I thought the same thing when I saw the headline: “Randi Zuckerberg backs wooden, Montessori-approved programming robot”. Which I guess is the point of headlines — to pull you in and get you to read the story.
So here’s the story: Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media (a “boutique marketing firm and production company”) and DotComplicated (a “digital lifestyle website”), who happens to have a famous brother with a well-known digital media property of his own, is an investor in Cubetto, an adorable wooden robot which can be programmed, by placing colored tiles on a wooden board, to move around a floor map representing various environments (solar system, ancient Egypt, cityscape, etc.). The activity is hands-on and doesn’t require reading, billing itself as “hands-on coding for 3 and up”.
But “Montessori-approved”? Cubetto touts Montessori no fewer than six times on its Kickstarter page. A couple of highlights:
Cubetto combines Montessori learning principles with computer programming concepts.
A playful programming language you can touch. Montessori approved, and LOGO Turtle inspired.”
and then this (click through for the whole pitch):
How is this Montessori?
It’s non-prescriptive – Cubetto gives children the ability to solve problems within the world they create..
It’s child-centered – All they need to get started is a nudge in understanding that blocks = actions. After this point, even the discovery of what each block does can be led by the child, leaving adults to observe and only help when needed.
It’s auto-didactic – Solving problems with the blocks is about trial and error. Once a sequence is sent to Cubetto, the result is immediate and non-abstract, giving children concrete grounds on which to self-correct without adult intervention…
It’s designed for scaffolding – When a problem is too complex, the right sequence is easily pooled from collective knowledge of children in the play session. Each child can in turn add a block, or a suggestion, layering in their individual competence to the solution in small steps.
So, two things about this. One is, as much as we may shudder at three year olds “learning to code”, it sounds like someone got us about right. “Gives children the ability to solve problems”? “Adults observe and only help when needed”? “Concrete grounds to self-correct without adult intervention”? Almost as if our message is getting across.
And the second thing is, someone thinks Montessori is a selling point! And not just “Montessori-equals-primary-colored-blocks-on-a-tray Montessori”. The tech-and-hacker community is full of smart people who value independence, creativity, exploration, and hands-on learning. That’s how a lot of them got to where they are. If they want to get to know us better, it sounds like it might be an interesting conversation.