Lemon sharks, anacondas, and US Presidents, oh my!

A life-sized lemon shark gave way to a forty-foot anaconda recently, which caused me to remember my son’s Presidents of the United States research from last year.

A third-year student researched the lemon shark, then painted one on a huge piece of paper, labeling all the important parts and showing the vital functions. This was an assignment that combined science and art for the third year students.

The learning didn’t stop there. A younger child saw that work, was excited about it, and then did his own research, grabbed 40 feet of paper, rolled it out in the corridor, asked the Art teacher for advice, and painted and labeled an amazing anaconda. He was focused and energized, causing two others to join him. I gave a tour to prospective parents while he was still working, and he saw us, went into the classroom, grabbed one of the books he used for research, and proudly showed our guests.

This anaconda was not assigned to this student. He was not going to be graded on it. The work was not followed by a test. He was working purely because he enjoyed his work. He was intrigued and delighted. He showed leadership among his peers (enticing them to join him) and confidence when approaching me and our guests. It felt to me like a Montessori snapshot. A multiage classroom allows younger children to experience the exciting work of older children, and encourages them to work, in turn, to be able to do the things the older kids get to do. Three years of a curriculum (curriculum grounded in context) are available to the children at every moment. The multiage classroom is not the only reason this boy was successful, however. He was successful because the Montessori method trusts him to be successful.

Watching this boy create his anaconda reminded me of my own son last year. He was fascinated by the Presidential elections, and based on that interest, created a timeline of Presidents of the United States. He researched five questions that he applied to each President, then found images of each, contacted the Art teacher for some advice, then went to work on creating an amazing timeline. Like the anaconda, this was not work that was assigned to him; the work came from his interest. No grades, no outside rewards. Just the satisfaction that learning itself brings. Now, one year later, he remains interested in the Presidents, and remembers many of the facts he discovered for his timeline.

The work these boys did was messy, there were plenty of mistakes made, they might have been noisy at times in the hallway while working, they might have argued with others about their ideas, and they loved it. Their work mattered.

Life sized Anaconda

The Amazing Anaconda

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