Friday, January 28, 2011

Visit from Dr. Doug Kennedy of Summit Vision Care

The morning began with throngs of excited children lined up outside the school, peering through the doors in anxious anticipation of the excitement which awaited them. "Is he here yet?" the children kept asking. No, they were not waiting for a visit from Santa or Thomas the Tank Engine; they were waiting for the arrival of Dr. Doug Kennedy and Rebecca Furuta (optician and vision therapist) of Summit Vision Care, who were coming to teach the children about the parts of an eye, lead them through their first dissection, and conduct free vision screenings at the school.
For the past few weeks, in anticipation of their visit, the children have been learning some of the basic anatomy of their eyes (sclera, pupil, iris, cornea, retina, and optic nerve) and gaining a rudimentary understanding of how their eyes function.

How many optometrists do you know who would supply an entire class with cows eyes and dissection tools, spend an entire morning leading preschoolers through their first dissection, and volunteer their time to conduct free vision screenings for the entire class? I only know of one.
Dr. Doug Kennedy has been practicing optometry in Boulder County for sixteen years and owns Summit Vision Care in Erie, Colorado. Although Dr. Kennedy sees patients of all ages (everything from general eye care, to co-management of Lasik and PRK, to specialty contact lens fittings for patients with keratoconic, bifocal, and toric/astigmatism contact prescriptions), his passion and enthusiasm for working with children is particularly palpable. Perhaps it is years of experience working with children, or perhaps it is having children of his own (who attended Montessori schools no less!), but even the most shy and reticent children seem instantly comfortable in his presence. As a result, in addition to being patients of his ourselves, we often recommend his services to families in need of eye care or vision therapies.
So, when Dr. Kennedy volunteered to donate a morning of his time to conduct free vision screenings at the school, I was absolutely elated. Few things are as disheartening to a teacher as the idea that there are children desperately interested in learning who are struggling because they cannot see clearly. Nevertheless, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than 1 out of every 20 children in America is currently struggling with an undiagnosed vision problem. These undiagnosed and untreated vision problems are significant contributors to reading problems, developmental delays, poor school performance, poor concentration and emotional regulation, and to special education classifications. In fact, it is estimated by the NIH that 60% of "problem learners" have undiagnosed vision problems contributing to their difficulties. In many cases, serious vision problems can be prevented or reversed with early detection and prevention.
I was particularly excited because, in addition to testing the children for both distance and near visual acuity, Dr. Kennedy was also kind enough to perform retinoscopy (an objective measurement of the refractive condition of the eye which is particularly useful for examining children because it ensures that their judgments and subjective responses match the prescription), test their extra ocular motilities (how their eyes focus, track, and move independently and in concert with each other so that the brain can take input from each eye and form a single image), and screen the children for eye teaming issues (which make it very difficult for children to be able to focus and align their eyes together while viewing objects up close, causing blurred or double vision and responsible for a large percentage of reading problems). These additional tests are generally not included in school vision screenings (most screenings only test the child's distance acuity), but are particularly important because convergence issues are common and often go undiagnosed (proper testing is seldom included in eye tests performed in a pediatrician's office or in school screenings and children can pass a 20/20 eye chart test and still have convergence issues).

And so it began. The children anxiously awaited Dr. Kennedy's arrival, and then enthusiastically peered into the classroom hoping to get a glimpse of the preparations that Dr. Kennedy and Rebecca Furuta, were making. Once the eager children were welcomed into the classroom, they sat down and listened with rapt attention as Dr. Kennedy reviewed the basic structures of the eye using anatomical models.

Then, it was time to proceed with the dissection! Like any good father, Dr. Kennedy had spent some quality time with his own children over the past few days, engaging them in trimming the extra fat off of the cow's eyes to prepare them for dissection. If he had any reservations about handing dissection tools over to our pint sized scientists and turning them lose to dissect, he was the consummate Montessori parent and didn't let it show.

Dissecting cow's eyes is a classic kindergarten anatomy lesson. It is the perfect dissection experience for children this age because the structures are relatively large, the cuts are simple and minimal, and the interior of the eye is so interesting (interesting textures, beautiful colors, and such an interesting function). Nevertheless, I was a little uncertain of what to expect as far as the reaction of the students when the eyes were actually placed in front of them. Would they want to touch them? I need not have worried. It is always really wonderful when you encounter someone with a real passion and zeal for what they do, and it really is contagious. That is how I would describe dissecting cow's eyes with Dr. Kennedy. His interest in the subject was infectious; any children (or adults, for that matter) that were hesitant about dissecting were immediately enthralled and engaged.

