Look Up…8th grade graduation speech by Kian Salek

Good evening, everyone. On behalf of the graduating class, I’d like to welcome all parents, teachers, honored guests and students to the graduation of 2019. It was about 11 years ago when I began my journey at Foothills Montessori. I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, sitting on the P1 carpet with the other students, playing in Ms. Valerie’s garden and using the peace rose to settle very important disputes. Those were the days, but we have come a long way since then. As the years went by, we encountered many challenges and obstacles that taught us how to learn from our mistakes and like Albert Einstein once said, “Failure is success in progress.”  As we kept growing, we learned important life skills like organization, time management, responsibility and teamwork

Eventually, we got to middle school. These two crucial years taught us how to become independent and empathize with the world around us. We went from followers in preschool and kindergarten, always looking up to the “big kids” in E1, to ambassador leaders in middle school. We have made it to the top and we couldn’t have done it without the support from our amazing teachers and parents. As John Irving once said, “You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.”

Even though our amazing journey at Foothills ends here, we begin another journey that will be filled with new opportunities and experiences. FMS has given us the foundation we need to succeed in life and we will never forget how this school has shaped us into the people we are today.

While we have cherished every moment at this school, it is now time for my peers and I to look up to the future and prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead. When I look at my classmates, I see future scholars that can achieve anything and I am excited to see them go far in life. If you think about it, some of us have spent around 108 months together, and during this time we have been through both cheerful and heartbreaking memories, from our fantastic school trips to the devastation on October 1st, 2017. After today, we will part ways and take different paths. Most of us won’t see each other after tonight. And if you find yourself a little anxious about starting at a new school, just remember this; the sky’s the limit, so look up and soar like a falcon.

Loose Parts and Tinkering

“Happiness is absorption, and absorption is the opposite of willful attention.” * The development of willful attention is a major goal of education, and specifically Montessori education.  Concentration, order, coordination and independence are the fundamental pillars of Dr. Montessori’s educational philosophy and yet, now in this technological age when children spend very little time outside just hanging out and playing with what nature offers, FMS is embracing an educational initiative called “loose parts” and “tinkering.”

It is a philosophy that advocates for more outside time in general for students doing common activities like reading and learning in small groups and, specifically, it also advocates providing students with common household items to “tinker with.”

Teacher guidance is minimal and student creativity is dominant. Common items found at home like buttons, Q-tips, plastic hoses, smooth rocks, small sticks, etc. are offered to the students for them to handle and create freely.  Emphasis is on the process of grouping items together in unique ways, fulfilling a student’s vision at that moment, then returning items to the shelf.  Nothing goes home, no product is made.

Tinkering allows for individual expression and creativity when children get their hands on materials and are experiencing the flow of the minute they are in.  It also encourages communications and socialization among students as they problem solve, negotiate solutions, and drive towards common visions.

Using small and large items encourages both fine motor and large gross motor skills. Ms. Val, lead teacher for the outdoor classroom, has been experimenting with this concept using big empty cardboard boxes to create a play space, along with setting up a “mud kitchen.” She has seen very positive results.

We are experimenting with this idea in our school overall and Ms. Rosie, our lower elementary head teacher and department head, is leading the charge to educate FMS teachers on the philosophy and practical application of this initiative.

Much of the idea is to do tinkering and “maker spaces” outside where large motor skills can be used to build temporary, interactive, child-directed applications. “Playing and experimenting are key themes for the loose parts philosophy with inspiration for this: Tinkering Tenets • Merge Science, Art & Technology (with the Outdoors!) • Reinvent old technologies (and discover new ones) • Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways • Embrace your tools • Seek real-world examples everywhere • Create rather than consume • Put yourself in messy, noisy & sometimes dangerous situations.”**

“Kids will play with anything.  Literally, ANYTHING. Early learning professionals frequently cite a long list of benefits that playing with loose parts bestows on developing humans: creativity, dexterity, problem-solving, socialization and teamwork, to name a few. Given the universal kid-love of building random stuff from random stuff, it is heartening to see designers exploring ways to bring this form of play out of the indoor environment and into the public arena.”**

As FMS curriculum continues to build on the Montessori foundations, it also evolves to meet the needs of current students.  Bringing “loose parts” into the school and actively encouraging “tinkering” acknowledges the need for students to also have unstructured time for themselves to experiment, create, and interact with others in a social, temporary situation.

*A. Gopnik, New Yorker, 5/20/19

**The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson & Mike Petrich

Re-Enrollment 2019

A component of academic success at FMS is for our parents to be well informed of the expectations students will encounter as they make major transitions from one plane of development to another.  Each of the major transitions brings an expansion and deeper exploration of the curriculum, including increased expectations of students functioning more and more autonomously. The best way for families to prepare for these transitions is to attend the re-enrollment information meetings provided by the faculty and intended for the parents of currently enrolled students. These meetings are excellent primers for knowing in advance what will be expected of students as they move into higher grades for the 2019-2020 school year and are ideal platforms for asking specific academic questions of the staff.  Thank you for appreciating the importance of these meetings and for helping to directly support your child through these transitions.  Please refer to the meeting schedule below:

January 30 @ 5:00pm  – pre-K students moving up to Kindergarten (children must be 5 by September 30th, 2019)

January 30 @ 6:00pm – 6th grade students moving up to 7th grade (parents of 5th grade students are also welcomed to attend to learn more about the middle school program)

January 31 @ 5:00pm – Kindergarten students moving up to 1st grade (lower el)

January 31 @ 6:00pm- 3rd grade students moving up to 4th grade (upper el)

Expanding the Mathematical Mindset

Recent neuroscience research has shown that our brains are capable of growing and developing our entire life time. Furthermore, approaching the teaching of mathematics using a ”growth mindset” and embracing mistakes/struggles actually strengthens the synapses in the brain to learn more deeply. These are some of the cutting edge concepts being applied by researchers at Stanford University. Recently, Ms. Amy and Ms. Danna, FMS lead teachers of 4th – 6th grade, had the privilege of attending the training facilitated by Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University and co-founder of “You Cubed.”

What they learned is that many students feel limited in their abilities to grasp and perform mathematical functions when they rely on traditional tactics of memorization of facts and developing the ability to produce right answers in a timed manner.  The science shows that “many of our mathematical concepts are held in our visual and sensory motor memories.”(Journal of Applied Computational Mathematics: J. Boaler, L.Chen, C.Williams, M. Cordero) So by giving  greater emphasis on visual and physical mathematics, students are using more of their brains to actually grasp underlying math principles.  When it comes time to test their knowledge, students who have used this process have performed better than their peers relying on traditional teaching methods. We can actively stimulate the visual representation of math concepts such as graphing equations and using pictures to represent computations which takes nothing away from getting to the right answer, it simply expands the way math concepts are presented and then understood.

To further explore these concepts and see the research on this innovative approach to teaching and learning mathematics, we encourage you to visit the You Cubed website at https://www.youcubed.org/professional-development-at-stanford/

Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford and the first female mathematician to receive the Fields Medal (the Mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize), was a strong proponent of “doodling on large sheets of white paper, scribbling formulas on the periphery of her drawings.”

According to her colleagues, “Mirzakhani was able to conjure aspects of such spaces to consider, doodling on a white sheet of paper to try an idea, or remember one, or search for a new one; only later would she transcribe her adventures in the conventional symbols of mathematics.” “You don’t want to write down all the details,” she once told a journalist. “But the process of drawing something helps you somehow to stay connected.” Her Ph.D. thesis began with counting simple loops on surfaces and led to a calculation of the total volume of moduli spaces. This allowed the young scholar to publish three separate papers in top mathematical journals, one of which contained a surprising new proof of the famous “Witten conjecture,” a milestone in theoretical physics connecting mathematics and quantum gravity. Mirzakhani’s mathematics is treasured for its great creative leaps, for the connections it has revealed between distant fields, for its sense of grandeur. (New York Times Magazine)

As we go further into the technological age and the era of information, it will become more relevant for workers of the future to be able to absorb and analyze large amounts of data, and to be able to see relevant patterns of usable information. FMS students will have the benefit of understanding Mathematical concepts more deeply by using visual tools, and to potentially explore some of the hidden complexities that Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani did.

