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I am the studio teacher in Zach's Place Studio, an AMS Montessori teacher, an artist, a mother and much more.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

XP qualities of line- week 4- Angelina

The older students (extended primary or XP) have independent studio time every Wednesday afternoon. This week we met for a group discussion at our central tables. Kathryn and I were interested in bridging the exploration of line with the materials in the montessori environment. I began by asking a small group if they could think of any material in their classroom that might represent a "thick" or "thin" line. They came up with several possible ideas, until one student sat upright from an immersion in thought and said, "the brown stair". YES! They brought the thickest stair and the thinnest stair to the table. We spent some time examining the qualities of thick and thin, broad and narrow, "fat" and "skinny". Then I introduced them to a bevvy of black drawing tools on the table and said, "Do you think we could make lines that are thick and lines that are narrow?". The students were eager to experiment and soon discovered that certain tools were better for thin lines than thick ones and vice versa. I showed them how to run a crayon on its side along the smooth surface of paper, to make a very thick line and how to change the angle of a marker to alter the width of the line. Several students passed through the studio, each one experimenting with the thickness of line and variety of tools.

One boy accidentally discovered that he could, "make thin lines using thick lines". He was drawing with a ball point pen on white paper atop a drawing mat (which provides a slight cushion). He then turned the paper over and exchanged the pen for a charcoal pencil, experimenting with thick black lines. The charcoal residue began to adhere to the impression of his drawing from the reverse side of the paper. Without a word, he quickly grabbed the black crayon and rubbed the surface of the imprint. He looked at his work amazed and brought it to me. I in turn expressed my interest in his process and he demonstrated his findings to everyone gathered at the table. We were all excited by his discovery and soon several students were independently exploring his technique, with his guidance wherever needed. He was visibly satisfied by this opportunity to share with his classmates.

Later, I asked another group of students if they could think of some work in their classroom that was really long. We came up with lots of great ideas and then I offered a possible hint, "Is there something long and red in your classroom?". A unanimous chorus of "the red rods" sounded and two eager students hurried off to retrieve the longest red rod and the shortest red rod. (For anyone unfamiliar with either the red rods or the broad stair, they are standard Montessori sensorial materials that isolate length and width respectively)
After exploring and comparing the longest rod and the shortest rod, I asked if anyone was interested in trying to draw lines that are long or short. It would be an understatement to say that the students were eager. They were positively passionate about these materials which many of them began using more than two years ago. Several students decided to trace the rods and then fill in the long rectangular shape that resulted.
Another student chose to begin tracing each of the red rods on paper. At one point he called the second red rod "the two rod", with an obvious understanding of the similarity between the red rods and the number rods in his classroom.
This student, pictured below, began by tracing the shortest rod, but quickly progressed to filling in the drawn shape and elongating it into a bat, "a thick line". He then drew "thin lines" to create a baseball. Beneath the image he began carefully and deliberately to draw a scoreboard. This process fascinated him and after some effort, he glanced up and announced, "I'm making a pattern" and he was!
Another child chose to make one long, rambling line paired with a host of small dots.Several students commented on emerging patterns in their work. This student was making a color pattern. After a brief conversation with the XP teachers, I discovered that they have been discussing pattern in class and how line can be repetitive. This could be a good studio exploration for another day.

line and shape- week 4- Angelina

Our "slow down" week in the studio, certainly didn't imply a slowing down of student activity. The students were eager and excited to experiment with the many materials they had been introduced to thus far, including this malleable sculpting wire which progressed from lasso to pear and below you can see it's final incarnation as a bird. In the picture above, two students discovered that if two sculpting wires were joined together, a very long line resulted.
This week we initiated a daily drawing time, where each student draws something, possibly something memorable from their morning, on a 6x6 sheet of white paper prior to starting other studio activities. This is a great opportunity for us to discuss their day and it is a nice way to transition from the classroom into the studio. We will be keeping these drawings to catelog individual progression throughout the year.
The light table and projector continue to be hot spots of activity and creativity.
The students are utterly entranced by the projector, its mechanics and the magic of light transfered onto the wall. This is an obvious interest worthy of some consideration for a future project.
Several students blended colored shapes and lines to create interesting patterns and compositions. Some of the photos were shown to the students who created them, in an effort to prolong their process and allow for some elementary discussion of composition, pattern and balance. The students were interested in the photos and very willing to comment on their process and expression.
The students remain interested in line and have begun a chart of lines using some colored sculpting wire.
This activity still holds the interest of the students and several have expressed a desire to continue exploring types of line.

