Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Running = Memory

There was another research study today in a New York Times blog showing the specific connection between physical exercise and brain memory.  The article focuses somewhat on the 'aging' brain, but the findings are good news for our young brains as well.  When our kids work out and play active, physical games in the morning, they are uniquely ready for the academic day. Learning after we work out, and staying physically active in general does wonders for our brain development and retention.

For Upper Elementary and Middle School aged students, its fundamental.  The changes we've observed after adding physical exercise routines to our mornings this year have been wonderful.  Our students are more focused, less antsy and happier overall. The Spark program we love so much goes a step further in their approach to Physical Education and changes it from goals scored to heart rate achieved.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Montessori Mafia

Surely you've read the article and seen these mafiosi around.  The Wall Street Journal article summarizes what we in the Montessori community have already taken as commonplace.  Our kids are more creative because we don't school the creative right out of them!  Nothing magical happens in the classroom itself, the only thing that makes the environment and philosophy seem wonderful and magic is the child itself.  Unleashing his own potential and creativity by exploring his passions.

The comments section of the article is especially interesting, please go comment yourself.  I will just include one comment and his link on this blogpost today.  I include this one because we believe so strongly that Montessori education is and should always be for everyone.

Nice article.
To those who think Montessori is an educational method for the “affluent”, I strongly reject that notion. There are over 400 public Montessori schools in the US and more are coming. One is opening in the South Bronx in September and another one is trying to get approved in Oakland, C. Their charter was recently denied not because of its educational approach, which was praised, but for other community reason that were somewhat vague.

See my article, “Superwoman Was Already Here


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Elaine Ng Friis: How to Find a Good Montessori Kindergarten?

Elaine Ng Friis: How to Find a Good Montessori Kindergarten?: "This post writes specifically on how to find a good Montessori kindergarten, but it can be applied to finding a good non-Montessori kindergarten as well..."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our physics curriculum - modeling

I could list the myriad advantages of a Modeling-based Physics class over a traditional one, but one central advantage is enough for me: kids look forward to watching experiments and love experimenting on their own!

The link above takes you to a list of resources on modeling - here's the basic gist.

The Model Experiment

1. You begin the lab with a pre-lab discussion.  You show the students the basic components of the experiment and they hypothesize what will happen and what will effect the outcome of the experiment.  It is important to note and incorporate every idea that is suggested since these will be the best tools the kids have to imagine new experiments.

2. Run the actual experiment.  Document, analyze, combine, synthesize - carry out whatever the experiment demands.

3. Discussion - What did we learn from the experiment, what ideas from our pre-lab discussion proved true, what ideas proved to be false and what ideas should we continue to explore?


The Student Experiment

1. Form groups that will ultimately explore the same issue which the model experiment explores.  Have students brainstorm and come up with some experiments of their own, focusing on what concepts they are testing in each experiment.  The teacher's role at this stage is to constantly question the assumptions of the students to increase the scope of the experiment.  The idea is for the teacher to act as a guide to content and concepts that the students could be exploring - and make that available to them - without telling them what to think or what specifically to explore.

2. The students run their own experiments.  The experiments should explore something conceptually similar to the model experiment in different ways that the students imagine could be interesting.  The students will share their experiments and results with the rest of the class in a discussion on what has been learned during this unit.

3. The students can then be asked to solve real world problems using the concepts and content that they've explored during the modeled experiment and their own.  This ensures both that they've learned the material and that they could apply the material to something useful to them going forward.

Lab reports and memorization of the periodic table haven't gotten us very far as recent testing by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) has shown.

Modeling actually works. Its better at helping students retain concepts, it creates a faster pace and dynamic lab classroom, and...our kids are excited about physics!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The power of being wrong - Laufenberg

More hints and encouragement on how to fail excitedly, successfully and constructively!  This TED talk by Diana Laufenberg is truly amazing and inspirational.  Our traditional schools have stunted our kids' creative growth for so long by focusing on the correct methods and answers to questions that many young students have forgotten how to think and explore.  Showing incredible foresight, observation and keen child development analysis (as always) Maria Montessori made sure to define the role of the teacher as unobtrusive guide for students to use during their path towards discovery. 

Teachers... put down your red pens...slowly step away from your students...

ps. More on infographics (the other topic of her talk) later...  We love them!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


For you homeschooling families out there and progressive education enthusiasts that are disenchanted by the often empty pomp and circumstance of an Ivy League degree. Zero Tuition College offers an interesting alternative to taking out huge loans and throwing down piles of cash for something you're not entirely convinced of.

