November 2014

Nature Studies 1st and 2nd grade – November

Our class spent the last 3 weeks in a Nature Studies block. In first and second grade, Nature Studies serve as science instruction integrated with language arts. A 6 to 8 year old child wonders about the world and asks many questions. Rather than answer their questions with analytic responses, we tell stories that capture the scientific concept while still leaving room for mystery and magic. The stories keep their imaginations alive so that the child can still wonder about the concept and explore it. This is the opposite of responding to a child’s question with a factual answer that often inhibits further curiosity. In telling a story, we meet the child in their developmental place. It is not until 12 or 13 that a child can understand abstract concepts and think critically, and these are mental constructs needed for analytic thought. By telling a Native American story about The Great Bear in the Northern Sky, where the children hear about four brothers who hunt a great Medicine Bear only to find that they chased the bear right into the starry sky, the children hear about Ursa Major and how it revolves around the North Star in a way they can comprehend. Then they are excited to look up into the night sky and see the Bear from the story they have heard.  In middle school, they will take an astronomy class and learn how constellations in the northern sky circle around the north star and that this is related to our planet’s rotation in space. Our hope is that the story they heard as a young child helps to foster a sense of wonder in the scientific explanation they receive when they are older. The Native American legend also gives a connection between science and humanities, which helps integrate the scientific concept into its place in history. When he/she is older, the child will remember how people interpreted the stars before modern scientific methods emerged, thereby integrating the new information more fully. We may begin slowly in Waldorf education by waiting to teach reading and writing until 1st grade and by holding off on analytic science instruction until 4th grade, but the rich and deep experience the children receive at appropriate times according to their developmental capacities broadens their outlook and their abilities.

The Great Bear of the North Sky

The Great Bear of the North Sky

So, I told many Native American legends in this block. We began by talking about the Ais, a Native American tribe from Ft.Pierce, FL – which is where I grew up. I personally learned much about these people this past summer and wanted to share with my class about the area I grew up.  We learned about their homes, communities, tools, foods, and activities along the coast of Florida. I used this opening to introduce three more letters to the first graders and to continue with long and short vowel sounds for the second grade. The next story was an Iroquois legend about the Four Winds. Again, I introduced the last of our letters to the first grade and worked on short and long vowel sounds with second grade. We drew pictures and talked about these stories as a class. We learned how the Ais people made everything from items in nature and how useful it all was. We learned about the seasons in the story of the Four Winds and the type of weather characteristic of each. I told another Iroquois legend called “The Corn Maiden” which explained how they were given corn to grow and eat and then a Penobscot Tribe story that told how they found a second planting season in late summer. Then I told a Salteaux story about maple syrup! With these stories, the first graders began to write sentences into their main lesson books. After all of our letter work, they were ready and they were excited! Second graders helped compose all of our sentences and wrote two sentences into their books following the pictures we drew for each story.

Introducing N, J, W

Introducing N, J, W

Corn Maiden

Corn Maiden

Second Summer

Second Summer

The origins of maple syrup

The origins of maple syrup

Frau Hans came in to substitute for me and she told three stories about Ik-to-mi, a trickster character from Dakota legend. The trickster character will be revisited again when we hear fables in the spring. Trickster tales are perfect for our second graders, who often experiment with the same kind of naughtiness themselves. Frau Hans had the children draw pictures and write sentences in their main lesson books and she talked with them about Ik-to-mi as well as a few general nature concepts from the stories. She also brought in her collection of arrowheads for the children to see!

The trickster, Ik-to-mi

The trickster, Ik-to-mi

We finished our block with two stories about the sky. One mentioned above and the other about the origin of the Milky Way. We tried to use birthday candle wax as a resist on our painting paper and then paint a deep purple night sky to show the span of stars – which was cornmeal falling from a Spirit Dog’s mouth as he ran panting across the sky!