He talked the children through the dissection, beginning with an observation of the external anatomy of the eyes. The children easily identified the sclera (the white, outer, protective layer of the eye), the cornea (the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris and the pupil), and the optic nerve. The eyes were really great specimens (one had a very pronounced optic nerve still attached) and the children were completely captivated.

Then, Dr. Kennedy taught the children about the internal anatomy of the eye. They cut the eyes in half and (much to their delight) saw that the inside of the eye cavity was filled with a gelatinous liquid called the vitreous.

The children were quite interested in this unexpected finding. They spent quite a bit of time investigating the vitreous and many students stated later that this was their favorite part of the dissection (when one parent picked up, her three year old daughter was literally jumping up and down while she told her mom that her eye was filled with "vitreous jelly"). We also had an amusing moment in which one girl became dismayed to find that she had tipped over one of the halves of her eye and spilled vitreous fluid and Dr. Kennedy joked with her that no one should "cry over spilled vitreous fluid" (optometrist humor!).

Equally exciting, was the discovery that behind the "vitreous jelly" lay a small, clear lens. Dr. Kennedy encouraged them to pull the lens out of the eyes, and I was somewhat surprised to find that even children who had seemed slightly reluctant at the beginning were now confidently sticking their fingers into the vitreous to pull out the lens.

I admit that although I have fond memories of doing dissections in science classes as a child (I always found them interesting), I had forgotten just how intriguing they can be. After removing the lenses, the children (and the adults) placed them over paper with writing on it and saw that it magnified the objects. Both the adults and the children found this to be really exciting!

After that, the children located the retina (the part of the eye that contains the photoreceptor cells that collect the light which enters the eye from the outside world), the black choroid coat (which supplies the eye with blood and nutrients), and the beautiful iridescent tapetum lucidum (a reflective material found in cow's eyes, but not in human eyes, which allows them to see better at night by reflecting the light which is absorbed through the retina back into the retina).

Then, the children peeled back the cornea to locate the iris (the colored part of the eye which controls the diameter and size of the pupil, and how much light reaches the retina).

Having dissected and viewed the basic structures of the eye, it was time to clean up; however, much to our amusement, the children protested. They wanted to take the eyes home with them! After much negotiating, hands were washed, tables were cleaned and disinfected, eye balls were disposed of, and the happy children were taken for individual vision screenings.

After vision screenings were complete, and Dr. Kennedy and Rebecca had taken the time to write thorough reports for each child, the children went outside to play while Dr. Kennedy packed up and we set up for lunch. When he was ready to leave, he walked outside and was inundated with children. Spontaneously, they began hugging him and thanking him for coming to speak with them. I honestly doubt that there is an optometrist anywhere who is more beloved.
In the afternoon, many of the children decided to make him thank you cards, while others asked me if he would come back again. I have to say, we are fortunate in that we get to do a lot of fun and interesting things together as a class, but I cannot think of many that I have found as interesting and enjoyable.
We would sincerely like to thank Dr. Kennedy and Rebecca Furuta for sharing their time and expertise with us, and for the donation of the dissection materials. In addition to ensuring that there is not a child in our classroom suffering from an undiagnosed visual impairment, they also made sure that every child left with a really positive experience (I can guarantee that no child in this class will ever be afraid of going to see an optometrist for an eye examination). There certainly could be one or two future optometrists in the class!
For more information about Dr. Kennedy and his practice, please visit the Summit Vision Care website at:
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that all children receive a comprehensive eye exam at six months of age (the AOA launched a national program called InfantSEE in which participating providers, like Dr. Kennedy, will provide a free examination to children between six months and one year of age- visit to learn more or to find a participating provider), every year after, and any time the child exhibits signs of a vision problem (burning, itching, or watery eyes, holding books too close to their eyes while reading, bumping into things, excessive daydreaming, difficulty with fine motor tasks, closing eyes or tilting their head, eyes that do not appear to focus correctly, short attention spans during reading or homework, or difficulty or dislike of reading, writing, or copying). In addition to checking your child's eye sight, a comprehensive examination can diagnose conditions like "lazy eye," "crossed eye," and ocular diseases. Early detection and intervention can be critical to successful treatment and to preventing developmental delays. An annual examination by an optometrist is more comprehensive than the vision screenings children receive at school and in their pediatrician's office; while these screenings can detect visual acuity issues, they should not serve in lieu of an annual exam by an optometrist.
Thank you Dr. Kennedy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Bell's Not a Bell 'Till Your Ring It

