Authenticity and Beetles
Children engage deeply when learning is authentic — when the context is real, immediate and connected to their lives. And children strive for quality when there is an authentic audience for their work.
The imminent construction of Ancona’s Outdoor Learning Space offered a very real and immediate context for the Kindergartners in Room 103 to learn about the emerald ash borer beetle and why we will be removing many large trees from the playground. With their teacher Jane Paha, the children talked about how people depend on plants for life, and using the Internet, the children found some simple videos that taught them about the life cycle of the beetles and how to look for infestations. Outside, they were able to identify ash trees and to find evidence of ash borer infestation. Montessori tells us to follow the child, so when the kids really wanted to talk to a scientist, Jane asked parent and arborist Daniella Pereira to visit. From Daniella, the children learned more about how the trees grow and how the beetles starve the trees.
As all good scientists do, the children wanted share their findings. They put together a video about the beetles, presented it to children in other classrooms and answered their questions.
“I love that they were largely able to discover the facts themselves,” said Jane. “Now the kids are very curious about the playground and how it will change this summer.” Since these All Year Montessori students will be in school all summer, they will have another authentic opportunity — documenting the playground changes as they occur.
ROOM 103’s ASH TREE PRESENTATION
And Solar Panels, too
Another dimension of an authentic context — and life — is that it is dynamic, so teachers working with real problems must be nimble enough to exploit changing circumstances. Balazs Dibuzs wrote in depth about the 5th/6th grade Climate Change unit for Curriculum Connections earlier this fall. The unit included a visit from Ancona grandparent Julian Dawson, an architect with an earth-friendly house here in Chicago that includes solar panels and passive solar heating. Sylvia Glassco designed the interdisciplinary unit to teach both about the human effect on climate change and to present opportunities for student action and advocacy. One group of students decided that they wanted to advocate for solar panels.
When parent Jonathan Pereira (yes, related to Daniella, above) read the Curriculum Connection article, he contacted me about the possibility of applying for a school grant to fund 1 KW of solar panels (this is fully explained in the slide presentation below). So when the same students were studying energy in March, Sylvia invited Jonathan to speak with the class about what they would need to consider before deciding that Ancona could install solar panels. “The students found him very helpful,” said Sylvia, “and also, respectful of their knowledge.”
In their science class, the students learned about different types of energy and how energy can be transferred. They completed an engineering design challenge to develop solar ovens that would hold heat for at least 3 hours, and then they split into two groups. While one group worked in the garden to harvest solar thermal energy in a hoop house, the students interested in solar panels researched Ancona’s roof, electricity usage and solar panels more generally to develop their argument for panels at Ancona.
Last week, Ari Frede and I were invited to a presentation. The solar panel group made an impressive plea for solar power at Ancona and did a very thoughtful job of answering our questions (an authentic audience!). With Jonathan’s assistance, they’ve applied for the grant. Because of their advocacy, a teacher’s flexibility and a parent’s initiative, we’ll hopefully be seeing Ancona’s first solar panel in the coming months. This is authentic curriculum at it’s best. Ancona students move the world!
Watch the presentation and see if you are convinced!