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.


  1. Interesting conversation, thanks for sharing it.

    As a software developer (who has multiple computers in the house, iPads, etc.), I'm struggling with how much to expose my Infant community (at POS) 2-year-old son to technology.

    On one hand, I want him to be exposed, as early as possible, to the technology that is such an important part of our modern world. On the other hand, I recognize that this early exposure may not be necessary, and in fact may possibly be detrimental to his development.

  2. John -- as always, thanks for your thoughtful post. I've sent it on to our tech committee AND to all the Primary guides.

  3. Interesting exchange. I fully agree with the comment about the real versus cartoony pictures animals--what were they thinking? I do think technology is coming, and has many positive points. The cube depicted on an iPad is not a real physical cube but this could have advantages in addition to drawbacks--as most alternatives do.

  4. Thanks to each of you for your comments -- especially valuable because I know how engaged each of you is with technology and your children (at home or at school).

  5. My infant daughter could use my iPhone 3G from about 12 months to look at photos and as a phone. She thinks of computers as communication devices, including Skyping on my laptop to her relatives in Australia and Puerto Rico. As a Montessori teacher I'm quite determined that she will not be exposed to any media content or learning activities on digital technology until well int her elementary years.