Category Archives: Inside the Classroom

Cultivating Agents of Change

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In Montessori schools, we firmly believe that children learn by doing. When they learn to add, for example, they use beads to physically set up the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands for the top number and then the bottom, and then they physically push the numbers together and count the beads to determine the sum.

In addition to being excellent mathematicians, readers, writers, zoologists, geologists, etc., I also want my children to be excellent social activists. I want them to believe that they can turn their compassion into action. So what better way to teach them social action than to let them actually do it?

That’s where Make a Difference Day comes in. Make a Difference Day is a national day of community service, sponsored by USA WEEKEND Magazine. It takes place on the fourth Saturday of October each year. I like to use this event to plan a class-wide project. Through this experience, I am able to model how to plan and execute a community service project.

Following the concept of a gradual release of responsibility, I incorporate a significant amount of teacher support into the lessons, and the amount of student independence is lower. I do a lot of modeling and guided practice. This process will set them up to undertake their own projects in small groups later on in the year.

I will use our ten-minute “Lesson” time during our daily community meeting to facilitate the following lessons. I’m excited to see what they come up with!

Outcomes:

What will children think, feel, and do by the end of the lesson?

  • Be excited about the possibility of doing something to make the world a better place.
  • Believe that kids can make a difference in the world.

  • Describe and implement the steps for planning a project: Identifying the goal, collecting ideas, developing ideas, drafting, revising, editing, and executing.

Assessment:

  • Observe body language

  • Observe questions and discussion

Materials:

  • Book: Making a Difference by Time for Kids

  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Poster of “How to Plan a Project”

Agenda: Day One

  • TEACHER: In our class, we talk a lot about living like a leader. Leaders are people who work hard to make the world better. We already know that kids can be leaders. We’ve talked about the idea that peace begins with you.
  • Today we are going to read a story about kids making the world better. It’s called Making a Difference. [Read story]
  • As a class, we’re going to have a special opportunity to make the world better. Saturday, October 24 is the national Make a Difference Day. We are going to work together to come up with a project that we can do together that will make the world better. Tonight, go home and start thinking about your ideas. During our next community meeting, we’ll brainstorm our ideas.

Agenda: Day Two

  • TEACHER: During our last community meeting, we talked about how kids can make the world better [hold up book]. Now we’re going to start planning the project we want to do to make the world better on Saturday, October 24.
  • Whenever I start a project, the first thing I do is think of my goal. I ask myself, “What do I want to accomplish? Why am I doing this?” Our goal for this project is to do something that makes the world better [write on a piece of chart paper for the children to see]. Next, I collect ideas about how to accomplish the goal. Let’s go back to the book and get some ideas from it. [add ideas to list]
  • Now let’s come up with our own ideas to add to our list. When we are collecting ideas, we need to be careful to respect everyone’s ideas, even if we think they won’t work or sound silly. Everything that people say can give someone else another idea, so all ideas are useful and helpful. [call on students and add their ideas to the list]
  • Keep thinking about our ideas tonight. Talk with your friends and families and see if you can come up with any more ideas! We’ll come back tomorrow and pick one of our ideas.

Agenda: Day Three

  • TEACHER: We’ve been working on our Make a Difference Day project. We started by coming up with our goal. [read goal] Next, we started collecting ideas. [read ideas] Does anyone have any other ideas they want to add to the list?
  • Now it’s time to select one of our ideas. You are going to vote for your favorite idea. You can only vote one time, so listen closely while I read all the ideas again and you can decide which one is your favorite. [read the list through once]
  • Now I’m going to read the list again and you can vote for your favorite idea. Remember that leaders act courageously. Even if you are the only person who likes a particular idea, you should be bold and raise your hand. It takes courage to vote for something that is unpopular. [read through the list and record the number of votes next to each idea; ensure that each person voted once]
  • Now that we have our project idea picked, tomorrow we can start planning it!