The Bells are certainly adored by the children. They spent much of the day yesterday perfecting their ability to use the mallet to produce the tones and learning to use the damper. Some of the children began receiving presentations on the preliminary bell lessons. The bells consist of a set of twenty six bells, or two sets of thirteen bells. One set is "a control set" of white and black bells which correspond to the black and white keys on a piano and produce the sound of one octave beginning at middle C; the other is a matching set of brown bells, which are used in "auditory experiments" conducted by the child.

In the first preliminary lesson, three brown bells which produce highly disparate notes from the diatonic scale are mixed in the front of the bell cabinet. The child uses their auditory sense to match the pitches to the corresponding white bells. Over time, the children will progress to being able to match all of the pitches in the diatonic scale, even accomplishing this feat as they match them across a classroom (remembering the sound of the note as they walk across the room to locate the identical sound).
After they have mastered matching the bells, the children will progress to learning to grade the diatonic scale, learning the names of the notes, and learning to read and perform music using the bells.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Bells Are Here!

The bells are here! Nearly a year ago, one of our families made a very generous donation to the school, which we used to purchase this set of Montessori Bells. The bells are the primary material which Montessori used in the 3-6 classroom to develop the auditory senses of children and for musical education. Although the bells are an integral part of Montessori education, and considered one of the basic "standardized" pieces of equipment which ought to be found in any 3-6 classroom, they are often absent due to the expense of the material, and very few Montessori schools actually have them available in the classroom (I only know of one school in Boulder County). As a result, we consider ourselves very fortunate to have been given a donation which made it possible for us to purchase this material.

We ordered the bells nearly a year ago from Neinhuis (the main supplier of Montessori materials and the original supplier of many materials to Dr. Montessori herself!). Neinhuis told us that the materials would be coming to the US on a ship from Holland (where Neinhuis is based), but was unable to give us an an exact date- apparently, they have a peculiar inventory management system in which they receive containers from Holland every few months but never know in advance what will be on them!
The bells are a little slice of history in their own right. Our bells were manufactured by hand in Tuscany by the Tronci Firm of Pistoja- the same family business (in fact, the same ten person factory) that Montessori purchased them from nearly a century ago (the Tronci family has weathered the vagaries of history- they began making musical instruments in the first half of the nineteenth century by making church bells using ancient Etruscan art techniques for casting bronze, then Luigi Tronci worked with Montessori to develop the Montessori Bells, and subsequently, in 1910, became famous for casting the first Italian cymbals, which fueled the American jazz movement until Mussolini came to power and declared jazz to be a sin). Anyhow, after a year of waiting, the bells arrived this Friday!

After a few hours of playing with the bells ourselves, my indulgent husband (and resident Montessori Bob Vila) went to work at constructing a beautiful cabinet for the new material.
The name of the material, "The Montessori Bells," is actually a misnomer. The bells resulted from a collaboration between Dr. Montessori and Anna Maria Maccheroni. Ms. Maccheroni (1876-1965) came from an erudite family that placed great importance upon education, and she had been educated by a Froebelian tutor that the family employed at home. She met Montessori when she was a student at the university and happened to attend Dr. Montessori's lecture Pedagogical Anthropology for Teachers. Maccheroni was drawn to Montessori's work because she shared the belief that mental work and activity does not exhaust young children, but nourishes their mind and feeds their soul. Ms. Maccheroni ultimately became the directress of the Casa dei Bambini in Milan. The partnership between the two women was particularly beneficial to the development of musical materials as Ms. Maccheroni's musical talent and understanding of musical theory exceeded that of Montessori.

