A major challenge for our primary students is creating their ‘cultural project’ which they present to their fellow students and to their tutor as if to their class of children. As it accounts for a big chunk of the coursework mark, and involves a great deal of work, it’s not surprising that everyone is burning the midnight oil the night before they have to give their presentation.
At our primary course sessions last month in London, and this month in Liverpool, the whole universe crowded into our classrooms. Space was at a premium as each student laid out his or her timeline and populated it with fascinating objects, pictures and information. The way the timelines themselves were constructed was very varied, showing understanding on the part of the students of the need to combine practicality, sensorial appeal and above all, large scale. Various materials were creatively used: felt, rope, cord, aged paper. Not all were flat – one student invited her group to open doors to enter the world of each era.
All states of life were represented too, in the presentations. We enjoyed the company of Rico the lovebird, who chirped cheerfully the day he visited our classroom, to ground the group’s understanding of the role of birds in the story of life. A goldfish too made a visit, her environment an example of how plants can live in water where they first evolved. And we marvelled at the huge variety of fossils that accompanied the timelines, specially entranced by some tiny star-shaped creatures visible on the back of another fossil.
We were active too, making lanterns based on the Fibonacci sequence from willow and paper; Indus valley houses to form a settlement and clay toys; constructing geometric patterns with ruler and compass; making ink from blueberries; constructing a large tetrahedron out of bamboo skewers.
1: Rico The Lovebird, 2: Indus Valley Clay Toy, 3: Making Ink from Blueberries, 4: Constructing a Giant Tetrahedron, 5: Rainbow Felt for Timelines, 6:Black Felt for the Night Sky, 7: Memory Foam Map, 8: Length & Sparkle, 9: Colour & Detail, 10: Classifying Fruit, 11: Sharing, Discussing & Learning
And while traditional materials, felt, paper, wood and clay were in abundance, acetate overlays deepened understanding of desert biomes by correlating natural factors which cause desertification and memory foam was used in a variety of ways.
Our visual sense was captivated by colour, sparkle, small detail and wonder. Our sense of touch was busy too – we could feel as well as see the Fibonacci spirals on the romanescu and the pine cone, and in feeling the pineapple’s rough exterior our new understanding of the multiple ovaries which had produced this fruit was consolidated. Our sense of hearing too was engaged, by the way the stories were told, by the video of a poet reading his poem aloud, and by the amazingly relaxing gong bath with which one student concluded her presentation.
Above all we had fun, joining in, collaborating, sharing, supporting and negotiating. These skills were all needed when we played a ‘Silk Road’ game, travelling along the Silk Road in the role of merchants, trading and bartering as we went. As we all participated in each student’s activities everyone learnt a great deal, on very many levels. Montessori said that we must ‘put the child in touch with the universe’, and the work our students have produced this year to fulfil the requirements of the cultural project assignment shows that they have the skills, ability and inspiration to undertake this great mission.