I drew a triangular tree on the top left side of the chalkboard and divided the image into triangles. Too, I assigned each triangle a number as I counted how many triangles there were in total.
Then I drew a second triangular tree and asked if any of my students wanted to repeat the work I had just completed with this singular image. I had a child volunteer instantly.
After she worked for almost thirty minutes, a second elder approached me and asked I they could also do the work. As there was room on the chalkboard, I agreed but drew a bowed gift box instead. She looked at it, got a ruler and went to work.
Here are a dozen or more photographs of their work. Note that the children wrote all but a few of the numbers written on the triangles. When the chalk broke a few times, I assisted. It was simply amazing watching them work.
(Note : The board was washed by a younger student just prior to my initial work. I am repainting the chalkboard over the holidays. )
(Above: My chalkboard sketch to help visualize the poem during our first reading of it in class today.)
This is the December poem for Elders to recite for declamation in my class. If you click "December poem" you may hear it read out loud.
There is a large solstice celebration here in Juneau, Alaska on Sa
ndy Beach which I am excited to attend for the first time this year. Sandy Beach is just behind my school, so this poem is perfect for my students.
Winter Solstice Chant
by Annie Finch
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end -
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.
Poetry is interpretive. I talk about metaphor in poetry and creative writing often with my students. I want to give them poems to recite that invite them to think about the coupling of imagery and language. This is a creative writing / language lesson.
(After reading and explaining the poem - I added the sun's return in the right corner. I also explained that the sun is in fact always shining.)
My elders have memorized their first poem. It is such a wonderful thing to listen to them recite it. Just before lunch, every day, we have a moment of silence which is then followed by our pre-lunch song - "The Earth is good to me and so I thank the Earth for giving me the things I need - the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Earth is good to me."
Two or three times a week now, after the moment of silence and before the song, I say "Declamation." I then call a child's name and then another's until all of the elders who wish to recite their poems have. It is not a demand but an opportunity. Therefore, a child may say, "I decline," or some other similar and brief statement. The younger students are simply captivated when listening to the elders recite. Too, one of my elders has a Broadway stage-like presence. When she does her declamation, she includes a lot of hand gestures. I love it.
Each month, beginning with the month of November, the elders (third / fourth year students) are given a poem to recite. At the end of the school year they are presented their first anthology of poetry - the poems they have memorized collected into a bound, illustrated book. The illustrations are done by them. The small chapbook of poems is a wonderful gift to conclude their year and their time in the primary classroom.
Here is the first poem. Note that they also state the name of the author at the conclusion of their declamation.
Since creating the Moveable Alphabet, I have received emails from readers who wanted to follow my blog but didn't have a Google account and didn't want to get one. Years later, I have a solution. Notice on the right sidebar that I have added a "follow by email" box. I hope this new option is a good fix for those of you looking for a second option to follow my posts.
My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the calm in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers and to the children who fill your lives - Susan Y. Dyer
Today in school I watched a 4 year old illustrate a handout of a turkey, He colored it completely blue. I quietly approached him and said, "I really like how you are working on that picture. I was wondering why you chose blue to illustrate it." I said all of this in a soft, respectful voice. He looked at me as if I had a light out in my head. "I'm coloring Susan. This isn't a real turkey. Coloring means using colors." Then he looked at me like, "Wow, they let you teach." I had to leave the room because I started to joyously, belly laugh at all he had revealed to me. "Coloring, Susan. Yeah, ya know where they use colors!"
Two of my elders were illustrating a handout at the start of the day this morning (I provide these on occasion as warm-up work). The work that they were doing was truly amazing considering one is 5 1/2 and the other is 6. One of the students did the above work. It will be completed tomorrow. When I walked by their work table, I overhead one of the girls asking for clarity from the other regarding a statement she had made.
"Are you talking about the head or the face?" she asked. "The head is the entire upper shape of the skull, not just the front of it but the back and the sides, too." Then the student stopped and used her hands to illustrate the entirety of the head. "The face is the front of the head including eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks - all of the face. So are you illustrating the head a certain color or the face?"
