Week of 8 January 2018

Dear friends,

As promised, I am writing to share some of the goings-on from the Elementary this last week.  We welcomed Charlotte, Ben, Holly, Noah and Seb in the the community on Monday and their presence has added some lovely new dimensions for work partners and new friends to get to know.
Most days this week we have started with a group which have all been focussed on being together as a group.  On Monday we discussed the overall approach of how the Elementary works in terms of ‘freedoms’ and the matching ‘responsibilities’.   I gave the example of my freedom to drive around and then they quickly named all the responsibilities that go with that (speed limits, driving on the left, passing a test, stopping at traffic lights etc).  They had previously made posters describing the F&Rs for different areas (work, communication, movement, clothing, minibus). We had a new notice board to put these on so naturally they needed to be re-written to fit on the new board which provided another opportunity to discuss and review them.  We started a new song (flea fly) which you may have heard.
On another day, following the same idea we started the day by reading the very wonderful little book ‘Have you filled the bucket today?’ If you don’t have a copy in your home I would strongly recommend getting a copy. The best £6 you’ll spend in a while.  You could even go as far as having a pretty little bucket in a visible location as a reminder. As I told the children, if you can live according to the advice in that book you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a happy life.  Yesterday morning we discussed ‘Fixed mindsets’ vs ‘Growth mindsets’ and the attitudes and statements associated with both. They love that stuff and are naturally eager to be the best selves they can be.
It would take me a least a day to summarise the explorations of 27 children (Molly will make it 28 next week), but here are some of the highlights.  From my perspective, one of the most fun things for me this week was to simply show a bunch of keen periodic table explorers a box that had arrived filled with 120 10cmx10cm cardboard boxes I had ordered and a box of drawing pins.  ‘You can now make the periodic table’, I said.  I showed them the cork wall I had put up above the science sink and that was them totally absorbed for the whole week.  I asked them occasionally if they would like some other presentations but the answer was mostly a ‘no thanks’.  They labelled each box, and searched the environment and beyond for everyday objects that contain or represent each element – from a small bottle of water for hydrogen, some sand for silicon etc.  Rarely does so much get done by so many with so little from me.
Elsewhere i gave some presentations of roots with one group, and to another group started some work on stems.  This is way more interesting for everyone than everyone doing the same thing at the same time. Instead what I see is a wonderful cross-fertilisation of ideas as children are interested in and inspired by the work of others.  With both the roots and the stems I showed how to use microscope to see these parts more closely, and then helped start some experiments into root growth. Q: does the see have to be planted a certain way around for root to grow down? There hypothesis: Yes it does.  After the experiment ‘Ah, so it doesn’t’.  Next question: How does the plant know which way is down and where is this sensitivity located? That experiment is in process.
Seeing this work happening inspired someone else to independently start another experiment.  Before I knew much about it he had found ten acorns, sourced some pots from the YPC and planted them up in anticipation of testing the effect of different coloured light on seedling growth.
There is nearly always someone working on animals.  This week two children have started to follow the food/energy links of the arctic ecosystem, starting with polar bears. Others are trying to understand the classification of the phylum mollusca, the butterflies of the world and, most recently on Friday, a group began an exploration of the incredible world of bird migrations (did you know arctic terns migrate from the arctic to the antarctic and back each year?)
We have also seen a detailed study of Cameroon unfold; the place, the people etc as well as graphs showing the % forest cover in different countries around the world.  Notes have been made about different rocks and minerals and how they are formed.   And in the lovely cross over between subjects has come up time and again (afterall the real world in not divided into intellectual bunkers) Maps have been made showing the extent of the Roman empire (history or geography?), maths books have been stitched together (maths or craft?) and the algebraic notation for cubing a sum (a+b cubed) have been built with the materials and then graphically represented on isometric paper (maths, geometry or art?)
Maths and language have buzzed along as usual. Every day i gave a couple of maths presentations and a couple of language presentations – sometimes to younger children, sometimes to older.  Squaring and cubing, and square roots and cube roots provide a lot of fantastic opportunities to really see how numbers work and, step by step- stretch their mathematica minds.  This week there has been the full range of maths work from recording the basic addition facts, recording the sequence of multiples (which becomes the tables of multiples), long multiplication drawn out geometrically, squaring large numbers such as 243, squared roots and, most ambitiously of all, a quest to expand the number 2 exponentially (ie 2 to the power of 1, 2 to the power of 2, to the power of 3 et etc) all the way to the largest Prime Number, which has just been discovered.  So far they have got as far as 2 to the 22nd power.  The largest prime is 2 to the 77,232,917th power minus 1.  As we discussed, they’ve only got some 77,232,895 to go…
The big language news of the week is the rather fantastic new publication that continues to be produced weekly: The Montessori Times.  This entirely child-led piece of work has seen a bit step up in quality this week.  Fountain pen has replaced pencil for the final copy and there is a definite up-market shift as interview and articles have displaced games and puzzles.
Oh yes, and we had a lovely walk all together to East Hoathly on Wednesday.
Next week I’ll tell the First Great Story and Molly will join us from the Children’s House.  Watch this space.
Warm wishes,