Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gathering Creative Ideas

Prior to my Montessori training last year, I was never that interested in crafts.  I didn't feel I had the patience for handcrafts or art in general.  However, with Saturdays upon Saturdays (I had Saturday classes) of exposure to creative teacher-made materials, I must say it began to rub off.  The kicker was when we were taught hand-sewing, cross-stitching and crochet.  I found myself doing sewing projects, buying fabric, and buying books on crochet. 

I have to say that now I am constantly in search of fun crafts and art project ideas for kids.  So when the fair came around this year, I made sure to visit the crafts building. In fact, I had the chance to visit two different fairs this past week: the Spokane County Fair and the Puyallup Fair.  I decided to take pictures of the children art projects and 4-H to create a visual idea bank for future reference.  I suppose as a newer teacher, I do not have a full "bag of tricks" yet, so I must search for and borrow ideas from others; however I can imagine this being a life-long process. 

   Painted brown paper                                           Bug Collection!!

A ship made from toothpicks.                              Simple, yet beautiful.

This one below has fashion designs
made from colorful paper cut-outs.                           
Quite creative and fun. 

         Colorful eggshell art                                Origami animal display

The following are from the Puyallup Fair, and are from mostly high school students:

       3-D painted paper octopus                     paper art

   more 3-D painted paper               scratchboard

This one would make a nice project:

It is sketched and labeled parts of a mountain bike
with a clay model laying below the sketch. 

While some of these art projects are from skilled, experienced students, they provide more ideas to go back to.  Here are some nice posterboard presentations that I saw as well:

     Life of a prarie child                    Lee vs. Grant by a 12-yr-old

  This particular presentation was awarded the grand prize. I only have the
 top part of the poster, as well as the wooden ant model.

This was a beautiful presentation made
of the Bloomsday race, which is held
in Spokane, WA every year. Below
this was a 3-D model of the race
course.  Amazing work.

While my intention was to gather new ideas, I wanted to also note that it is important to remember what children are really capable of.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcome to India

   This week we began our culture/history theme of the Mughals and India.  My co-teacher happens to be from India, so she is - of course - quite knowledgable of the region and its history.  She spent her weekend preparing the classroom, decorating much of the room with clothes and other interesting items from India. 
   On Monday we had the students gather in the other classroom while we got ready the materials for a special Indian welcoming ceremony.  She had a tray with 2 small homemade oil lamps and rose water, and she handed me garlands she had made from streamers wrapped together.  We had the students line up outside the classroom and enter one by one. 
As they entered, my co-teacher first sprinkled the rose water on them, then swirled the candles around in front of them.  After that I placed the garland around their necks.  As the students entered they saw a classroom decorated with beautiful objects from India.
Once they had all entered and sat down on chairs that had been lined up near the computer to watch a short video, my co-teacher gave them an explanation of the greeting, and answered questions they had.  The students watched a short video on India that showed different images with accompanying music.  Following this short video clip, the students asked questions about India. 


Later on throughout the day, the students were encouraged to explore the culture shelves which contained many beautiful objects from India.
One particular thing the students were encouraged to try was the "Indian mouth-freshener" - a combination of spices that leave a nice taste in your mouth, however it is an acquired taste. 

Indian mouth-freshener

On the shelf, she also had common Indian spices on a tray, and in bottles - all with nice labels.
The wall next to the culture shelves is decorated with beautiful Indian clothes.
It takes a lot of work, but the children are so much more engaged when you take the time to "prepare the environment."  I was quite impressed by all the effort my co-teacher put in, and wanted to share this lesson with all of you. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Classroom

My coteacher and I had two weeks before school began to thouroughly prepare our classrooms.  Because the main classroom we are working from is a tight fit, meaning that not all the appropriate sections will fit in that classroom, we decided to utilize the classroom right across the hall.  After getting feedback from an experienced coworker, we decided to have the geography, culture, history, science, and language sections in one classroom, and the geometry and math materials in the other classroom. 

Last year was our first year as Montessori teachers, so our classroom dramatically changed from the previous year.  Such was this case this year as well- furniture was moved around, materials added to the shelves, new ideas implemented.  Our newly-acquired awareness of the importance of the prepared environment made us quite particular, but also at a loss at times because we are still fairly new to Montessori. 

The following are photos of our main classroom.  We give culture lessons here, and the students conduct their research, do their reading and writing here as well. 

This is a photo of our classroom library, showing the comfy bean bags for students to feel comfortable. 

This is our circle area, even though we have "big" kids (ages 9-12), we still have circle as it is a nice way to begin the class, and a more unified way of sitting rather than in desks or tables.  I feel the circle is much more intimate, the children are all sitting next to each other and everyone is facing one another.  Everyone is literally at the same level: seated on the floor, including the teachers.  If you'll notice on the shelves, we have our culture and science sections.  We were just studying a mini-theme of Ramadan, including the phases of the moon.  Our next theme will be of the Mughal empire in India.

The photos from the language section did not turn out, so I will post those later.

The follow photos are taken from our other classroom:

This is the math section, with all math materials on surrounding shelves.  You'll notice there are still empty shelves, we are still in the process of acquiring all materials. 

Here is our geometry section.  As you will notice, again our shelves are bare: materials are so expensive!  But our generous parent teacher organization allocated $2000 for math and geometry materials.  However, fellow Montessorians will all understand that that is not nearly enough, but it's a start! 

This is student seating, and the teacher's desk in the back.  The shelves along the wall are for art materials.

Welcome to our classrooms!  Now, we have 17 students, and are thinking of changing it around, as 17 do not fit in our main classroom at the same time, so we are trying to figure out what to do.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Phases of the Moon Work Board

Last week I decided to give a lesson on the Phases of the Moon, to introduce the lunar calendar to our students.  My Montessori training program included masters for all the phases of the moon.  I copied, cut out and colored lightly each phase and pasted it to a darker outline of the moon.  Last spring I attempted to make this same material, but I failed to superimpose the moon phase onto the dark gray moon outline. My instructors corrected me, explaining how the gray outline is necessary in order to give a more realistic dipiction of the shape of the moon and how the shape of the moon remains constant, but the light relfected is what changes. 

Here is the final product which I used to give my lesson last week. I also provided a work board, wherein the students match the name of the phase with the moon phase itself.

While we could have purchased a material like this, teacher-made materials are important to have in the classroom.  First of all, if the teacher makes the material, he/she understands it entirely - including possible extension activites, as well as the limitations of the material.  The teacher is also more attached to the matieral and the students know this and are more likely to respect the material.  Also, when the students see the teacher making materials, they feel more confident that they, too, can make their own (Here, for example, students would feel more confident making their own phases of the moon chart). 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Setting Limits in the Classroom, by Robert J. Mackenzie

Although nothing can take the place of years under the belt, and observations of experienced teachers, I really really wish I had read the book Setting Limits in the Classroom: How to Move Beyond the Classroom Dance of Discipline before I dove head first into my first year of teaching.  One particular section in the book is titled "Mistaken Beliefs About Structure", and I must say I possessed all of the following mistaken beliefs: (summarized excerpt from the above mentioned book)

1.  Teaching rules is the parents' job. 
        Reality: In the classroom, teaching rules in the teacher's job, but the parents can help. 
  What would you think if a parent called you at home one evening to complain? "I can't get Jason to clean up his room," says the frustrated parent.  "He knows what he's supposed to do. Would you talk to him?"
   Would you think this was a little strange? Aren't parents supposed to be the primary authority figures in the home?  ... The same principle applies to the classroom, in which teachers are the primary authority figures. 

(As obvious as this may seem, it is quite easy to think of just calling a student's parents instead of getting them to behave yourself. As a lost, inexperienced teacher, calling the parents - or even threatening to contact parents can become an overused crutch and ultimately loses any of its initial effectiveness.)

2. Children should know what I expect.
    Reality: Students need time to learn your rules and expectations.

(Just because a student had attended school before and has been in a classroom setting - never assume he/she knows how to behave.  Different teachers have different expectations of behavior.  It is unrealistic and unfair to assume students know what you expect. Again, this seems obvious in theory; however it is all too easy to forget to communicate what you expect until misbehavior occurs.)

3. I can't afford to take precious time away from instruction.
   Reality: You can't afford not to.  Pay up front and invest the necessary time in teaching your rules effectively, or do a sloppy job and pay as you go...Effective structure is one of the cheapest and least time-consuming forms of classroom management.

(This is much easier to remember if you realize that you should not just focus on the academic side of the child, but the child as a whole.  This is one of the benefits of the Montessori curriculum, there is an emphasis on focusing on the child as a whole.)

4. If I cover my rules thoroughly in the beginning of the year, I shouldn't need to do it again.
   Reality: Rules need to be taught, practiced, reviewed, retaught, and practiced some more.
How many complicated lessons do you teach with full mastery in two weeks or less? Not reading, or math, or spelling, or science...Why should it be different with the complicated lesson of teaching classroom rules?

5.  Explaining my rules to children should be enough.
   Reality: Rules need to be taught with words and actions, not words alone.

6. Children won't take me seriously unless I'm strict.
  Reality: Being strict without being respectful will not earn the willing cooperation of most students. 
     Children respond best when rules are communicated with firmness and respect, but firmness down not mean harshness.  Fear and intimidation provide no lasting basis for cooperation.

7. If children hear my rules often enough, the message will begin to sink in.
    Reality: Actions speak louder than words. 
  Imagine that you're a fifth-grade teacher.  You've told your students repeatedly that it's not OK to arrive in class late from recess, but day after day the same group of kids shows up late, and nothing happens but the same old lecture.  Why should they take you seriously?  What would convince them that you are really serious about their prompt arrival?
   Now let's say you decide to take a different approach.  The next time your students show up late, they see you standing at the door with a stopwatch.  You click the watch as the last student enters and announce, "You guys owe me eight minutes - two minutes for every one that you arrived late. You'll be staying in class the first eight minutes of your next recess."
  These guys really like recess.  Do you think the message will get across?  What convinced them - your words?  or your effective action?

8. Students resent firm rules and teachers that make them.
   Reality: Students respect teachers who establish clear, firm classroom rules, particularly when those rules are communicated in a respectful manner.
   When rules are clear, firm, and carried out in a consistent and respectful manner, students know where they stand and what is expected.  There is less need for testing.

(This has been my particular weakness.  I have always lacked a firmness in my approach.  My first year was the most difficult because I lacked the structure necessary to keep the students from controlling the class.  Last year I learned more, and I'm hoping this year I can be even more firm.  I think I'm starting out that is only the second day of school.)

9. When my students sense that I care, they will cooperate.
   Reality: Caring is important, but caring alone is not enough to achieve consistent cooperation.
   Caring and firm limits work hand in hand, but caring without firm limits will not earn you the respect of many of your strong-willed students.

10. Male teachers make the best disciplinarians.
   Reality: In the classroom, power and authority belong to those who exercise them. 

I hope this tid-bit of knowledge can be of benefit to someone; I highly recommend this book for teachers and for parents.