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Outdoor Science School ~ day four. Inquiry projects May 26, 2017

Today we returned to Sunnyside Park for our final day of our outdoor science school, and focused on inquiry projects.  The children divided into two groups the day before, and thought about what they were most interested in studying.  One group chose birds, and the other group chose more hunting for aquatic macro invertebrates ~ remember them from day one?  Next they chose a question to which they did not already know the answer, and designed a project, using the scientific method, to find the answer.  They learned and used new words like hypothesis (best guess), data (numbers), location, materials, conclusion . . .


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The first group wanted to know whether there were more land birds or water birds at Sunnyside Park.  Five of the group shared the hypothesis that there would be more land birds, and two members of the group thought there would be more water birds.  To find the answer, they chose two locations – one on a hill, surrounded by trees, and then down on the edge of the pond.  At each location they decided to spend five minutes watching for birds, and using tally marks and columns to keep check of how many were water birds and how many were land birds.  They spent two five-minute bird watching sessions at each location.  After each five- minute session, the children spent time discussing what they saw and adding up their tally marks.

The second group wanted to know whether there were more macro invertebrates in the pond or in the stream.  Their hypothesis was that there would be more in the pond.  To find the answer, they decided to sample four tubs of water at each location.  They worked in pairs, as hunters and recorders.  The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch the macro invertebrates in the tub of water and to transfer what they caught to the sample tray – an ice cube tray.  The recorders used lenses to view each sample and a field guide to try to identify each organism.

The groups then used their best team-working skills to prepare a poster to communicate their inquiry project to the other group and parents who would be attending a presentation.  I loved watching the children work together as writers, illustrators and data managers to present their projects.

After a picnic lunch with parents, the children presented their projects and answered questions.  And what did they discover?  There were more land birds than water birds in Sunnyside Park.  The second group rejected their hypothesis, because they found about the same number of macro invertebrates in the stream as in the pond.

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Next we sang two songs that the children had learned and one that they spontaneously composed.  The children’s songs were about habitat, eco-systems and perspective.

Finally, parents and children had time together to look through field journals, take a closer look at the project posters and try out some of the scientific tools we used during the week.

After a few group photos, we said goodbye to Ms. Audry and Ms. Rachel, our educators.  As a wonderful surprise, Audry and Rachel had prepared an individual note for each child, mentioning their strengths and skills.

This week went by so fast.  I watched the children grow not only in their science skills and knowledge but in their sense of community, their resilience and their independence.  One of our children said, while bird-watching, I could keep doing this forever!  We will definitely be interested in another Montessori Outdoor Science School next year.

Thanks once again to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman, and one of our students’ Grandfather.

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Outdoor Science School ~ Day three. It’s all about perspective! May 24, 2017

Today we travelled by public transportation and a long walk to reach Roundtop Park, one of the highest points in Pullman, and a remnant of the original Palouse prairie.  Part of the challenge of today was the weather.  The temperature dropped about thirty degrees from yesterday, and there was a fierce cold wind blowing.  We got a very concrete lesson in being prepared for changes of weather.  Many of the kids were under-dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and were feeling very cold.  We made an emergency trip back to one of our family’s home to stock up on jackets, hats, gloves and long pants.  Lesson learned, we hope!

The theme of today was perspective.  We spent part of the day getting up close and personal with individual prairie plants, and using a plant guide to identify the plants.  We also considered what we might have named a plant.  I loved the name given to a type of grass by a child ~ ‘purple seeds’   From the photos you can see how intent the children were on seeing ‘up close’ and noticing detail.

Above is one of my favorite photos,  At outdoor science school, no desks are needed for learning and work!

We also switched perspective, because we were up high, and looked out at the landscape.  We drew and talked about what we saw.  We also talked about what we noticed using our different perspectives.  This is similar to using binoculars and a magnifying lens, two tools we have been using throughout our outdoor science school.

Part of today was also spent in being a child in nature – having fun by running, climbing, jumping, and pretending to be animals!  We ended the day by composing a song about perspective!  I hope we will sing this for parents at our presentation tomorrow at 1:00.  Tomorrow morning the children will work on inquiry projects, and will present their findings to the group and parents after a picnic lunch.  This week has gone by too fast!

 

Outdoor Science School ~Day Two. It’s all about the water! May 23, 2017

Today we had another beautiful day for our outdoor science school ~ blue skies, sunshine, high around 80, but a wonderful breeze!  We walked along the South Fork of the Palouse for a day focused on water.  IMG_3953Our morning base was under our favorite willow tree.  This tree provided us with much needed shade for snack, and our first activity, getting close to something we found in nature ~ a piece of bark, a leaf, a rock, a bug . . . We shared with a friend what we noticed, and what we wondered.  “I noticed this piece of bark has some moss growing on it.  And I wonder where the bark came from?  Did it fall off the willow tree?”

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Someone noticed some very strange fungi growing on the tree, and then we all got up close and personal with our favorite tree.  We found more fungi, spiders and their webs, ants, holes that might be homes for living things . . .

