Monthly Archives: November 2013

Montessori Goes to Harvard

With Yale researching Montessori, I guess Harvard had to get in the game:

This is a new video from The Harvard Center on the Developing Child‘s InBrief series, featuring lots of great footage from a Montessori school.  It’s a big deal for two reasons.

First, the topic of the video is Executive Function: Skills For Life and Learning.  Executive function (wiki), which comprises planning, working memory, inhibitory control, and problem-solving, among other abilities, is having its moment in the news these days as educators and researchers focus on its importance in early childhood education—the Marshmallow Test being the pop-culture icon for the concept. Montessori Children’s Houses, with their emphasis on order, sequence, limitation of materials, and student-directed activity, are little laboratories of executive function, of course, and researchers have begun to take notice: Adele Diamond, on YouTube and at the Montessori Congress ($10), AMI Trainer Larry Quade, Dr. Stephen Hughes, and even at Harvard.

And that’s the second reason this is a big deal. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child, directed by national child development researcher and thought leader Jack Shonkoff, is so huge, influential, and pervasive in the child development world that it’s hard to know where to start (about, history, FAQ).  It emerged from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, now itself a program of the Center, along with the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs and the Global Children’s Initiative among others.  Partnered with the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the Center is enormously influential in the development of state and national policies and practices in education and child development.

A lot of important people are going to see this video, and although it doesn’t mention Montessori by name, they are probably going to be able to figure it out. And they are going to see that there’s something really special happening in those classrooms, and they are going to want to know more.

That’s the way to be in the conversation.

Bonus:  I learned that the video was shot at Three Tree Montessori in Burien, Washington, for the Washington State Department of Early Learning online training to provide information on executive function.  The training course, with additional video, is here.  Somehow—I’m still digging into exactly how—it made its way into the Harvard piece.

You’ll notice that Tools of the Mind is mentioned by name in the video, while Montessori is not.  A source connected to the video tells me that teachers were directed away from using “Montessori” in their interviews.  Interesting.

Montessori in pictures

The mixed-age classroom:

Imageolder child ties apron as younger child watches intently one year laterone year later

Sometimes if all you see is the finished product, you miss out on the process:

 IMG_2077  IMG_2078
 IMG_2079  IMG_2082

2013-14 USA Montessori Census

It’s up!

Longtime TMO readers heard about it back in September and October 2012, and read about the collaboration with the Montessori Leadership Council announced at the International Congress this August.  Now the 2013-2014 USA Montessori Census is here.  Funded by the Trust for Learning , orchestrated by the Montessori Leaders Collaborative, and backed by the complete Moveable Alphabet of Montessori organizations (AMS, AMI-USA, IAPM, IMC, MEPI, MIA NAMTA, PAMS, TMF and MAA), this is an expansion of a National Center for Montessori in the Public Interest‘s census of public programs now inviting all USA Montessori schools to participate.

428 schools are already listed, which is great, but that’s only a tenth of the 4,000 reported U.S. schools, so go on, get your school on board.  Registration is quick and easy, and the census is just 30 quick questions, but the data gathered will be invaluable: full demographic information, administrator and teacher training and affiliation, funding model, pedagogical markers such as student choice and uninterrupted work periods, and this question, which challenges programs to take a stand on philosophy:

How would you describe the general style of your program? 

  • Our program adheres as closely as possible to Dr. Montessori’s original vision as described in her lectures and books.
  • Our program adheres closely to Dr. Montessori’s vision but incorporates concepts and activities that were not available in Dr. Montessori’s day.
  • Our program is a blend of Montessori practices and modern developmental educational principles.
  • Our program provides some Montessori materials for a portion of the day, and is more like traditional preschool or school the rest of the day.
  • Our program is inspired by Montessori’s work, but incorporates many additional components to meet the needs of our community and the children we serve.
  • Our program is not a fully-implemented Montessori program, but our work is based on general principles described by Dr. Montessori.

That’s pretty much the Montessori spectrum, end to end.

Right now the database is mostly public programs (I surmise that it was brought over from NCMPS’ previous project).  But it just hit the internet today, as far as I can tell, so if the state organizations can get the word out, it should take off.  And as always, watch this space.

