Monday, August 27, 2012

In the Beginning...

First let me say that I love the first week of school.  Being in a public Montessori school is not that different from being in a private one.  The reason?  Children.  Children are eager to learn, enthusiastic, helpful, funny, and compassionate.  The child comes with everything necessary to be a valuable member of the classroom community.  The Montessori environment is always child centered and therefore the "public/private" issue is a non-issue.

That being said, I was so disappointed that Hurricane Isaac arrived and canceled the second Monday of school.  I was looking forward to one of my favorite Great Lessons.  Maria Montessori called it "God with no Hands".  I do a version that is called "The Big Bang".

I want to stress to all of you who are kindly reading this, this is an impressioistic lesson, it is meant to give the child an impression.

We set the stage by drawing the blinds, turning off the lights, and making the room as cold as possible.  We have a black balloon hanging in the center of the circle, it is filled with a bit of glitter.  We solemnly gather the children around the rug and I begin our story.

Over the past few days we have been studying the creation stories and myths of many cultures.  You have even written your own creation stories.  I want to tell you a creation story that scientist believe happened 14 million years ago.  Because it is a scientific story it is called a theory.

You will have to use your imagination.  That is how scientists work.  They use their imaginations and then find proof of their theories in the natural world.

This theory begins before you were born, before your parents were born, before your grandparents, before George Washington, before the dinosaurs, as a matter of fact, before the earth and the sun ever existed.  As a matter of fact it begins like all the creation stories we have read, "In the beginning..."

It was darker than the darkest night imaginable, light does not exist yet, it is so dark you would not be able to see your hand if you put it in front of your eyes.  It is also colder that ice.

In this blackness and coldness a singularity existed.  It was small and very heavy.  It contained the four forces of the universe, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force and gravity.

In a flash, gravity split off from the other forces (pop the balloon, turn on the flash light).  Tremendous heat emerged from this singularity.  Everything that is in the universe today was formed from this explosion which scientists call the Big Bang, even though it did not make a sound.

As the particles began to cool, hydrogen atoms began to fuse together to form the stars, bits of dust floating around the stars became planets. The particles were following the laws of the universe.  One planet contained the ability to make water.  That planet cooled enough to bring the right elements together to form life.

So when you look around you remember you are made of the same elements as everything that makes up the earth and when you look at the stars remember that the same elements that are in the stars are the same ones that you are made of.  Remember that you are made of stardust.

There are many lessons that follow this presentation about atoms, elements, stellonuecleosynthesis, gravity, states of matter, formation of the earth, and volcanoes.  But this is the big picture of the universe. All students find this lesson worthwhile which is why we present it every year.  It is the beginning.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Setting the Stage

School starts on Monday here in this part of Florida.  My co-teachers and I have been (1) Facebookworking for 3 weeks to get everything ready.  Our rooms look beautiful and it is delight and pleasure to walk into these prepared "stages" or environments.

The materials are arranged sequentially and attractively.  Books are neatly placed on the shelves.  Tables and chairs ar set up in different groupings, 1 person, 2 person, groups, and even a table to be used when sitting on the floor.  Computers are set up and seem like a natural part of the environment.  Artwork is hung and living plants placed to enhance the beauty of our set or stage for the comedy, drama, successes and discoveries of the year to come.

Now we are awaiting the entrance of the actors.  We have 32 students!  We are looking forward to forming relationships and bonds with these young people.  It has been a long time since I had a whole class of students who were new to me.  My goal for the first week of school is to start building a community.

The action will begin right away.  We have many activities planned that will help us accomplish this goal.  Personally, I would like children to feel safe, for it to be okay to make a mistake, for the atmosphere to be calm, and for all of the students to feel good about coming to school each day.

I am very excited and anticipating an outstanding year!

I want all students out there to feel this way.  Teachers do what they do because they are passionate about guiding children into self discovery.  That is where learning takes place.

So to all my old students...Remember what you've learned and go forward.  Discover your hidden talents, take advantage of the lessons the universe sends your way, and find a way to enjoy everything, even spelling!

To the students yet to come...I am looking forward to our journey together.  Together we will explore the universe, discover your strengths and passions, and take on every obstacle as a learnable moment.

Welcome back to a new school year, let's take this adventure together.  The curtain is about to go up!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Brand New

For the last week my co teachers and I have been setting up our brand new classroom.  Funny thing is that it is in a classroom where we have all taught before.  We are opening boxes of brand new materials, setting up a brand new environment, planning brand new lessons, expecting brand new children, sharing this brand new experience.  It is so exciting and yet a bit overwhelming.

My co teachers and I have joined a new school.  We have all known each other for years and have taught together before, so I am grateful for that sense of community.  We are sharing two big rooms and there is a lot that goes into setting up a Montessori environment.  

We have been thoughtful about shelf placement, number of desks vs. amount of floor space, seating arrangements, natural lighting, creating attractive arrangements of the materials, and the all important sequence; left to right, top to bottom, concrete to abstract, big picture to smallest details.  Our  environment is beginning to look beautiful.  There is a cohesive design between the two rooms.

There are many new things for us to learn.  Computer programs, strategic intent, names, who to direct our questions to, how to get help when we need it, and how to call in sick are just a few of the things we need to know.

So we are putting in a lot of time with just these items in order to be ready for the first day.  That will bring the brand new students who we will form relationships with, getting to know their learning styles, their preferences, and their strengths and challenges.  

As a seasoned professional this whirlwind of activity has been exciting, exhausting and at times a bit frustrating.  I am sure students feel this way when in a new school or even just a new class.  New teachers, new procedures, new subjects and new friends all take an adjustment period.

This exercise in "newness" has reminded me how the students feel.  I love Montessori because we can take the time to process and adjust to all the experiences that come our way.  I plan on being patient this year.  I am on a learning curve and so are the students.  I like to group 3 words together as a mantra for the year.  This year I will be 
patient, persistent, and positive.

So go buy brand new school supplies, brand new school clothes, and be ready for brand new lessons.  Choose 3 words that will help you focus.  I will look back on the 2012 - 13 school year and say that

I was patient, persistent, and positive with every challenge, person, and lesson.  Our students all grew academically and personally.  It was an outstanding experience!