Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the Binomial and Trinomial cubes, or, Finding the Beauty in Math.

To say that I have always had a love/hate relationship with math would be an understatement. As soon as it began to move towards abstraction, I froze. I clammed up. I enjoyed basic algebra, I can admit--but when it came to geometry, or graphing...calculus, trigonometry....I even remember *distinctly* my brother trying to teach me long division, and sitting down again before college to try to memorize my multiplication tables. Sure, I knew how to multiply--but to do it by memory? Fat chance, if the number didn't happen to be 7 or 9.

You see, it wasn't that anyone ever told me that I *couldn't* do math...or at least, I don't remember that. I took remedial classes briefly in reading, and then instantly excelled. "Language Arts" was the highlight of my day in elementary. I fell in love with self-expression and all of the outlets there were for me. That love NEVER developed for math, though. After awhile, it was just so hard that I started telling myself, blankly, that I was stupid and I just couldn't do it. They just jumbled together. The signs didn't make sense. There was one correct answer, but a million ways to do the problem, and everyone I seemed to find was incorrect.


These last two week, my classmates and I have received presentations on the various boxes of constructive triangles, and finally, the binomial and trinomial cube.

I cried.

I *got* it. I saw in the triangles, squares, cubes, the basics of geometry that no AMOUNT of writing formulae had ever given me. I could feel it--the tactile difference, the way the shapes fit together, broke down into other shapes and forms, how they complimented each other. They were beautiful.

...I got it.

This is what I will be offering to children. At 3 years old, when it's all just a puzzle, the absorbent mind takes note of all of the shapes and their relationship to one another. Years later, when looking at a hexagon on the SATs and thinking "How do I figure out the area?", they will have the physical knowledge of having held in their hand the 6 obtuse-angled isosceles triangles that compose it, and they will know what L x H means, because they were taught "Height" of a triangle when they were so young.

Before they ever have to make SENSE of tests, or formulas, they are given an idea to abstract--and the opportunity to fall in love with a concrete representation of a concept they will continue to deal with the rest of their lives. I finally understand why it seemed so natural for so many of the Montessori students I watched joyfully engaged in Math.

They knew it with their hands, and because of that, they knew it in their hearts.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Thought on the Prepared Environment.

Maria Montessori emphasized that hers was not a method, rather, she encouraged us to truly see the child, and understand where he is and what he needs. She said:

"And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child (p. 8, The Absorbent Mind)."

The better the environment is prepared for the child's needs, the easier it is for us to see who he is, and who he will become.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In which Kari experiences her first Directed Review.

Hello dear friends!

Let me start by saying that this week has been one FULL of presentations in the Sensorial area. We have now covered: The Solid Cylinders, the Pink Tower, the Brown Stair, the Red Rods, the Color Tablets (all three boxes), and the Geometry Cabinet. I would go into detail on these, but I want to save that for another day--one in which I have photos to match (say, tomorrow, perhaps).

TODAY, I want to talk about Directed Review. Directed Review is when our trainer selects a material and asks someone to volunteer to present it to her (as she pretends to be the child) in front of the class. At the end of the presentation, she steps out of the role of the child and asks questions similar to what an examiner might give you during an oral examination.

I have thought all along that this would be no sweat. That is to say, I expected it to be challenging, but from a "mastery" standpoint...and not from a nerves standpoint. I volunteered to do the Bow Frame.

As an introduction to this story, I should say that tying bows was super difficult for me. I didn't tie my shoes correctly for a very long time--I made "two bunny ears" and tied them together. I don't remember when, exactly, I *finally* learned to tie my shoes, but I think it may have had something to do with my 4th and 5th grade friend, Bin. I have practiced the bow frame furiously--to get the knot in the middle of the bow to lie perfectly flat, to get the loops of the bow even with the ends.

