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Adventures in Bergamo

Dear Friends,

Spring is here in Italy. In my attic room, I can hear the birds singing well-before the dawn. Their songs come through loud and clear, so I’m up with them in the early morning hours. There is still snow on the mountains, although the trees are flowering around these lowers hills. The world seems a beautiful and peaceful place.

This weekend I am finishing Botany Charts. This is the last set of required materials for the course. There are other materials and charts, of course, and these will fill out and complete the basics for an Elementary classroom. In fact, it seems that we could spend a life-time creating materials for the Elementary classroom because any subject area can be presented in a simple and clear way through images. It is left up to the teacher to create the things she will need for her class. We only make the essentials while on the course.

For some fun: the last few days we have begun looking at Montessori materials for the Pythagorean Theorem. Attached are images from the internet (Forgive me: my camera is on the fritz!). These are terribly exciting and wonderful materials and one of the signs, I think, that Montessori done correctly really is an education for life in a deeply intellectual way ~ while integrating the mind and body through sensorial exploration.

The Pythagorean Theorem states that given a right-angled triangle, the sum of the squares formed on the short legs equals the square formed on the hypotenuse. Simple and not too hard at all really! What makes it special, and doubly special for children, are the clear and reasoned steps to arrive at that conclusion.

Pythagoras Material

Montessori devised three materials that help children to explore the proof.  The first is sensorial exploration: the triangles are simply exchanged and viola! it’s obvious that the large square contains the smaller because the triangles fit. The second material is considered and arithmetical proof. The little squares (remember, area is measured by square) fit into the large square. This is also quite easy and rather fun.

Euclid’s proof requires a little more reasoning. We have to know that any triangle is equal to 1/2 the square that has the same base and height. This makes up the ‘middle term’ and hence an essential part of the proof.

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Next week we will practice with this material a little more and I will show you some more steps. Remember, this work if for children around the age of 9 or 10, or even a little younger!

jhfabre

Jean Henri Fabre is a famous French entomologist. Although he came from a poor and impoverished background, he became a teacher and later he was well-known for his studies and research on insects and arachnids. Fabre was not a dry, clinical scientist. His writings on his observations are poetic masterpieces of literature. ( Perhaps Fabre’s most famous experiments is known as the Pine Processionary. The Pine caterpillars formed a continuous loop around the edge of a pot that held their food. As each caterpillar instinctively followed the silken trail of the caterpillars in front of it, the group moved around in a circle for seven days without deviation, in spite of  starvation. This showed the power of instinct in the creatures; there was no power of reason.) Fabre was precise in his observations, a true scientist who observed, recorded and observed again. Many people thought he was a little crazy in his dedication. I’m sure he looked a little silly as he lay on the ground and watched his insects and spiders for hours and days at a time. But he believed that if he was to see how an insect lived, he must  observe the insect in its own habitat.

Observation is the corner-stone of the Montessori Method. It is not an exercise confined to a training year, but the beginning of a fundamental and intrinsic skill that the teacher must continue to develop. It really means that we learn to see the child, not just look at him. Maria Montessori was a doctor and a scientist and when she observed, she looked with an objective eye at phenomena before her. We must learn to do the same sort of  ‘looking’. What good is our science if we don’t know our subject? The subject is the growth and development of the person. Like Jean Henri Fabre, we must learn how ‘sit still ‘ record what we see without bias or preconceived judgments.

On Friday, I completed the second observation week. Last November I went to France and met Laurant Baurdin and his little one-room school in Grasse. This time I was able to stay in Bergamo and spend each day in the British Bilingual School.  It isn’t a Montessori School, strictly speaking, but the Elementary teacher is Montessori trained and was kind enough to host me for the week.

The teacher was working under a few restrictions: she had to follow the strict and intense Italian curriculum and she did not have the benefit of a mixed-age classroom. The administration had provided some Montessori materials, although a limited selection. Nonetheless, she worked with a marvelous group of children and did the best she could with what she had.

The teacher wasn’t under observation, however. It was the children I had come to see! I quickly settled on a young lady for no particular or distinctive reason. She just happened to be close to me at 8:30 on Monday morning. Each day I sat on a small stool by the door; I watched and waited and recorded. As the days went by the children showed me, in a marvelous way, how much they could do and carry out under their own initiative. Given a structure, they were set free. These children showed a profound love of learning, of self-discipline and self-motivation. They respected the teacher and helped one another; they were fun and creative and asked for more challenge in math and science. There was no such thing as procrastination.  I could say they were ‘on fire’.

The teacher gave lessons to individual students and small groups. She allowed them to make choices and sometimes she channeled their over-whelming enthusiasm to a realizable goal. She was a guide in the true sense of the word. The Montessori maxim of  ‘follow the child’ was understandable in this classroom because the children’s fire and love of learning brought on more discoveries of the children’s own making.

This natural out-pouring of enthusiasm on the part of the children could only arise from ‘freedom within limits’. Montessori observed this same phenomena and realized that she was looking at the nature of the child, ‘hitherto undiscovered.’ It is not a blind humanism that everything good is accomplished with the least intervention. I could see that the children were given structure: freedom and responsibility in balance according to their maturity. Human nature is still weak and fallen and in need of God. Who knows this more than child who has reached the age of reason?

I could see that these children were capable of doing more with their knowledge and freedom. What a joyful sight! Can you imagine having this experience as a child? I think that as an adult you would understand that the world is an interesting place, full of wonders and adventures. More than that, there would be a deep sense of confidence that those adventures could be lived because, once upon a time not very long ago, someone gave you the freedom to live your dreams and to succeed.

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There is a Story about these Massive Stone Walls. Its actually a very intresting story, complete with intrigues, blackmail, theft, pillaging and burnings and unrequited love. 

I’ll have to tell you sometime.  

 

 

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The gate was the main entrance into Citta Alta. The Lion motif showed that the city was actually under the control of Venice (St. Mark)

The old guardhouse is above the gate. Also full of intrigue.

 

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Pretty sights and clouds from looking down from the walls!

Poppets,

Have you ever wished to enter a time-warp? You know, like Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy?  When they went to Narnia, time in England was ‘on hold’ while they adventured in other worlds and far distant lands. A part of me has always wanted their stories to come true in a literal way. I wanted to have tea with Tumnus and at least see the terrible White Witch and, most of all, feel the breath of Aslan. And then return to the real world in time to catch the next train.  But, as I might realize when I grow up, time doesn’t freeze. Books are wonderful, but time doesn’t stop. And this comes as a surprise to me every time I emerge from the mountains of papers and books around me. “What? The sun set? Did anyone see it rise?” “Today is Thursday? When did Wednesday happen?” “Time to go shopping AGAIN? We went yesterday…oh, no, that was last week.” I’m beginning to feel that the land of books and papers is the sum-total of my existence and the world out there is Narnia. 

Of course this is a dangerous way to live! But I prefer to look on the bright side: every time I emerge from studies, I’m on a new and unknown adventure ~ and its REAL with an ITALIAN  flavor!

Here are some notes from the past week:

Last Monday was our Second Album submission. Another milestone! No jumping picture this time because the book was to heavy for gymnastics. This mean only SIX more album submissions to go until completion!

For you Montesstorians out there, we are now onto Language. The wonderful and fascinating study that it is! I want more of it! I think we are quite lucky to know English as our mother-tongue. When it comes to language analysis, Italian is so much easier. In the course we are obliged to do English, but the presence of so many other nationals allows for great discussions on the development of linguistics and teaching language. (I’m so grateful that I studied Latin. Thanks, Mom! But why didn’t we do more Greek?)

 We are still doing Music, math (with fractions) and directed practicals.

A cultural adventure Last Friday: I dropped into the local church, S. Alessandro della Croce, and enjoyed a magnificent organ performance. Do you like the organ, I mean, do you enjoy it as an instrument? I’ve always been fascinated by it! First of all, they are huge. Then, there are two or more layers of keys and then pedals; in addition there are all kind of stops and pulls. How could anyone understand how it all works at once? And then the music seems to come from everywhere. The huge pipes, the cupola, the nave ~how does that work!

When I was a young girl, my dad and I stopped into the St. Louis Cathedral and happened upon the organist who was giving a tour of the organ to a high-school group. When he began to play Bach’s Fugue in D (minor)  I felt the tremors in the marble floors and the weight of the universe pressing on me. Never had I felt music in such a powerful way. It was all around me and shaking the very stones beneath my feet!

The music performed last Friday was from the Baroque period.  It couldn’t have been in more contrast to Bach’s Fugue; this music moved with life and joy and life. You could say it sparkled; where I felt the stones tremble in Bach’s music, Padre Davide’s music  ( the featured composer, German 1791 – 1863) was as though he was trying to breathe life into the cold marble and make it dance. To me, he very nearly succeeded.

Here is a link to Padre Davide’s Concertino per Flutta con Viola d’accompagnamento by the same musician who I heard  last week ~ Marco Ruggeri.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3dVodQA_NM

And a picture of the Church (at the end of the performance, just so I don’t scandalize the musicians who see this)

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First (visible) snow of the year! The last two weeks have dribbled rain and now we can actually see snow! Ski trip anyone?

First Snow!

First Snow!

I knew it was there long before I saw it because its been so cold. The heating system doesn’t turn on until late October and in some places, mid-November. We’ll sit through class in our coats or at least the thin-blood southerners will; the Russian student is comfortable in a sleeveless dress and scarf.

The university students let out for lunch around the same time we do and everybody wanted to go to the park for sun and snacks. Me too!

But stop at the shop to get a sandwich. (Meet Vanessa, my photographer, gorgeous lady that she is.)

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Through the gate to Cita Alta….

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Sandwiches and song in the park, dreaming and remembering ski trips.

Then back to school for lectures on music theory.

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The short answer is to say that Montessori is a method of education, built upon a certain set of fundamental principles. The ‘method’ has become very popular today.

But that is hardly a satisfactory answer to a very good and fair question.

Dr. Montessori did not set out to become an educator. Through her observation and studies, she found certain patterns of development that occur within the human mind and spirit. We are aware of how children are born and grow up and how much our bodies change in the course of a lifetime. But what is happening on the inside? Dr. Montessori found that the human find develops in very specific ways and at very specific times. This was her discovery.

What those specific ways are and how they unfold constitute the core studies of a Montessori trainee.  Montessori teachers must know ~internalize~  these principles if they are to help children. This process for teacher-training might be compared to studying medicine; if one is to aid in the healing of bodies, then is highly recommend that one know how the body works before administering care to others.

In addition to her discovery of “Laws of Human Development” Dr. Montessori developed materials that help inform the mind of a young child. She tested and refined the materials over the course of her lifetime. They are a result of years of study, observation and rejection. These are the “Montessori Materials” that you would see in classrooms throughout the world. They are scientific tools, made to precise standards and often extremely beautiful. Even adults are often drawn to touch them “just to see what they’re like.”

How the materials are to be used, and when and in what way children should use them, comprises the second aspect of studies for a Montessori trainee. This is not an easy step. As adults we must pause and almost  ‘re-make’ our minds  to understand how a child perceives the world and then, to assist him without overwhelming him with our knowledge and pre-conceptions. The content of studies is not varied from what we already know with regard to reading, writing, math, and so on but how to teach in accord with developmental needs requires many hours of observation and practice.

The results of Montessori education have been so positive for children throughout the world that it has become increasingly popular. Many dedicated and enthusiastic teachers have realized the truth of Dr. Montessori’s discoveries and bring their enthusiasm to the field of education.

This is a wonderful and fruitful result of awareness that life itself is good and beautiful. Through working with young children comes a realization that we are humble servants of life unfolding.  Dr. Montessori wrote: It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method. I have studied the child, I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that it what is called the Montessori Method (What You Should Know About Your Child: Based on Lectures Delivered by Maria Montessori, transcribed and translated by Gnana Prakasam)