Gardening at Foothills Montessori

Over the years, FMS has had many green thumbs planting flowers, herbs, and plants on campus including the greenhouse. Ms Val manages in the primary outdoor classroom.  Last year, there was a concerted effort, led by Ms. Kerri(E6), to partner with Green Our Planet and create a sustainable gardening program.  The fruits of her labor are coming to fruition as we see the plants thriving in the new brick planters located in the campus courtyard.  Every classroom is represented on the gardening committee and exciting results are starting to bloom.

There are essentially four areas on campus that are dedicated to growing plants: the center courtyard, the east side behind the lower elementary classrooms, the green house in the primary outdoor classroom, and the pollinator garden found outside E6 (upper elementary) on the west side.  Each area has its purpose and the students, teachers, and parent volunteers are involved with the maintenance and growth of the areas. In addition, primary classes are focused on creating a sensory garden with plants which feel, taste and smell amazing. We are even considering starting a seed library.

As stated by the committee, The FMS garden is a learning garden. Maria Montessori observed, “When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” Our garden encourages students to experience the natural world, gain insight into how all living things work together, demonstrate respect, adopt peaceful practices and develop an awareness of personal responsibility for contributing in a positive way to the world. Teachers and staff utilize the garden to facilitate outdoor learning across all domains and school subjects, and to nurture self-reflection, mindfulness, and family engagement. Garden lessons increase opportunities for outdoor learning, support healthy eating, and inspire students to protect, conserve and improve the natural environment around the world. “Education is not something which a teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.” (Maria Montessori)

As the garden grows, elementary students will participate in professional chef demonstrations using produce from our harvest. Also, be on the lookout for notification of upcoming farmers’ markets where students will be selling items from the garden.

Ambassador Leaders

Ambassador Leaders

Leadership is a complex and useful skill that may lay dormant in a young person until they are actually called upon to use it. This summer, six FMS middle school students were invited to attend a week-long leadership training program sponsored by the Ambassador Leaders program.  Some of our students attended the training at Harvard Law School and others went to UCLA.  Each student was nominated by their teachers and then submitted an application to be chosen to attend the training.

Their week was filled with seminars on team building, communications, and learning how to identify their own leadership styles. Successful business people presented during the week modeling many of the leadership traits the students had learned about.  Our students were challenged with creating a community service project and figuring out its motto, purpose, and a strategy for implementing the idea.  Some of our students came up with an idea focused on water; preserving it and providing clean water supplies to communities which they called “One Drop.”

When asked, “What did you learn about yourself through this experience?” One student commented that the experience “opened her up,” another had to “step out of her comfort zone and engage in conversations with people she had just met.”  A student also commented that his group had to speak about their community project idea in front of an audience of over 100 people, and he was “pleased with his performance.”  The experience certainly provided opportunities for students to become more confident in public speaking and collaborating with peers.

A Blended Montessori Approach

FMS is a blended Montessori program.  Montessori materials for teaching Math, Language, Reading, Science and Cultural lessons are the foundation for lesson giving at the primary level and are used in varying degrees in the upper grades.  We follow the tenet of presenting the concrete material first, such as using a single red bead to represent “one” and the green bead bar to represent “two.”  Then, as the student becomes more familiar with the process of handling the concrete materials and their knowledge solidifies, they are introduced to more abstract representations, such as writing the number 1 and then eventually learning the functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Sounds are presented first when teaching language to 3 and 4 year olds so that when letter recognition is developed, a young student begins to see the letters put in a pattern to form words, which eventually leads to pre-k students reading simple books.

