Monthly Archives: April 2013

Child of the World

ImageChild of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, is a new book by Susan Macylin Stephenson, an internationally recognized figure in the Montessori world, known for her work in India, Russia, Tibet, Thailand, and the Middle East, as well as for her passionate and evocative writing about Montessori.

Stephenson and her husband Jim Stephenson are the directors of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company, a highly regarded source for developmentally appropriate toys, classroom furniture and materials, and publications. (the store) also operates, a respected source of Montessori information, overviews, links and resources, and Stephenson publishes The International Montessori Index, an excellent collection of Montessori information and links.

For years, Stephenson’s articles and insights about Montessori and child development have been highlights of the Michael Olaf catalogs and website.  Now her writing about Montessori and the child from 3 to 12 years have been collected in her new book, available at Michael Olaf, NAMTA, and Amazon.  Glowing reviews and sales are piling up.  It looks to be a great resource for schools and families.

Advertisements Video Has Live Turtle

At the 2013 AMI Refresher Course, AMI-USA previewed a video for a project called Montessori Guide—a professional development tool using “real footage of real classrooms and original articles to support best practices inside Montessori environments for trainees, teachers and administrators.”  

The project is still in the works, and it’s not clear exactly what it will be.  The video itself is outstanding.  A screenshot shows a website with articles on subjects such as Socialization and Cosmic Education, and the AMI-USA page mentions video and articles and the guidance of AMI teacher trainers.  We’ll have to wait and see the site when it launches later this year.

But the video is up now, and it stands on its own.  The bouncy, whistling soundtrack with acoustic guitar and handclaps sets just the right casual, optimistic tone.   There are some titles. “A Fresh Take on Montessori” is a little odd—do we need a fresh take?—but the video certainly feels fresh.  “Diverse Children—Diverse Teachers—Diverse Settings” is also a little oblique—is diversity our hallmark?—and “Standardized Practice” doesn’t quite have the Montessori magic, but these are quibbles. (And “Delving Deeper Into Our Practice” is spot on.)  

But he magic tis in the classroom footage.  It’s all there—beautiful, light, open classrooms full of purposeful, determined, adorable focused children, great moments of peer learning, individual work, big work, joy, cleaning up a spill, and carrying a turtle.  Everything you think of as Montessori, in other words.

As an administrator, I would use it at every parent night and recruitment event I could get away with.  Just press play, sit back, and watch the jaws drop and the smiles spread.  Then have questions and a “share something you liked” session.  Then play it again, starting and stopping.  Concentration. Repetition.  Independence.  Liberty.  Social learning.  It’s all there.

 I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole site.


Montessori’s Got SOLE

Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Sugata Mitra and self-directed learning.

Dr. Mitra won the one million dollar  2013 TED prize to build “The School in the Cloud,” a virtual school based on his work.

His lesson structure is called a Self-Organized Learning Environment, or SOLE, and there’s a contest to implement one and write it up in 500-1000 words.  Up to three winners will get tickets (for two!) to TED Youth 2013* in November. Instructions and Guidelines and here.

Montessori elementary teachers should submit entries to this contest.  Here’s why.  You already run ten of these a day, concurrently.  Here are the elements of the SOLE, from the guidelines:

  • the adult poses a motivating question
  • students choose their own groups of four
  • a student is designated as “helper”—a sort of facilitator
  • movement permitted
  • collaboration and borrowing from other groups is permitted
  • changing groups is permitted
  • groups develop substantial responses to the questions and share them with the whole class
  • Dr. Mitra’s work often involves groups sharing a PC and using the internet heavily, but this is not specified in the guidelines
  • 40 minutes are allowed for investigations, and 10 to 20 for review

So like the Montessori elementary! Except, in Montessori:

  • the motivating questions are embedded in a holistic structure and supported with brilliant charts and materials
  • multiple questions are being explored by different children at any time
  • groups are not limited to four 
  • computers and internet use are often minimized
  • group roles typically emerge spontanesously
  • movement and collaboration are of course permitted 
  • hand-on experiences, books, and student-directed visits to outside resources, (“Going Out”), are emphasized as sources
  • time limits are much broader than 40 minutes, and projects may extend over several days

Dr. Mitra needs to know what we do. I know it’s an extra hour or two of work to really write it up well, but why not get credit for what we’re already doing? 