Lately, I have heard many similar conversations between the elders. Their lunch table is like a dinner party where the guests discuss religion, art, literature and mathematics. They are forming ideas, questioning themselves and their peers. They are maturing and growing confident enough to debate with each other on a wide range of subjects. They are already preparing to leave the environment. When June 2012 arrives, they will be ready to take flight.
I took these two photographs to use as examples of a student using the small, roll of thin rope or yarn to create a shape after receiving the lesson below on the line. Prior to creating an outline with the material representing a line, the student carefully copied the artwork on the postcard. She is an excellent artist. She is 5 1/2 and is the only student in my current classroom that expresses an interest in abstract art.
After observing the student above's work for a few minutes, a "drawing" on the chalkboard caught my eye. A second later, an animated version of the drawing was running through my mind, as was the children's book, "Harold and the Purple Crayon." During our afternoon work, I invited the students to sit with me and look at the "drawing" on the chalkboard. I then asked the student above to show her work.
Next, I asked my students if they could see a relationship between her work and the image on the chalkboard. I then asked everyone if they could imagine the "drawing" on the chalkboard as a single, unbroken line. Too, instead of viewing the image as scribbling, to acknowledge it as art. The same above student looked at the chalkboard soberly, smiled the slightest smile and said, "It's moving."
The image below is by the internationally famous and recently deceased artist Cy Twombly. He is one of my favorite artists. I have asked myself why many times. I know my answer as one of my other favorite artists is Francis Bacon. I can see in my mind's eye, as if it was yesterday, where I first saw these two artists. I was on a 4th grade field trip with my class and teacher to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I was blown away and fell in love with art that very day.
Over the past several weeks I have shifted back and forth between lessons on geometry and on art (as well as many, many other lessons on a variety of subjects). The bridge I have been using between these two areas was initially the geometry cabinet as it may be used in a variety of ways to assist in art work.
The oval is used to draw the initial, basic outline of a face:
A trapezoid is used to make a volcano:
I then moved my students towards a more abstract concept. I asked them what all of the geometric shapes had in common. They had some great answers: triangles, circles, etc. I thanked them for their responses and explained that while all of their answers were correct that I was looking for a different commonality. I was asking about what is called the line. I next placed a single length of white narrow rope on the table besides a few of the geometry insets. This would serve as my model for a line.
I demonstrated how a single line had both linear and non-linear qualities. I moved the line so as to create several shapes. Some were linear and others abstract or non-linear. My next step was to have the children manipulate a length of rope so as to create their own shapes:
They were invited to glue down the shapes that they decided they wanted to preserve.
I let all of that information seep in for a few days and while that seeping was occurring I returned to the shape of a triangle. I handed out black and white scenes of mountain peaks and asked that my elders and afternooners take rulers and isolate as many triangles as they could. It took them a long time as when they thought they had found them all, I turned the paper upside down and asked them to look again. They found dozens more.
Then one night as I was preparing for sleep, an image of a snake came to my mind. I saw it slide across a desert landscape with mountain peaks in the background. I saw, too, the the geometry of its skin and I saw the flexible line that formed the outline of its long body. I knew that this one image would manifest itself into a presentation that would provide work for the children which would in fact solidify, in a single project, all of the previous lessons I had given over the past couple of weeks. Too, I knew that it would serve future extensions on those lessons.
I placed several color copies of an illustration of a rattlesnake on one of the classroom tables the next morning. I again invited the afternooners and the elders to locate and isolate triangles and other geometric shapes using a ruler and a pencil. They pulled one material after another from the shelves to assist them in their work.
I then reminded them of our discussion on the line a week or so ago. Following this discussion, I handed each of them a length of line, a small pile of construction paper triangles, glue and card stock to be used for background. I asked them to think about all that we had talked about regarding geometry, math, linear, non-linear, polygons, irregular polygons and art. I then asked them to make a snake using details based on those lessons. They worked with such an intensity that it was hard at times to not abandon the rest of the classroom and students so as to simply sit back and watch them. It was mesmerizing. They used their rope lines to create the body of the snake:
They filled in the body with triangles:
Two days later, I placed bowls of white buttons, of gold glitter, of this and that for them to use as collage materials for the landscape beneath and above their snakes.
It was interesting to see that they did not copy each other, but selected materials that met their design criteria.
