Thursday, September 10, 2009
Metal Inset and Fraction Work - Don't Forget the Frames
I have observed children in many different classrooms doing metal inset work using only the insets having left the metal frames on the shelf. In my training, we never left the metal frame at the shelf. Both the inset and the frame were meant to be brought to the table together.
The child is suppose to first trace the inside rim of the frame without the inset.
The child then removes the frame, positions the inset over the initial outline and then draws the outside rim of the inset. When the inset is lifted there are two outlines - not one.
Regarding the empty space of the frame, this space is a visual reference for the child when they are drawing around the rim of the inset. If the child looks up for a moment from their work, they see before them the image of the shape they are tracing. Often a child's hands cover the majority of the inset's shape. I have heard many children say out loud to themselves something like, "Ellipsoid. Okay, now I remember," when they are doing metal inset work and forget for a second what shape they are tracing. They stop in the middle of the work, hold their hands still, visually check the frame's empty space (which echoes the shape they are tracing) and then complete their work.
A second work that I have observed children leave half of on the shelf is the fraction circles, specifically the metal, Montessori fraction circles. This material is both a sensorial and a math material. Four year olds should be using this work to simply manipulate the material and position/reposition the fractions into the formation of a whole or 1.
In regards to its use as a math material, the frames need to come to the table or floor with the fraction insets or a major element of the work is missing. Maria Montessori built into these materials zero. When the child lifts the whole circle representing 1 from its frame what remains is an empty circle or more specifically zero. Don't leave the zero on the shelf. Also, each time one of the fractions is removed from its frame the negative or empty space represents the absent quantity.
If the metal insets didn't need the frames to be brought to the table then why have them and their space occupying shelf? The same could be asked of the fraction materials. If the frames have no significance than why purchase them? The answer is of course that they do have a significance. They are part of the presentation/lesson.
In the photo above you can see that both the inset and the frame where brought to the table by the child. But, (and I have talked to both AMS and AMI trainers about this and they agree) look at how the child's wrist is lifted up onto the rim of the tray. This lift in the wrist is maintained while the child (not seen in photo) bends their wrist down so as to lower the pencil to meet the paper. This is not a proper positioning for a child to write or draw. The metal inset work is a preliminary writing material. This lift in the wrist is actually a similar positioning to that made by adults that work at older computer keyboards. Many of these adults suffer from a wrist injury commonly known as carpal tunnel syndrome. I never write on a tray. Do you?
Also, the materials in the photograph are too crowded and the child does not have ample room to use them. Metal inset work should not be done on a tray. And yes, I too have seen the lovely metal inset work trays sold by various Montessori material companies.
But, at the AMI Centennial Conference in San Francisco, the trainers warned teachers not to be seduced by unnecessary and, at times, inappropriate materials. Believe me, I have purchased my fair share of similar materials at various conferences. Some of these materials are wonderful extensions to the Montessori work, but others do not serve the child and their development.
Next winter when the AMS National Conference is in Boston, I am sure I will be right up there at one table or another eyeballing all of the Montessori candy. If you see me there remind me of this post...