Tag Archives: Aha

The "Aha" Series: 'I AM funny!'—Arts in Middle School

This week, we asked some of our Middle School arts specialists to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Meri-Lee Mafera—Music

The Middle School music elective this spring is a course that studies various national anthems from around the world. At the first class it was brought to my attention that the students who chose this elective did so because it was NOT a performing class. They were adamant, stating that they “would not ever sing in front of an audience!” After listening to their concerns, I asked them to make a conscious choice to have fun during the upcoming weeks, to try it all and to just “dive in and sing.” They agreed, and over the next few weeks we learned much and laughed much, especially at our often-clumsy attempts with the more difficult foreign languages.

As the most recent Morning Share was approaching, I decided to approach my lovable, but reluctant class with an idea. I asked them if they would be willing to choose one of the national anthems we had studied, and perform it for the entire school. As I waited for the shoe to drop, much to my surprise and considerable glee, with no hesitance at all, they unanimously said, “Yes!” and chose Japan’s “Kimigayo.” I was very moved, and I hope that this wonderful group of students will continue throughout their lives to make the choice to “dive in and sing!”

Pam Golden—Art

The Middle School artists in the spring art elective class are a delightful group of students who are happy to explore and experiment with art materials. Our theme this spring has been to play around with color—in a variety of media.

Recently, we began a project inspired by “molas”—the beautiful layered fabric art from the San Blas Islands in Panama. Working with layers of brightly colored paper, the students were using mat knives to cut shapes. The process was to cut shapes from the top piece of paper and then place a different colored piece of paper underneath. Everything was kind of quiet at first. Then, one of the students discovered how many layers of color could be revealed and understood how cool the project could really be. She began to laugh and exclaim about what she was going to create! Then, all the students “got in the groove” (a collective Aha!) and there was a wonderful artistic flow of momentum in the class. It was a thrill to witness!

Colleen Quinn—Movement & Theater

“Aha! I AM funny!”

This particular Aha moment seems to occur every year during the rehearsal process for the middle school play. Each year the students await the announcement of their play with great anticipation, they congratulate each other on their assigned roles, they gather for the first rehearsal and…What? We have to go onstage in front of everyone and sing? Dance? Act?

Now, this should not come as a surprise. Every student at Inly participates in numerous performances throughout their tenure at the school. Still, in middle school the angst of self-consciousness and self-doubt are in high gear. The thought of putting one’s self onstage for all the world to see can be an uncomfortable and frightening prospect for a 12- or 13-year-old. Still, there’s no escape.

So, we work our way through the rehearsals. There is no end to the positive encouragement and gentle requests that are bestowed on the students:

  • That line is hilarious. If only we could hear it. Please talk louder.
  • You sing beautifully. Please sing louder.
  • The dance looks great. Please dance with a bit more energy.

Still, the students are reluctant to completely throw themselves into character. The fear of being laughed at is considerable. I keep promising:

  • The audience is going to laugh because the show is funny!
  • The audience is going to cry because the show is touching.
  • The audience is going to cheer because the show is fabulous!

Only once did I resort to bribery. I literally got on my knees and said, “If you do this dance with lots of energy and smiles and sing out loudly, I’ll make cookies for you.” (Yes…it worked.)

At last, we arrive at the final day of preparation. It is a full dress rehearsal, a performance for the entire school. There is excitement in the air…or is that nervousness? The middle school students step up to the challenge. And then it happens…the Aha moment.

You can almost hear the sigh of relief, the gasp of realization. They seem to finally realize that it will be okay, the earth will still turn on its axis if they sing and dance onstage. They give it their all, they say their lines loudly and with animation, they sing clearly and beautifully, they dance with energy and smiles. They are a hit! The audience is laughing, crying, cheering.

“Aha!” they say. “I AM funny! I DO sing nicely! I CAN dance! I can take the risk and aha! It really is okay.”

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 22, 2009.]

The "Aha" Series: The Final Reckoning in Middle School Spanish

This week, we asked Lynda Jackson, our Middle School Spanish instructor, to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Lynda’s Final Exam Story

As the end of the school year approaches, I think of many Aha moments I encountered with the middle school students in Spanish class this year. I can recall the occasions when I heard some of them say; “Aha, I understand what the story is about. I get it now.” Or “Aha, I am beginning to understand when to use the verb “es” instead of “está.”  These are gratifying moments when I see that some of the complexities of the language are beginning to make sense to the students. Most encouraging of all is to see how much students have improved with their language aptitude by the end of the year.