Don't get me wrong, I disagree with the author of the article that states that higher education is the next big bubble to burst.  Worldwide, we have not even begin to feel the economic impact of increased access to secondary and tertiary education.  I do think, however, that some college options are not real options at all, and some college degrees are not worth the paper they're printed on.  Zero Tuition College is an alternative that follows the theoretical/technological path of the Khan Academy and the self-driven/independence path paved by Maria Montessori (among others). 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Great computer games - iCivics

Middle School students love to play computer games
+ we love it when they learn enthusiastically about government and civic responsibility
= playing

Playing good games is an incredible way to learn.  Great games are leveled, sequenced, users can control their learning and they can usually play at their own pace.  The score part is somewhat disagreeable but on the whole they can be amazing learning experiences.

Check out iCivics and their Democracy Lab as you plan your study of American Government and civic responsibility! They have really engaging games that both explain the three branches of American Government and show young users how they can participate in their communities. 

More game recommendations to follow...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spark a Difference

It has been proven time and time again that exercise at school is a key ingredient to happy, healthy, smart students.  Including exercise and playtime in our curriculum models a healthy, active lifestyle that will be an incredible asset for kids their whole lives.  Also, there is volumes of research that link the movement of our bodies to the optimal functioning of our brains.  Education neuroscience (that's a link to Brain Rules by the way, which is an awesome resource) suggests that spending time on the gym or field is often the best way to boost student academic performance during the day. 

In Montessori classrooms our students move constantly from shelf to rug to exploring their environment.  We take it even a step further as our students grow and begin to slowly favor a more sedentary academic environment.  We begin every day at school working out in our gym.  We play games, challenge ourselves to see how long and fast we can run, train in circuits and mostly ask our students to design a physical morning that they'll enjoy.  The only requirement is keeping the heart rate up and everyone happily participating!

Highlighting the importance of this in our schools all over the country, Spark has developed a program that focuses on getting PE back into our Public Schools.  Furthermore, as Spark points out, not all PE classes are created equal.  Far too many have students waiting around for a turn, memorizing googleable facts (our kids don't need to regurgitate how tall a basketball hoop is) or otherwise wasting their time.  The key, according to Spark is a high healthy heart rate and committed happy kids. 

We couldn't agree more!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our Math Lessons

Since we use Aleks as well as Montessori materials to strengthen our students' knowledge of fundamentals, we are able to spend our Math lessons in school focusing on the really important and creative aspects of math.

Quote from our Math teacher:

What must be really boring to a lot of kids is that in math, unlike most other subjects, it pretty much never happens that a student asks a question and the teacher says "we don't really know the answer to that yet," or "different people have different opinions about that; we're not sure who's right." Any science class, by comparison, is full of unanswered questions, to say nothing of English and social studies.  What's the fun of getting into a subject where everyone's already figured everything out? But if kids saw that there are still these very basic questions that no one's answered yet, that's the sort of thing that could be really make people want to be mathematicians.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Letting our kids be wrong - Wile E. Coyote

It is not how often we are right, but how frequently we dare to challenge ourselves and perhaps be wrong that makes it possible to allow true creativity to remain alive and well in our classrooms. 

Kathryn Schulz shares an outstanding and really funny analogy in a TED talk about the power of being wrong.  She makes the fine but essential distinction between 'being wrong' and 'realizing you are wrong'.  To illustrate this difference she takes her audience back to a familiar scene from the 'Road Runner' cartoons.  Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner off a cliff, close to catching him, runs quite securely through the air until he looks down and realizes the trouble he's gotten himself into. 

Our young students are given the opportunity to be wrong without punishment, so that they are able to boldly explore the unfamiliar and arrive to actual discovery.  Wile E. Coyote unfortunately was mentally unable to reflect on his failed experiments, so he was only able to accomplish half of what we can... on the positive side though, even his precipitous failures were unable to stop him from pursuing his delicious goal!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Creativity Unleashed - Aleks

As we allow our students the independence and environment required to follow whatever passion they imagine, we realize that strong fundamentals make every intellectual enterprise more enjoyable and easy to accomplish.  Technological resources have been incredible allies, helping us keep track of our students' progress through math content.

One specific ally has been Aleks, (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) a web-based math tool that records progress, teaches through online lessons, and provides comprehensive data on where our students are in the math curriculum.  It is an incredible tool that schools, parents and tutors should check out for their students. 

By ensuring our students are constantly progressing in their math facts and strengthening their fundamentals, Aleks allows us to use our instruction time to do what we're ultimately interested in doing with our math program.  Enjoying, exploring, and allowing our students to discover their own world of mathematics, their own solutions to the questions that arise from observing numbers, problems and  patterns in the world.