of rotors, but some have two. There are many colors of helicopters. These include the gray US navy helicopters, the red and white Coast Guard helicopters and the blue police helicopters.

Helicopters are used for several uses. Some uses are: rescuing people, carrying soldiers to war, and putting out fires. The helicopter has changed a lot in time. Helicopters have been made bigger and sleeker and faster.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Define "tie" (the verb)

Yesterday I was doing a presentation about prefixes to two students, one age 6 and one age 7. I was using alphabet tiles and putting down root words in blue. The first word I put down was "play." We talked about the different meanings of the word, not too difficult to define. Then we would make the root word again in blue, and I would add "a little bit" to the beginning to change its meaning ("re-", "dis-") and we would talk about the new meaning now that we'd added the "little bit," which we later termed "prefix."

We did several words this way. For the children to define a term without using the term in their definition was challenging, but they put forth a good effort and did a great job. I was, though, blown away by the seven year olds definition of the verb "tie."

First he said, "you know, to tie a knot." When I challenged him to define it without using the word "tie" he got quiet a minute to think, and then...

"well, to secure a bow."

I couldn't have said it better myself...really.

An experiment

Welcome to this experimental blog. I'll attempt, here, to reflect upon my experiences as a Montessori elementary teacher and director of a school. Montessori teaching is very rewarding, fascinating, and challenging. I'll also share some of the fascinating interactions with the children in my class, an amazing and wonderful group of people ages 6 through 12 years.