The students recently took their final exam in Spanish. It was cumulative so they were able to show me all that they had retained from the year’s learning. In one section of the exam, the 8th grade students were given a list of vocabulary words and asked to write a short story using all of them. After reading each of the stories, I could not help but think: “These are awesome. Aha, they have learned more than they realize!” These students were able to use the vocabulary in context very effectively and to express themselves clearly in Spanish. The spelling and the use of articles, tense agreements, and prepositions were, for the most part, used properly. These students had no hesitation expressing their thoughts and ideas in a second language, and they did it well. Not to mention the stories were creative and quite funny!

Towards the end of the year, I start to feel like there is not enough time to teach them everything I want to, but then when I look at what they have accomplished, I am encouraged and feel fortunate to work with such a talented and motivated group of students.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 22, 2009.]

The "Aha" Series: In Middle School, Not Speaking in Class is Not the Same as Not Paying Attention

This week, we asked our Middle School literature teacher, Shelley Sommer, to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Shelley’s Quiet One Story

During one of my Middle School literature discussion groups, we were reading a novel about the life of a family of migrant workers in California. This particular book was the first part of the author’s memoirs, and it was my hope that we would have time to read the sequel.

One of the boys in the class was pretty quiet. He did not actively participate in the discussions, but when I directed a question to him, he seemed to have a good sense of the novel. Near the end of the book, I told the class that, unfortunately, we would not have time to read the second book. However, I told the group—which included about 10 students—that I had copies of “part two” for anyone who would like to read it on their own. After class, only one student asked for the book—and it was the quietest member of the group. As I gave it to him, it reminded me not to assume a student’s opinion of a novel based on their in-class comments. It also heartened me to know that the story of this young migrant worker had touched this student.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 15, 2009.]

In addition to being head librarian and literature teacher at Inly School, Shelley is the author of Sommer Reading, A Blog About Books.

The "Aha" Series: Thinking More Deeply in Middle School

This week, we asked Derek Stolp, our Middle School math teacher, to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Derek’s Fractal Story

Every day in school, children are working at the boundaries of their knowledge. And, every day, they experience “Aha” moments—many small ones, a few that are more profound and, not every day, ones that seem momentous.

One child who was anxious about learning mathematics at the beginning of the year discovered that, with perseverance, she could sometimes solve even the most challenging problems; and, though these were optional, she pushed herself to tackle them, expressing a quiet sense of delight when successful. Another, who every day has struggled with fractions, found that she understood areas and perimeters, and she eagerly volunteered to show her solutions to the class on the board. A young man who has struggled to make sense of mathematical concepts has discovered that, when he focuses in class, asks questions when confused, and completes his work in an organized way, he’s able to overcome his difficulties and master the ideas.

On the other hand, for those students who seem to grasp mathematical principles effortlessly, the “Aha” moment may take the form of a disorienting perplexity. While studying a fractal shape (the Koch Snowflake), two students discovered that it was a figure with a finite area but with an infinite boundary. “How can this be?” remarked one. “It doesn’t make sense,” said the other. This counterintuitive result forced them to think more deeply about notions of “infinity” because one infinite sum may converge to a finite number while another may grow without bound. This was an “Aha” moment that, rather than answering a question, suggested a whole new set of unanticipated questions, ones that they will revisit for years to come.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 15, 2009.]

In addition to teaching math at Inly Middle School, Derek is the author of a middle school algebra curriculum that he has posted on his website, http://www.algebra1models.org.

The "Aha" Series: In Middle School, the Whole is Bigger than the Sum of Its Parts

This week, we asked Tschol Slade, our Middle School humanities teacher, to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Tschol’s Story

A recent example was at Model United Nations in March, when our middle schoolers got together with hundreds of other Montessori students from around the country. For many of them, it was the first time they’d spent a good amount of time with other Montessori kids, let alone so many of them. Many of them remarked on the similarities. They were like, “Wow—we problem-solve the same way, we work in teams the same way, we even form a circle and sit on the floor in the same way.”