Montessori came to consider musical education as an integral part of her method; it fell into a broader category of education that she referred to as "sense education," or Sensorial Materials, which are didactic materials that were designed to develop all of the child's senses (visual, kinaesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, and auditory). Montessori believed that sensory impressions form the basis for higher forms of knowledge and intellectual activity (conceptual understanding, self-consciousness, etc) and that refining the child's sensory perception would lead to future cognitive gains. She also believed that her Sensorial materials were among her most important contributions to education: "In a pedagogical method which is experimental, the education of the senses must undoubtedly assume the greatest importance... from the biological side we wish to help the natural development of the individual; from the social standpoint it is our aim to prepare the individual for the environment. The education of the senses precedes that of superior intellectual activity and the child between the age of three and seven is in the period of formation. We can, then, help the development of the senses while they are in this period. We may graduate and adapt the stimuli, just as, for example, it is necessary to help the formation of language before it shall be completely developed."
In other words, just as we can assist a child in learning to read or to speak a new language by providing the appropriate environmental stimuli, we can assist children in developing their ability to perceive differences in color, form, dimensions, and pitch by providing appropriate materials and experiences. The materials that Montessori created to accomplish these tasks are so well designed that they have stood the test of time and, in addition to Montessori schools, continue to be widely used in occupational, speech, and vision therapy settings.
For musical/auditory development, Montessori and Maccheroni began by experimenting with music during line activities, to assist children in acquiring balance and equilibrium, but over time music became an integral part of the classroom environment and they found that children between the ages of four and seven are in a "sensitive period" for musical education (children are developing their auditory pathways, the same sensitive period which makes learning language possible). Just as a child exposed regularly to a foreign language during this time can acquire it with an ease and exactness that cannot be achieved later in life, children between the age of 4-7 can also learn music with similar ease; however, failure to provide the right stimuli and exposure during this sensitive period makes it unlikely that the child will develop the skill later to the same extent. Specifically, they observed that through regular use of intelligently considered materials, their Sensorial materials, young children were able to discriminate between different pitches, match identical pitches, grade pitches (recognize musical scales), acquire a sense of rhythm, hear a pitch and correctly associate it to the name of the note, and read and perform music.

The bells were the primary material that Maccheroni and Montessori designed to provide for musical education in the first plane of development. Montessori describes the materials as follows: "The foundation of the system consists in a series of bells representing the whole tones and semi tones of one octave. The material follows the general characteristics of that used in the Sensorial method, that is, the the objects differ from each other in one and only one quality, the one which concerns the stimulation of the sense under education. The bells, for example, must be apparently identical in dimension, shape, etc. , but they must produce different sounds. The basic exercise is to have the child recognize "identities". He must pair off the bells which give the same sound... In the exercise, the child strikes with a small mallet one of the bells fixed on the support. Then, from among the others scattered at random on the table, he finds one which gives the same sound and places it on the board in front of the fixed bell corresponding to it.... The next step is to distinguish differences, and at the same time, gradations of stimuli. In this case the child mixes at random the eight bells, which give the whole tones of the scale. He is to find do, then re, and so on through the octave one note after the other, placing the bells in order in their proper places. Nomenclature is taught step by step as in the other Sensorial exercises. To familiarize the child with the names, we use small round disks, the circular form used to suggest the head of the written form of the note. On each disk the name of the note is written. The child places the disks at the base of the bells which correspond to them."

As with other Montessori materials, they observed that when children were supplied with the correct materials and stimuli, and permitted to freely repeat the activities at will, they were able to acquire musical skill spontaneously (quickly and with relative ease). Montessori explains: "In actual practice, we found that when the material was used with some restrictions, by forty children between three and six years of age, only six or seven proved capable of filling out the major scale by ear. But when the material was placed freely at their disposal, they all progressed along the same lines and showed about the same rate of improvement, as was the case with our experiments with reading, writing, etc. When individual differences appeared, it was by no means due to the possibility of performing these tasks, but rather to the amount of interest taken in these exercises, for which some children showed actual enthusiasm. Eagerness for surmounting difficulties and for high attainment is much more frequently found in children than we, judging by our own experience as adults, easily suspect."

As a result, just as authentic Montessori programs do not generally have classes (i.e. "Language Time") when all children are forced to work on one subject together as a group at a designated time, they also usually do not have separate "music classes;" instead, the materials for musical education are constantly present in the classroom, integrated with the rest of the curriculum, and available for the children to use throughout the independent work times as they would any other material. The children are given individual, or small group, presentations on the materials.
Mario Montessori, Dr. Montessori's son, described the Montessori musical progression created by Professor Maccheroni as follows: "It is impossible to adequately describe what Professori Maccheroni has accomplished. Her work is an exquisite miniature of details in which music and the child's psyche are closely interwoven. Beginning with the child who, at age two-and-a-half , seems to fall in love with the sound of a single note that he produces by striking a bell with a tiny wooden hammer, and passing through many activities which, at three include 'Walking Along a Melody,' she accompanies the child. But the impressive fact is that without effort, without tiresome drudgery, through a process that gives the child the feeling of having discovered it all himself, he becomes familiar with the various aspects of musical theory. Incredibly, he is conversant with rhythmic design; with the degree an family of scales; with transposition and modulation; with the analysis of musical phrases and graphics, writing of music; homophony, polyphony, and harmony. Nor is that all. Through Professor Maccheroni's efforts the child has at last been able to enter into possession of the second part of the spiritual inheritance humanity bestows on its children."

Over the next few weeks we will work at modifying our space to create a little conservatory for the children, in which they can more comfortably practice their violins and the bells with our guides during the independent work times. I cannot wait to see the excitement of the children when they lay their eyes upon these beautiful little bells.
Again, we wish to extend our sincere gratitude to the family which made this purchase possible. Thank you so much for your kindness, your generosity, and your commitment to helping us create an authentic Montessori environment and improve the quality of musical education and instruction at the school.
-Pinksterboer, Hugo. The Cymbal Book, 1992; 164
-Montessori, Maria. The Advanced Montessori Method, 1917; 317-374
-Montessori, Mario. Man's Spiritual Expressions: Language and Music, 1956

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reminder: Purchase Your CSA Shares by Friday, January 28th!

It is hard to believe, given all of the snow on the ground, but we are hard at work making plans for our summer program!

One of the many highlights of the summer program is that we participate in the national Slow Foods USA Farm to School Program. This year, we will be partnering with Ollin Farms to provide the students with the opportunity to visit a sustainably operated farm to learn about the cultivation of food (the field trips to the farm are generally one of the highlights of the summer) and the children will be using the fruit and vegetables that the school receives from the farm (in our weekly CSA share) in practical life and food preparation activities. In addition, the children will also maintain their own organic, heirloom vegetable garden at the school. We believe that this program helps us to raise the next generation with an awareness of the importance of enjoying nutritious, local, seasonal, and sustainably produced food. It also assists them in developing a more refined palate which is more accepting of fresh fruit and vegetable offerings, and provides hands on botany activities in which they gain a better understanding of the life cycle and parts of plants.

In conjunction with this program, we will again be offering our families the opportunity to purchase their own CSA shares from the farm as well, with the convenience of being able to collect your shares from the school when you pick up your child.

Ollin Farms is a beautiful, family owned farm, which provides an enormous variety of nutrient dense foods which they grow using sustainable agricultural practices. Community Supported Agriculture is a socio-economic model of farming in which members of the community pledge support to a local farming operation by purchasing a weekly share of the farm's produce. It provides participants with high-quality, local, sustainably grown produce, while sharing the risks and benefits inherent in farming. Participants will receive a weekly share for 21 weeks during the CSA season (May 30th-October 17th). If you saw pictures from last summer, you will remember the excitement that ensued each week when Farmer Mike came to drop off the shares (I have never seen children so desperate to find a raw turnip to munch on).

We are particularly excited about this partnership because they offer a tremendous variety of fruits and vegetables (over 150 varieties!), they have several options as far as share size, they partner with a chef to offer some great harvest dinners at the farm, and in addition to growing fruits and vegetables, they also raise chickens, sheep, and honeybees! For more information about the farm, their farming practices, or to view a list of the fruits and vegetables they provide, please visit their website at:

If you would like to purchase a CSA Share for your family through the school, please return your CSA contract (with a check payable to Ollin Farms) to the school prior to Friday, January 28th!

You may also contact Ollin Farms directly to purchase shares after this date, if you decide to participate later, but we do expect that they will sell out well before summer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The End of the Suzuki Semester

It is hard to believe, but tomorrow marks the end of our first sixteen week Suzuki semester. In a mere four months, our "pre-twinklers" have progressed from struggling to hold a cardboard violin in the correct position without dropping it, to playing their first songs on the most beautiful little violins I have ever seen. They have also gained an understanding of rhythm, performed in three public concerts (including one individual solo performance), and they are beginning to learn violin finger positioning.

The children absolutely adore the program; even when they are not playing they can often be found practicing using sandbox implements, rhythm sticks, or "air bowing." One of their favorite playground games is to take turns pretending to be Erron (their teacher) while having their friends adopt the role of a student performing the very popular "Mississippi Hotdog."

In the next sixteen weeks, the children are going to continue working on perfecting the five Suzuki variations of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. They will also perform an individual solo recital and participate in the Annual Longmont Suzuki Strings Benefit Concert benefitting Operation Smile.

Participants in our integrated Suzuki program attend a weekly lesson, with their parents and our guides, taught by Erron Lacy of Longmont Suzuki Strings. The children practice daily with their parents (15 minutes or more a night). Additionally, the children regularly listen to Suzuki recordings during the school day (and other musical appreciation pieces) to assist them in learning to recognize beautiful tone quality by ear, play together during line time, and have the option of practicing their violins (with the assistance of our Montessori guides) during the independent work periods.

It is so much fun to practice with the children and it has been such a wonderful experience to watch them grow and develop. We absolutely cannot wait to see what the next sixteen weeks bring!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Welcome New Students!

Last week, Bloom! Montessori concluded our re-enrollment period for existing students and began making offers of acceptance to prospective families who applied for the 2011-2012 School Year (placements beginning in June 2011). If you submitted an application to us, please check your email for notification of your child's status.

If your child has been accepted, you will recieve an acceptance packet in the mail. If for any reason you have not recieved your acceptance packet by Friday, January 14th, please contact our office. You will have until Monday, January 31st to remit the signed Tuition and Fees Contract and your deposit to the school; if we do not recieve it by this date, we will make the spot available to other families. We will email you to confirm receipt of these items. If for any reason, you have decided not to enroll, please let us know as soon as possible so that we may offer the spot to others.

Thank you again for your interest in our program! We are very excited about working with you in the service of your child!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Simple Machines- Part Two

The children have been continuing their study of simple machines. In a Montessori classroom, children are given lessons independently (sometimes with a few other children watching, who have been shown how to be a "quiet observer," who watches the lesson without interrupting in any way). During the lesson, the children are shown how to gather the needed materials, carry out the exercise, repeat as many times as desired, and to put the material away. Once the child has been given a lesson on the material, they are afforded the opportunity to work with the lesson independently (and get it out at will).

Each lesson contains one conceptual "key; " it isolates one important point, satisfying the child's knowledge, and bringing forth one idea or natural law through a concrete, hands-on activity. The lessons are simple, related to the child's needs, fitted to her age and abilities, and easy enough that she can do them herself.

Science lessons are no different. They are not small or large group activities, to be performed and directed by an adult and watched by the children. They are independent lessons which permit the child to be the scientist and explorer, and to discover principles for herself, which she does by repetition. At all times, the independent child is an active participant in the search for understanding (inquiring and discovering for herself), not a passive consumer of pre-formulated information.

As part of this unit, the children have been investigating the many varied uses of screws. In addition to practical life lessons in which the children use screw drivers, hex drivers, and allen wrenches, they have also been learning about the historical use of screws to raise water, using a model of an Archimedes Screw.

The invention of the Archimedes Screw, or screwpump, has been attributed to Archimedes (a student of Euclid)in the third century. It was used to lift water from low lying bodies into irrigation ditches. These ancient machines are still in use today; in 2001 they were successfully used by engineers to stabilize the Leaning Tower of Pisa, they have been used to reclaim land from under the sea in the Netherlands, and they are commonplace in many modern sewage treatment plants.

The children were very interested in this invention and enjoyed hearing stories about Archimedes and about the Siege of Syracuse.

It is not uncommon for Montessori students, after getting a work out independently and repeating it as often as needed to fulfill their needs and satisfy their curiosity, to spontaneously create something new using the information they have learned- a story, a conversation, a drawing, or to share their new accomplishment and validate their own growth by teaching another child to do the work. The way in which the mixed age group accommodates this natural desire to create and to share information with others, it one of the method's most important achievements. To the observant guide, these act of creation demonstrate the ways in which the child has assimilated the new information into their conceptual scheme; additionally, it is quite a delight for the teacher to observe- because it occurs spontaneously, unprompted, and the form in which it appears can differ markedly.

