Thursday, July 21, 2011

Take the 'A' Train

My very first paying job was in Chicago.  After looking for a job at want ads and interviewing daily for a month, I landed one as a research technician at a laboratory located inside Wesley Memorial Hospital, now a part of Northwestern University Hospital System. That was August 8, 1961. My whole family moved to Chicago from Manila.  My father was sent as an attaché to the Philippine Consulate in Chicago and the rest of us came as his dependents.
Wide-eyed  yet unfamiliar with my new surroundings, I noticed that at around 4:00 PM, the radio was turned on.  Bill, a high -schooler who comes to wash our glassware, tunes the radio to the broadcast of the baseball game. Since I was not aware of what’s going on I focused on the musical theme that opens the show. It was lively, jazzy, a bit jumpy and very catchy to listen to.  After a few days I could hum it from memory.  I looked forward to the daily broadcast not to listen to the baseball game but to listen to the theme song.  At the end of the broadcast, I could not care less which team won or lost.  I only knew that the theme song would come on once more to close the show. As I listened to the tune I vowed that I would remember this tune and use it as landmark of my first job in America and my initiation to life in the U.S.A.
It never occurred to me that the theme song could have a name and that it could be a standard composition borrowed by the radio program.  I assumed it was composed for the radio program.  The melody rings inside my head.  I hear the blaring of the trumpets and feel the fast tempo set by the drum beats.  It was only years later that I found out that the tune is a composition by Duke Ellington called “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
The early years in Chicago were spent working and going to school, pursuing my master’s degree in chemistry. I took the “A” train of the Howard line to stop at Jarvis, an “A” station.    As a graduate student, I concentrated on getting “A’s” in my courses. Upon completing my degree, I worked at Abbott Laboratories, a workplace beginning with the letter “A.”
As I replay “Take the A Train” in my mind, the picture of a young girl wearing a white lab coat in Room 262 comes into view.  I had the task of analyzing the concentration of sodium and potassium in the plasma of patients with muscular dystrophy using flame photometer.  Three times a week in the evening, I walked through the connecting underground tunnel to attend classes at Northwestern University. Later on, I met a friend taking the same classes I took, Helen Chu, who invited me to run quickly to her apartment nearby to have a home - cooked meal before class.
At noon, I walked through the tunnel to come out on the sidewalk next to Lakeshore Drive to view Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier building nearby. The lake breeze gently blowing my face and hair felt refreshing. 
Once a month, all of the members of the research team would be required to come for a 6:00 AM breakfast and seminar.  Breakfast was served at the cafeteria and paid for by our research leader.  One or two of us would be assigned to give a presentation to the group which numbered about 16.  I was  asked to give a presentation on volumetric glass ware.
The days at the lab and at Northwestern University were enjoyable. I was introduced to the ordinary custom of greeting, smiling, helping and conversing. I picked up a few lyrics of songs sung by Bill von Eickman who sang songs between assays.  I also learned a few Christmas songs notably, “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Silver Bells.”
I moved on to other phases of my life associated with other songs: –
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” – my days as a Montessori teacher at Near North Montessori School
“March of the Soldiers” from “The Nutcracker” – my days directing and teaching at my own school, Glencoe Montessori School
Songs of salsa, cha-cha, swing, rumba, bolero, merengue, waltz and fox trot -my days studying and enjoying the art of ballroom dancing.
I am not quite sure what songs will stand out as I begin my second career in teaching after a brief retirement.  Once again I will be teaching young children in a Montessori Charter School.  Perhaps I will revive the songs from “Hair” – “Good Morning Star Shine” and “Let the Sunshine In.”  I know I will keep on singing as I continue taking the “A” train and know that “This Train is Bound for Glory. “ Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If Only They Had Montessori Education

      When we listen to how our students are doing in school we hear the following: they can’t read at grade level, they are deficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), bullying  is pervasive in schools. Looking at our global environment, we read that our actions are destroying the environment.  As I reflect on these challenges, I can’t help but say, “If only they  had Montessori education, these problems would be non-existent. “

      Through a multi-sensory and personalized approach to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics, reading is taught in seventy two lessons grouped into five big steps. Mastery of the 44 sounds of the English language along with the different ways these sounds may be represented gives the child the key to reading.  Once a child can read, one can read everything, not just first  grade or third grade books.  The underlying principle is that a child taught individually for short periods daily experiences success at every step which encourages one to want to learn some more.  These successes lead to what Montessori calls “the explosion to reading.”  A child who discovers reading will keep on reading for the love of it and for the feel of having achieved a monumental task.

       Science is taught in an integrated manner, weaving chemistry, physics, life science, geography, history, art, music, literature and culture with the view of understanding how the world works and one’s place in it as a steward of the earth and all its inhabitants.  One gains respect for the age of the earth and its slow transformation from its early beginnings to what it is now.  It is humbling to note that it took millions and billions of years for the earth to flourish to the point that life sustains itself and for mankind in a few hundred years to denude its forests, pollute the air and destroy life. A child steeped in the knowledge of the laws of the universe through hands-on experiments and research realizes that we are a part of the web of life,  not the weaver, only one of the strands.  What affects one, affects the whole web.  We try to conserve, protect and replenish the fruits we gather from the earth and keep the earth sustainable.  Life depends on cooperation and symbiotic relationships.  Peaceful resolution of conflicts can be taught and practiced on a daily basis so that there is no need for bullying to dominate others.

      Mathematics is the most highly developed part of the curriculum.  With specially designed hands-on materials to teach concepts from counting  to the  Pythagorean theorem, students using these tools truly take the journey from the concrete to the abstract  arriving at a full understanding of what math is and not just a bunch of memorized facts. Math anxiety is replaced with love of numbers and problem solving. A strong number sense which includes understanding of place value in our decimal system serves as a foundation for higher math exploration.

      Montessori is a social experience in a community of learners.  One learns to help each other because cooperation, not competition, is encouraged. One works to the best of one’s ability for the sake of learning, not for artificial rewards such as stickers or grades.  One is helped in understanding why one behaves in ways that may not be socially acceptable for the purpose of serving one’s mistaken goals of attention, power struggle, revenge or display of inadequacy.  Through discussions during class meetings one is shown alternative ways of behaving that meet one’s basic need for significance in the group while acting for the good of the whole class. Class unity is promoted through music, drama, cooking and eating together and just having fun as fellow learners in a Montessori environment.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Bible's Four Layers of Wrappings

The first graders received their own bibles today.  It will follow them through the grades. When they reach high school, they will receive another one.  To make this moment memorable, considerable care was taken to  prepare the  gift. 

The bible was wrapped  four times, each wrapping  denoting a special significance.  With children seated in a circle, each one was handed a brown-wrapped present.  Through interactive dialog, the children understood the significance of the brown paper wrapping.  Brown stands for being old or ancient.  The bible is very old.  The words in it have guided mankind for a very long time so that it is often called the ancient wisdom. The group was then instructed to unwrap the first layer, the brown wrapping to reveal a golden wrapping.

Children were asked what things are made of gold?  Jewelry was the first guess.  Gold stands for something valuable.  We value our very own bible.  The words in the bible are valuable like gold.  We treasure our bible for a lifetime.  The class then unwrapped the gold wrapping to reveal the next layer, the comic page from the newspaper.

The comic page entertains us with its stories.  The bible has a lot of stories.  There are stories about the beginning of the earth, how ordinary people lived, suffered and met their challenges.  They were led out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land with the parting of the Red Sea. This and other stories can be found in the bible. There are stories about kings and prophets and brave men and women who listened to God’s voice speaking to them to do the right thing.  The comic page wrapping was unwrapped to reveal the white tissue wrapping.

White stands for God or Light or Purity.  The bible wrapped in white  means that the bible is a gift from God.  Reading the bible is our way of finding out what God has in store for people.  From time to time messengers from God come to be born among us to remind us of God’s laws on how we should conduct our lives.  We get to know more about what the bible says as we study the special lesson for the week and work with the materials prepared for the lesson.

The bible is really made up of several books, sixty six books organized into the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We can look at the chart of the books of the bible.  We can match each model of each book to the chart every time we read from that particular book.  We can also look at the timeline that shows pictures of important events of the bible along with the names of the books.

We have had lessons with the very first book,  Genesis.

A child wanted to know what is the last book.  The teacher allowed the child to pick the last book from the scaled model of books and asked him to read its name.  With the help of classmates, he came up with the Book of Revolution.  Correction here, it is the Book of Revelation.  What does revelation mean?  When you reveal something, what have you done?  A child offered “discover.”

With the four layers of wrapping unwrapped, we reveal the heart, the substance of what was wrapped, the bible.  We also will learn that the same stories and scriptural readings will reveal more and more meaning to us as we revisit them every year. 
Take care of your very own bible and treasure it like gold, enjoy the stories and learn the word of God to guide you for the bible is God’s gift to you.