Next week, we plan to watch as this study of line continues to evolve adding the easel, black paint and several sized brushes to the mix.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Observing a moment of curiosity - Kathryn

Angelina and I, in the spirit of the Reggio approach, are spending a great deal of time talking together about where to go next with the children, trying to base our ideas on what we see they do and what we hear them say. We've also solicited ideas from other teachers who have done this before and who know the children in the classrooms well. Unlike the Montessori approach, there really is no "right" way that we have been taught, so we imagine and think, allowing ideas to pop out fairly unformed to see if they will stimulate more ideas.

Some of my thoughts this week have been: this is harder than it looks; one idea might work well with one group of children and be a dud with another group; older children are more capable of understanding concepts like line and shape; and thus give us more ideas; and, did I say this is harder than it looks?

Post script: When I wrote earlier that it was harder than it looks, I realize now that what I mean is that letting go of one's expectations as a teacher is what is hard. The children do beautifully in the studio, but sometimes I have expected or hoped for something that did not happen. That also happens in the Montessori classrooms. It's much more, or entirely more, about the teacher than it is about the children. The previous photos illustrate my point a bit.

This little boy was not in the least bit interested in exploring shape with the overhead projector. He wondered how it worked! I tried once or twice to show him some possibilities with color, light, shadow, and shape, but no, he always went back to figuring out how it worked. Obvious from his face, he is engrossed and focused. As teachers, we try to protect those moments of concentration for every child, wherever they occur.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Shape- week three- Angelina

This week has produced some wonderful insights and some interesting observations. First, progressing from line to shape was a natural choice, aferall a shape begins where lines meet. Yet the students remain very interested in lines. They are interested in types of lines: wavy, zigzag, curved, straight, long, short and jagged lines in their environment. They approach me on the playground to point out a line or relay an event where they noticed one, maybe at the store or on a sidewalk. Shape would appear a similar study but it wasn't. Apparently, abstracting form into its component shape is a more complex process than I had initially thought. Form takes priority while line seems a bit more accesible. After a week of observing, it seemed that our students primary interest lay with exploring the building block of shape- line itself.

To illustrate our process I will outline the week in review:

Kathryn initiated the discussion with a very successful movement game on line. The game involved making lines with our bodies and the students were eager to try it out. Midway through, Kathryn held her arms straight out and asked "What kind of line am I now?". One student called out "An airplane!", another quickly added, "A straight line!". Kathryn than said, "Watch what happens when I bring my line together", and she did so forming a circle with her arms. "When a line comes together it is called a shape. What shape am I?". A chorus sounded, "A circle!". In the studio, we explored this theme further beginning with the straight line of a pipe cleaner and experimenting with the many possible shapes a line can become. For some students this was enough, others were interested in joining the pipe cleaners into shapes, still others were eager to trace their drawn shapes.
We changed our inspiration shelf to incorporate more shapes for tactile explorations and this was a real point of interest, leading to explorations of pattern, form and categorization.
The students were interested by the process and after some discussion with Kathryn and several of our colleagues we decided to prolong the process. In short, our plan is to "slow down". In the classroom, we sometimes call this "horizontal movement". It gives children the necessary time to explore a material and its properties before building on it, aka. "vertical movement". With this in mind we are opening the studio next week for exploration with the media and materials introduced thus far, giving the students a chance to assimilate their discoveries and continue to evolve their explorations. We look forward to observing their interests, questions and insights in the week ahead.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Toddlers Exploring Markers - Kathryn

Toddlers exploring markers, but not in the way you might think. Take the lid off, lay it aside, reach for another marker and take the lid off, lay that one aside, then try the next one. You get the idea. I spent some wonderful moments taking a marker lid off, deliberately snapping it onto the top of the marker, then removing it, and replacing it on the tip end, with a special focus on the "click" you hear when the top is well situated. That was, using Montessori's terminology, the "point of interest" for the toddlers.