The Montessori method is one that is “hands on” and process driven.  This methodology is used throughout each of the ascending grades at FMS.  Much of the teaching is done in small groups, where again, specific needs and abilities of the students are addressed.   Once a student is in lower elementary (first through third grade), Montessori materials are still used in the classroom, but traditional learning materials are used to solidify a students knowledge, preparing them to function effectively in any school setting.  For example, “Words Their Way” is a spelling and comprehension tool used to develop writing skills, as well. This starts in first grade and carries through sixth grade. Middle school students focus on etymology, while learning the deeper connections of how words were created and applying their meaning in their writing.

Starting in third grade, each student is given the Stanford 10 Achievement Test rating the student’s reading, comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, math and listening skills.  A record of these scores is posted on our website under the ABOUT category then under TEST SCORES.  For over ten years, FMS Montessori students have consistently demonstrated above grade level  mastery as a mean population. These results are measurable indicators that FMS students are standing on solid academic ground and can compete effectively when measured against traditional school standards. Chrome notebooks are introduced to upper elementary (fourth through sixth) students as a tool for researching and writing papers.  Middle school students continue to use Chrome notebooks for research and Google classroom.

All of the “non-Montessori” tools are used to solidify and refine the education process at FMS.  We are committed to helping each student develop to the best of their abilities, both on an academic and social/emotional basis.  Learning “how to be with other people” is just as vital as learning the sounds of the alphabet, or composing a well written paper.  FMS is an institution that feels warm and inviting. Children, parents, teachers, and administrators take an active role in our learning community, contributing to the collective experience we share during the school year.  FMS is a community of learners, inspired by the Montessori philosophy to do our very best every day.

Planet Lesson

Cooking projects in the FMS kitchen happen on a regular basis, filling the office with delicious scents and actively involving students in the preparation of food.  Sometimes, the food that is being made is to celebrate birthdays for the month.  Often there is an opportunity for our students to experience an academic lesson represented in a food item.  Last week, P2 students entered the kitchen and found that the entire solar system was laid out on the table in front of them.

The task was to paint a plate with yogurt signifying the atmosphere and the boundless space around us.  The sun was represented by an orange slice, with Earth showing up as a slice of kiwi.  The asteroid belt was laid out by using raisins.  Each piece of fruit was proportional in size, representing the scale of the planets in space. This visual and tactile lesson was further enhanced when the students were able to eat the fruit and use their sense of taste.  Space was explored, a lesson imparted, and a memory made when the fruit was eaten…a true Montessori experience.

 

Training the Mind

The FMS teaching staff began the new year with a training in mindfulness.  It was given by Tessa Stephenson, MS MFT, and Regional Director for the Endeavor network.  Mindfulness is an old idea getting new traction in our fast paced world.   As per Ms. Stephenson, mindfulness is a perspective that cultivates “an attitude of openness and curiosity no matter the circumstances, including situations that are unwanted or unpleasant.” Mindfulness offers tools for regulating emotions in order for a person to stay present and focused in the moment they are in, instead of reacting automatically to their own emotional states.

Simply taking a deep breath can calm the mind long enough to integrate the right and left sides of the brain so a person can think clearer about the situation at hand. Many studies have shown that teaching young children mindfulness techniques gives them life skills for coping with frustrations and disappointments.  The studies have also shown that as young children are taught mindfulness techniques, they begin to experience themselves moving from a reactive to a receptive state.  Not only does this help them in the immediate moment where they feel challenged, but this simple training can facilitate long term positive brain development.

Integrating the left and right sides of the brain is the ideal state of mind. The right side of the brain controls senses, emotions, nonverbal communications, and gives the whole picture context. Studies demonstrate connecting with the right side of the brain where emotions are generated is critical to effectively redirecting behavior.   Once the emotions are addressed, then conversation can proceed to utilizing the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain is the logical, linear, literal, and linguistic driver. Solutions can be offered and boundaries reinstated.