So I went to present the bow frame to my trainer. I invited her, asked her to retrieve the frame, and went to grab the presentation stool, which was...not there. So, I had the "Child" place the frame on the table, and went to get the stool. This was my first mistake....and I knew it the second I turned my back, and the "oooooooh" of all of my classmates would have told me if I wasn't already aware. Regardless, I returned to the table, set up my stool, and kindly told the "Child" that I was going to retie the bows on the bow frame so that I could start and do the whole bow frame for myself. (Graceful recovery, I think--as soon as I turned my back I had expected her to get the entire frame untied and placed over her head.)

I untied it, and retied it, and with the exception two minor pincer grip corrections, I feel really confident about it. My classmates made one or two comments about ways that I could do it differently, but really, my trainer was incredibly helpful. I felt as though I had a hard time directly answering her questions, but I did *answer* them--and felt better about that when she confirmed that I demonstrated a grasp of knowledge without reciting a copied and pasted answer. I hope, sincerely, that she was not being too easy on me--but in many ways, her presence was a comfort. I was really glad to be presenting to her.

What made me the most nervous was the onlooking class. My hands shook, and it wasn' trainer, it was them. Looking out on them gave me feel queasy...their hands and faces telling me to try things differently. It was the fear that they were observing me, noting every single thing I was doing wrong and all the things that they would do differently. And the thought, in the back of my mind, of how I hoped that my Montessori friends at home would be proud of me.

I was the 5th person to do directed review--it was only the second one of the year. I have my first turn over with. I think that (or hope that) with time they will get easier. Regardless, I am proud of myself for having done it, and managed, honestly, a presentation that I feel quite proud of.

And the Bows, I believe, were beautiful.

"Now you can untie and tie the bow frame."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Art Folders!

Each Montessori Classroom has three sets of folders which have various kinds of art rotating through them, sorted by artist, theme or period. These are the three that I made this evening--re-purposed from table runners and a shower curtain I bought at Home Goods.

More soon! For now, it's back to the grindstone for me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On becoming a member of Stone Mountain Park; or, visits with Jill.

Last weekend, Jill drove up from Gainesville to visit me in my new Atlanta home. (This line has made me think of the song "My Old Kentucky Home", which is completely unrelated). She came just as Atlanta was hit with a brief brush with Fall--we both bought hats and gloves and donned them and my awesome leg warmers and made the trek to Stone Mountain.

Stone Mountain is a beautiful park approximately 30 minutes away from me. It is the world's largest exposed face of granite. On it is a carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davies--figures of the Confederacy. It has a dark history, the carving and the mountain, but it has certainly made an effort to turn itself around. It's undeniable that the surroundings are stunning and it's a fun place to be. Jill and I decided to buy park memberships to the small "theme" park that surrounds the mountain--because we only had to go twice to make it worthwhile. I am sure I will return near the holidays, and look forward to enjoy the cable car, the train, and all of the other charming shows that happen there for free now that I am a member.

We managed to light a fire in the fireplace of my apartment and enjoyed several vegan delicacies around the area. What is amazing to me is that we still haven't eaten at all the vegan restaurants in the area! It was so wonderful to have a friend here with me, to eat and chat and laugh, and to spend a weekend without thinking every waking moment about training.

And yet, this weekend I must put my nose back to the grindstone. I have two papers and two material making projects due on Monday. I have been out of the institute for the last two weeks on Observation--that is, sitting in a classroom for 6-8 hours a day, being as still as possible, and seeing what goes on that makes it tick, that helps the children be productive/happy/awesome. It has been wonderful, but exhausting. It certainly reminded me why I am doing what I am doing; but I am ready to be back in class, learning, preparing so that I can do it all successfully. I really enjoyed my placement and got to see something different than what I've seen before.

I will, by Monday, have everything I need to begin the compilation of my Practical Life album--all of those "write-ups", step by step instructions, and the illustrations that go with them, will be edited and filed and numbered and placed into a notebook where, hopefully, they will pass album check and become the basis for that area of my classroom...forever. That is not to say that there isn't fluidity in some of the materials of practical life--but it is to say that I am creating my own handbook, something that I will look back on frequently. I hope that 20 years from now, I will be proud of my effort.

