We can do it! Here are some resources and general information to help.
Dr. Montessori developed her methods on the concept that no human being is educated by another person, but rather must do it him/herself in order to learn. Therefore, in our classroom I will strive to have the students learn in an environment that promotes independence, organization, individualization and research.
Students will be expected to complete works throughout the day. They will make a plan for the works that they need to complete, do their work, and then check off the completed works. These plans will be sent home each Thursday. There is a space for you to sign and write any comments you may have. Please sign the work plan and send it back Friday morning. This communication is meant to keep you informed about the work your child is completing throughout the week. If you ever have any questions about this plan, please feel free to contact me.
In the Montessori method, many of the children’s works will be completed using hands on materials in order to solve abstract problems. Most of this work will then be recorded in various subject-specific journals, which stay at school. Therefore, a minimal amount of written work will come home with your child from the classroom.
Since the Montessori classroom is based on individualization, keep in mind that each student is at a different place in the curriculum and doing slightly different work at any given time during the school year or day. This is meant to meet the needs of individual children and to assist them in reaching specific goals.
The classroom environment is carefully prepared to facilitate self-directed learning. The teacher or director observes the child and acts as a guide. Lessons are often presented individually or to small groups as needed. This approach enables children to develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically at their own unique pace. The child learns to take responsibility for his/her own actions and studies. The Montessori curriculum is totally integrated and open-ended. Materials are provided to awaken the child’s interest, which is then fostered by the teacher. The classroom is full of research materials, which all students are encouraged to use. Children are introduced to new concepts through specially designed, hands-on materials they can manipulate. Thus, they learn through their own experience and discovery. Beginning from preschool, Montessori classrooms are organized in three-year age groupings. This enables students to work at their own speed and ability level in all subjects, and encourages older students to help younger, and vice versa. The prepared Montessori environment stimulates the child’s natural love of learning and innate curiosity. It provides children the opportunity to develop invaluable learning skills and a lifelong love of learning.
Our classroom is a community of learners that shares most of our materials. If your child has a special material/tool that s/he does not want to share, it would be best to keep that item at home. Please leave toys and special belongings at home; I would hate for these precious items to be broken or stolen.
For more information, consult the Helena Public Montessori Parents (HPMP) site.
Homework? Ugh! Yeah, I know, it’s not my favorite thing either. However, it is a reality of the world we live in, and until we are a homework-free world, I don’t want students to be unprepared for middle and high school. So we will practice how to make goals and achieve them outside of school.
I rarely have formal ‘homework’ assignments.
Mostly, you should be pursuing research and interest areas of your own choosing. Every Friday, students present a short summary of something they have learned or explored outside of the school day. Most ‘homework’ is either voluntary additional research and practice, occasionally work that wasn’t finished during classtime, and regular practice on things like math facts and reading.
I will send home math pages with ideas for games, information about the skill/topic the student is currently working on, and some optional practice if you would like to work on it at home. This is not required, you do not have to return it to school, and it is not graded. Students will get a new packet every time they start a new topic (individualized).
Friday: Since it is not a school night, nothing goes home.
You need to have internet access (and preferably a keyboard), but no special software to access Office 365 from outside the school. This doesn’t work spectacularly well on cell phones.
We use this for email, typing, making powerpoints, and more! This account will also follow students to middle and high school. By the time they graduate, they should have quite a portfolio of work!
To log in, access everything using Clever. However, it that is not working, try this:
You can do a general internet search for ‘Office 365 log in’ or use this direct link: office365.helenaschools.org
Students will need to type in their email address (@helenastudent.org) and their ID number as the password. This will take them into the Office 365 system. If you use the general login page, this is also how Microsoft knows which organization you are from. You might have to enter your information on more than one screen and make sure the pop-up is allowed.
There are a number of applications students can use within the suite, but we will mostly be using email and Word. The biggest issue is that you have to click ‘edit in browser’ if you want to work on a Word project. Initially, you will see a view-only version of the document that you cannot edit without clicking on that option. I recommend just using the browser, otherwise you will need to have Office already set up on your device for it to open. If you do not have Office, let me know and I can help you get that set up–families can download and use it at home as part of our agreement with Microsoft. No need to pay for it yourself!
