Hello from elementary! It is now February. We’ve had a lot of stops and starts with snow days and illness, but it is a new month and we are ready to get back to work.
In our class, there are usually many different things going on at the same time. This makes each day exciting and offers many opportunities for children to learn from each other. I love working with the children to orchestrate a healthy learning environment. I keep a running record of lesson ideas and then gather groups of children who are ready to have particular lessons each morning. There is much emphasis on returning to complete follow-up work after a lesson and on ‘finishing what you start.’ This often means (groan) looking in your binder to see what needs to be completed. Here, the children are so excited to learn new things that they want to be invited to new lessons. It is, however, important to return to concepts to gain mastery or to practice a skill…not busy-work, but an opportunity for the child to see for himself if he understands. This is also a time for me to ask questions and observe the children to see if they understand. Recently, I have given lessons and observed children working on some of the following concepts: decimal fractions, calculation of area and volume, implied lines in art, creating balance in an artistic composition, the Zones of the earth, the timeline of early humans, the story of geometry, using words containing certain phonograms in sentences, research on the Rosetta Stone, subtraction with borrowing, the commutative law and measurement of perimeter. Of course, the children are still excited about woodworking (making constellations with wood plugs) and there is an ongoing flag craze. I am working on a second stage of research questions for the students that regularly research states and countries. Perhaps you will hear your child talking about some of these things at home.
Surprisingly there has also been a renewed interest in learning multiplication facts. Some of our older children now know their facts well and this has allowed them to move forward rapidly in certain lessons. Other children are watching and I have observed them (ah, the beauty of Montessori), self-motivating to practice with materials in the classroom that build these skills. Unfortunately, this will go away if you insist that your child practice at home. The question of how to get children to learn their math facts is one that I am asked often by parents. In Montessori, the goal is to first reach a strong understanding of the concept. For example, a child will first have an addition lesson with the golden beads (using units, tens, hundreds and thousands). The impression of adding two numbers together and getting a larger number is important. The child will continue to use materials to work through addition problems and will by nature of this practice gain experience with math facts. The facts come naturally by using materials that have fact practice built in or by playing games in a small group in which the children challenge themselves to get faster/better. Some examples of materials that build skills with facts (we have many) are work with the bead chains, laying out beads on the checkerboard, work with the finger-charts, filling in tables (that prepare for other lessons), and laying out the multiplication tables with beads. The idea is to get the children practicing their facts in a way that is self-correcting and fun (often because it leads to some exciting result in the lesson…the exposure of a pattern, for example). Be careful about asking a child to recite facts at home as a means of testing their mathematical understanding. Often, a child is working on a concept with the materials at school and then has an “ah-ha” moment in which connections are made. Also keep in mind that the Montessori materials are self-correcting and so allow the child to correct his/her work without feeling the judgement of getting an answer wrong when asked by a parent, friend, etc.. Finally, keep in mind that the way math was presented to most of us in school was so that we could regurgitate facts and formulas on tests. The Montessori emphasis is on understanding then facts.
I look forward to seeing you at the elementary gathering on February 6th at the Miller Building. Our Valentine exchange will take place on February 13th this year, as there is no school on the 14th. I encourage you to help your child make his/her own Valentines to exchange with classmates during the schoolday. The Valentines are much more meaningful this way and they are beautiful in their uniqueness.
Finally, I would like to thank Amy for coordinating with her brother-in-law Adama to have an African drum lesson in our class. This event was spontaneous and wonderful. Adama brought enough drums for each child to play his/her own. He taught the children some basic rhythms and introductions and then practiced with the children for about an hour and a half. The afternoon was a lot of fun! Thanks to Adama and Amy!