One of the mindful techniques brought to the classroom was a simple hand gesture. For example: holding a hand up, then folding the thumb into the palm, followed by letting the four fingers move rapidly, the child takes a breath and then slowly folds the four fingers over the thumb in a closed fist position.  As the breath is being exhaled and the fingers are moving slowly over the thumb, “pull it together” is repeated silently.  “Pull it together” is a verbal cue for integrating both sides of the brain. As a recent example: a primary class (ages 3-6) taught this technique to the students during a whole group circle.

During lunch that same day, a kindergartener looked at a younger peer who was having difficulty controlling their body while eating and simply held up her hand, folded her fingers over her thumb, and the other child redirected their behavior. This action was unprompted by a teacher and demonstrates the power of mindfulness.

Mindfulness and Middle School

Mindfulness is a modern term for an ancient concept of quieting the mind, intentionally.  Ms. Erica introduced this concept to her middle school students this year by adding “mindfulness” as a daily part of the curriculum.  She introduced mindfulness to her students by drawing their attention to their natural breathing patterns. Often, by simply putting focused attention upon the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, students began to notice a slight difference in their postures, their own breathing, and how calm they felt.  A breathing ball was used to demonstrate this process.

Research done by Northwestern Medicine confirms that “nasal breathing plays a pivotal role in coordinating electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex-the brain regions that directly receive input from our nose-which then coordinates the amygdala (which processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory and emotions).  During nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in both the amygdala and the hippocampus become stronger.  The in-breath specifically alters your cognition, improving both emotional and memory processing – any slow, steady breathing like the kind employed in meditation and yoga activates the calming part of the nervous system, and slows heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. The act of slow, deep breathing, whether the inhalation or exhalation, is beneficial for your nervous system when you wish to be more still.”1

Every midmorning, middle school students are called together to practice the art of mindfulness.  Breath is always a key component to this process and is used to teach students how to tune into their mind/body connection. Ms. Erica has also found a way to reveal to her students that there is a direct link between the mind and the hands. When the mind is always active and on the go, sometimes thoughts can be tamed simply by engaging the hands in small, peaceful moments. A special shelf in the room hosts 55 different mindfulness jobs, including watching oil and water mixing in a container, tracing sand in a tray, and even trying their hands at solving the Rubik’s Cube. Students are encouraged to ground their thoughts before beginning the tasks. They are also encouraged to try various mindfulness jobs to expand their own experiences and to give others a chance to do the works.  Unlike other assignments, there is no goal in mind other than to experience the process of doing the work.

Once a week, a guided meditation is done giving students the opportunity to experience the power of “being,” opposed to “doing.”  Observation of the breath is the foundation of the mindfulness curriculum and is used on a daily basis. Tuning into and expanding the awareness of the five senses will take up much of the school year, with mindfulness, emotions, and the inner experience rounding out the curriculum.

During a recent class, students spent class time outside, just listening, trying to expand the reach of their sense of hearing.  They were amazed to discover the variety of sounds found outside when they were quiet enough to open up their perception to the natural world.  A recent survey conducted by Ms. Erica revealed the vast majority felt the class was helpful and they were enjoying it.

Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches the difference between being mindful (actively engaged in the present moment with mind, body and breath) and having a mind full of thoughts, each one racing to gain momentum over the other.  With practice and awareness, students are learning to quiet their minds, balance emotions, and harness the power of their thoughts.  A leading mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, postulates “learning mindfulness practices in school would put people on the road to a much more healthy relationship to their body and their emotions.”2 We are seeing the truth of this statement with our middle school students. Finally, as reported by Time Special Edition, “mindfulness has been shown to increase kindness, sleep quality, behavioural control, concentration, and even math scores.”3

 

Mindfulness Magazine (10/2017)

1: pg. 12

2: pg. 18

Time Special Edition “The Science of Childhood” – Inside the Minds of our Younger Selves.

  1. Pg. 62