Montessori Great Lessons in the Washington Post

This one is a little complicated but worth following.

It starts with an New York education blogger at @TheChalkFace posting a 1st grade vocabulary list from the NY Common Core website—70 words from cuneiform to synagogue and all points in between.  Outrage ensues in the comments, mostly about how the list goes way over the heads of most 6 year olds.  Well.  I don’t know about that, but there’s a list of 81 goals from the same website that’s pretty over the top:

  • Explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon.
  • Explain the ways in which a leader is important to the development of a civilization.
  • Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia.

Next up: acclaimed cognitive psychologist, author, and widely published researcher Daniel Willingham picks up the post on his own blog, arguing that the material can’t be developmentally inappropriate for a 1st grader because stages of development don’t really exist.  (Willingham has made this argument at greater length in this Scientific American article.)

He goes on to offer evidence that ancient civilizations can so be taught to first graders, giving two examples: the Core Knowledge curriculum (full disclosure: Willingham is on the board of Core Knowledge), and his daughter’s Montessori elementary class.  His post gets picked up by Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss, and that’s how Montessori elementary and the five Great Lessons make it into the Washington Post.

But here’s the twist. Willingham is no stranger to Montessori—his wife is a Montessori teacher, his daughter goes to Montessori school, and he has presented at a national Montessori conference.  So it’s a little surprising that he cites Montessori in an argument against stages of development. Take away the Montessori’s stages of development (she called them “planes”), and the whole thing sort of falls to pieces, as the fundamental insight of Montessori education is that children have innate drives towards education through interaction with the environment, and those drives function very differently at different stages of life!  In fact, the very reason the Great Lessons he cites are given to six-year olds, and not before, is that they appeal to the powers of reason and imagination that become active around six or seven, and not before.

Now, blog posts are not exhaustively footnoted dissertations, and I’m sure Willingham knows that Montessori is a developmental model.  (If he didn’t before, I bet his wife has filled him in on it by now. If he still has questions, this page on TMO, the Wikipedia article, or the Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola in Baltimore, not far from the Willingham’s home university, the University of Virignia, are excellent sources of info.  Or he could check with his colleague Angelline Lillard.)  And we always appreciate a prominent mention.  They’re spelling our name right these days—they’re just still a little fuzzy on the details.

Pink Tower à Gogo

20131105113104-indiegogoicon_graphicv02_131104Vina Kay and Jan Selby’s Montessori documentary project, Building the Pink Tower, chronicled here on The Montessori Observer, isn’t going away. Following up on their $10 challenge this summer, Kay and Selby have launched an Indiegogo fundraising project to raise $50,000 by December 18.

Indiegogo is a “crowdfunding” site which people can use to gather donations from a wide range of donors, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach a large audience.  Indiegogo projects have raised amounts in the millions on several campaigns, and nonprofits regularly use the site to raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Several Montessori projects have already successfully raised money with the site, including the Community Montessori School of Bisbee, a school for at-risk children in a diverse Arizona border community, Mi Casita Montessori School in Xela, Guatemala, and the replacement after a devastating fire of Highglen Montessori school, a public program in British Columbia.

Building the Pink Tower has raised $2,800 in the first day, which is a great start, and could get them to their $50,000 goal by Thanksgiving.  They need your help, because they pay Indiegogo a 9% fee if they don’t meet their goal.  But if they do meet their goal, the fee drops to 4%, saving them as much as $2500.  Plus, hitting that $50,000 will get them $20,000 in challenge grants from two Minnesota foundations.

I said it before: this is a big project.  Vina and Jay told me this summer they need $300,000 for the project.  They had raised $28,000 before the $10 challenge, and this could bring them another $70,000 or more, so they would be at least a third of the way there.  And you know how these things work: the more money you can raise, the more money people will give you.  As they’ve said, if every Montessori school in the country gave $100, they could start filming tomorrow.  When the film comes out, it will be a powerful document capable of opening eyes and moving hearts in parents, educators, and policy makers across the country.  More Montessori for more children?  This is one way to help make it happen.