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Next wIMG_3984e worked on a water cycle game.  We imagined we were a droplet of water, and we followed this water droplet through a journey.  There were various stations representing clouds, ocean, rivers, ground water, animals, plants.  We spread out around the various stations.  At each station there was a bag of colored beads and a dice.  We took a bead at our station (e.g. white bead for clouds, blue bead for rivers) and then rolled a dice to tell us where to go next on our water droplet journey.  The dice were loaded in favor of the real water cycle, so we found ourselves spending a lot of time at the cloud and the ocean station.  That makes sense!  There is a lot more water stored in the oceans, than in plants and animals, for example.  This was a fun way to explore the water cycle.( Check out https://www.facebook.com/TheMontessoriSchoolofPullman/ to see a video of  the journey of a couple of droplets of water. We then spent time building miniature water sheds.  We used backpacks, water bottles and rocks, and a black trash sack to build mountains, valleys and lowlands.  Then we used spray bottles to represent rain to see how water would gather and flow, as in lakes and rivers.  We added ‘stuff’ to represent pollutants, and then let it ‘rain’ some more to see what would happen.  The pollutants spread throughout the watershed.  We thought about where we might build a house on our watershed, where we might farm, how we would provide spIMG_3985ace for wildlife . . . We drew our watersheds.

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What a special place for lunch!  We sat on the riverbank, surrounded by the sound of rushing water, and ‘snow in spring!’  The cottonwoods were releasing their seeds, and it looked like snow!

Our afternoon was spent checking out whether the Palouse River was ideal habitat for salmon.  We used tools to measure the temperature of the water, the acidity and the turbidity (How cloudy) of the water.  From a song, we learned that salmon like clear, cold water and fast flowing water.  We also observed to see if there was food (aquatic macro invertebrates like caddis fly) and shelter, like rocks and snags.  Our conclusion was that the habitat would not be ideal – water too warm, for example – but might be possible, but the fish would be stressed.

On our walk home, we noticed that some of our students were really dragging towards the end.  Our last stretch was uphill in the heat of the day.  However, at the end of a full day like this is a strong sense of, “I did it!”

Roll on tomorrow, and another full day of outdoor science learning!

 

Outdoor Science School ~ day one May 22, 2017

Filed under: community,Community Building,nature,Observation,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:18 pm

I am very excited to share each day of our first ever four-day outdoor science school.  We are very thankful to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman for a donation of $500, and to one of our grandpas who donated the other $500.  We are also thankful to Sawyer’s family for housing our environmental scientists, and to our families for feeding them during their stay.  Our science educators joined us for four days of outdoor learning from the McCall Outdoor Science School in Idaho.

Each day I will share some of the highlights of the day.  Today, on a gorgeous spring day, with highs near 80, lots of sun and blue skies, we walked to Sunnyside Park.  We enjoyed walking with friends and a picnic lunch, a chance to play on the playground (a game of freeze tag) and also an opportunity to participate in three key learning activities:

Magic Circle

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For this activity, each child chose an area of ground that seemed interesting, and used a rope to circle off the area.  Then they drew and labelled and counted what they saw.  Our educators encouraged the children to keep looking closer and adding details  because these are skills of scientists ~ careful and deep observation.  Next the children were encouraged to classify their findings.  The children found different ways to classify, including in the image shown above – things that are living (bugs), things that once were living but no longer are living (dried pine needles), things that never were living (rocks). I think this activity might be repeated at different locations, with the results being compared.

Web of Life

For this activity, students were invited to draw an element or organism of the ecosystem they were observing.  It could be an organism – a bird, bug, mammal, plant, or an element such as the dirt, the air, the pond.  The children were encouraged to label their drawings.  Then the children formed connections between what they had drawn and someone else’s drawing.  “I drew a bird.  I’m connected to the drawing of the tree because the tree provides me shelter and a place to perch and build a nest.”  “I drew a tree and I am connected to the pond because I need water to grow and I am on the banks of the pond, so that’s where I get my water.”  A child held hands with another child once they had made a connection.  Soon there was an interconnected web of life forming.  Once we had formed a very interconnected web, we then considered what would happen if we removed one element of the web.  “What would happen if we drained the pond to build a new home?”  “What would happen if we removed the bugs?”  “What would happen if we cut down all of the trees for wood?”  This was a great lesson in learning about ecosystems and balance.

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Aquatic Macro Invertebrate Hunt

Vocabulary we learned.  Macro = able to be seen with the eye, micro needs to be seen with a microscope, aquatic = lives in the water, invertebrate = without a backbone.

We got a tub of pond water and divided into two groups ~ the hunters and the observers. The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch aquatic macro invertebrates.  These were transferred to the specimen collection area – an ice cube tray.  The observers used lenses and a field guide to identify the specimens.  Identification was based on questions ~ does it have a shell, does it have wings, does it have legs?  We drew what we saw and identified when we could.  Then the kids swapped roles, and the hunters became the observers and vice-versa.  For the group I was with, our most elusive, difficult to catch and favorite aquatic macro invertebrate was the predacious diving beetle!  We imagined this critter as the bad guy in a comic strip!  Who knew there could be so much life in even a tub of pond water?

