Upper Elementary East Update: Week of Nov. 17, 2014

Many of you have seen the “First Flight” video on our Facebook page and pictures from the Remembrance Day ceremony; above is a short video of the Upper Elementary peace dove on it’s way to the ceremony last week. Terrence explained how it all came about.

“Last year we did some work with music about Remembrance Day, some old time war songs,” said Terrence. “This year we were talking about what to do and remembering not just the people who fought but also our wish to have peace. We talked about the symbols for peace and I’d seen plans to make a giant puppet of a peace dove and suggested we could make it and fly it down to the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. The children thought that was pretty neat so I brought in the plans and we went ahead and built it.”

Children from both Upper Elementary classes collaborated on the construction.

“It was a mixed group,” said Terrence, “and part of what we needed to do was figure out how to use a sewing machine, so [Strata Montessori guide] Sarah gave us some lessons about how to use the sewing machine and then we let the students test it out by sewing together the wings of the dove.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 sit

Sitting comfortably(??) and reading.

As you know from previous updates, a long-term novel study activity is taking place in Upper Elementary right now, and children are taking time each day sit quietly (and comfortably?) to read.

“Novel study has been part of our week now for four weeks,” said Terrence. Students from both Upper Elementary environments have been placed into mixed groups based on interest for the novel study. “Kathleen is teaching two groups; I’m teaching two groups, and [DVMS Learning Resource Specialist] Marissa is teaching a group. We have such a variety of readers in the class that we wanted to make sure we accommodated everyone’s needs and we needed another teacher. It’s going great. We have five novels on the go and different people are working on different projects. There’s a lot peer cross-teaching going on. If one person’s learning literary devices like metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, that kind of thing, and in another group they’re not, they start to talk about it and teach it to other people.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 discobs

An animated discussion, and an observer from another Montessori school learning how we do things.

Upper Elementary East had an observer from another Montessori school spend a morning in the environment this past week.

“The classroom can sometimes feel like a bit of a fishbowl,” said Terrence of the high number of observers that ask to come and see DVMS in action, “but it’s really nice to invite people from outside our school community to sit in and see what our Montessori environment looks like. This teacher came from Oakville and wanted to see how we do things. After the morning cycle we had a little chat and shared some ideas so we get the best practices from their school coming to us and the best practices from our school going to them.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 sub

Having fun while practising subtraction. Honestly. Look.

“At the beginning of this year I set up a math group for students who wanted to opt into it that would do quick mental math using ways we weren’t taught in school to calculate,” explained Terrence of the action above. “A lot of them find it challenging to jump to new ways and you can see the expression on this student’s face when she realized ‘Oh my gosh! This is so fast, when I follow a new set of logic to get to the answer.’ We’re doing subtraction with 3-digit numbers and we’re trying to do it in one step instead of doing all the carrying and hen-scratching that we would’ve been taught in school.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 timeline

Getting down with a Montessori timeline.

Upper East also had one of the Montessori timeline materials out this week.

“This is the second timeline of the old Stone Age,” said Terrence. “It takes us from the end of pre-history into the beginnings of history — from the time human beings weren’t writing into the times that they were, and the big transition is the agricultural revolution when we started to use the land to grow food and raise animals so we didn’t have to move every time we needed to get more food. We could stay more focused on a certain geography.

“They’re used as a jumping off point for discussions about how humans may have lived their lives and used the three basic tools that we talked about before: the mind, the hands, and the sense of love for community,” Terrence explained about how the timelines are used in a Montessori environment. “It’s also used as an image when we think about our own community. These humans struggled to have a community without any of the modern technologies we have today, but a lot of the things they struggled for are the same as the things we struggle for in our own classroom community, there’s that parallel.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 binom

Working with one of their “old friends,” the Montessori Binomial Cube they first met in Casa.

“A lot of the kids have had their hands on this since they were 3- or 4-years-old,” said Terrence about these Upper Elementary students working with the Montessori Binomial Cube material. “Back then it’s just an interesting puzzle with some colours and not a lot is said about it. Now, I’m introducing the concept of algebra and how ‘algebra’ is an ancient word that means ‘bone setter,’ because when something is broken you need to balance it back out, or fix it, so if you’re doing any question you’re doing algebra because you have an equals sign — which is the balance between one side and the other side, so we brought the Binomial Cube out to move to an algebraic expression. We said, ‘This cube, we’re going to name ‘A’; and this cube we’re going to name ‘B’; and this cube we’re going to name ‘C.’ Now, based on that, can we derive names for all of the different components of the Binomial Cube?’ Here they are labelling them with name tags so that we can express it with algebra.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 practice

A practice run-through of a project presentation, on robots.

“This is a project that these girls proposed themselves,” said Terrence. “We have a way of proposing projects where they fill out the basics and submit it to one of the guides. When we sign off on it they can work either with classmates in their own environment, or between the two classes.

“One of these girls brought in a kit of components that plugged together in different ways: there was whistle, and a circuit board, and a light — they can create their own little things that do different tasks like flick a switch or spin a propeller. After that they got interested in, ‘Well, this is really just a little robot and we want to know more about more  sophisticated robots.’ So they wanted to do this project and here they are rehearsing their presentation.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 visc

Exploring viscosity via slime in the science area of the Upper Elementary environments.

Science is a both a specific activity in Upper Elementary at Dundas Valley Montessori School, but it is also integrated into a number of different curriculum areas.

“It’s a part of our culture that helps us understand the physical world,” said Terrence, “so it’s used a lot in geography in Montessori, and it’s used a lot even in history, and it’s used a lot just to make an impression.

“Here they’re doing an experiment with corn starch and water and they can see the different effects of viscous and semi-viscous — viscosity. And it’s another chance to make a mess and be responsible for cleaning it up.

“One of the ways they can propose a project is as a science experiment, and if they do that they follow the scientific method. They start off with what they’re going to do and what materials they’ll require and what they’re hypothesis is. If that’s approved they can go on with the rest of the method.”

UEE WkNov17 2014 meet

Upper Elementary East convening to discuss how things are going and what they can do differently.

Upper East also took some time this week to gather the entire community together to discuss how their community is functioning.

“Things happen in the community and things need to be addressed by the entire community, so sometimes it’s important to sit down and hear what other people have to say, to get it out in the open. We started off by going around and having everybody contribute one thing they thought was great about this year, that’s going really well. It could be something personal, could be something with their work, or it could be something about the class. We kept tabs of what those things were. Then we did the same thing with challenges or things they’d like to see fixed in some way. We didn’t ask for solutions, we just asked for what the thing was. We marked down how many people had an issue with each thing. Once we had gone round the circle we said ‘Let’s tackle the ones that are the most important problems for the community.’ They identified, for example, that at the beginning of the day there were never enough pencils for everybody — whose responsibility is that and how can we get to that person and say ‘We need you to take responsibility, your job is important and we need you to actually do it.’ We brainstormed some solutions to such problems that were better than if I had just told them ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ They have some buy-in to it; they are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the answer.”

Terrence continued that this is something he wants to try to do monthly.

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