Painting the Milky Way

Painting the Milky Way

Norse Mythology- Fourth Grade

The fourth grade language arts curriculum is based on the stories of Norse Mythology. These tales from Scandinavia are full of epic battles, trickery, jealousy, greed, and magic. The excitement and conflict woven throughout these stories speak directly to the transitioning worldview of the nine and ten-year-old child. These Nordic gods are not idyllic and infallible- they are flawed and petty, as well as mortal.  Though they live long lives, they can eventually die, and this adds an element of reality and consequence to their adventures.

The fourth grade student is endlessly curious about the world around them. They are now beginning to be aware of how large the world really is, and they want to know how it fits together. This is the reasoning for including geography and zoology in this grade. The Norse story of Creation, however, also addresses similar questions as these blocks: What makes us human? How do we fit into the world? What role do we play in taking care of the land and animals around us?

An additional part of figuring out who they are and how the world works is the realization that there is room for ‘grey area’ in most things. The Norse myths demonstrate a wide range of moral ambiguity as Odin, the All-Father, attempts to settle disputes between the gods. Unlike the straightforward sense of justice served in the fairy tales from first and second grade, the students are beginning to toy with ‘rooting for the bad guy.’ They love the mischievous character of Loki, and find themselves empathizing with him in his trials.

Language arts blocks provide us with time to process these big questions while diving into story and exploring this rich mythical world. I established a steady rhythm of hearing a new story at the end of one day, and returning to it the next day to complete our application and bookwork portion. We first revisit the story to recall what took place, then work on a drawing in our main lesson books, and finally complete a writing component. The writing is taken from the story, and provides the opportunity to work on a variety of writing and grammar skills. We began the block by creating these written summaries of the story as a class, with me writing the sentences on the board after we reached a consensus on what to include.

After only a few days of this method, we switched to independent composition. To maintain clarity and ensure the students include the most necessary components of the story, I provided a suggested outline on the board. This often got them past the wall of not knowing how to start, and inspired wonderful writing! We increased our independent writing from just a few sentences to between six and nine by the end of the block. We are trying to develop the full writing process from ideas, rough drafts, and editing, to the final version. At this point, the students are able to self-edit for a couple of key elements in their writing, including capitalization and some punctuation. Next, they bring their writing to me for final spelling and sentence structure edits. They are then ready to complete a beautiful version in their main lesson books to accompany their drawing.

When paired with new grammar concepts and spelling work on the side, I saw amazing improvement in both their writing skills as well as their confidence. This enthusiasm comes from watching their rich mental images of the Norse myths translate into both beautiful drawings and words on the page. When I challenge them to do the stories justice, they are proud of their work and it allows the image and feeling of each character to live inside them.

In this first Norse mythology block we heard the Creation story, learned how the worlds fit together on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and met Odin, Thor and Loki. We will pick back up in January with many more! Until then, we will continue with weekly spelling words, reading group, independent reading, as well as writing composition as it applies to the blocks to come.

Here is some of our work!

The first beings emerging from the fire and fog

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The sun and moon being pulled across the sky.

The sun and moon being pulled across the sky

Yggdrasil, the World Tree supporting the 9 Norse Worlds

Yggdrasil, the World Tree supporting the 9 Norse Worlds

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Odin, the All-Father

Odin, the All-Father

 

Loki and his Monstrous Brood

Loki and his Monstrous Brood

Math in Third and Fourth Grade

After Geography, we moved on to math. The students had been doing 10-15 minutes of daily math practice throughout their first block, however this was the first time we would be devoting our main lesson time to math work. Our approach to math includes as many imaginative examples as possible, as well as drawing from real-life situations. This first math block provided us with three weeks to review and make connections to material learned in previous years. As each new concept is presented in the early grades, the teacher uses a story to make the practical, and often abstract, math concepts come alive for the children. For this reason, we refer back to these stories in the later years to ensure they stay fresh in the students’ minds as they use the earlier concepts for more advanced math.