One of the girls discovered that marker lids fit on fingers - "one, two, three, four, five", she said.

The did actually make a few marks on the canvas, but very few. Mostly our Friday afternoon was spent happily exploring marker lids and getting a bit more used to leaving their classroom to venture into the studio. A lovely and slow-paced way to spend an afternoon! I was reminded of Loris Malaguzzi's description of one of the reasons to document, or record, children's actions is to learn how children learn. I observed that toddlers love to open and close things, mostly to open - small muscle coordination activity? I observed that, in spite of the very little activity at my table in the studio, with only three or four children participating, the drawing we did seemed to stimulate more drawing within the safety of their own classroom - are the helped by the daily repetition of the same environment? Do the toddlers prefer to choose work independently? I continue to observe.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

lines- extended primary- Angelina

You may remember from last week that a few of the older boys posed an interesting question, "How long can you make a line?". There were alot of theories and ideas for possible experiments to explore this idea. A popular experiment centered around chalk and sidewalks. So this afternoon, armed with sidewalk chalk, a camera and a clipboard for recording data. I invited the same group of boys who orginally posed the question to be the first to try out thier experiment. After a short discussion outlining some safety precautions, they decided to begin at the most northern corner of the sidewalk in front of the school. They each wrote thier names and began
drawing a line. One student made zigzag lines, one made staggered lines, another made "water" lines and the last sped down the sidewalk trailing chalk with enthusiasm. After about 20 minutes of drawing and several pieces of blunted chalk the students were exhausted and finished. We then decided to measure the lines and after some discussion we agreed on counting the segmented sidewalk squares. The longest line terminated in the sixty-first square. We sat under a crab apple tree surrounded by fruit and discussed our findings. They agreed that drawing a line was harder than they first imagined, but still expressed the merits of drawing a line to the nearest ocean or to Australia, or Antarctica. They left, thirsty and tired, to return to the classroom.
The next students who decided to join the line experiment happened to be a group of four girls. These girls exchanged shoes for slippers and followed me outside. We used the same protocol and discussed safety before deciding on our starting point. The girls were eager to begin drawing at the same spot the boys chose, with an obvious interest in out distancing the "boys". After fifteen minutes the girls were visibly hot and tired. They expressed their frustration at not having made a line as long as the line one of the boys had made. We counted the squares in their lines and discovered that the longest line was thirty-five squares. We too sat beneath the crabapple tree to reflect. At no time did I ever compare the two groups work or make any suggestions. I listened actively to their frustration and asked, "Do you think you might be able to make a longer line some other day, when you are less tired?" and "How?". Soon two of the girls excitedly exclaimed "We could work together!"
One girl said, "Yeah you could work on my line!""
Another countered, "No you could work on my line!"
This continued for a while until another member of the group suggested, "What if we worked on the longest line together!"
They unanimously turned to me and said, "Can we do it now!"
I asked if they were too tired and they assured me they were not. I offered the bucket of chalk and they were off.
Soon they were working as a team with one child running ahead to make a portion of the line and another working to connect the segments. They made the chalk line a full city block long and a total of one hundred and six squares. They were visibly excited, proud and invigorated. When we reflected on the process they were eager to announce "We won!". I said, "I'm not sure we were competing against anyone, BUT we did learn that you can do a lot more than you ever thought possible when you work together". Smiling, arm in arm, they returned to their classroom, empowered.

lines- week two- Angelina

Choosing a directional course for a week in the studio is somewhat different than choosing the direction for a week in a Montessori classroom. In the studio the horizon is vast and we must rely on our conversations, observations and findings to act as a compass for discovery. After considering last weeks findings, we decided to evolve our exploration of line to incorporate a few other languages of expression.

