Monday, November 14, 2016

Homeschool Co-op Week 12

We are coming to the end of our fourth main lesson block. This is a Language block: Old Testament Stories for the older group and The Four Seasons / Poetry for the younger group. We will go through the blue (math), orange (cultural), green (science), yellow (language) pattern two more times this school year. Once we have completed three main lessons for each of these four core subjects we will be done with the year!

We've added a new classroom routine. First, I'd like to say that the job chart is working well. Four classroom jobs, four clothespins with names on them. Alphabetize clothespins, place one name on each job, rotate the jobs at the end of the week by moving the clothespins one space down. Our jobs are

    plant care / animal care - this includes watering the houseplants in our school space, as well as checking on and taking care of the rabbit including food, water, grass, treats, and changing the bedding

    sweep / erase & wash chalkboard - this person sweeps under the dining room table after lunch, sweeps during the day if needed after a project, and checks at the end of the day to see if I'd like my board erased and/or washed

    pass out / put away supplies - this person carries up the plan books, main lesson books, gratitude journals, personal boxes of colored pencils, vase of regular pencils, pencil sharpeners, etc. from where we store them downstairs and sets them up on the coffee table in neat piles and carries them back down at the end of the day, also passes out and collects things during the course of the day

    outdoor caretaker - this includes checking on the temperature in the cold frames and opening them as needed, setting out and cleaning up toys from recess, and finding lost coats, shoes, backpacks and so on which are accidentally left outside

For some reason, I've found that children respond better to job charts which have pictures for each of the jobs!

As part of encouraging children to be more independent, and allowing me to focus on one-on-one lessons uninterrupted, I've implemented the Name Board. This is really just a small portion of our regular chalkboard which has been set aside for names (you can also use a small Nienhuis greenboard which can be easily carried from room to room). When a child needs me during independent work time, he or she writes his or her name on the name board. Then the children who are waiting for help choose something they can do without assistance, using the color coding in their planbooks to help them pick a balanced choice. I meanwhile am working with another child in a lesson, introducing or reviewing something specific to that individual child. When I'm done with that child, I go to the name board to see who would like to meet with me next. The child who is stuck can also ask another classmate for help. The children aren't required to be dependent on me!

It's really important that children who are meeting with me know that I will tend to them uninterrupted and respect them and our time together. It's also important that children who need help know what to do in that situation, and how to wait appropriately. And I like for them to choose something to do while they're waiting. No one should just sit around and do nothing while waiting for a teacher. Writing your name on the name board (in essence, making an appointment for help) and then deciding what other subject or work to choose while you wait... that is respecting your own time, your classmates' time, and your teacher's time.

The children responded very well to this new routine and they ALL appreciated knowing that our space and time would be held sacred while I was working with them, and I wouldn't be pulled away from them by someone else who needed me and wouldn't wait.

Read Aloud Story - We finished The Adventures of Maya the Bee. Next up: David and the Phoenix, happily back in print after many years!

David and the Phoenix

by Edward Ormondroyd

Extra Lesson - finishing the hotly-contested scoring of a puddle question from last week, symbolizing sentences from literature using the grammar stencil and colored pencils, creating a book of factor trees inspired by You Can Count on Monsters: The First 100 Numbers and Their Characters by Richard Schwartz, Order of Operations Exit Tickets (with Exponents), and a special extra session of Structured Word Inquiry

Circle Time - poem "The Acorn Fairy" by Cicely Mary Barker from The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies, place value bingo, and creative writing

Place Value Bingo
    Place Value Bingo is played with a group of players, two or more. Choose how big you want your number to be! We went up to a billion by the time the week was done. Draw the appropriate number of lines on your page, remembering to place a comma between each family.

    __ , __ __ __ , __ __ __ , __ __ __

    Montessori uses color coding for place value, with green representing units, blue representing tens, and red representing hundreds. Thus, the number 657 would be written using three colored pencils as 657.

    This is the "simple family" because it has "no last name." When you write a digit in the thousands place, it is written in green again. Why? It is the units place in the thousands family.

    It is worth noting that Montessori moves from the concrete to the abstract in all math materials, and eliminating the color coding and writing all digits in regular pencil is one of the little in-between steps towards abstraction. However, when a child is first learning place value and performing mathematical operations to the thousands or millions place, this scaffolding is very helpful in keeping the place value lined up and accurate.

    The pattern within every family is the same. From right to left, you always have units, tens, hundreds. When you read the number you say the name of the family when you get to each comma. For example, 297, 657 is two hundred ninety-seven thousand, six hundred fifty-seven.

    Once you explain this to children, and give them time to practice it, they realize that they can read numbers up to the billions place and beyond quite easily! They just need to keep track of which family name to say when they get to each comma.

    Back to the game...

    Take a six sided die (or, for more challenge, a ten sided die) and roll it. Tell the players what number is uppermost on the die. After each digit is read aloud, the players must write it in to one of the blank spaces on their paper, gradually building a number. You CANNOT erase and change a digit once you have placed it on your paper. The goal is to be the player with the largest number when you are done. When all the spaces are filled, each player reads his or her number out loud (again, this is very good practice). I write all the numbers on the board. After we have heard them all, we have to figure out which number is the largest. That person is the winner of that round.

    I also demonstrated to the older children how to make numbers on the Checker Board using the Checker Board Beads, in preparation for demonstrating how to do short and long multiplication. Using the place value color coding allows you to do hands-on math problems with extremely large numbers in a very condensed amount of space.

    The Montessori Checker Board

Presidential Election - I handed out maps of the electoral college for students to complete at home Tuesday evening. This link is for a pdf printable map of the U.S. with coloring directions for the electoral college. It is free, although you do need to set up an account. The number of votes each state is worth changes each election; for the updated 2016 information, I used this link. I preferred to read to my kids the number of votes each state was worth and have them write it within the boundary of each state. This is a good geography review. If I say Alabama is worth 9 electoral college votes, do you know which state is Alabama?

(One of my older daughters came home with an assignment to go to the 2016 political quiz at, which asks a detailed series of questions on a variety of Social, Environmental, Economic, Domestic Policy, Healthcare, Electoral, Education, Foreign Policy, Criminal, Immigration, and Science issues and then calculates which of the four major presidential candidates has a platform which most closely resembles your opinions. This was absolutely fascinating! And it was fun for me to go back afterwards and see what she had typed in. Actually, I learned a lot about my daughter!)

Specials - Art (beeswax modeling to accompany the story Houses from the Sea by Alice E. Goudey), Handwork, American Sign Language, Structured Word Inquiry, Farm Day

Old Testament Stories - I will be adding a separate blog post with our watercolor paintings for this amazing block! This final week we painted Day Five (the birds and fishes) and Day Six (a lion). We read the remainder of "The Seven Days of Creation" from Jakob Streit's book And There Was Light. We got through Eve eating the apple and the Fall from the Garden of Eden. This takes us to the end of Genesis chapter 3. It doesn't seem like very much!!! But I wanted us to go slowly and invest our time in the series of watercolor paintings and I'm very happy that we did. The children's work is beautiful. And we have two more Old Testament Stories blocks this year.

Poetry - This week we did two poems for Spring and started our Summer poetry projects. We also finished up the last two portions of the Biome Introductory Lessons. (We did the Parts of the Biome Jars, and then delved deeper into Energy, Air, Water, and Soil... and this week we covered Plants and Animals.) The children did nomenclature booklets for the Parts of a Flowering Plant and then chose a vertebrate to complete a nomenclature booklet on for Animals. I had Fish, Amphibian, Reptile, Bird, and Mammal. One child chose Mammal, the other Bird. These sets of cards and the blank photocopies for the booklet pages are on the shelf and students can choose them at any time as an independent work choice. We are color coding these orange for Geography and/or green for Science & Nature.

Spring poetry writing focused on Concrete Poems and Poems for Two Voices. We had done poems for two voices before, in the Fables block, but Concrete Poems were new to the students. These are poems where the words of the poem forms a shape. "Seal" by William Jay Smith is a well-known example:

It can be hard to find a larger variety of examples, though, besides just this one. So I was lucky that one of my favorite anthologies of poetry for children, The Hutchinson Treasury of Children's Poetry edited by Alison Sage, has many examples. (This book is out of print and used copies are not expensive. Out of all my books of poetry, it is absolutely the one I turn to most often, along with Eric Carle's Animals Animals; Poetry of Earth edited and illustrated by Adrienne Adams; and Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Georgia Heard.) Grab this 300+ page collection! Highly recommended!

I introduced Concrete Poems by reading "Do Not Disturb the Dinosaur" by Gina Douthwaite (page 114), then shared "Seal" (page 111), "The Man Who Wasn't There" by Brian Lee (page 104), "Sweet Tooth" by Gina Douthwaite (page 102), and "I'd Like to Squeeze" by John Agard (page 163).

For examples of poems for two voices, the class had already heard quite a lot of Joyful Noise so I shared "The Passenger Pigeon" from Paul Fleischman's earlier book, I am Phoenix (this book is not as good). I also read/performed "Overheard on a Salt Marsh" from Poetry of Earth. This is a fabulous poem! (There's also an example of a poem for two voices in Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Georgia Heard, by the way, called "Fishes.")

Our Summer projects break us out of the Main Lesson Book box and into new territory. First the group happily experimented with making Shell Poems (I wrote about this in an earlier Creativity Workshop blog post). Lastly, we will try to get a Community Poetry Project off the ground, and find a business in our area with whom we can collaborate in our vision of bringing poetry into unexpected places!

As part of learning about the seasons, we also enjoyed the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone and cut open and snacked on a pomegranate!

Final note for this week:
I feel so strongly about mixed-age classrooms! Maria Montessori always had her classrooms in three year age spans (3-6, 6-9, 9-12) and Sudbury schools mix ALL the ages together (I love Peter Gray's articles Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self- Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School and The Special Value of Children's Age-Mixed Play). This week I overheard an older boy gently saying to a younger child, "We both have to be responsible and put it away because we both played this game." I love the empathy and modeling of appropriate behavior! It is so valuable, especially as our older children approach the teenager years, that they be put in positions where they can be looked up to by younger children and allowed to be a role model. Children engaging in mixed-age play experience opportunities for learning that simply cannot be replicated in an environment where children are treated as products in a factory, sorted by "date of manufacture" i.e. birthdate.

brilliant TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson
"Changing Education Paradigms"

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