University chemistry professor partners with Montessori school _lowres

Photo provided by RANDY BERGERON -- Southeastern Louisiana University Professor of Chemistry Thomas Summerfeld observes an experiment being conducted by Christopher Massa, center, and Patrick Pierce, students at Oaks Montessori School in Hammond. Summerfeld is serving as an American Chemical Society Science Coach at the elementary school this year.

A Southeastern Louisiana University chemistry professor is lending his knowledge and expertise to reinforce science instruction at a local Montessori elementary school.

Professor Thomas Sommerfeld recently volunteered to serve as a science coach for the year to Oaks Montessori School in Hammond, offering his services after obtaining a small grant from the American Chemical Society. The grant is used to purchase chemicals and supplies for the school.

“I function as a facilitator for the fourth through sixth grades,” Sommerfeld said as he observed the children performing simple experiments with vinegar, baking soda and other substances. “I observe and interact with the kids, asking them questions and answering their questions.”

Sommerfeld received his introduction to the Montessori Method when he came to Southeastern in 2006. His son Niles had missed the enrollment deadline for most area schools, so he started him at the Montessori school in kindergarten.

“It’s a very interesting approach to education,” he said. “The students are taught to be self-motivated and self-organized. They learn early on to take responsibility for their learning. Their work is guided but not by someone who pushes them. It would be a difficult approach to get into if not started from the beginning.”

Sommerfeld said he hopes by observing and interacting with younger children, he will learn ways to help to improve activities for his undergraduate students. Oaks Montessori teacher Christine McToby said having a professional such as Sommerfeld is a big help to her as a teacher. Sommerfeld helps in selecting activities and tailoring them to the needs of her particular students.

“The students also love having someone like Dr. Sommerfeld present the experiments,” she said. “Working hands-on with the experiments encourages further curiosity. With Dr. Sommerfeld here in the classroom, he can address any questions with the students.”