It is approaching my bedtime, as I have a lot to do this weekend--but I am putting a post-it note on the wall so that I will remember to update more frequently. If you're reading, remind me! I really do want to keep up.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oh my, the time has flown!

I cannot believe it's been over a week since my last post! Apologies. I must get back into the groove.

October 9th marked one month of classes for the wonderful ladies of the Montessori Institute of Atlanta 09-10 training course. In that time, my roommate Jesse and I have been through nearly an entire 500 sheet ream of paper. We've finished nearly two black ink cartridges. We recycle furiously and opted to purchase a CASE of recycled paper, to save money AND the earth. It's hard to believe, though, how much money something like this can cost on TOP of tuition. I put it in to perspective by reminding myself that these will be papers that go into my albums, albums which I will use for the rest of my teaching career--but sometimes it's hard to swallow the cost at the output rather than spread throughout an entire career.

A month away from home, i'm feeling very homesick. My big brother and nephew are visiting my Mom and Dad in Columbus this weekend...Nathaniel is off to the wedding of our friend Zach in PA. The world keeps spinning for all of us, and yet, the more it spins, the further it makes me feel from the people I love. I don't have a lot of time to *think* about being homesick, though, and that makes it more bearable. I remind myself, A LOT, that I am doing the right thing...that I am doing something good. Something great, really. Something for myself and for the betterment of the world around me. Something I can be proud of. Something that the people who LOVE me have supported me to do, and are proud of.

But every day at the training center is a new one. There are new things to learn, to discover. We have finished our Practical Life presentations, and moved on to Sensorial--a whole new world of materials and information. Lectures and presentations will be put on hold for a week, however, while we go out on our first round of observations. I am incredibly excited to be out and around children again--I think that it helps bring everything back in to perspective. I'm also so thankful that someone would let me come into their classroom for 8 days and scribble in a notebook.

I will update this week, I promise, with a less scattered post. For now, thanks for reading--and for being part of my journey.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grace and Courtesy; or, why my Mother called me "Grace" as a child.

A part of Practical Life in every Children's house are the lessons of grace and courtesy. These impart to the child various skills of physical and social grace, and are, in a sense, the "social lubricant" of a classroom. These lessons, given to the children in small groups, include things like: How to passby, how to greet a guest, how to answer a phone, how to blow one's nose, etc.

I have always considered myself at least (relatively) courteous. I know how and when to say excuse me. I know how to introduce myself. But grace? I don't know if grace is something I've ever had.

When I was little, My Momma would call me "Grace" for my utter lack of it. I am doubtful that any child fell, tripped, tumbled, bumped, bruised as much as I did. And every time, without chiding, my Mom would patch me up and ever so lovingly call me her Grace. Dance classes as I got older certainly helped, and getting to dance in our high school production of "The Secret Garden" was a surprise and joy. It's been a few years now since I've fallen and scraped myself up. But being in an environment with a million materials that are out of scale to me has made me feel bumbling. Holding the spoon is hard. How can I sit in this chair? The bowl is too small for me to grasp. Slow down, I remind myself. Slow. down.

My classmates and trainer defined grace together: fluidity. precision. purpose. exactness. organic. natural. internal calm. internal peace. lightness. a beauty that is owned. the essence of movement taken to a level of elegance. The finest of movements, where precision becomes natural.

It is the guide's job not just to model grace, but to own it, to make it incarnate, a part of ourselves. So I ask myself: do I move and live with fluidity? With precision? Is there purpose? Am I exact? How do I incarnate something which I've never...embodied before?

I am working to embody grace. I am working to own it, so that I can offer it to the child. Remind me, if you see me, to slow down; you may be unconsciously assisting me in my goal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My First "Shelf Ready" exercise!