For example, after working with the Archimedes Screw and looking at some of the classroom books, one girl took it upon herself to create this clever diptych of Archimedes. She brought the work over to show me and explained that she had drawn Archimedes as a child and Archimedes as an adult "because all people were a baby and a child once, you know." What a lovely portrait, and a nice consolidation of what she had learned about Archimedes, history, biology, and the lifecycle of a person.
In addition to learning about screws, the children have been investigating pulleys. They have been performing experiments with fixed pulleys and block and tackle hoists (a system of two or more pulleys with a rope threaded between them) to learn that pulleys redirect force (you pull down on the rope, but the pulley pulls up on the load) and that a single pulley will not amplify the force (you will have to pull just as hard to lift the load with the pulley) but multiple pulleys (like the block and tackle system) provide mechanical advantage. The children also had the opportunity to experiment with different methods of rigging a tackle.
After the children had been working with the classroom models for a few days, my husband when out to the yard one afternoon and put up a pulley in the play area. The children peered through the glass and excitedly watched him at his work as they finished their lunches. "He has a surprise for us," one boy told me confidently. Afterwards, they raced outside to take turns using it as a fixed pulley and as a block and tackle hoist.

The children learned to belay, carefully lifting and lowering their load using a hand over hand motion.

Using the pulley has become a favorite past time in the yard.
The children have also been experimenting with some compound machines that use pulleys. This simple system uses a crank on a wheel and axle, in addition to a pulley, and gives the children some experience with the uses of a crane and winder.

Two of the younger children amused me greatly by getting out this material together and using it while they collaborated on a song which included lyrics about "we are the best workers because we work hard all day long." To my amusement, they got the material out together on multiple occasions, always singing the same homage to revered "workers".

Cranes were invented in ancient Greece. The earliest models were powered by beasts of burden, but the Romans developed more powerful cranes which employed the use of human treadmills like this reconstruction from Bonn, Germany.

Additionally, the children have also been experimenting with levers. Levers help to teach students the basic idea of torque (something revolving around a pivot point and the notion that you get a bigger torque by using a bigger force or applying the force further from the pivot point), equilibrium (the idea that under certain conditions objects can be balanced), and the parts of a lever (bar, fulcrum).
We have several models of levers in the classroom, including one in which the children can create class two levers (where the fulcrum is at the end and the applied force is at the end), but the universal favorite of the children is this lever in which they experiment with lifting a fixed load of five washers. The children begin with the fulcrum in the middle of the bar and hypothesize how many washers must be applied to the force side to lift the load of five washers (6). Then, they experiment with moving the fulcrum closer to the load and discover that it requires less force to lift the same load (4). By changing the position of the fulcrum, and using such a simple system for comparing force (quantities of washers rather than known masses), even children with limited mathematical knowledge can readily note the force amplifications and understand the relationships among the different distances and forces.
I was particularly pleased when, after a few minutes of working with this material, one kindergarten age girl informed me that she had noticed that when nothing was on it, the bar only balanced when the fulcrum was placed in the middle of the bar. She was very excited about showing her discovery to the other students. These "aha moments," and the thrill of discovering something for herself through observation and experimentation, are lost in group settings where teachers present information to children, rather than creating the conditions where they can come to the same conclusion through their own mental efforts.

Once the children had a good understanding of the idea of torque and equilibrium, it was time to bring out the balance scale and introduce the idea of measuring using known masses.

The children have also been busy applying their knowledge about simple machines through conceptual sorting activities like this one. In this lesson, they examine pictures of simple machines that can be found in their homes and environment and sort them based upon the type of simple machine represented. This is a pretty abstract (and challenging) task for a three- six year old!

We have also been studying the art of Leonardo Da Vinci; many of the children made Inventor's Journals featuring tracings and sketches of simple machines in the style of Da Vinci's journals.

The children were also enamored with David Macaulay's book The New Way Things Work. They spent many an afternoon leafing through the pages of the book, examining simple machines, and it afforded the inspiration for many depictions of "pirate ships" that had lever "ship shakers" like those Archimedes is said to have designed for the Siege of Syracuse.

Next week, we will be introducing lessons on magnetism and electricity into the classroom.