Welcome Back Upper El!

It was great to get back together this week and continue with our good work in and out of the classroom. We got back to our individual lessons in math and some small group lessons in grammar and geometry. Fourths focused on collective nouns this week and fifths on a review of verbs that show physical action. Students in both fourth and fifth grade took advantage of open lessons this week and joined the geometry lesson of the other grade level as well as their own. The fourth grade lesson was on finding the area of rectangles and they learned to use a formula to find area. The fifth graders learned about the concept of circles as the limit of regular polygons. We learned that both figures have similar elements called by different names: perimeter/circumference, apothem/radius, side/center, diagonal/diameter. We ended our week in the outdoor classroom, exploring, building, and playing an in-person game of Among Us.

Happy March Break!

We had a busy and fun last week before spring break while enjoying this beautiful weather. We were able to eat lunch outside twice and had our chapter book read aloud in the Zen garden one day.

At the beginning of the week, we did some small group grammar work with fourths learning about singular, plural, and possessive nouns and fifths focusing on regular and irregular verbs and verbs that show past, present, and future tense. In geometry the fourth years had their introductory lesson on area and fifth years learned three ways to find the area of a regular polygon. Our large group biology lesson on the vital functions of plants focused on defenses plants have against animals and weather. In geography we did a group experiment; creating a simple convection current by heating one end of a tub of room temperature water and cooling the other. We added red food dye to the hot end and blue to the cold end and watched as the blue dye dove down and crept along the bottom of the tub toward the hot and the red floated across the surface towards the cold. Some students requested directions and brought them home to try this experiment with their families. In literature circle we decided that it was time to experience some new roles and everyone was very excited about the ones we added. The new roles are: Illustrator, Word Finder, Setting Selector, Connector,  Character Captain, and Discussion Director. Descriptions of the roles and directions for completing them are attached to the assignment on the HUB.

Finally, it was wonderful to spend part of our last day before break making sandwiches for St. Vincent DePaul Mission. Everyone was excited to give their time to help others. Thank you so much to all of you who helped by donating the items needed for this great work!

I hope you all have a wonderful two weeks with your beautiful children!


Fulfilling, Focused Work

The first week of March has been full of lessons and discussions and we have been busy with lots of focused work in the classroom. It feels really nice to get back to our daily work cycle routine, having individual lessons in math and small and large group lessons in our other subject areas.

In geometry this week, fourth years learned a theorem based on equivalent figures; that all triangles having the same base and height are equivalent. Fifth years learned to apply formulas for finding the area of a rhombus.

Our biology lesson on the vital functions of plants this week focused on the support that plants need. We learned that some plants are supported by water flowing through their stems and leaves, inflating their cells, others are supported by a woody stem, and other plants cling and climb for additional support.

In geography we looked at ocean currents which are caused by wind and were introduced to an activity that students will do to demonstrate this concept, creating or own “ocean current” in a basin of water using rocks to represent continents and islands.

In history, although we will continue to learn about our ancient civilizations as part of our reading and writing workshop, group lessons will pick up with the work we were doing before our research presentations preparation. Fourth years are now learning about Humans’ Closest Relatives, and to kick of this unit of study we learned about the classification of the human animal. Fifths picked up where they left off on their work with Modern Humans with a discussion about Kitchen Midden Folk of the Mesolithic Era. 

In addition to their lessons and assigned work, almost all of the Upper El students have chosen to work with a friend to research a topic of their choice; a testament to their intrinsic motivation and love of learning!

We are all looking forward to making sandwiches for St. Vincent DePaul Mission next Friday. Please look for the sign up email to contribute to the supplies needed for this important work. Thank you to Kristina for organizing this and thank you very much for your continued support!

Connections to Humanity

This week the Upper Elementary students were very excited to finally record the presentations they have been working so hard on. Using the Smart Board, they took turns presenting the slides which they worked collaboratively on. They ended by explaining their 3D models and answering questions from classmates. They are feeling very proud of themselves and also relieved that presentations are complete. As we talked about in Parent-Teacher Conferences, our Ancient Civilizations learning will continue in the form of taking what they have already learned and adding new information to it while learning to write and read about history. These lessons, along with many of our other history and geography lessons, encourage the students to have a strong sense of connection to all of humanity. Upper El students develop an appreciation of the contributions of their ancestors and of the diverse cultures and countries around the world. 

This weekend I will be editing and combining all of the research videos into one and will send it to you as soon as it is complete! We all can’t wait to share their hard work with you!