We introduced a tactile table to explore different ways of generating or feeling a line. The students were introduced to the table with eyes closed, exploring the sensations of varying surfaces beneath their fingertips. Next, a brief demonstration on creating a rubbed print was offered. Several students enjoyed sampling a variety of textural prints and examining the resulting lines.
Next we flipped the switch on the light table and explored making shapes and lines with black beens and seeds. This exploration was very enthusiastically attended, provoking lots of conversation, and eager proclamations: "Look I made a long line" or an "airplane" or a "dog" or "Watch how I can make the line move".
Next, we turned on the projector, with two obvious possibilities for exploration. The first was to compose projected images using a few baskets full of interesting objects with provocative lines. Some of the objects included: catalpa pods, dried fauna from the foothills of Colorado, collected feathers, twigs, vines, ribbons and pipe cleaners. We selected a neutral palette for our objects to refine our focus on line.
Second, we had a tray on the shelf holding a small clipboard, a dry erase marker, a small dry square of terry cloth and several sheets of laminate acetate. The students were encouraged to draw whatever they chose and then offered the opportunity of projecting and drawing these enlarged images. This activity was enthralling to many students and below are a few of the drawings in progress:
The students were introduced to the tray and art mat supplies in the classroom in an effort to evolve awareness of studio protocol. Our introduction involved an invitation to select a tray and art mat and bring them to the table. The student was then offered the choice of carrying the tray to our inspiration shelves and selecting a few interesting objects they would like to explore and possibly draw. This activity was chosen by nearly all students visiting the studio. After discussing our midweek findings we agreed that students seemed to be more successful with this project when a still life was already set up on the drawing table. We chose to offer this option for students attending on Thursday and the result was an increase in shared conversation about the drawn and seen images (with the still life set up, only an art mat was necessary).
It was another interesting week in the studio and our exploration of line has generated many interesting conversations and discoveries. Students are often overheard pointing out lines in the environment: the lines of a brick wall, cracks in a sidewalk, veins in a leaf or the rough lines of bark on our pear tree. This ability to really look at their environment with deftness and clarity always astounds me and reminds me of how much I can learn from them. They find beauty and wonder everywhere; in spider webs, roly-poly bugs, decaying fruit and meandering clouds. After some considerations and many conversations with Kathryn, we have decided to evolve our line discussion to include shape. A shape can be made when a line or lines connect. This seems to be the natural "next step" in our exploration.

Note: As an introduction to the week in the studio, we joined each class and read, Lines that Wiggle, by Candace Whitman, during the initial class meeting on studio day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

week one - Lines with the toddlers - Kathryn

Angelina and I, and indeed Children's Garden, are allowing ourselves to be experimenters this year with the studio. We think there are many Montessori schools exploring the Reggio Emilia approach, but they are not nearby, and it's difficult to find them. So we explore, using our training as professional observers of children to guide our decisions within the studio. We hope this blog with help us find like-minded educators who might share their thoughts and experiences.

One of our questions for the last few years has been - what is appropriate for our youngest children in a Reggio-inspired atelier? Toddlers are incorrigible explorers who are in what my late husband described as the "conquer the world" stage of development. They're also interested in cause and effect, so we believe giving them experiences with art materials which they can use to make something happen, is developmentally appropriate. So our question must become - how can we give toddlers experiences with art materials which make marks on faces, arms and clothes, in fact, leave traces everywhere, in a responsible and appropriate manner?
These are the things we have noticed about toddlers:
  • They don't talk too much, so a Reggio-like collaborative project based on sharing ideas orally doesn't seem developmentally appropriate to us. (Toddlers do, however, communicate using many languages of expression, so a careful observer notices their interests. Angelina noted on Friday that the toddlers love their fish, and they love water. Their minimal oral language does give us direction.)
  • The Reggio Emilia educational approach is strongly socio-constructivist, and Montessori's approach is not. Reggio educators work with children in small groups, asking generative questions which help build a negotiated plan to follow within a project. Obviously, socio-constructivism implies working together, and toddlers are not skilled sharers of work, however, unlike the older children from the preschool classrooms, they seem to have no problem with sharing a large piece of canvas or paper which is being used for drawing. They seem to feel no ownership about their "marks" on the paper. My question - if we expose them regularly to a socio-constructivist experience in the studio, will they be comfortable with the process of collaborative work?
  • Since coming to our school, at the toddler level, is often the first experience of school that a child has, is it best for the toddlers to come into the atelier, or is it more appropriate for Angelina and me, the studio educators, to come to them instead of them coming to us?
  • What should we do about a child who is very oral, as many toddlers are, and ends up with paint, glue or markers in their mouths? Since all our products are non-toxic, is that OK? As a parent myself, I recall how it felt to pick my own children up from school covered with paint, or mud, or water, and know that there is always a moment of angst before even the most enlightened parent can reconcile the loss of a nice shirt or dress.

