Thursday, December 19, 2013

Innovation fatigue?

My reading always bumps into itself.  Ideas crash into other ideas like bumper cars. Sometimes they're going in the same direction but at different speeds.  Somtimes they're going in different directions but their paths cross.  BAM!

Today's a good example.
Larry Ferlazzo says teachers are experiencing innovation fatigue.  He quotes a school principal who says, "I'm sure self-initiation, problem-solving, risk-taking and the freedom to fail and learn from such failure will be a part of the conversation.  As a principal, I would love to have some strategies to close this gap."

Education Week reports that Emily Smith, an elementary school teacher in Austin, Texas has redesigned her classroom and her teaching. She wants to spark creative thinking in her students.  This is the heroic effort of a single teacher.  She is not following the expected patterns.  She will encounter the resistance of her peer teachers; she will encounter the resistance of her administrator. Never underestimate the power of cultural entropy.  Schools are highly resistant to change.  

Where can you find schools with environments and teaching style that actively promote self-initiation, problem-solving, risk-taking and the freedom to fail and learn from such failure -- and where teachers do not experience innovation fatigue, but support each other in this work?

Tony Wagner is the Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard's Center for Technology and Entreprenuership.  His book Creating Innovators points to Montesori education.

Here's an exerpt:
"What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs all have in common? Gregersen's research, cited earlier, uncovered an extraordinary commonality among some of the most innovative individuals: they all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. The research about the importance of play in children's development spans many decades. In the 20th century, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others did groundbreaking research on the ways in which children learn through play. Montessori integrated her understanding of the importance of play into her curriculum for schools. Today, Montessori schools can be found around the world."

Friday, December 13, 2013


Below is a note I sent to faculty today, pointing them to the story "21 microaggressions you hear on a daily basis."

Faculty and staff:
The children and families of Post Oak, as well as our faculty and staff, are highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, age, gender, family structure.  We aspire to live and work harmoniously together, to be a single, unified community. 

I found this photo essay about “microagressions” fascinating.  Perhaps you’ve experienced this somewhere, sometime.  In the spirit of our “World CafĂ©” faculty meetings, I pass this along to you.


Monday, December 9, 2013

doggedness rather than talent

Grit is much in the news these days, testing our attention span.  How long will we pay attention?  Oh, yah, THAT idea again.  I've already grokked it.

Grit Rich.

That's the title of a blog entry by Deborah Barlow.

Deborah writes about creativity and innovation. Following creativity research is a part-time job, she says, and in that pursuit she regularly reads Maria Popova's site Brainpickings.  Popova wrote about Angela Duckworth and her research on grit, so Barlow passed it along.

That's how ideas spread and bump up against other ideas.

So I'm passing it along to you.

Check out Deborah Barlow.  And Maria Popova.  And Angela Duckworth. Again.

"...the secret of genius is doggedness rather than innate talent."

Friday, December 6, 2013


"My Biggest Regret as a Teacher."  Check out David Ginsburg's blog.  We sometimes hear from parents who think we should "push" their kids.  Or who wonder why we don't give grades.  Or who believe that Montessori education is against competition and that competition is a good thing:  it is the way the world works.  All of these are forms of manipulation--and can work in the short run with certain children--but only until the reward is withdrawn.

And by the way, Montessori children are competitive.  We just don't using grading, class ranking and rewards as a means to "motivate" (ie, manipulate) them.  We don't have to.  They are already motivated.  Self-motivated.

Or as one of our 8th grade students said several years ago, "We motivate each other to be self-motivated."

Tried and True

See the Ellie video.

It was produced by the Oregon Business Council and featured on the web site of the Montessori Northwest teacher training center.

"Maybe school should be like a GPS. We know where we want to go.  With some help in navigation and someone to believe in us, we can chart our own path. Let us learn at our own pace and show you at every step that we're ready for the next."

Friday, November 22, 2013

raising global children

"Global children are curious, open-minded and aware of the world around them, explained Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, during a recent telephone interview. Berdan, an international careers expert, said that following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many Americans 'contracted,' becoming less accepting and, understandably, more fearful.
'I think there's this element of people who still equate patriotism with putting a fence around our country,' Berdan said. 'That's not possible anymore.'
Today, Berdan added: 'Children need to be appreciative and understand each other and not be afraid of each other.'
The above exerpt comes from an Education Week blog announcing the upcoming publication of the book Raising Global Children.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

air traffic control for the brain

"Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive functioning..."

Much of this Harvard Ed School video was shot in a Montessori classroom.  Can you tell which clips?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Emily's Blog

Emily is a high school student.  She has begun a long-term internship at the Houston Museum of Natural Science because she loves fossils.  Where else could a high school sophomore be pursuing her interests in a real way?

In the photo above, she is working side-by-side with David Temple, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum.

A successful, typical student

Here's what high school students told High School Director James Moudry:

I asked the students today to give some characteristics they thought described a successful, typical POS student.


self disciplined


skilled in time management

self guided

strong will power


hard working


open minded


good communicator

has integrity







Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking

Here's the Wired magazine story about the Matamoros teacher, Sergio Correa, who transformed his classroom: "How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses."

RADICAL NEW TEACHING cannot understand what a paradigm shift this implies until you read the reader comments at the end of the article.  They dive right in to the recommendation that "bad teachers" be fired, and the "teachers unions" are the obstacle.

In reality, the obstacle is our commitment to an educational model "fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”) We don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate mastery of a narrow set of skills—doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed, programmed, and quality-tested."

Why are we committed to this model?  Because that's how most of us went to school.  That IS school in the minds of most people.  Change is scary, especially when it comes to our children.  And we accept unquestioningly that achievement test results measure and communicate the true outcome of education.  Perhaps that will be true--as soon as we develop tests that measure innovation, creativity and independent thinking.

Thanks to Post Oak parent Hebe Gutierrez for sending me back to this story.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the next Steve Jobs

"Genius is everywhere but we're wasting it.  How to unleash the great minds of tomorrow."

That's the Wired magazine cover story, as reported in Latin Times:
"It has long been known that children are more likely to engage in learning material when they are given the freedom to explore and problem-solve independently, to engage in the material in their own unique way. Systems like the Montessori Method, which encourage independent thinking have achieved remarkable results..."

Monday, September 30, 2013

'Grit' earns MacArthur grant

Research psychologist and former math teacher Angela Duckworth has been awarded a MacArthur grant for her studies on the psychology of achievement.

Here's a teaser from this short interview:  "We discovered a somewhat surprising inverse relationship between grit and measures of talent, for example IQ test scores. Why don't people who are more able, who learn things more quickly, why don't they stick with things in the long run?"

And here's her TED talk, "Grit: the key to success."

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Experiential learning." Really?

Zombies pump life into free STEM lessons
The National Academy of Sciences and Texas Instruments have collaborated on a program, STEM Behind Hollywood, which uses zombies to spark students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math. The software, available to teachers for free during a trial period, includes exercises to reverse engineer zombie brains and use math to calculate the spread of contagions. "This is the kind of experiential learning that gives students a deep understanding of the concept," said Melendy Lovett, president of Texas Instruments' Education Technology. Forbes (9/18)
So is this experiential learning?  What do the students experience?  What makes this real?
Is it more engaging than calculating where a train traveling eastward at 60 mph that left Chicago at noon passes a train traveling westward at 50 mph that left Cleveland at 10:00 a.m. the same day? Who rides trains any more?  And why do I want to know this anyway?
Wouldn't you rather reverse engineer zombie brains?  I would.  But is it experiential?  Does it really connect to real life?  My life?  Your life?  Is our education so synthetic, so uninspiring that we must sink to zombie brains to shake life into our students?
Let's get real.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

structure and freedom

Listen to Coach G! (and Dr. Marshall.  That's who Coach G is channeling :-) )  This is good guidance:  "Fewer rules, better schools."

Monday, August 5, 2013

Montessori alum at work

"Washington Post to be sold to Jeff Bezos"

that's the headline in the Washington Post.

My version of the story is not a People Magazine gossip gab about a famous Montessori alum.

Instead, the Post story describes Bezos for its readers and that characterization includes elements typical of  Montessori graduates:

  • entrepreneur,
  • innovator,
  • creative,
  • inventive,
  • curious,
  • cerebral,
  • demanding,
  • asks challenging questions,
  • charming,
  • happy,
  • 'the ultimate disrupter'
  • driven

Here are some excerpts from the article:
“I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan,” he said. “This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation.”..."At times, Bezos has been openly disdainful of Wall Street’s demands for ever-rising quarterly profits. He told Fortune magazine last year, "The three big ideas at Amazon are long-term thinking, customer obsession, and willingness to invent."
Under Bezos, the company’s drive into new businesses has been relentless.
Friends and competitors have described Bezos as cerebral, demanding, curious, and given to asking challenging questions. He shows little tolerance for those who are poorly prepared, but can be charming and quick to laugh. 'If Jeff is unhappy, wait five minutes,' his wife has said of him.
In naming Bezos its “Businessperson of the Year” in 2012, Fortune called him “the ultimate disrupter…[who] has upended the book industry and displaced electronic merchants” while pushing into new businesses, such as TV and feature film production.
His drive and business creativity have earned him favorable comparisons to the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and a confidant of Don Graham and his late mother, Post Co. chairman Katharine Graham. Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review ranked Bezos as the second best-performing chief executive in the world during the past decade, following only Jobs, who died in 2011.

facts vs. understanding

"No, you're probably not smarter than a 1912-era 8th grader." -- that's the provocative title of a Smithsonian magazine article.

Thanks to POS parent Tom Bair for sending this along.

Friday, June 21, 2013

True Grit

Is academic achievement the be-all and end-all?
Is IQ the best predictor of success in school and in life?
Kipp, NYC actually uses a grit report card.
Here’s the research behind the importance of grit – as well as a layman’s intro to the idea.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Who is successful here and why?"

What is the single best predictor of success in life (and in school)?
Not social intelligence,
not good looks,
not good health,
and not IQ... is grit. What is grit?

Hear Angela Duckworth talk about grit.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

for parents

From the Challenge/Success web site:

We know that parents want what is best for their kids, but knowing what’s best isn’t always easy. What many of us are doing right now, with the best of intentions, is focusing too much on short-term results instead of raising adults whose talents are fully realized, recognized, and valued in a 21st-century economy. Research tells us what children need is emotional support, parental supervision, adequate sleep, healthy eating habits, physical and intellectual challenges, resilience, and time to reflect, play, and plan. With our Challenge Success Parent Education Program, parents benefit from hearing university-based research translated into practical, everyday strategies that they can use to be better parents and raise kids who will thrive. We currently offer parents a number of live  and online classes and videos, school and community presentations and a series of parenting guidelines.

raising successful children

"Raising Successful Children" from Madeline Levine.  Here are a few phrases to tease you:

"HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting."

"Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids..."

"This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence." 

 "If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business."

"...the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life."

 "it is always a telltale sign of overparenting when they talk about how 'we’re applying to Columbia.'"

"Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent." 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

helicopter parents

This clip from the tv show Portlandia takes helicopter parenting to a new low!  Thanks to Post Oak High School director, James Moudry for sending this along.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


"Arousal associated with emotion, cognition and attention."  ENGAGEMENT.  Head in the game.  Heart in the game.  Hand in the game.

A study of students by Rosalind Picard from MIT.


No arousal.  When?

While watching tv and during class.

Class?  flatline?


Friday, May 3, 2013

the RIGHT WAY to raise a child

No Big Deal, but This Researcher's Theory Explains Everything About How Americans Parent

By Nicholas Day, Slate (from April 10, 2013)

"Every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we're making choices. Not surprisingly, it is almost impossible to see your own parental ethnotheory: As I write in BabyMeets World, when you're under water, you can't tell that you're wet.

But ethnotheories are distinct enough, at least to an outsider, that they are apparent in the smallest details. If you look just at the words parents use to describe their children, you can almost always predict where you are in the world. In other words, your most personal observations of your child are actually cultural constructions."

Thanks to Rhonda Durham from ISAS for sending this along.

Friday, April 19, 2013


From the blog Free Range Kids:  Can daydreaming make kids smarter?

(Thanks to Post Oak parent Abbe Forman for sending this along to me.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

your attitude + your choices = your life

Positively positive web site.  Thank you to Post Oak upper elementary teacher Debbie Nickerson.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Endless Adolescence

“We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.”  --- from Dr. Joe Allen's book Escaping the Endless Adolescence.

as reported in Po Bronson's blog Why teenagers are growing up so slowly today.

(Thanks to Kay Burkhalter for sending this along to me.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Teenagers and abstract thinking

Teenagers develop abstract thinking at different times.  Makes sense:  they don't all have a physical growth spurt at the same time, why should they have a cognitive growth sprurt simultaneously?

Most teachers don't accommodate this differential.

What might that look like? (from Shawn Cornally's blog Brain-based learning):

If we don't know what rung our students are on, it's very difficult to say which of the following two questions we should ask:
  1. How are gas prices affected by unrest in the various oil-producing regions of the world?
  2. How were gas prices affected during the Arab Spring in Egypt?
As a teacher, I like Question 1 better. It seems more open. It seems more, well, abstract. And to that student who has reached that rung on the ladder, he or she will be able to shine. Most teenagers can only be led there through Question 2 or something like it.

"It's time to do something, people."

Garr Reynolds introduces "a pep talk from Kid President" in his blog Presentation Zen.

Why be boring?  Boring is easy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

innovation incubator

From Briefings magazine, an article that pulls together much of the recent press about the outcomes of Montessori education:  we're not talking about higher test scores, though that may also be a secondary outcome.  No, we're talking about the development of personal characteristics that lead to creative, entrepreneurial leaders in business, the arts and sciences. 

The most difficult question being asked today in, around and about schools?  "How do we educate the next generation of inventive, creative and entrepreneurial leaders?"

Business writer Steve Denning answered the question this way:

“The biggest problem is that we’re applying a factory model made up of hierarchical bureaucracies and a focus on efficiency, scalability and grinding out graduated students.This system is run for the convenience of parents and educators and has little to do with lifelong learning that is critical to the future of the economy. When I started writing about this, people told me that we don’t need to invent a new system, it is already there. Montessori has been doing this for more than a century.”

Monday, February 18, 2013


There's a spectrum of parenting styles with a sweet spot at "involved".

"Negligent" is at one extreme of that spectrum.  At the other is "hyper-parenting;". The so-called helicopter parent.  Can a parent be too involved in their child's life?  Read research about the college-age children of  hyper-parents.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Let them fail?

"Why parents need to let their children fail."

That succeeded in getting my attention.  My inner mamma bear growled:  "Ridiculous!  I won't let my children fail!  What a stupid idea."

But I was quickly surrounded by memories of swarming helicopter parents, hovering overhead to rescue their children from any pain or disappointment...

...and in doing so, rob them of the opportunity to learn to deal with it.  Life comes with pain and disappointment.  How we deal with it determines our long-term success or failure.  We only learn to pick ourselves up with optimism if we have learned to do so.  Like every baby learning to walk. 

As Scott Peck said, "We learn to solve problems by solving problems."  (not by having our parents solve them for us.)

What does a child learn
by owning their problems;
by dealing with failure and disappointment;
and by figuring out (or being asked by a loving parent or teacher), "so how are you going to handle this?"

What does he learn?
The 3 r's:

Don't rob them by using the 4th R:  rescuing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Montessori at home

Parent Map presents "10 Montessori-inspired design ideas for kids' rooms."

Montessori inspired?  Child-sized furniture and tools that help a child with independence.  Dedicated work places.  Floor-bed rather than a crib. Practical life activities such as cooking.  An aesthetic emphasizing simplicity and beauty.  Natural materials (eg., wood vs plastic).

Montessori teachers will cringe at some of these ideas, but I found some good ideas for parents.