Agenda: Day Four

  • TEACHER: We’ve been working on our Make a Difference Day project. We started by coming up with our goal. [read goal] Next, we started collecting ideas. Yesterday, we picked one of our ideas. Now it is time to develop that idea. Let’s make a web to come up with all the ideas we have about how to implement the project we selected. [make a web] Remember, when we are collecting and developing ideas, we need to be careful to respect everyone’s ideas, even if we think they won’t work or sound silly. Everything that people say can give someone else another idea, so all ideas are useful and helpful. [call on students and add their ideas to the web]
  • We’ve come up with a lot of great ideas! Tomorrow, we will come up with a step-by-step plan for implementing our idea.

Agenda: Day Five

  • TEACHER: We’ve been working on our Make a Difference Day project. We started by coming up with our goal. [read goal] Next, we started collecting ideas. Then, we picked one of our ideas and developed it. Now it is time to come up with a step-by-step plan for how to implement our plan. In other words, what do we need to do first, second, third, etc. in order to undertake this project? Also, what materials do we need? [create a draft of the plan and the materials list—skip lines on the plan to allow room for revising]
  • Now that we have our plan, it’s time to revise it. Let’s read back over it and see if there’s anything we need to add, delete, rearrange, or replace.
  • Now let’s edit it to see if we need to add/change any capital letters or end marks or if we need to fix our spelling.
  • Is there anyone who can turn our rough draft (“sloppy copy”) into a final draft during work time tomorrow?

Agenda: Day Six

  • TEACHER: We’ve been working on our Make a Difference Day project. We started by coming up with our goal. [read goal] Next, we started collecting ideas. Then, we picked one of our ideas and developed it. Finally, we came up with a plan and a list of materials we need to gather. Thank you so much to ______________ for excelling as a leader and taking on more work by making our final draft.
  • Now we need to read through all of our steps and decide who is going to do them and by when.
  • We’ll check in every day to see how our project is going!

Make A Difference Day is the most encompassing national day of helping others — a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. Everyone can participate. Created by USA WEEKEND Magazine, Make A Difference Day is an annual event that takes place on the fourth Saturday of every October. The next event is Saturday, October 24, 2009.

Interactive Classroom Calendar

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This year I decided to do something I haven’t done before: create an interactive calendar.

The idea is that I want the children to take ownership of our community and our classroom, and one way to do that is by co-authoring our days. They will be responsible for shifting the days of the month when the month changes, and they will add a variety of events to our calendar: birthdays, field trips, presentations that they want to make to the class, pen pal letter deadlines, reading buddy visits, etc.

The board started as an old chalkboard. Here’s how I transformed it:

  1. I asked some children and parent volunteers to clean the old surface.
  2. I used painters’ tape around all the edges to make sure I didn’t get any primer or paint on the floor (note to self: I should have also put down a drop cloth!).
  3. I then used a roller brush (with the smoothest roller attached) to add a layer of magnetic primer (which I secured from Home Depot for around $10).
  4. I followed the drying directions on the can and waited about 30 minutes before reapplying the next layer. In all, I had enough primer to do three layers.
  5. I let the surface dry for 24 hours and then used chalkboard spray paint to spray over the magnetic primer (note to self: buy chalkboard paint in a can rather than as a spray next time!).
  6. I measured out my calendar and put light chalk marks to approximate where I wanted to put the tape.
  7. I used a light blue painters’ tape from the teacher supply store to create the calendar grid. Wal-Mart sells a darker blue that is also very nice.
  8. I used my computer to print out the months, days, seasons, and dates in English and Spanish. I then cut out everything. You can download the template here. I used five different colors and fed them through the printer in a pattern. I ended up with a few mistakes, but if you print the entire document on five colors, it will all work out.
  9. I ran everything through the laminator and trimmed around the edges.
  10. I cut a roll of magnetic tape into pieces and attached them to the numbers. I used tape to attach the days of the week (since those are permanent). Because the magnets were on a roll, I had to bend each piece backwards to get it to lay flat. I put two pieces on each number, since the magnetic board has a pretty weak attraction.

Voila! When the children want to add events, they will use sticky notes and small magnets. I’m also going to make a magnet with every child’s picture so they can put their picture next to their birthdays, presentations, etc.

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Let me know if you have any questions!