Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Choice matters

Research-driven school reform. That's what many are calling for.

Shouldn't schools follow practices that are backed-up by research showing what works best?

Erika A. Patall, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study of high school students in 14 different schools. In one group students were assigned work by their teachers. In the other group they studied the same material but were given choices of what work to do. "For example, students in a science class may choose to write a research report or conduct and explain an experiment in front of the class."

Dr. Patall's conclusion? "When students were given choices, they reported feeling more interested in their homework, felt more confident about their homework and they scored higher on their unit tests."

What's not to like about this?

"One of the other things that became very evident was teachers found this study kind of an imposition," Dr. Patall said. "They're not inclined to do this sort of thing, because it's more work for them."

Once again educational research confirms Montessori practice as best practice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Student engagement

How do schools measure success?

Or perhaps, that is not exactly the question. A related question is, "What makes a good school?"

US News & World Report ranks colleges and universities. It is the ranking survey against which all others are measured, but it does not include any dimension of student experience. That seems like a glaring omission.

Over the past 10 years data has been collected by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) -- an attempt to focus on the student experience. (Want to read the NSSE survey?)
Does student experience matter?

"Teachers can increase engagement by providing more opportunities for student choice and voice in the classroom, and more hands-on activities that allow students to solve interdisciplinary problems, akin to what they will encounter outside of school." -Denise Pope, Stanford University School of Education

It appears that student engagement is an antidote to the kind of student stress portrayed in the film Race to Nowhere. More from the NYT Blogs...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reading of the day

by Steve Nelson,
The Huffington Post (from December 8, 2010)

“Tests, standards, accountability, economic competitiveness, managers, vouchers, data, metrics... does anyone actually care about children?Public discourse about education is unbearably impersonal. Nearly all the heated rhetoric suggests that children are nothing but small units of future production, especially in the saddest precincts of South Central, Baltimore, Harlem, Cleveland, Detroit and the other abandoned parcels of our divided nation.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

we want to be engaged

James Moudry and I just visited two Montessori high schools, Compass Montessori High School in Golden, Colorado and Grove Montessori High School in Redlands, California. Both are public charter schools and both have ten years experience with high school students in Montessori schools.

In each school we sat down with a dozen randomly recruited students to talk about their school experience. We asked, "How is the Montessori high school different from the conventional schools you attended previously, or that your friends attend now?”

Students spoke about academic content as well as the architecture of learning and how that impacts their personal development. They spoke about personal responsibility and freedom of inquiry. They spoke about the quality of experience as a learner. They spoke about the sense of community: the accepting relationship with their peers and the supportive relationship with their teachers.

Here are some of their comments verbatim:

Montessori school challenges us more.

I know everyone in the school, all the students and all the teachers.

We’re like a big family. We hate each other & love each other.

No cliques.

The geeks are the jocks.

No bullies.

Here you can be yourself.

People accept each other & their differences.

It’s a very accepting environment.

We’re all geeks and nerds here and proud of it.

We want to be engaged.

There are no cliques; we’re open to each other.

I like coming to school in the morning. My previous school was all about conformity. Here you can be yourself.

What makes your high school a Montessori school?
•There is a balance of self- directed work & teacher assigned work.

•The freedom let's people grow more than rigid structure of traditional schools.

•Working with hands-on materials. Learning is not just abstract.

•Montessori kids learn to ask why.

•We learn to see things in a different way, from different perspectives.

•We learn to use tools...practical life lessons.

•Our relationship with the We’re on a first-name basis. The teachers know our strengths and disabilities. Their trust in us is inspiring.

•Trust among the students very high. (One student’s senior project is to serve as a study hall tutor. Another student said of him, “We respect him as a peer and as a teacher.”)

•We’re able to find our own talents. (One student has been working for 4yrs rebuilding a tractor owned by the school. Other students spoke about the variety of senior projects, many of which involved service to the school, all of which involved a gift of their personal talents.)

•We're not taught WHAT to think...but are encouraged to think independently.

•This is the kind of school where everyone wants to sit in the front of the class. There are no “cool guys” sitting in the back of the room doing their thing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An inch deep and a mile wide

Here is an e-mail conversation I had with one of our parents, John Reed, who is a high school teacher in a Houston suburb.

The film (Race to Nowhere) is receiving a good bit of press. I am urging my principal to show the film and suggested we have a NO homework night once a week. (for honors students) (I'll institute it myself if she doesn't)

As an AP teacher and parent that is trying to stay aware of these issues, the film really caught my attention. Two quotes in particular stood out. "An inch deep and a mile wide" and "don't take 6 AP classes".

The first quote summarizes (for me) what is the absolute biggest problem in so many schools. That we throw a tsunami of facts and homework at the kids without slowing up to actually catch our breath and LEARN something.

The second quote was sort of funny but also serious in that 6 AP classes are ok for some kids but too many students are trying to take too many AP classes. They are just not right for everyone but there exists this invisible gravitational pull to take AP classes irregardless of other factors. (social, stress level, educational appropriateness,etc. )

I walked away from the film with a deeper appreciation of the type education my daughters are receiving now and also the film has made me take pause for the type of secondary education I would want them to experience in the future.
John Reed

Thanks, John Reed.

Interesting to read The Times take on the film.
John Long

James Moudry and I just returned from visiting Montessori charter school high schools in Golden,CO and Redlands, CA. Both schools have been in operation for 10 years and enroll approximately 100 students in grades 10 - 12 (they both keep the 9th year students in the middle school, maintaining Montessori's 3-year groupings.) Both were very inspiring. We learned a lot from them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

“You’re So Smart” ?

One of our third grade boys finished his spelling assignment, closed his book, and declared himself ready to work on his math.

His teacher said, “Open your math notebook. There’s a subtraction problem ready to get you started.”

“I hope it’s nice and long,” he said.

I was sitting there at the lesson table and was curious why he said that.

“Because I want to get really good at subtraction and then I want to get really good at multiplication and division.”

Two girls in another lower elementary classroom were learning to use the checkerboard, an aid to multiplication. Here’s the problem they wrote for themselves: 377,734 X 72.

They were on the steep part of the learning curve, but they were fearless. In fact, as soon as they finished writing the problem in their math notebooks, one said to the other, “I forget how to do this.”

I was sitting next to them on the floor and could have helped out, but I wanted to see how they handled this situation, so I offered no adult intervention. In fact, their teacher sent me over to observe them because I told her I was looking for students confronting a difficult passage in their work. These girls had already been given a lesson on the checkerboard, but were not yet independent using it.

As she walked by, one of their classmates said, “Do you need help?” She spent the next fifteen minutes re-teaching them how to use the checkerboard. At one point she offered to simplify the problem, shortening the mulitiplier from two digits (X 72) to one digit (X 2). They declined her offer. “We want to do this problem.”

Three years ago Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: the new psychology of success. If you have ever said to your child, “You’re so smart,” read on. If you tend to correct them whenever you think they’ve made an error, read on.

As a young researcher, Dweck encountered children very much like the ones I saw in our classrooms today. She observed, “Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, ‘I love a challenge.’”

Confounded by this unexpected behavior from children, Dweck asked rhetorically, “What’s wrong with them? I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?”

“Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.”

“What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.”

At the heart of Dweck’s discoveries, after twenty years of work, are two opposing mindsets. Some of us see ourselves (and others) as smart or not smart. And we see smartness as a fixed characteristic, something we ourselves cannot change or influence. In fact, we might even believe that smart people don’t need to work hard to learn something. And that if you do need to work hard, this proves that you’re not smart. As parents, when our child learns something new we say, “You’re so smart.” This helps us pass on to the next generation that mindset.

Other people see themselves (and others) as learners. With this mindset, we understand that errors are a natural part of learning. We also see that learning builds intelligence. We expect that we need to work hard to learn new things, and that through our hard work we make ourselves smarter. As parents, when our child learns something new, we say, “You worked really hard at that, didn’t you?” This helps us pass on to the next generation that mindset.

Dr. Montessori said that we must help children develop “a friendly relationship with error.” This gets communicated in little ways and big ways and over a long period of time, helps develop a learner’s mindset.

When a child is running indoors, do you say, “Don’t run!” or do you say, “Walk”? Saying “walk” is not only more effective (children often hear only the last thing we say, so a child hearing “don’t run” hears only “run”!), it also entails no correction, no error. Hearing about the error is often the worst part. The control is external. You are being controlled and feel like you are being controlled.

This is a reason that many Montessori classroom materials have a built-in control of error: the child can check herself and does not need the teacher to tell her if she is right or wrong. If she is wrong, she simply re-does it. Errors are a normal part of learning.

If a child drops a plate and it breaks, he gets the broom to sweep it up. He does not need to be told, “You broke a plate,” (A comment that is often embellished with some additional insult about the child’s carelessness.). We are aiming to develop a friendly relationship with error. We are aiming to develop the mindset of a learner, someone who understands that errors are a normal part of learning. We are aiming to avoid a fear of mistakes, a fear of failure, which can paralyze a learner. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you’ll be reluctant to try something new and hard.

We aim to develop a curiosity about errors. A child mixing colors wants orange. She combines red and blue and gets purple. “Oh, that’s interesting. You’ve made purple. How did you do that? What colors did you mix?” Compare this to an error-oriented approach: “No, that’s definitely not orange!” An adult taking this approach might then tell the child what to do: “Mix red and yellow to get orange,” or even say, “Let me do that for you.” Either way, the message to the child is this: you’re wrong and you’re incompetent. Reminds me of Thomas Edison’s 10,000 attempts to develop the filament for the incandescent light bulb. Or Spencer Silver’s development of a glue that didn’t work very well (think Post-It Notes). Some people deny their errors. Or cover them up. Or get discouraged. Or throw the whole mess away. Or leave the workbench and go watch TV. Others maintain an air of curiosity.

What’s the difference? Mindset. How do we develop the mindset of a learner? It begins with our attitude toward error, toward effort and toward intelligence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Race to Nowhere

We're showing The Race To Nowhere tonight at The Post Oak School. It is a film that documents the results of an educational system dominated by test scores as its ultimate result. High test scores = Achievement. Unfortunately, the drive to garner high test scores, good grades, and admission to highly selective colleges has
D E R A I L E D education.

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.
-- Gilbert K. Chesterton

Are we losing our soul?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

changing education paradigms

Click here to watch Sir Ken Robinson ("if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original")in an RSA animate production.

toddlers' favorite toy: i-phone

Here it is without comment.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


"Folks today have ... got this idea that self-respect means 'I am a terrific person. I am wonderful. Me, me, me.'

That's not self-respect; that's vanity."

--Bessie Delany, American dentist and civil rights pioneer

Comic-book making instead of calculus?

Students direct their education at Manhattan Free School

That is what people FEAR Montessori education to be: comic-book making instead of calculus.

It is not.

E.M. Standing collaborated with Dr. Montessori on the book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. The chapter about elementary education includes this section:

Freedom of Choice Must Still Be Based on Knowledge…Some of the new educationists—says Montessori-- in a reaction against the old system of forcing children to learn by rote a tangled skein of uninteresting facts, go to the opposite extreme, and advocate giving the child “freedom to learn what he likes but without any previous preparation of interest….This is a plan for building without a basis, akin to the political methods that today offer freedom of speech and a vote, without education—granting the right to express thought where there are no thoughts to express, and no power of thinking! What is required for the child, as for society, is help towards the building up of mental faculties, interest being of necessity the first to be enlisted, so that there may be natural growth in freedom.”

Here, as always, the child’s liberty consists in being free to choose from a basis of real knowledge, and not out of mere curiosity. He is free to take up which of the “radial lines of research” appeals to him, but not to choose “anything he likes” in vacuo. It must be based on a real center of interest, and therefore motivated by what Montessori calls “intellectual love.”

Montessori was a revolutionary thinker. And she pointed to the middle path: FREEDOM...within limits.

Friday, October 1, 2010

what you do

"It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings."

--From the "Ask Ann Landers" American advice column

Friday, September 17, 2010

punish the curious

"It's easy to underestimate how difficult it is for someone to become curious. For 7, 10, or even 15 years of school, you are required to not be curious. Over and over and over again, the curious are punished."

That's from Seth Godin in his book Tribes.

Yesterday I dropped by two classrooms. In the middle school math class, students were divided into groups of 4. Each group was engrossed in conversation -- and experimentation -- trying to change the orientation of a parabola.

Then I visited a lower elementary classroom (1-2-3 graders, age 6-9 years old). The teacher struck a little chime to get children's attention and announced, "It's time to put away your work and to line up for recess." Three pairs of children said at the same time, "WAIT! Can we finish what we're working on first?"

Or as one of our parents asked after the first day of school, "What do you put in the water? I've never seen children so eager to get back to school!"

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Old School, meet New School"

Here is an e-mail conversation I had with two members of our school's technology committee, Rakesh Agrawal and Leland Fondren:

Some interesting education apps for the iPad:
"Old School, meet New School"

Ok cool. And right off the bat my reaction is Hold On There! Montessori early childhood education is about concrete learning with actual objects. A cube is literally a cube. There are no abstract constructs until elementary. The traceable alphabet includes sandpaper leters. You can actually feel the shape of the letters. You can’t get much more concrete than that. Putting that into the iPad abstracts the whole process. The traceable alphabet will feel like glass, with no tactile feedback. Abstractions come later.

Second reaction is to their upcoming product for the Moveable Alphabet. The animals are cartoon caricatures. If you are going to build this, use real photos. Once you have abstracted to that level, you might as well go full on with it. Use real photos, link to full stories and video. Start wiring those young brains for the rich layers of distractions that await them when they go online (facetious).

I firmly believe in the hard materials and concrete grounded teaching that happens in the Primary. It allows their young minds to build strong pathways as they learn the material without wiring into them the crazy linked in world that is the internet. I see no indications that students that learn the internet at the Upper El and Middle School levels are any less capable than those the get wired earlier. And quite the opposite for the kids that are getting connected early, who seem to have difficulty with managing their time in college. (those are my anecdotal observations based on my children’s experiences with their non-Montessori friends.)

I’m willing to discuss technology for the upper school/high school and admin. I still believe the lower school needs to remain tech free.

Leland,You are right on target.

The irony is that the developers of Montessorium and these I-pad applications head an AMI Montessori school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota…and if you dig deep enough into the digital stream, you find their acknowledgement of exactly what you are saying.

Their rationale for creating these flawed learning materials is that it will bring Montessori to a whole new audience.

Ironically, this morning, as I was helping with arrivals in the primary area, there was a 4-year old boy playing with an electronic game when I opened the car door. His mother asked him to give up the game in order to go to school and he went into a full melt down. Looked like EWS (electronic withdrawal syndrome) (a condition I just named). But then, this is actually a different issue than the ones you identified.

Montessorium does claim that there is a way to program tactile feeling on the i-pad so that you will actually be able to feel the “sandpaper letters”. That would be good. However, cubes are still cubes: 3-d and with real weight. Don’t think you can do that on an i-pad.

Glass is glass. That is all they will feel. They can program the iPad to vibrate or make sound if they are on the letter and not if they are not, but, it is not a one-to-one relationship. The children will be mapping alternate pathways to deal with the extra layer. Feeling the sand under your finger is a direct connection. You feel what you see and are touching what you feel. No matter what you program on an iPad you will always feel glass and a slab of aluminum (that sometimes vibrates and beeps).

I am fully onboard with traditional materials.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Proving vs. Improving

"Students learn and behave differently if they—and their teachers—focus on improving their knowledge and competence rather than proving it."

Students who focus too heavily on performance ironically perform less well academically, think less critically, and have a harder time overcoming failure.

Read it here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Motivation (revisited)

We all know what motivates people, right?

Pay them more and they'll work harder, faster and better.

Give them grades in school.

And if grades aren't enough motivation for some students, pay them.

Problem is, it doesn't work that way.

I've written about Dan Pink's book Drive before, but what he says contradicts what all of us I need to say it again. And again.

Here's an animated version of Drive.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

color blind parenting

David Wolf, a NASA astronaut remembers this day from his childhood. (Thanks David for permission to print your story. Thanks Bubba Levy for forwarding to me.)

The silent cool morning quiet was shattered by the tremendous roar from our icon of raw power and technology. Just coming into view from around the bend, Mr. Peacock’s unfailing garbage truck was performing it’s unimaginable hydraulic feats, under the capable control of Mr. Peacock himself. A few perfect inputs to the control levers and the machine's authority was final. Faultlessly directed force, easily crushed the bails from Mr. Klein’s recently mowed lawn. Last week we witnessed a complete refrigerator reduced to a flat carcass and swept from our world. This Saturday morning, washed in the aroma of fresh grassy fermentation the oily machine and gasoline, I would command the truck's grinding roar and demonstrate that I remembered all that the great black man had taught me. Today was my opportunity to show him how well I could execute every detail as we collected the garbage of Oakwood Drive together. And the younger kids envied as their older buddy, Dave, every bit 6 years old, was entrusted to operate such magnificence. They followed me into the heat of the afternoon wanting to know what it was like and how we knew which lever to pull.

Later, in Dougie Rose's garage, we put the final touches on our most recent spacecraft design assembled from wood scavenged from the new house going up down the street. Doug and I carefully explained the function of each critical control to our young colleagues. It had been a good day.

At dinner, after clarifying to my parents the silliness of switching hands to eat with a fork, I had to proudly announce my aspiration. “I am going to be a garbage man, just like Mr. Peacock.”

The northern summer, with it’s endless glowing twilight, coaxes so much life. Later that evening, still light at nine o’clock, my dad requested my help in identifying the arteries from the veins in his medical school book. You see, he has color blindness, and it was causing him confusion in studying for his upcoming exam at medical school. My dad loves music. No stereo was good enough so he said he had to build his own. The color codes on the resistors were similar trouble for him to identify and I knew that there was no room for even the slightest error. So, if he would let me solder them in, I would help him choose the proper values from the bins of components. After months of assembly and wiring I found that first powered test of these instruments thrilling.

On this evening, just after identifying the femoral artery in anatomic human figure on the glossy page , dad told me he had thought over my aspiration to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Peacock, and that he liked the idea of me becoming a garbage man. In fact he liked it so much that he, right then and there, promised to buy me my first garbage truck. He told me there would be just one requirement from my side of the deal; to become “the best” garbage man in the world. We shook on it.

That night, lying in bed, it had all finally come together. Like every night, I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of a distant symphony playing in the living room. Forty eight years later dad loaded his favorite version of Rhapsody in Blue into his new CD player. As we listened together, Gershwin’s symphony drew forward all of the inspiration from a six year old’s long past summer day. After a brief debate as to the virtue of tube versus solid state power amplifiers we decided to just enjoy the performance.

I kidded dad that I was sure happy I didn’t get his color blindness as it would have surely made my decades as a NASA Astronaut not possible. “How did you manage to take such good care of those thousands of patients over your long medical career?” Dad just smiled and shook his head. The next evening dad called me back in Houston to ask how the emergency repairs outside the Space Station were going. We had lost a critical avionics cooling system that evening and as the senior Astronaut in charge of Spacewalks, our team had it’s work cut out for it. I said, dad, “I’m having trouble letting go. It’s not easy to step back, be a coach, and let the younger Astronauts do it their way!!!” Dad said, “You might try telling them you are color blind.”

David Wolf,
NASA Astronaut

I must comment.

I love the encouragement Dave's father gave his 6yr. old son upon hearing his "dream job." He didn't put him down, didn't say, "You should be a doctor, or an astronaut."

He understood that a big truck is a big deal to a 6-year old boy. Instead of trying to shape his son's future career choice, he used this as an opportunity to talk about a life principle: aiming to do your personal best.

And he made a powerful statement by NOT suggesting that there is better work than collecting garbage. He avoided demeaning the garbage man’s work and therefore, the garbage man himself. As Montessori said, “All work is noble. Each person’s work contributes to the whole. It is only ignoble NOT to work.”

And then under the guise of his own handicap, his color blindness, he taught his son by asking for help. Dave felt noble helping his dad. He couldn't say, "I can't do that; it's your work. I don't know that; you do."

What a great model of thoughtful parenting, color-blind parenting.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The R-word

Daniel Willingham observes that college students are expected to be responsible for their own learning. He asks, "What happens during K-12 education to prepare students for this responsibility?"

Look at Willingham's example.

Is he really talking about responsibility for learning? Or is he talking about a more fundamental life skill, a kind of responsible self-management?

This isn't learned through lecture. It isn't learned from a book. It is learned from guided practice...Day after day, year after year children must being given countless opportunities to be responsible for their own learning and for their own behavior.

If students are too tightly managed, if they are always told what to do, they don't get that experience.

Dr. Montessori emphasized the important balance of freedom and responsibility.

Ask Montessori kids about the 3-R's and what do you hear?




Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Creativity Crisis

American creativity is declining. What went wrong and how can we fix it. Read on.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blog of the Day #2

I'm just back from 3 weeks in the mountains of Colorado and catching up on mail, e-mail, the work that has been going on here at school in my absence, and reading the blogs I follow. Here's one from Gretchen Rubin.

Laughing at Us: Blog of the Day

Dan Pink says we are racing headlong toward the old-style Chinese form of education.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Alone Together

Don't read this if your children are there in the room with you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie of the Day

A review of the movie Babies: with a shout-out to Dr. Montessori.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Here's a preview of a 30 minute video profile of Montessori education, the Post Oak School and to make it all personal, me. The program is airing tomorrow evening at 10:30 pm locally on the Houston PBS channel.

It's an out of body experience watching myself on tape.

And I'm fascinated because I've been reading for the past 10 years about how to communicate clearly about our work. To avoid being pedantic. Academic.

Will an interested parent read about education beyond the 3-second mark? Beyond the 30-second mark? Beyond the 3-minute mark?

That's why I've read Made to Stick, and Don't Be Such a Scientist, and Seth Godin's blog, and Selling the Invisible, and Blink, and Visual Explanations...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog of the Day

A grandfather's observations of a Montessori classroom.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You can't do that on an ipad


You asked me what Dr. Montessori would say about the ipad.

Look at the pictures of POS middle school students IN ACTION. You can’t do that on an I-pad.

How about a 2 ½ yr old? Have you seen this video? It is quite amazing to see a toddler navigate this sophisticated electronic tool so easily.

And yet…

It is two dimensional rather than three dimensional, virtual rather than actual, visual rather than tactile – it is experience once removed, a representation of reality rather than reality itself.

That said, e-readers such as Kindle and now I-pad (which is a cross between a kindle and an iphone), challenge the supremacy of the printed book. In fact, I believe they will finally put the printed book on the shelf (This is a photograph of “The World Book Encyclopedia” – one of my creations: remember "books on tape"? This is “tape on books”).

We are moving the Post Oak School library into the atrium of the school (the room where we held the AMI open board meeting several years ago) because we need space for a new upper elementary classroom and it is going where the library is currently located. My question now is whether we will ever again need a large, wonderful room to house books. How soon will we convert to a nice room with comfortable chairs and tables and a kindle for every kinder? Cushing Academy in Boston has already done that.

The ipad extends the medium into photos and videos and links…and also has the capacity for notation, highlighting, and generally making the book your own. You’ll be able to carry around a full library in your hand. No more spinal injuries from text-book-laden back packs.

There is a place for the ipad in the Montessori world unless we want to crawl into a cave.

But we must also crawl into caves…exploring the real world, counting bats, harvesting guano, searching for Cro Magnon paintings of bison and mastodons, confronting our demons, adventuring…whatever real people do in real caves…even though we’ll be able to read about it on the ipad and link to the video and even play the video game “Spelunker!” – all on our ipad.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

How NOT to talk to your kids

"You're so smart!"


"You worked really hard on that!"

Check it out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

to help students succeed?

Teachers show a lighter side to help students succeed on state tests:

Indiana educators are holding pep rallies, rolling out the red carpet, performing dance routines and rewriting popular-song lyrics to help students relax and encourage them to do well on standardized tests being given this week. "You show us every single day what a great job you do and how smart you are, but we only get one chance to show the state of Indiana how smart you are," one teacher told her students at a pep rally. The Indianapolis Star (3/4)

What's wrong with this picture?

Actually, what's right with this picture?

Here's the only thing I can think of that is right: the teachers truly desire to help their students succeed.

Dressing up in funny clothes, singing and dancing for their students? In order to relax them so that they will perform well on a high-stakes standardized test?

What am I missing here?

Telling them they are smart?
"You show us every single day what a great job you do and how smart you are, but we only get one chance to show the state of Indiana how smart you are," Goss said.

Let's see, the purpose of education is to show the state of Indiana how smart we are.

And I guess they don't know the work of Carol Dweck.
Praising a child for being smart
actually inhibits performance...

Acknowledging hard work
encourages the mindset that leads to success.

They call this hula dancing and testing for smartness
education reform.

(Tune in for a report on Diane Ravitch repudiating her support of this flavor of education reform.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Snack time, again?

Children's eating habits are changing. Check out this story on National Public Radio.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Real World

"But, Maura, how does Montessori get them ready for the REAL world?"

Well, let's define the REAL world...

At your job, is everyone the same exact age? Is everyone sitting at
their desks, doing the same thing at the same time? Are they doing
tasks that require them to access knowledge, off the top of their
heads, in a timed setting?

Do you have different people with different levels of experience
working in your office? Do you collaborate with your colleagues on projects? Do you need to choose the right tools for the right jobs? Do you need to be able to set up work, concentrate on it, keep it organized, put it away? Do you have to be able to work independently, and work in a group? Do you need to try things and discover that they work or don't work, that is, learn from your mistakes? Do you need to be able to problem solve? Communicate effectively?

Montessori IS the REAL world.

[Thanks to Maura Joyce, Head of School, Montessori in the Redlands (CA)]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wimpy or hefty?

“Montessori comes across as wimpy.” That grabbed me. Made me mad. I leaned forward in my chair to hear more. Sitting in a room with more than 100 Montessori school leaders, I was listening to Trevor Eisler, a pilot of business jets, a flight instructor, triathlete, husband, and father of three Montessori children. He is also the author of Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education.

“Montessori is not wimpy. Far from it. We need to counter this impression.” He went on to recount examples he has observed in his children’s school: of a young child struggling mightily, willingly and willfully to carry an object nearly as large as himself; and of an older child tackling a project much larger than any teacher would dare to assign. These typical examples of Montessori children made him recall John Kennedy’s speech about the Apollo moon project, “We do these things because they are hard, not because they are easy.”

“Think about how hard kids work,” Eisler said, “—what difficult tasks they take on. Montessori is about challenging work, tough things, and about perseverance. That’s not wimpy; it’s hefty. We need to get that message across.”

Ever watch primary children counting out the number chains? Each classroom has chains for both the squares and cubes of the numbers from 1 to 10. The longest square chain goes up to 100 (that’s 10-squared) and the longest cube chain goes up to 1000 (or 10-cubed). Every child’s goal is to complete the 1000 chain—because it is the longest one.

At the elementary level, we encourage students to write their own math problems. This morning I spoke to two third grade boys whose division problem was too large to fit on a sheet of paper. In fact, it required 16 sheets of paper taped together. No teacher would ever assign a problem that size, but students willingly assign it to themselves because they want to do work that is challenging.

First graders begin doing research projects. They also love animals. Since November a group of first grade boys has been researching every kind of dinosaur. Almost every day they work on their project. They have a deep and growing pile of paper documenting their work: reports and charts and drawings. At the same time, a group of first grade girls is similarly passionate about dogs. In the weeks before an outing to visit a veterinarian, these girls learned about 45 different kinds of dog.

When I spoke with upper elementary students they told me about a variety of projects they are working on: presidential biographies, reports about the countries of Africa, and science experiments. The latter is a good example of how students look to do more. In discussing the write-ups of their experiments, students suggested publishing a journal of their work. Look for it soon. Two girls spoke of a long story they have been working on since August, one writing and the other illustrating. Would you believe sixty pages?

And no conversation of hefty efforts can leave off the Post Oak Peddlars: thirteen middle school students (plus alumni riders and parents) are now training to ride the MS150 bike ride from Houston to Austin. Those of you who have done this ride know what is involved; those of you who haven’t can only imagine. Wimpy? No, heroic. But done in a Post Oak way. Rather than aiming to beat one another to the finish, they are supportive and encouraging, applauding one another’s efforts and, like the marines, ensuring that they leave no one behind. Montessori kids learn the meaning of hard work, and to stretch their personal limits. That’s hefty.

Is calling someone perfectionistic a diss or a kiss?

Dan Pink asks that question in his current blog.

Turns out it depends if you are perfectionistic
from the inside out
or the outside in.

Get your attention? Read on.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

“I’m Bored”

“Chapter 14: Encourage Boredom in Your Child.” That got my attention. So I read the little book for the two minutes I stood in the bookstore checkout line. “Children who have too many opportunities, choices, scheduled activities, and things to do are often the most susceptible to boredom. The reason is these children are used to being entertained and stimulated virtually every moment of every day.”

I put the book down and resisted the impulse purchase. Over the next several days the idea of encouraging boredom in our children kept coming back to me. We are not responsible to provide constant entertainment for our children. In fact, if we were to accept the premise that a child needs constant entertainment, what message are we sending about life?

By Wednesday I could no longer resist. I drove to the bookstore on the way home and bought Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family by Richard Carlson. It was no longer an impulse purchase, so I felt OK. And I had been thinking a lot about the place of entertainment in children’s lives. Perhaps TV Turn-Off Week got me started.

What is the author’s response to the (usually desperate) statement, “I’m bored!”?

“It’s good for you to be bored once in a while.”

Carlson’s not suggesting that we not take an active, loving interest in our children’s activities. “What I’m referring to here is a response to overstimulation—when you know in your heart that your kids have plenty of things to do and that their boredom is coming from them, not from a lack of possibilities.”

This response encourages creativity in kids because it expects them to find something to do on their own. It also sends the message that it’s OK not to have something to do every minute of every day. Perhaps this will help our children slow down the pace of their lives just a little. That would be a gift.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the big difference

A high school senior, one of our alumna, made the following statement. When you read it, think Drive; think Dan Pink.

“I think that most of the people I met in high school have been just as motivated as I have been. But if you look at the deeper reasons they want to do well, it’s completely different. When I went to high school, I didn’t know what a GPA was; I didn’t know about ‘the top ten percent.’ A lot of people I met came to high school with everything planned out: “You’ve got to play the game.” They were getting good grades to get into a good college, and I was getting good grades because I wanted to know the material and learn more about it. I guess it might seem like it’s not important why you’re motivated, as long as you do well. In college, it’s going to be a bit different, you’re going to see more of a divergence. I think the fact that we want to learn because we love to learn, not because our parents are making us—that’s the big difference I’ve seen.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

100 word challenge

Jim Fitzpatrick, head of Santa Barbara Montessori School sent out this message:

Dr. Steven Hughes in Atlanta 23 months ago challenged us to create an 'elevator speech.'
Now, here in SB, a local newspaper, print and digital version, has a space listing for each school if you advertise--you know the drill-- advertise and you get "100 Words" to describe your program.

Here's SBMS's most recent "100 Words;" they result from two parents collaborating last night after a conversation before a fundraising meeting. Here's what they came up with:

Do you want your child to be an independent thinker, able to solve new challenges, with a life-long passion for learning? At SBMS, we foster children’s natural curiosity of the world around them. Through practical hands-on activities children gain a deep, comprehensive understanding of language, math, history, geography, all sciences, the arts, and more. Our children’s learning experience allows them to excel in their further academic careers and become the creative, entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow.

Now I say:
Take the challenge. Send me your 100 word description. Describe what? Look at it from a parent's perspective: what does your child get out of the experience?