The documents will automatically save periodically, so you do not have to worry about crashing or forgetting. Remember to give your document a file name so you can find it easily!
You can also share your documents with others–this is a fun option for working collaboratively with others and sharing your drafts with family and friends. Be very careful with this option as other users could delete or change your work if you give them permission to edit the file.
As always, using technology is an opportunity for problem-solving. Issues are almost guaranteed to arise and you will have to get creative to devise solutions. Students are encouraged to treat this like a video game that you have to problem-solve to figure out. Frustration is only a problem if you let it beat you–persevere! There are many online tutorials (especially videos) if you are having a problem; someone else may have had the same issue and already know how to fix it.
Spelling is a way for us to apply our knowledge of phonics as well as base/root words. Memorizing spelling lists is not the best way to improve your spelling (there are just too many words to learn them all this way), so our focus is on individualized spelling for students to help them learn the useful rules and how to break words down into phonograms. This improves reading by helping students decode multi-syllabic words, and the in-class practice works offer the opportunity to practice using a dictionary, learning vocabulary, and understanding how word meaning can be built into the suffixes/prefixes, etc.
We work on this skill as part of Grammar and Word Study works. We will not be taking traditional ‘spelling tests’ although if you would like to create your own lists and tests for your own challenge activity, then you are more than welcome to!
As a regular homework assignment, students are expected to do at least one ‘Extension Activity’ every week. This is designed to give them opportunities to pursue their own interests and follow their passions outside of school while practicing public speaking in school.
On Fridays, all students give a short (1 to 2 minutes) presentation about what they chose to do that week.
Guidelines: Teach us something!
This is the keyboarding program we use, and you can do additional practice outside of school too! To develop good typing skills, students need regular practice and proper hand placement. If you see any ‘hunting and pecking’ remind the student immediately to place index fingers on ‘F’ and ‘J’ (most keyboards have little bumps on those keys so you can find them without looking).
You can access using Clever, but in case that isn’t working:
Click on this link to take you to the typing page: https://program.kwtears.com/
Follow the directions from there:
Classroom ‘PIN’: 1FBC40
The ‘Secret Code’ number is different for individual students. If you cannot log in, then just send me an email and I will look it up for you.
“Winter festivals share common themes of light and warmth. Children look forward to lighting candles and filling their houses with colorful, festive decorations to brighten up the long, dark days of winter.” —Celebrations Around the World
Students do a research project on a winter celebration during the month of December. Each student will:
Select a celebration that s/he does not celebrate (for example, don’t research Christmas if you celebrate Christmas at home; branch out and learn about a different holiday).
Find information from at least three different resources to include in your project (for example, a website, a book (non-fiction or historical/realistic fiction) and a documentary). Write a simple notecard for each source (we will go over how to do this part in class).
Write a report using the information you found. Don’t forget to cite your sources! You may include any desired pictures, but don’t forget to tell us where those came from too!
Create a product to teach the class about the holiday. Products might include making your own Hanukkiya or dreidel if you are studying Hanukkah, dress a doll in the traditional clothing for St. Lucia’s day, make a clay diye lamp for Diwali, make a chart comparing and contrasting the different versions of St. Nicholas around the globe as compared to Santa Claus. Be creative!
The final draft is due on Friday, December 17th, 2021
We will have a ‘Publishing Party’ on Monday the 20th through Wednesday the 22nd (more details on that later). The product is due at the Publishing Party and the students will read aloud their reports to the class.
If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please let me know!
The following are a few winter holidays celebrated around the globe. You are more than welcome to research holidays not on this list–it is by no means a complete list of winter holidays.
Date: One day in October/November
This festival is dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and celebrates the return from exile of Lord Rama, hero of the epic Ramayana. Clay lamps called diye were lit to illuminate Rama and Sita’s return to their country, where they were welcomed as the new rulers.
Date: Eight days in December
In 165 BCE, a small group of Jews called the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrian King Antiochus IV. After cleaning the temple, they could only find enough oil to light the Hanukkiya for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.