So, having wrestled with those questions, which will stay with us going forward, I spent Friday afternoon with our afternoon toddlers, aged 18 months to around 2 1/2 at this time of the school year. Our goal for the toddlers was two-fold - to introduce them to the studio itself, and to give them an experience of making lines with one tool, which on Friday was a black washable marker. We believe children learn from each other in a mix-age group, so within our toddler class, although the age span is small, there are older children who are returning each year. The returning toddlers were quite comfortable with the studio, but for some of the new toddlers, we felt the notion of leaving their room might not feel safe, so I placed a table right outside their classroom and invited children to join me there. In the morning Angelina sat at a table within their classroom itself. We were curious about which experience - us joining them, or them joining us - would be most successful for the toddlers, and perhaps at this point we have not reached any conclusions.

These were my observations of the toddlers using a marker to make lines. They are most interested in how the marker works - how to take off the lid, and how to put it back on. One little girl simply wanted to take all five markers, open them, and leave. It seemed to me that lines were of no interest to her. Staying with me for more than five minutes was rare, although several toddlers returned to try again, sometimes several times. Toddlers stare, looking intently at a face they don't see in their room each day, and watching my mouth as I talked. For toddlers, process is everything. They seemed to like the process of making lines, or marks. Simple is just fine if you are small, in fact, it is best!

Friday, September 10, 2010

week one- Lines- Angelina

What is line? Line is a basic element of art. They are everywhere you look and can be curved, straight, parallel, perpendicular, jagged, zigzag and more. Lines can denote movement or direction. They can define a space, express emotion or convey meaning. Lines seemed like a perfect starting point for our first week in the studio.
Several interesting questions emerged in the first day. "How long can you make a line?", "How small can you make a line?", "Can you make a line into a shape?" and several interesting ideas resulted, "We could call a tree trimmer and make lines on trees.", "We could go outside the school and make lines up and down the sidewalks all around the school", "We could make lines on our fences or in the school." We look forward to pursuing some of these possibilities in the week ahead.
This student stumbled on positive and negative space and the art of "drawing something without drawing it". She worked for 25 minutes, drawing deliberate lines overlapping one another and creating a dark central "tent" image, while leaving a white space exposed to imply a door. Once this technique was pointed out, several nearby students became interested in "drawing without drawing" and an explosion of dark and light images evolved.
Lines joined together create shapes. Many students made this discovery and relished in labeling one another's creations, "That is a square, it has four lines", "You drew a circle", "A circle is just one line!" and so on. Some of the older students discovered that lines are used to write letters and numerals, soon the canvas was covered with the symbols best known to each child present.On Wednesday afternoon, we had a studio session devoted to the older, full day students. These students were asked to collect natural objects with provocative lines and bring them to the center of our drawing table. They then began drawing lines of interest on 6x6 inch white bristol board. Toward the end of our studio sessions two boys expressed an interest in using a color besides black. I said that we were only using the tools out on the table today (black felt tips, ball points and pencils).
Another boy eyed a large, muddy piece of bark, obviously noting the possibilities. He wiped a piece of mud onto his finger and then looked uncertainly at me. I smiled encouragingly and he rubbed the mud into his paper, successfully creating a rich brown. Thus began an exciting conversation between several boys. The result was some truly inspiring art, colored with verdant leafy greens and deep mud browns. They were very eager to pursue the implied possibilities of this discovery further.
Finally, we ended the week as "Nature Detectives". Each child was given a clipboard, a 6x6 in. piece of white paper and a choice of three writing tools (felt tip, ball point or pencil) and were encouraged to explore our outdoor environment in search of lines, recording their data on the white paper.
Here are a few of their findings: