School Blog

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.

X