I promise to write a real post tomorrow. In the mean time, though, check out my first bit of material making! These are nomenclature cards, and I collected the leaves of "Trees of GA" and labeled and laminated them. This nifty folder is one I made out of a re-purposed place mat! The button helps to identify the work within the folder.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Monsoon season in Atlanta; or, Why Large Montessori Classes shouldn't do "The Rain Song"

I should start this entry by saying that while it is true that Atlanta has seen some grizzly storms this week, and while I was exposed to the rain, and the thunder, and the falling trees, and the flooded roadways, I am fine. My home didn't flood--my complex didn't even flood, although the roads getting back to it were dicey.

Atlanta saw an absolutely amazing amount of rain this week--they say it was the most in 30 years. We were given a "rain day" from school--in fact, the montessori school that operates in the other part of our building saw some extensive flood damage and was closed today, as well. About a week ago, we practiced "The Rain Song", all 33 of us. Did it cause the deluge? Doubtful, but it was an amusing coincidence.

This week has begun our study of the area of Practical Life known as "Care of Self".

It contains activities like the button frame and hand washing, pictured above. These are things I do every day, right? And at some point in my life, someone taught me *how* to button. How to use a zipper. How to tie bows. Someone did it for me, clearly, step by step. They must've, otherwise I wouldn't know.

This week, our trainer gave the lesson on the Buckle Frame, and I got to be "the child". To be "the child" in our classroom means you get the best seat in the house--the one a child would sit in if they were receiving the lesson. With grace, precision, and so few words, she taught me how to buckle. I had known, certainly, how to buckle--but I can't say that i've ever thought of the process of how I unbuckle and buckle. There is the guard, which holds the strap in place AFTER one buckles, and the buckle itself, and the pin that engages the strap and keeps the belt secured. Your hand has to do specific work to make the belt come undone--to release the pin, to remove the strap from the buckle.

Maybe this seems inane (it is certainly tedious). I have a lot of respect for the process, though--and what it means to be a child that learns how to do something in a SPECIFIC way, a way that allows you to operate more independently. And I certainly feel success when I've nailed down the movement of unzipping and zipping a zipper--there is grace to it, and satisfaction when through repetition, you are able work toward mastery.

More soon, friends.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Week Two: In which our Heroine comes to terms with the task at hand.

Whatever I might have said last week about excitement hasn't changed; but it is certainly tempered with a subtle, lingering tiredness. It is Friday, and I left the training center approximately 8 hours ago...and yet, it already feels dangerously close to Monday, when my second theory paper (The Four Planes of Development) and my first set of Practical Life exercises (Preliminary Exercises) are due. I've worked ahead and thought that I would have time this weekend to continue to do so, but I think that this is it: I think I've gained all the time I could.

This is nothing, compared to next week, when we have two theory papers, a set of exercises, and a material (Native Leaf Cards!) due. So, now we are down to business. Now is when every single moment of my time becomes completely occupied. And yet, this is the first time in a LONG time where just one thing was allowed to be my focus. So, I am rejoicing in that, and planning on many late nights.

We began work in Practical life this week--a not-so-subtle introduction to just *how* your body and movements change when you become a guide. I sat with two lovely, white porcelain bowls in front of me on a tray, one filled with mustard seeds. "Goodness," I thought to myself, "Spooning mustard seeds is very hard!" It's difficult to help the child perfect pincer grip when you yourself have never perfected pincer grip, and so, while I sit around, reminding myself to sit up straight and be aware of my surroundings, I also remind myself to take notes holding the pen in the right way, and to readjust the spoon so it is sitting correctly in my hand. It is enough to make even the most graceful swan seem....not graceful (I am completely out of adjectives, forgive me). The entire experience is humbling. My Trainer and Assistant Trainer are gracious in their supervision and comments, but it certainly lends perspective, sitting next to my friend Julia at a table, discussing exactly how the bowl should or should not be tilted to remove the final seeds. (Note to self: hope to find a tray with legumes the next time you practice.)