We began with reviewing addition and subtraction both horizontally and vertically, while working quickly up to three and four digits. Remembering how to borrow and carry prepared us well for moving into vertical multiplication review. They had begun this as well as long division toward the end of last year. For this reason, we could use the first half of main lesson to review a concept, work a few problems on the board together, and leave plenty of time in the second half of the day for application and independent practice. With our small class size, I am able to use this time to work one-on-one with any student needing extra help on a concept. This repeated practice increased everyone’s confidence in the most challenging concepts, especially long division.

In addition to reviewing concepts from previous years, we introduced area and perimeter. These topics provided a great opportunity to invent fun and silly word problems to for the class to solve. The students are at an age when they truly appreciate humor and are able to write well enough to create entertaining problems for their classmates.  It also provided great review of measurement from last year. Since area involves multiplication, it was a reminder to the students of how knowing their multiplication tables well, will serve them in real-life situations. Though they learned the times tables 1-12 last year, we continue our work on them to keep them fresh.

Our new strategy to stay motivated is for each student to review flashcards for a particular times table they are struggling with. When they are confident that they have them all committed to memory, that student pulls me aside to be quizzed. If successful, we do a fun ‘knighting ceremony’ for them. She then becomes ‘Lady of the 6’s,’ for example. They keep track of their own progress through the tables, and each student uses extra time after finishing work to review at their own pace. To further inspire their imaginations, and as a bit of a reward for working hard, we concluded each day with reading from The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis.

We concluded the block with an introduction to factoring and discussing prime versus composite numbers. This skill will be crucial to beginning fractions in our second math block. We explored different ways to find prime numbers and breaking larger numbers into their many parts. We will continue this during our math practice sessions in the following blocks until we pick back up with math in December!

Here are some examples of our Main Lesson Book work:IMG_2018

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Multiple-Digit Subtraction Practice

Long Division with Color Coded Steps

Long Division with Color Coded Steps

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Factoring Practice

Area and Perimeter Practice

Area and Perimeter Practice

 

 

 

First and Second Grade Math Block in October

Our first math block of the year brought the world of numbers to the first graders in a qualitative way. We began with hearing a story about a woodland Fairy Queen who was looking for the numbers in nature. Many of the fairy folk went out into the world to search for the number one. What is there only one of in the world?  Finally we found answers – there is only one sun, one earth, one me. We drew a picture in our main lesson books of the sun and wrote the number one. Each number 1 through 10 followed the same pattern.

Number 3 and Number 4

Number 3 and Number 4

Number 5 and Number 6

Number 5 and Number 6

Number 7 and Number 8

Number 7 and Number 8

Throughout this block we also worked extensively with manipulatives in all four operations. We counted and counted and counted until our voice coincided with the movement of our fingers and feet, and still we need practice with our rhythmic steps. We counted by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, and 3’s. We did this with bean bags, hand clapping, stomping, and stepping. We counted backwards too! We learned to count on our fingers when told simple word problems and we practiced magic with our fingers and with manipulatives. We work on seeing quantity without having to count, so I would hide my hand under a silk, put up four fingers, and then yank the scarf off. Then the children would shout as quickly as they could, “Four!”  We also did this with acorns and gems – so simple, but great fun. We worked on regrouping numbers with acorns, gems, and other items in the room as well. For example, after learning the number 8, I would say, “Please go and find 8 of something in the room.” The children would come back with 8 blocks, 8 bean bags, or 8 books in a pile. We would count them and then I’d say, “Show me another way to make 8.” Then they would rearrange their items into piles of 4 and 4 or 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 or 5 and 3. We saw the many ways we could make the number 8!

After learning numbers 1 to 10 (in roman numerals too) we heard a story of gnomes who mine jewels for their king, and their king wants to know exactly how many jewels are mined each day, so the gnomes have to be careful counters. They put 10 jewels into a bag, and so then we were counting by 10s! When they have 10 jewels and a few extra, the gnomes learned how to write these numbers, and so we learned to write numbers 11 through 20. We did all of this with gems and small bags, so the children were counting up their 10 jewels and putting them in bags and then putting drawings into their main lesson books.

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After all of this, we revisited numbers 1 to 10 and paired them up. We paired ourselves up and played an even and odd game, learning that even numbers have partners and odd numbers are left alone. We discovered that when we count by 2s, all of these numbers are even!

Odd and Even Work

Odd and Even Work

Chalkboard geometric drawing of the 3 times table and the number 6

Chalkboard geometric drawing of the 3 times table and the number 6

Second grade began the block reviewing some of the important ideas from last year. Each day they began with math practice, which involved copying a few math problems from the board into their books and finishing them. This happened while I was teaching the 1st graders their main lesson. At first it was difficult for 2nd grade to focus while I taught, but gradually they completed their work more quickly. We reviewed the four operations from last year – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. We also reviewed regrouping, both with manipulatives and on paper. Then we dove right into our multiplication tables, starting with the 2s. Pulling from the story I told last year about Squirrel Nutkin who regrouped numbers, this year he grouped them in piles of two. We showed how one group of two was the same as 1×2 and how two groups of two was the same as 2×2 and so on.

Squirrel Nutkin regroups numbers and then moves into times tables

Squirrel Nutkin regroups numbers and then moves into times tables

We played with lots of acorns and drew lots of acorns to begin to understand this concept. Then we worked in geometric shapes formed from a numbered circle, creating beautiful patterns from our 2 times table. We created this shape on the ground with numbers and yarn (sometimes with first grade help) and then drew it on the board before putting it into our main lesson books.  I repeated this process with the 3 times table and 5 times table and then reviewed the concept but emphasized division. We looked at four math problems: 3×4=12, 4×3=12, 12/3=4, and 12/4=3. We showed with manipulatives just exactly what these written problems mean.

10 pointed star formed from the 3 times table

10 pointed star formed from the 3 times table

Half circle formed from 5 times table

Half circle formed from 5 times table

Next we moved into work on place value. Expanding on a story from last year about gnomes mining jewels for their king, these gnomes carried bags of 10 gems out of the mine. Once they had 10 bags of 10 gems each, they put them into a wheelbarrow, so each wheelbarrow contained 100 gems. Then 10 wheelbarrows were dumped into an ox cart, which contained 1000 gems. Yes, we actually counted out over 1000 gems one day simulating this story. We used small bags, paper cups, and a basket to represent the bags, wheelbarrow and ox cart.  After telling this story, we worked with the concept for a number of days. Eventually I was drawing ox carts, wheelbarrow, and bags on the board and the 2nd graders could tell me exactly how many jewels the gnomes had mined. For example, 1 ox cart, 2 wheelbarrows, 5 bags, and 3 extra jewels = 1253 jewels! We used color coating in our writing to show the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands, and we worked on reading these numbers aloud.

Our mining gnomes

Our mining gnomes

Place value

Place value

After this work, we spent a few days helping the gnomes count jewels from bags that had been dropped. So we found strategies for adding higher numbers after we reviewed addition with lower numbers. Then we reviewed our entire math block.

Painting

Our class continues to work with color and explore the mood of color. After many days of rain, the sun came out so we painted this feeling with deep purples and then shining gold. We also painted the warm colors of fall – gold, lemon yellow, vermillion, and carmine red. We painted less in this block for the sake of covering more math.

Reading Time

At the end of our Monday through Wednesdays we have 30 minutes of reading time. I have created two groups and I alternate working with them each day. With one group I am reading a simple chapter book called, “The Secret Pet.” We read aloud and sometimes talk about reading strategies if we come to a word we don’t know. With the other group we are reviewing the letters we’ve learned and their sounds. I have made index cards with our letters and the images our letter came from. We use these cards to play simple word games. For example, each student has an index card with an “E” on it. They have to choose two more letters (all consonants) to put on each side of their “E” and then we all try to sound it out. It is so exciting when we make a real word!

Flutes

Our flute practice continues to progress. We learned all of our fingers and began to learn a simple song that was played at the camp-out:

Maple leaves are glowing golden

Giant oak is turning brown

Sweet gum blazes crimson scarlet

Autumn is coming to town.