In this setting, they really got a sense that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. They really understood how unique it is to be a Montessori student, and they felt part of a fellowship. Of course Model U.N. teaches so many other important lessons, but this was a profound one shared by us all.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 15, 2009.]

The "Aha" Series: A Slightly Altered View in Middle School

This week, we asked our Middle School director, Julie Kelly-Detwiler, to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Julie’s Internship Story

Adolescence is a time of trying things on, making the theory real, taking a step closer to adulthood. Internships are a big part of this, and we see them make real leaps in their learning and self-confidence from the start to the end of the process.

We help our Middle School students craft their first resumes, and delight with them as they look with pride on their accumulated accomplishments. We discuss writing, punctuation, and word choice as they write their letters of introduction. We practice phone interviews and follow-up calls and watch students who said, “I could never do that” become focused and poised as they push themselves through their first cold call.

And we watch students walk with trepidation into our adult world on an internship and—Aha!—stride back to our school community with new found confidence, insights and a slightly altered view of themselves and their relationship to the world.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 15, 2009.]

The "Aha" Series: "We were all doing the same type of math—whether in the classroom or in a restaurant"

This week, we asked some of our Lower and Upper Elementary students to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

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Joseph (LE)
When I learned to do dynamic multiplication in my head! It was when I was visiting Upper Elementary and Zachary showed me how to do it. He did a couple problems first and showed me how. It took a couple tries, but then I did it. So that was a big jump…In the beginning it looked really hard, but now I feel like it’s like “2+2”.

Katie (LE)
I knew that you could stick two magnets together, like in a science experiment, but I didn’t know you could go outside and find things like rocks that are magnetic. That’s really cool!

Caroline and Callie (LE)
Caroline: We learned how the sun and earth move around each other.
Callie: We learned that in Kindergarten!
Caroline: Yeah, but we learned it again! And now we really get it. We didn’t get it before.
Callie: And now we know the earth isn’t next to the sun. We know the order of all the planets–from the song!
Caroline: Yeah, the song from the LE play! The planet song…Oh, what’s it called???
Callie: Whatever–it’s the song from Star Search! And yeah, we all know the order of the planets now.

Morgan (LE)
I learned that you can burn paper with a magnifying glass. I had no idea the sun could be that strong!

Mackenzie (LE)
Did you know that if you spin a bucket really fast over your head the water doesn’t fall out? I can’t believe that!

Alexandra (LE)
I wrote a report about African elephants for the World Tour. I learned that they eat up to 500 pounds of vegetation a day! And they drink up to 40 gallons of water at a time! I learned so much. And that’s why I like Inly so much.

Lucy (UE)
In math, I didn’t know how to combine integers. My teacher tried to explain it to me, but I couldn’t figure it out. Then she explained it in a different way–she drew it–and then I understood it. I needed to see a picture to really get it, and now I do.

Gabby (UE)
In Cultural Studies, we were studying population density of different countries and looking at picture graphs. I thought for sure that China would be the most densely populated, but it wasn’t. When we saw the picture graph we saw that the country is so huge that the people are more spread out. I was so surprised! Singapore was the most densely populated because it’s so tiny. 

Nathan (UE)
“The Periodic Table didn’t make much sense to me until Jessie explained how it was arranged…how the order has to do with the number of electrons and protons. Now when I look at it, it makes sense.”

Maddie (UE)
“I didn’t really like reading before so I didn’t want to read that much. Now all of a sudden I like it and I’m reading a lot more this year up in upper elementary. I like reading the books in our classroom.”

Jeremy (UE)
“When I thought about the meaning of the word ‘percent’ and broke it into ‘per’ and ‘cent,’ which means one hundred, it made perfect sense to me in math.”

Kayia (UE)
“We learned all about the ph in science this year, and about acids and bases–how you measure things from 1-7 and from 7-14 on the ph scale, and how water is in the middle…because it’s neutral.”

Raychell (UE)
“This year I learned how to be a much better writer. I learned how to tell a story that’s really detailed. I went back and added more and more detail until it was really interesting to read.”

Cole, Sam, and Luke (UE)
“In our math group this week we were learning about percentages. When Joanne asked us if we’d been to restaurants and watched our parents figure out percentages to do the tip, then we got it. We were all doing the same type of math—whether in the classroom or in a restaurant.”

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 9, 2009.]