Other questions, like just what I need to buy for various material making projects (extra wide double fold bias tape, tea towels, elastic, cardstock), what kind of binders I should purchase for my albums, whether or not I need to buy a home laminating machine, and when my roommate and I will find time to eat float in the periphery of my mind as I try to evaluate my movements (do I turn the doorknob to the left or the right? do I grasp over or under) and record them on paper for my exercises.

Here we go, ladies and gentleman. Seatbelts should be fastened. I am praying I continue to love and appreciate the ride I am on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My First Week of Primary Training

I am finally connected to the internet, and able to post about the enriching, exhausting, awesome first week of classes that I have.

I am in a class with 33 wonderful women, hailing from 12 different countries on 5 different continents. Some have just finished undergraduate studies, some have just started their families, and some have adult children older than the younger participants in the training. Some of us are just learning to speak english; reading Montessori Theory in Russian, or Spanish, taking lecture notes in a foreign language just to translate them back to English for Theory papers. Some of us are well read...and some of us have not even yet started to read. And yet, here we are, all together, learning about Maria Montessori's beautiful life work. The room is totally full and there are barely enough tables and chairs to fit us all. We are a class twice the size of the one that came before us.

Lectures are incredibly interesting, and well-spoken. The Assistant Trainer lectures approximately twice the speed of the Trainer, but both of them share theory eloquently, with wonderfully chosen quotational support. I leave lectures with cramped hands, but high spirits. At some point, I mentioned working at Hershey, and now, there are a lot of questions about "The School I read about on the internet". But I am happy they are being asked, and glad to know that people see the work of the our community and are inspired...I know I am.

I have been reading a lot, and started working on my first Theory paper last night. It is due Monday. Human Tendencies. I am, I laugh to admit, excited to write this paper. Why? Well, I am sure it won't last, but for now, I can say "I've been waiting for this opportunity!" and mean it. I wanted this. I asked for it. And I am ready to dive headlong into the Great Work that is ahead of me this year.

All of that being said, I am very homesick. I miss my boyfriend, my cat, my family and friends. I can only hope that, if I stay busy, I'll be distracted from it until it is time to see them all again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Atlanta

This was originally written on August 8th, and was simply a delayed post.

Classes start tomorrow morning. I am posting, currently, from a Dunkin Donuts at the corner of Lavista Rd. and North Druid Hills. Our apartment does not have internet, and AT&T wasn't able to schedule an appointment for us until Thursday. I am embarrased to admit that I feel a little lost without the ability to check my email. Oh well, life goes on.

I've set myself up a decent workspace and have spent a few days nesting. I am, for the most part, unpacked, and have set about the work of rereading the first two pieces we are covering in the training: The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, and The Four Planes of Development. Reading them makes me miss Hershey, but feel enthusiastic to begin training. Reading them also makes me wish that someone would dedicate themselves to a smoother, more unified and correct translation. On occasion, the direct translation is so jambled that it takes four readings of a paragraph to sort out exactly what is there. Nathaniel, write a grant.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I am approximately two packing days from moving. Today, and tomorrow. It's amazing to think that so soon, I will be in a new home, in a new state, going to school to study something I am incredibly passionate about...something I believe in. This year is a dream come true for me, and so, as afraid as I am (and I would be lying if I couldn't admit my fear) I am hopeful and enthusiastic to begin my journey.

As I pack my things, I find myself running through an entirely different set of questions than when I moved from college into my first apartment. This time, I ask "Is it useful? Do I need it? Is it lovely? Do I have space for it?". I separate my belongings according to room and use... my Mother could tell you that packing for me in the past was always "How many different things can I fit into this box?" But not now. I get rid of old clothing, T-shirts that I love but that aren't destined for adult life. I throw away old paperwork that I don't need, all those bic pens that still "sort of work". But the tiny objects I find? The really small spool in my sewing box? The scraps of fabric--from quilts and clothing and bridesmaids dresses? Those are packed so I can take them with me. I packed "The Little Prince" but selling my copy of Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle". I am changing and evolving already...and I haven't even left Ohio yet.