Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cultural Extensions

We love cultural lessons!  I believe they are the heart and soul of the Montessori Elementary classroom.  We try to link everything possible to our cultural journey, which begins with The First Great Lesson and follows the Great Lessons through the year.  Through observation, we noticed that some students were having a hard time expanding their exploration of the lessons past doing the nomenclature layout repeatedly.  We would encourage different extensions but if a teacher wasn't available to encourage exploration the students would continue with what was comfortable. Then, we hit on an idea that allowed the students to be more independent- extension cards with ideas!  I had a concern at first that the students would think that they could ONLY do what was on the cards, so we made sure to emphasize that the cards were just ideas and that we would love to see what the students came up with.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our Cosmic Journey...

We ended the first week of school with the presentation of the First Great Lesson by our third years.  This has become a tradition in our class which the first and second years eagerly look forward to each year.  Last year, we had the fun idea of presenting the charts on our projector so they could be seen more easily.

The First Great Lesson is our springboard into lessons on space, stars, gravity, the Earth, rocks and minerals, volcanoes, mountains, the water cycle and more.  This year we also did some nebula art...

When do you present the First Great Lesson?  What special/different traditions have you added?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Transitioning to Lower Elementary- Who's Your Buddy?

The first day of school was momentous for one third of our class-  it was their first day in Lower Elementary!  We have found that the first year students' transition is to Montessori as beginning Kindergarten is to traditional schooling.  The first year students, having spent three years in their comfortable Primary classroom, have to leave the nest and hesitantly flap into our classroom- well, some glide in confidently, but the majority are cautious and slightly nervous.

After observing the difficulties of the transition for a few years, we decided to  pair up our first year students with a third year "buddy" to help them acclimate to the new environment.  While our Lower Elementary class retains many similarities from Primary, just navigating the new room and finding lessons can be daunting.  Our third year buddies relish their leadership role and gain important skills in patience and mentoring.  After the first week or two, the first year students gain confidence and rely on their buddies less and less.

Third year buddies helping new first year students during the first week of class.

 We'd love to hear how you help your first years transition to Lower Elementary!

Kick It Up a Notch!

Extension work can be one of the more dynamic parts of a Montessori classroom.  A few years ago we started calling our extension work "Kick It Up a Notch" work in honor of those young inventors Phineas and Ferb.  It also exactly describes what the purpose of an extension of a lesson is- to take the vocabulary learned or the basic concept and to elaborate, take it further and add some critical thinking components to it.

This second year student is working on a Kick It card for the Mesozoic Era of the Timeline of Life.

I feel that the ideal is to always let the student choose what he/she wants to do to "kick it up a notch", but we have found that sometimes students avoid extension work because they can't think of what to do.  To help with this, we started making Kick It cards that we place with each lesson.  Each card has customized suggestions for extensions for that particular lesson.  We tell the students that these are just some ideas to get their juices flowing- we love it when they come up with their own extension ideas.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Projects- the best of all worlds!

I believe one of the most dynamic and student-driven parts of the Lower El. Curriculum is the project.  The students love to choose a topic that interests them and research (read about) it, then write and draw to share what they have learned with others.  Ten years ago, when I started teaching in a Montessori Lower El class, our projects were a nebulous idea, something that the students worked on occasionally and rarely finished, since there was no formal process.  One of my Montessori gurus steered me in the right direction and gave me a project form to help guide the students in the process. (see above)  Over the years, we have tweaked the process and the form numerous times.  Most recently, we added a rubric to the form, helping students understand what the expectations for their work were.  When the students are finished with their project, we go over the rubric together and they self-evaluate (with a little input from me).

Why is the project such a meaningful learning experience?
-it is based on student choice!  I have read several articles lately on the power of student choice.  I love it when mainstream educational research "discovers" what Montessorians have known for years!
-it is interdisciplinary.  Working on a project ties reading, writing, content area subjects, graphing, and more together, making learning relevant to the real world.
-it allows students to practice skills (finding the main idea, writing expository paragraphs, etc.) in a  meaningful way.
-it provides a framework to develop and practice higher-order thinking skills.
-it builds teamwork and cooperative learning skills.  In our class, students self-select a partner (if they like) for their project.
-it provides a meaningful venue for public speaking when the student presents the project to the class.

I could go on and on about the benefits of projects!  Do you use independent projects in your class?  What has worked well/not worked for you?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our Classroom Constitution

Another beginning of the year ritual is the constructing of our classroom constitution (I know, it's a mouthful!).  We always have an end in mind (the guidelines we want to end up with), but it's important to let the students guide the process.  We ask the students what they think the rules need to be for the class and record all of the suggestions.  Then, we go through and compile any that are similar, broaden any that are too narrow and phrase them in a positive way.  For example, instead of don't hit others, don't kick others, don't punch others, etc., we will rephrase it to- We will respect others' personal space.  After everyone agrees to the final draft, some of the students copy it onto a poster and all the students in the class sign it.  We hang it on the wall so everyone can see it.

Last year, we added a rights and responsibilities section to our constitution.

It is powerful because the students create it! We refer back to it during the year when a conflict arises or if a student is having a hard time meeting classroom expectations.

Beginning of the Year Routines

It's always so much fun getting everything ready for a new school year, even though it can be an exhausting first month!  It's important to establish a routine for as many class procedures as possible, because it will eliminate chaos and confusion.  One really important procedure (for my sanity) is our classroom chore chart.  We have thirty-six students, so it can get pretty messy after a busy day!  Since we have so many students, we pair our younger students with an older student so we have buddy pairs that work together.  We also don't do all of the chores at the same time, so that all 36 students are not trying to clean at once!  Some chores are completed before lunch (snack monitors, cubby monitors, lunchroom assistants, etc.) and some are completed right before dismissal (area monitors, floors, dusters, etc.).  The students really enjoy helping to take care of their classroom and the working on the practical life opportunities that the chores afford!

Another really important routine for us is the lunch count/attendance board.  Our students can bring lunch, order lunch, or order milk.  Throughout the years, we have tried several different methods of gathering this information each morning, looking for the method that affords the students the most independence.  We finally hit on this board.  Each student has a peg with their name, and he/she puts up a tag each morning as they walk in the door- blue- brought lunch, red- ordering lunch and white- ordering milk.  Then, a teacher records the students who are ordering lunch on a sheet and it is sent to the office.  This also allows the teachers to also easily see who is absent each day.

What are some classroom routines that you find helpful to establish?