Friday, March 21, 2008

So, You Want to Teach Geography?

Make it fun!!!

I said I'd talk a little about how I teach geography, and so I shall. But let me say first that I am not a trained Montessori teacher. I'm just a Mum who has done a lot of reading and research. Furthermore, I have not (as yet) received any "official" Montessori teaching guides (although I do have the Montessori Research and Development Early Childhood Geography Manual on the way - yippee!!!), but I know the the basics of the Montessori method, so I've applied them as much as possible to what I'm teaching. So what I write you can take as a guide, but certainly not as an authoritative approach!

Thus far I only have the World Continents puzzle map and the Canada puzzle map, but I'm eyeing the Planets and North America puzzle maps with longing!

And I'm so happy to be living in New Brunswick, where the public library system is excellent, making inter-library loans fast and easy! Through my local library I found the National Geographic "Our World" which is a fantastic beginner atlas (Canadians, make sure you get the Updated Edition so that you get a two-page spread of Canada and its provinces, otherwise you'll just get the U.S. and its states!); it was so wonderful, I went and bought it myself!

Rather than having a labeled or unlabeled control map, I made my own "control" by tracing each puzzle piece on black bristol board and cutting them out. I printed the name of each continent on a piece of cardstock (a very handy item to have around) using a very simple font (my preference is "Century Gothic" in bold). Then I glued the bristol board pieces to the corresponding piece of card stock at (approximately) the same angle as it appears on the map. I slipped these into page protectors to make for easy storage as well as keeping them in good condition.

Now, I had it easy when it came to geography. Firstly, I love geography. I can play with a globe for ages, even at my advanced age! And second (and more importantly) Ella is fascinated by maps! Since about a year or so ago, once she understood what a map was, she's really enjoyed looking at them, following the lines on them, and "explaining" them to others ("See Grampie, we hiked from here to here..."). When we go hiking, she loves to see where we've gone, and where we are going to. And when she first got the atlas (which was a while ago) she wanted me to identify places that she'd heard of, like "Uganda" and "Calgary"!

So, we'd been looking at it for some time, and she had been getting used to the ideas of maps and directions ("left, right, up, and down," as we haven't begun "north, south, east, and west"), when one day, while in town, her father needed directions on how to get somewhere. Now my husband is an extremely intelligent man, and if you want to discuss the intricacies of some abstract, complex theological subject, he's your man, but if you want directions, DON'T ask him! He is forever getting lost, and it's not uncommon for him to ask "Where are we?" when driving along. I'm usually the navigator and the driver, which doesn't bother me in the least. So I grabbed a piece of paper and pen and started to make him a little map. Ella, who was just getting out of her car seat to head with me to the library, climbed forward pointed at the little drawing and said, "Look Daddy! Mummy drewd a map of Nort America!"

Much of Montessori's method was built around the idea of the three period lesson. Each period represented a different level of learning, moving from directed learning to independent learning. The first period includes the teacher/parent introducing the material. The form in which they (typically) present the information is in a simple, straightforward statement, doing the lesson as they hope the child will learn to do it. So the teacher would say, "This is ______." The child may repeat the statement.

The second period is when the child has learned to identify those thing defined in the first period. In this period, the teacher/parent will be asking a question such as, "Where is _____?" or "What is ______?" or "Which one is _______?" And the child can then point and respond verbally, "This is ____."

The third period is the beginning of independent learning. This is when the child, with little to no direction from the parent/teacher applies the knowledge him/herself, doing as the teacher did in the first lesson. To start this period, rather than asking "What is _____?" the teacher/parent would rephrase the question to "What is this?" or "Where is this?"

Ultimately, the teacher will not have to ask any questions, because the child has learned the material already, they can do it on their own and can begin to explore with the material, discovering other things they can do with it (such as putting the puzzle map together as a jigsaw rather than in the wooden puzzle frame, or trying a new way of organising the red rods, perhaps in one long line rather than one above the other).

So, Ella already had some understanding of maps and map usage when I got the puzzle maps. And I went with simplicity when it came to presenting them to her. I sat out the puzzle, and fanned the control sheets out from the map in a semi-circle. Then I sat down and slowly and deliberately took out one of the puzzle pieces and ran it over the control sheets until I came to the correct sheet. I placed the puzzle piece carefully over the shadow and then ran my finger along the word beneath while I said, "This is North America," so she would get the idea that the letters below read "North America." I did this with every continent/piece, and then I did it again in reverse, essentially putting the puzzle back together.

I invited Ella to do the puzzle with me. I had her sit on my lap and I would say, "Show me North America" and she would try to choose that particular puzzle piece. If she didn't get it right, I would invite her to find the control page that the puzzle piece fit on, and when she did, I'd say, "You found Asia!" while underlining the place name with my finger on the control. Then I would repeat "Show me North America" and let her try again.

If she got it right, I would say, "See if you can match it to the shadow," indicating the control sheets. When she found it and had set the puzzle piece over the shadow correctly, I'd say, "That's right! You did find North America!" again, while underlining the words "North America" with my finger as I said the name.

We repeated the second period over a number of days, letting her get used to the placement of each continent, and when she was getting the idea with relative ease (though still not always doing it perfectly), we moved on to the third period.

This is the period of independent work, with as little parent/teacher direction as possible. I will help her by carrying over the map puzzle (it's a bit heavy and awkward for her yet), but she can do the rest pretty much by herself. If she gets the name of the continent wrong (naturally, she can get it properly placed on the shadow) I will guide her again by saying, "This is North America" and underline the word.

It hasn't taken her long to become fascinated even by the words. She will run her finger along beneath the word, just as I do, and say the letters aloud. She'll usually say something like this: "This is Asia," (she places the puzzle piece, then begins to run her fingers slowly along the word), "A - S - I - A, dat spells Asia!" So not only is she learning geography, but she is also learning spelling and reading!

Above, you can see Ella placing the piece for "South America" on the control page.

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At 5:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Montessori teacher in Texas and I want to commend you on your work. Your dedication to your daughter (my daughter's name is Ella too!) and to the Montessori philosophy is astounding!!! Keep up the great work.


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