Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Inspired by His Learning

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether we're doing the right thing by putting our boys in a school that follows a non-traditional method of education. It's scary sending your child through a system you didn't personally experience. Andrew went to a private Christian school while I grew up in the public school system. The Montessori system doesn't allow us to gauge how well our boys are doing by comparing them to our own educational experiences, nor does the school do formalized testing or provide standardized report cards for us to see how they compare with their peers. So we basically have to trust the system and hope that if we ever leave this school, our boys will be able to measure up.

Luckily, we do get glimpses ever so often to reassure us that this system is working for our boys. Take, for instance, Nathan's most recent class breakfast. Each time I go to a breakfast, I'm becoming more impressed with the way they introduce different concepts in Montessori. Especially math concepts.

As a highly visual learner, it was so interesting for me to see how they used bead bars to illustrate decanomials. They start off with a physical representation of the multiplication table. Setting this part up took a long time but the boys were meticulous and precise.

They found all the squares, exchanged the pieces into fixed squares and exchanged the remaining bead bars via the commutative law.

Afterwards, they combined bars to create more fixed squares, eventually building cubes. These cubes can be stacked into a tower, which is exactly like the pink tower Caleb gets to work with in his classroom. It's amazing to see how they build the foundation for such complex ideas even from the beginning.

Once Nathan and his friend packed the beads up, we moved onto the river model. This interactive model shows how a river is formed, and then the students can also label the different parts of a river.

The model starts off as a solid mass of sand. As they continuously pour water in the same spot, the sand eventually erodes away and right before your eyes in minutes, you see what would take hundreds of years to happen in nature. It's like watching a time-lapse video, and so much more interesting than having someone tell you that it takes millions of years for water to carve out a path through the surface of the earth to create a river.

And of course, here's Nathan's diagram, complete with two dudes chilling out under a tree by the river. Hah!

Then, we attended a maths curriculum night in which they explained how math is taught throughout the curriculum, not just as an isolated subject. They also invited some students along to give us parents presentations (lessons) on different areas of math. Nathan was one of the presenters, and I've always told him that if he can't teach someone what he's learned, he hasn't learned it well enough. He did well that night in walking us step-by-step through the process of multiplying large numbers.

It was amazing to see these materials in actions, how it makes these abstract concepts make so much more sense. I even got to (finally) see how the binomial cube works. This is a lesson I missed out on during our first curriculum event here and I've been wondering how it is used ever since. Now, I know.

I think one of the best parts of the Montessori education is how it teaches the children to take ownership of what they're learning, and how comfortable the students are with talking with adults. I can say right now that Nathan is really enjoying and thriving in this environment. This system is definitely working for him, and seeing him so excited and confident in teaching others what he's learned is inspiring to me.

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