St. Nicholas Feast Day
Date: December 6
This festival marks the birthday of St. Nicholas, a Catholic bishop who was especially kind to children. Unlike the modern pictures of a merry, fat Santa Claus, St. Nicholas is traditionally portrayed as a tall, thin man.
St. Lucia’s Day
Date: December 13
St. Lucia was an early Christian martyr and the patron saint of light and brightness. She always wore a crown of candles on her head. St. Lucia’s Day falls in the middle of winter and is meant to brighten up the long, dark days.
Date: January 6
The epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means “appearance.” This festival celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings, or Wise Men in Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus.
Date: December 26 to January 1
Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrated throughout the world, honoring African heritage, marked by participants lighting a kinara (candle holder). The celebration consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1, 1967.
Date: One day in September/October
Eid (عيد) is the Arabic word for celebration and Fitr is the Arabic word for feast. Eid ul-Fitr (عيد الفطر) or The Celebration of the Feast is the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan and the month-long fast. The purpose of fasting is to teach Muslims patience and humility, as well as to remind Muslims that they are fortunate and should help the needy and less fortunate. After sundown of the last day of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr starts. Sweets, food, and non-alcoholic drinks are distributed in masajid and homes. Also gifts are given out and traded between friends and family. In Turkey Eid ul-Fitr is called Şeker/Ramazan Bayramı, and in Bosnian it is ramazanski Bajram.
Date: Three days in November/December
Eid ul-Adha (عيد الأضحى), or the Festival of Sacrifice, falls after Eid ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) and is celebrated in honor of the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a proof of his loyalty to God. Celebrations usually include presenting an animal (usually a cow or a sheep) sacrifice, and the meat is shared with family, friends and those in need. The festival also marks the end of the Pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca. In Turkish this holiday is referred to as Kurban Bayramı, and in Bosnian as Kurban-Bajram or Kurbanski Bajram.
If you want to research a winter holiday not listed here, just let me know!
This is a very large undertaking, so each portion of the culminating event will be completed in stages. Plan ahead so that you have MORE than enough time to get everything completed!
Important Due Dates and Reminders!
Week of March 7th: We will go over the expectations and introduce the Biography Bistro in class (students who have already selected a person may begin researching at any time).
Week of March 14th: We will make our research folders. We will use research folders to organize our research. Each fact will go on a separate notecard for later organization–please no random pages printed off the internet. We will build the research folders at school, and they may be taken home for independent research, especially over Spring Break. If not at school to build the folders, Office 365 may be used, or materials available at home.
Thursday, March 24th: Final, final, absolutely sure choice on who you will research. Choose carefully as you will not be changing after this point.
Main Research Phase: March 25th (you can always start early if you have a person already in mind). You may need to find specific information or add in small details after this point, but the bulk of your research should be completed by April 7th.
Outline Draft: Due April 7th (This is handwritten on a specific worksheet that we will go over in class.)
Typing your Draft: Due April 14th (Your draft will be constructed directly from the outline worksheet and the research fact cards.) Start editing and revising!
Editing the Draft: Due April 28th.
FINAL DRAFT DUE MAY 5th!!!!!!
Make the poster: I have a specific template printed out that will be provided to each student–no need to get a poster board! Due MAY 12th!
Biography acting notes and blog entry: Due May 19th!
Biography Costume: Begin thinking about your costume as soon as you select a person to research. You might have an easy subject, but don’t be afraid to pick someone with more interesting costuming. We’ve had everything from astronauts in space suits to Queen Elizabeth I in a hoop skirt and huge collar! PLEASE: Do not feel as though you have to spend a lot of money to buy a costume. This is a great opportunity for creativity and repurposing other items. I am happy to help with ideas if you need them!
Bistro Staff Uniform: Your student will be a member of the Bistro Staff on the day they are not the historic figure. On this day, they will need a white shirt with a collar, necktie, black bottoms, and close-toed shoes (think Silverstar). I will have neckties available, I provide the aprons, hair nets, & sanitary gloves. Students may borrow or share shirts with other students who are in historic costume that day if they don’t have one of their own. Please see the powerpoint introduction for photos of students in their staff uniforms.
PLEASE LET ME KNOW EARLY ON IF YOU NEED HELP PULLING A COSTUME TOGETHER!
FINAL COSTUMES (BOTH) DUE AT SCHOOL May 23rd (Monday)
BISTRO EVENT: May 25th and 26th (Wednesday and Thursday) The Bistro will open at 11:30AM on the dot, and not a moment before. We will continue serving lunch until about 12:45/1:00. Students will eat their own lunches after the Bistro.
‘Decompression Day’: Friday, May 28th is traditionally a pajama day and relaxed time for us to delve into the data from our order tickets and other post-Bistro activities. Whew!
How do you make the most of what little class time we have available? Integrate, integrate, integrate!! Each week, we have 3-4 ‘super lessons’ which we do as a whole group. These lessons cover a wide range of skills and topics so that students get a chance to apply all they are learning during the independent work periods with a larger peer group. For example, students might practice reading fluency and comprehension with a text selection that furthers their science lessons. Then they use skills from visual and performance art to communicate something about the reading with the larger group in collaboration with peers. It is through integrated projects like these that students are applying their art learning every day. They are also using the reading skills we work on individually for a topic that relates to what we are studying.
Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar, Speaking, Listening–it’s all Communication! You can’t study one of these topics in isolation–they are all parts of the same whole: English Language Arts. ELA is a huge portion of an elementary student’s education, and a great vehicle to learn about content-area subjects like science and social studies. You are using the ELA skills to learn about and then share what you know about the content. Integrating our content areas with skill practice makes the lessons more relevant and engages students in a meaningful manner.
The Montessori curriculum focuses on introducing students to large concepts first, then working down to smaller ideas. For example, first learning about continents, then countries, then states, and last cities. We follow this model as we explore many topics. So we will not be able to cover every little detail, but students will move on to middle and high school with a foundational understanding of the big ideas and future lessons will add to those main concepts.
Math is one of the most individualized topic areas within our classroom. Students work through the material at their own pace; no two students learn math in exactly the same manner.
Students master math concepts individually. Rather than forcing the entire class to be working on the same topic at the same time, regardless of whether or not each individual is ready for that lesson, Montessori classrooms work through the content at an individual pace. This offers students the ability to master each concept as they are ready.
So how does this look in a public school classroom where numerical grades are required? I have a general order of topics that form the ‘scope and sequence’ for each grade level. A student will start by taking a pre-test on the topic they will be studying. This test tells me what s/he already knows, and what lessons I need to provide for the student to understand the subject. After the pre-test, students will complete lessons, work with Montessori materials, and practice independently until they have covered all the parts of that main subject. Students may take the post-test when they feel ready. Sometimes students think they are more ready than they turn out to be. We also have some time limitations, so I do have a minimum slowest pace that students can go and still have time to complete the basic topics by the end of the year. Should a student score less than 75% on the test, then they will ‘review and retake’. I will present lessons to help fill in any areas that weren’t mastered the first time around, and the student will retake the test. Students may review and retake any number of times. The test score in the grade book will simply get replaced. Students who score 75% and above are considered to be ‘passing’. These tests were carefully constructed so that getting 90% or higher really shows that a student has mastered this topic with a high degree of skill. Once a student has demonstrated mastery on all the basics required by Montana State Standards, the student has the option to go back and ‘challenge’ any test on which the score was between 75% and 90%. A test score in that range shows that they understood the concept, but could still show improvement. Often students will have improved their understanding of a topic covered early in the year and will improve their final test score. When students have completed the basic requirements and challenged any and all scores less than 90% (they have to improve anything between 75% and 80% just to make sure they really have mastered it), then they move into what I call ‘Beyond the Common Core’. Montessori math covers so much more than Common Core, so there is still a lot left to learn after covering the basics. Students will continue to learn and expand their knowledge of math until we run out of time at the end of the year. That is the only limit on what they can learn! Students can cover more than just one grade level’s worth of math during one school year.
The importance of math facts: yes, it is worth memorizing them. Once a student fully understands the concept, start practicing math facts for fluency. Some students pick these up faster than others–sometimes just repeated use of the Montessori materials is enough to learn them, while others need more directed practice on memorization. Regardless of how a child learns them, it is very important when trying to master operations with larger numbers/decimals, that a student is fluent with math facts.
I have been honored to receive history teaching awards and some interest from community members about how I approach teaching history. These videos contain more information on the topic.
A general overview of how history is incorporated into general classroom studies:
Interview for Helena Civic Television (HCTV)
The classroom footage is of me interpreting Katherine Graham of the Washington Post.
I apparently was having an off day and mixed up some names (hopefully I don’t do this very often–I don’t usually get to fact check myself on video). Freeman Tilden: the man who started the idea of historic interpreters for national parks. Samuel Tilden: the man who won the popular election in 1876, but wasn’t chosen by the electoral college. I also crossed my wires when grabbing Sarah Josepha Hale’s dress, which was right next to Emma Hart Willard’s. They are both amazing women, so check out the information at http://timelinecostumes.blogspot.com/
The ‘Five Great Lessons‘ kick off our science inquiry each year. This is a beloved tradition in Montessori classrooms and one of my favorite active storytelling activities of the year. I go through all five topics during the first week or two of school, with all of our lessons relating back to the ‘big ideas’ of these lessons for the rest of the school year.
There are some science materials that are always on the shelf for students to explore at any time during the year: a variety of fossils, microscopes with prepared slides, skulls, snake skin, natural sponge, rock and mineral samples, a molecule building set, a series of simple chemistry experiments with classroom-safe chemicals, and more. Beyond these materials, we always have a scientific area of focus that the whole class is working on together. I alternate between life sciences one year and physical sciences the next so that we have more time to get deeper into the topic areas. Some of the lessons are whole-class activities that help us learn and apply English Language Arts (ELA) skills while using text that students are interested in because it relates to our topic of choice. By integrating our ELA and science lessons, students get to practice ELA skills in the context of the science content they are already excited about, which makes learning more rigorous and relevant.
Science is also an amazing place to integrate art lessons. If you have heard of ‘STEM’ learning, then you need to know about ‘STEAM’! Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Mathematics all go together. You can’t share your scientific discoveries, new innovations, or freshly learned concepts without also knowing how to effectively communicate in a variety of ways. Visual art, dance, music, performance/theater, and digital media arts are all the ways that we can share knowledge. I try to make sure that every scientific topic we cover includes at least one arts integration activity. We have created and performed numerous STEM-related art projects over the years, and even won the ‘Collaborative Community Prize’ sponsored by the Holter Museum of Art, Youth Electrum Show in 2016 for our fence project.
Your child is invited to bring a healthy snack to school each day: string cheese, vegetables, fruit, crackers, etc. Please avoid sending any snacks heavy in sugar (including sports drinks). Students may bring their own water bottles and a tea cup/mug. We do have the option of making non-caffeinated tea during work time (if you are not working near technology).
We are a nut-free classroom, so please keep those items at home! It’s ok to bring foods with gluten in them.
We recognize birthdays in our classroom, singing and celebrating each year of your child’s life. Take some time to think of an event from each year of your child’s life that can be shared with the class during our ‘Birthday Walk’. The Birthday student will walk around the ‘Sun’ while holding a globe to demonstrate how many orbits they have personally made around the sun in their lifetime, sharing a special event from each year. Snacks/treats may be shared during this time, but do not feel obligated. Please check with me to see if there are any allergies/food concerns. Please do not send birthday party invitations to school unless everyone in the class is being invited; this alleviates hurt feelings. Thank you for your help.
“Does the child share materials? Do they resolve peer problems? Do they cooperate? Do they listen?” These are considered ‘Pro-Social’ skills and are invaluable for success. Whether or not a child demonstrates these skills in Kindergarten predicts if the child will be successful in school K-12 and in the work-force. The good news is that social skills can be learned! At Broadwater, we are concerned about more than just academic skills–we take our Universals seriously: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, and Be a Learner. Read the transcript of the NPR interview here.
There is a HUGE amount of research that has been conducted on all things Montessori. Check out this link for more information: