Today I visited Jamie's class at Highlands Elementary to see another math-focused design project with the same age group as I worked with. The class was slightly smaller (20 students versus my 25) and also had fewer teachers (just Jaime and Jen, an aide, plus Amanda). Jamie had mentioned in his initial presentation to our class that he was interested in Andy Goldsworthy's work, and this artist has been the model for the projects.
Today, students went outside and built structures with stones from the dry riverbed behind the school, and then were to write a fraction pertaining to the stones they had used. (For instance, '2/9 of the stones are red.'" The class was definitely more exploratory than my classes at Marcy. I felt I needed to plan every minute of each session, and if students finished what they were doing before we had moved to the next thing, it felt like things got out of control, and the teacher needed to ring a bell to bring the kids back together again. At Highlands, the students were given very minimal instructions and were able to stay busy the whole time. Every one of them didn't necessarily stay on that task all the time, but for the most part they did, and those that got off track didn't need to be corralled, but came back on their own. Jamie never had to raise his voice or scold students to get them to listen or behave. At the same time, having class outside and having class in a small classroom are pretty different scenarios, and that alone might account for some of the differences I saw. The way the classroom is organized and run is such a foundational aspect of school, yet there are so many factors that influence it that it's hard to say how things 'should' be done, or how best to achieve an atmosphere best suited for learning. Behavior and discipline seems to be a chicken-and-egg problem-- which comes first, children who misbehave and require disciplining, or disciplining that's not appropriately suited, and causes more misbehavior? How do you foster a classroom environment where children listen and do not distract others, but yet can explore and learn on their own? Certainly different groups of children will need different levels of control in the classroom, from a strict set of strongly enforced rules to a lenient policy that lets children do whatever they want at that moment. The former seems to be the old-fashioned practice of generations ago, and the latter that of the Montessori system. Both Marcy and Highlands are somewhere in between the extremes.