The deadline is next Friday, the 12th. 

Those links again:

Instructions • Guidelines (pdf)

* From their website: “TEDYouth is a day-long event for high school students — with live speakers, hands-on activities and great conversations.”

Self Organized Learning (Re)Discovered—Million Dollar Prize Awarded

This is a complex story with a lot of angles: self-directed learning, technology in the classroom, Montessori rediscovered yet again, education for very poor children, TED, and lots more.  And, because it is strongly pro-computer and takes Montessori for granted, it’s going to irritate some people.  But hear me out.

Education researcher Sugata Mitra (website, Wiki*) has been awarded the one million dollar 2013 TED Prize to fund development of a “School in the Cloud,” based on what he calls Self Organized Learning Experiences, or SOLEs.  He has challenged parents and teachers to implement document, and submit their SOLEs.  Three winning submissions will receive a weekend trip to the TED Youth  conference in November.

Mitra, a scientist and education researcher, is known for his Hole-in-the-Wall (website, Wiki*)experiments and later work in self-directed learning among children aged 8 to 12.  Here’s what he did.

In 1999, while working for an IT training company in New Dehli, Mitra, curious about technological literacy in very poor Indian children, cut a hole in the wall of his office facing into the adjoining slum, and installed a computer, a trackpad, and a video camera.  He was astonished to observe children spontaneously working in groups to become fluent internet navigators without being taught by adults.  He has since replicated and extended the experiment in hundreds of locations around the world, observing children learning computer skills, teaching themselves English, finding and using information from internet sources, and exploring motivating and open-ended questions such as “Do fish feel pain?” and “What is altruism?”

Mitra has made some observations which will be familiar to Montessori teachers. Children in the experiments:

  • displayed spontaneous activity, self-educating themselves without prompting
  • naturally formed groups to work together
  • worked better when the number of computers was limited and sharing was necessary

The experiment worked best:

  • with children aged 8 to 12
  • when children had freedom to move around their environment, to choose their own groups, and to collaborate
  • with a supportive adult who gave encouragement but not direct instruction

Now I know you’re all saying, “Great! He rediscovered Montessori philosophy and the second plane, but with the internet instead of the Great Lessons!”  But let’s keep a couple of things in mind.

First, one of Mitra’s key early insights was this: “There are places on earth where, for various reasons good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or don’t want to go.” We’re not anywhere close to sending an army of Montessori elementary teachers to those places, and if those children can have authentic self-directed learning experiences now, while they’re still children, I’m all for it.

Second, if there is solid research showing that what we do works, and a million dollar prize for it makes the news, I’m all for that, too.

That’s enough for today.  I encourage you to check out Mitra and his TED talks.  Tomorrow I’ll post about how Montessorians can get involved.

TED 2007 •  TED 2010 • TED 2013

* The Wikipedia articles are not up to the usual standard for the site, but they’re a good place to get started.

Testing, Testing … (Is This Thing On?)

You may have heard about the gigantic testing scandal in Atlanta public schools.  Beginning in 2008, old-fashioned investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal Constitution uncovered widespread cheating by adults on standardized tests in Atlanta Pubic Schools. The tests, instituted by the No Child Left Behind law, were closely tied to school funding, performance bonuses, and continued employment for teachers. About 150 educators have resigned, retired, or lost their jobs.  This week, 35 educators including former superintendent Beverly Hall were indicted for racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses and making false statements.  

What did we expect?  If we tie funding and compensation to test performance, and then ratchet up the economic and political pressure, this “outcome” is entirely predictable. The Constitution’s investigation indicates that “196 districts throughout the U.S. exhibit suspicious patterns of test scores that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating.”  A sampling of opinion from around the web:

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket. editor David Callahan in the Huffington Post spells out the role of No Child Left Behind and ties the scandal to our larger cheating culture in this country.

And Erika Christakis at uncovers a hidden dimension to the scandal:

faked scores prevented some schools from accessing three quarters of a million dollars in federal money to support struggling learners because they no longer qualified for help. 

Christakis goes on to challenge the testing itself:

Even if we eliminate all the cheating, what remains is a broken system built on the dangerous misconception that testing is a proxy for actual teaching and learning.

Definitely worth a read.  In fact, from looking at her blog, this sounds like someone who might be interested in learning a little about Montessori.  I think I’ll send her a link.