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I loved today.  This is hands on learning and community building, memory making at its best.  This experience has made me committed to having at least a monthly out-of-doors learning activity, and to repeating this opportunity in future years.

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Being outdoors and with friends and learning in so many ways ~ science, writing, vocabulary, data collecting, observational drawing, social learning, independence – is the absolute best!

I am so excited for day two!

 

Child Development Right Before My Eyes! November 11, 2016

Filed under: Child Development,learning,Observation,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 7:51 pm

This morning, early in the day on the playground, a few of our older children were pretending to be cats.  They were miaowing, wrapping themselves around my legs, pretending to wash themselves with their paws, etc.  I love pretend games.  I have a drama background.  I learn by trying out different roles,  So, when children themselves initiate fantasy play, especially fantasy play based on reality (e.g. acting in ways they know cats behave), I can play along.

“Oh, you are pretending to be cats.  O.K. ”  I then pretend to stroke the cats fur, and make comments such as, “This cat has such smooth fur.”  or “This cat feels so warm.”  I might wonder aloud about whether the cats are hungry, or what their names are.

One of our youngest children (just turned two) seemed very confused by what the children were doing.  I told him several times, “The children are acting like cats.  They are pretending.”  He still seemed unsure of what was going on, so we moved away from the game and went to check out our gardening boxes, and picked the last of our ripe tomatoes. (Amazing, I know, in the Northwest in November!)

Before I left for the day, I once again spent time on the playground with our children.  Our youngest child, who couldn’t quite grasp what was going on first thing in the morning, got down on all fours and began miaowing.  He was pretending to be a cat.  Somehow, during the day, his brain had figured out what was going on and he had learned to pretend to be an animal.  He had remembered the game from the morning.  He was so proud of himself.

And I was so thrilled to observe such development of the imagination in a single day in the life of a child!

 

Seeing our School through New Eyes April 27, 2016

Seeing our school through new eyes is amazing!  We have Ms. Makiko, a kindergarten teacher from Japan, visiting our school for three weeks.  This is a great cross-cultural experience for us all, and I am really enjoying seeing Ms. Makiko’s enthusiasm for what she is learning about Montessori education.  Yesterday, on her first day, she had a tour of our school and an introduction to Montessori philosophy and practices.  We looked at the practical life, sensorial, language, math and cultural areas for different age levels, toddler, three to six year olds, and lower elementary.  She then observed in the toddler environment and both three to six-year-old classrooms.  Today she spent the day with our elementary students.  Observing students from age two to age nine working in their normal environments is a wonderful way to see child development.

Tomorrow she will accompany our elementary students on a walking field trip to our local public library and participate in her first staff meeting at our school.

I am really enjoying hearing her comments and answering her questions.

“Your students are so smart!”  Well, yes, they are.  Children are smart and given the right opportunities, are engaged and excited about learning.

“Your teachers are amazing!”  Well, yes, they are.  All of our lead teachers have Montessori teacher certification for the age levels at which they teach, and all of our assistant teachers have completed a Montessori assistant teacher training.  Our school is passionate about Montessori teacher training.  During the last eight years we have financially supported eight teachers through Montessori certification, and provided a practicum site for an additional seven students, and provided Montessori assistant teacher training for over twenty teachers. Our teachers are also hardworking and passionate, a winning combination.

“I noticed a boy doing math all morning long, and nothing else. Is that OK?”

What followed was a discussion about following the child and the importance of the teacher really knowing his or her students.  Some children balance their learning over a week, and spend each day focused on a different area – math today, language tomorrow.  Other children balance their learning over a longer period.  This is what one of my children did – focus on language for six solid weeks, followed by maps and geography for two months, then math for a month . . . Some children need their teacher to help them balance their learning.  “Yesterday you spent the whole day doing math.  Today, let’s start in a different area.”  Sometimes that might include the teacher and child collaborating on a work plan.  Teachers also need to take into account the development and age of the child.  For a young three-year-old, a focus on practical life is typical.

As for that cross cultural experience, one of our classrooms is currently studying Asia, and will invite Ms. Makiko to introduce them to Japan.  We are also all getting ready to celebrate Moms’ Day with a tea, and so would love to experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony.

I can’t wait to hear Ms. Makiko’s comments and answer her questions over the next few weeks.

 

 

Observation March 22, 2016

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We talk a lot about the importance of observation for the teacher, but perhaps overlook the importance of observation by the child of another child at work.  The two children watching in this photo are using an amazing amount of self control to watch another child at work without touching the work, or interfering in any way.  With hands in laps, they are respectfully watching, and perhaps gathering ideas for their later exploration and work with these materials.  They are indirectly practicing an important executive brain function skill, impulse control.  This is really challenging, even for adults!  Just think of a time you were either asking for help with a new computer skill, or trying to show someone else how to do something on the computer.  This is so difficult to do without the person in the teaching mode taking over the keyboard!

For visual learners, this may be a very important way to learn – by watching.  Montessori education respects the diverse ways children learn, and encourages children to find out for themselves what works best to facilitate their best learning.  This is a skill for life.