Standardized Testing in a Montessori Classroom

“The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing [them] for school, but for life.” -Maria Montessori

Since we are just finishing up a few days of ERB tests, I wanted to share some thoughts about standardized testing in a Montessori classroom. Many researchers believe that Standardized Testing measures superficial thinking and directly reflects how much a given skill has been practiced, and not depth of understanding. Testing, and preparing for testing, is not part of the Montessori curriculum, but Montessori is a preparation for LIFE. Because we realize that our students will be exposed to standardized testing after leaving FWM, we believe in preparing them for that. However, as a Montessori school, we take a different approach to testing than more traditional schools. As Montessorians, we don’t believe in setting aside large periods of time to learn things in order to perform well on a test. Instead, we foster a love of exploration, learning, and critical thinking. We focus on individual and small group lessons, assessing and evaluating as we teach and we observe our students as they interact with the materials and do their follow up work. It is during these observations that we can see if more work is needed in any particular area, or if a student is ready to move along at an accelerated pace.

This week we balanced periods of testing with extended periods of rambunctious play outdoors in the snow. On Thursday, we took advantage of Google Meet and had some friends who weren’t able to come to school join us virtually for our Literature Circles. Both groups are looking forward to finishing up their books this week and choosing new books. For the next book, we will be creating groups based on interest and the fourth and fifth year students will be mixed. We are looking forward to recording presentations at the beginning of next week and sending them out to you. We will also be diving back into our individual, large, and small group lessons in all subject areas. Finally, thank you all for taking the time to talk with me last week. I enjoyed sharing your children’s progress with you!

Preparing for Presentations

Upper El students LOVE the snow, but the snow days on Monday and Tuesday of this week made finishing their group research projects challenging. The nature of this type of research depends on intense collaboration, so when we arrived at school on Wednesday, the young researchers were a little concerned about whether they would finish in time to record their presentations at the end of the week. We had a class meeting about it and, in order to preserve the integrity of the process, I reassured them that they would be given the time they needed to complete these projects that they have been so enthusiastic about, even if it meant postponing our presentations by a day or two. Our classroom has since been virtually converted to a MakerSpace, an art room, and a research laboratory. Observing their focus and collaboration throughout this process has been both inspiring and impressive. Bravo, Upper El! Look for the Ancient Civilizations Presentations to be shared with you next week!

The presentations of their slide shows and models is part one of their research of ancient civilizations. Part two will be ongoing for the next several weeks as we enter into our next set of writing lessons: Bringing History to Life and The Lens of History: Research Reports. We will be applying the knowledge they have gained over the past few weeks about their civilizations to learn about writing informational books.

Finding Joy in Work

“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.”  – Maria Montessori – The Child, Society and the World (Unpublished Speeches and Writing)

As we get closer to recording presentations of Ancient Civilizations, we are focusing more of our time on research, even devoting morning work cycle to gathering and recording information in small groups. In addition to writing presentations, Upper El students are learning to keep track of and cite their resources, both printed and digital. We have now moved the dioramas into the classroom as well and students will be working on completing their models in addition to the written work they are doing for their group presentations. All of this intense focus is met with great enthusiasm by the Upper El students. They are thrilled and energized to immerse themselves into this work with their peers. We are looking forward to sharing the recorded presentations with you on Friday of next week.

Even with all of our focus on work, we are finding time to have lots of fun together. We had a great time playing outside in the snow this week, including an awesome Upper El vs. Middle School snowball fight. Upon returning to the classroom after recess that day, an Upper El student shared, “That was the best recess I’ve ever had in my entire life!” Another day this week, they created a snow slide on our playground and enjoyed taking turns sliding down the hill.

Dynamite Dioramas

We have worked hard during this short week. The students’ ancient civilizations research projects are starting to come together. They are putting their MakerSpace and Art time to good use, making dioramas of their civilizations. It is wonderful to see how well they are collaborating on these projects. As we get closer to recording the presentations, we will concentrate our focus more completely on this group work and, towards the end of next week, will dedicate our work cycles completely to immersing ourselves into research.

In addition to our focused research in History, we continued with lessons in our other subject areas this week. In Geometry, the fourths learned to prove the equivalence between regular polygons and rectangles and fifths learned to apply a formula for finding the area of a trapezoid. In Biology we looked at functions of relationship in plants with a lesson on sensitivity and movement, called tropism. We learned about five different types of tropism: photo- (towards light), thermo- (towards heat), geo- (towards gravity), hydro- (towards water), and thigmo- (in response to touch or contact). Our Geography lesson on the work of air focused on the causes of local winds and rain.