After a week of continuous afternoon work, they brought their projects to a conclusion:
As a follow up to this work, I presented an all class lesson on making one stroke with a paint brush - moving from dark to light colors. I placed in a small box a roll of paper for this art work; an aesthetic metaphor and off shoot of a line and a ball of thin, white rope.
These two objects are now always available for children of all ages to explore with infinite results.
Next week - construction of a snake polygon with the constructive triangles:
And, hmmm...doesn't this look like familiar cutting work - those polygon snakes are everywhere.
There too, along with those polygons and other elements of geometry, is something both simple and complex - the line.
Reading this once more, I much confess there were many other presentations that went into all of this. I hope to write about some of those after next week's Parent Conferences. Which makes me think about the upcoming AMI Conference - I will be there! Say hi if you see me!
So...long term readers...have you ever wondered what my voice sounds like? Well, new readers and old readers of my blog may now hear me on NPR's national women's program 51%. I was asked by the show's producer, Susan Barnett, to do a 6-7 minute monthly commentary on my life here in Juneau called "Alaskan Diaries." The second "page" of my diary was just archived and during it (towards the end) I speak about my life as a Montessori teacher. If you want to listen to it go to this link. If you are just interested in hearing my piece move the recording to the 18:00 mark and you will hear me sharing my story about my first 100 days in Juneau, AK.
We had a wonderful guest speaker last week who gave a lovely lesson on whales and bubble net feeding for both Primary afternoon classes, together. Humpback and Orca whales, as well as other types, live in Alaskan waters.
Then, this week, when I introduced peeling and slicing hard boiled eggs to the Practical Life shelves, I found myself asking the children to look at the slicer and tell me if they saw anything that made them think of whales (actually, I hadn't seen the connection until I saw the egg slicer myself) - baleen was their collective answer. The metal wires that do the slicing recalled how the non-toothed whales use baleen to gather and eat their food. It was an interesting connection.
The lesson the visitor use to demonstrate how baleen whales gather food is as follows. She poured blue colored water into a large, plastic container. She then sprinkled pepper onto the top of the water. The pepper represented herring. Next she took a large toothed comb (model for the baleen) and drew it through the water demonstrating how the "herring" is collected and consumed.
I wrote a post a few weeks back about a child's re-usable snack backs. Such a simple way to make a green statement - no more baggies. Well, as it turns out his mother has a wonderful Etsy page where she sells her handmade items. Support Alaskan artists - view her page and the wonderful work she does. Go to: lisamaybehere
The Friday before clocks were turned back an hour, I began our first lessons on how to read a clock. I have much, much more work to do. I have a chalkboard in my classroom so I use it on occasion along with the Montessori materials: the long five chain and the clock model with usable hands. There is so much paper work out there for telling time. I am trying to avoid all of that now and instead, as we always light candles at lunch and for our afternoon work, I will next do a lesson on telling time by measuring increments of a candle burning. See below for a section taken from a post I wrote about this work during my first month of writing The Moveable Alphabet:
I am now remembering a lesson I did years ago on measuring a half an hour. I took two identical tapered candles and placed them in identical candle holders so that their height would be exactly the same. Next, I lit one candle and set a 30 minute cooking timer. When the timer sounded I immediately blew out the lit candle. I then placed the now slightly shorter candle next to the one that was not lit and made a mark completely around the second candle which was level to the lit candle's current height. The fine line which ran around the never lit candle represented a half an hour. I repeated these acts until the first candle was only a small stub and the second had several rings which denoted 30 minute increments. The next step was to wait for another day (so as not to overwhelm the children) and then light the marked candle and see if the markings were correct. My five year olds wanted to watch it the entire time. Yes, they did match - candle and clock. What a great memory of a successful presentation.
Susan Slocum Dyer is the great-great granddaughter of Joshua Slocum, the first person to solo-circumnavigate the world and author of the classic text, "Sailing Alone Around the World."
Her blog, "Jessie Slocum - The Captain's Daughter," documents the completion of her upcoming historical fiction novel. It is narrated by her great-great aunt, Jessie Slocum, who tells the story of her life at sea during the Victorian era.
Susan Slocum Dyer's blog the "Moveable Alphabet" documents her work within and outside the Montessori classroom. She is an AMI Montessori theorist and primary guide.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world and am free.
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