Entries Categorized as 'Pedagogy'

Discovering Progressive Education

December 18, 2013

Joshua Davis has a fascinating article on a math teacher who borough collaborative, self-motivated learning to students at a school in a drug-war-torn Mexican city. The results were excellent.

Davis also cites a study by Gopnik and others that showed that:

kids given no instruction were much more likely to come up with novel solutions to a problem.

Ms. Douglass.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Discovering Progressive Education, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Giving Empathy

December 10, 2013

“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection”

Brené Brown via RSA Shorts (2013).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Giving Empathy, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

12 Cups: Thermal Energy

December 10, 2013

Students study the twelve different containers, using reason to deduce their thermal properties.

Students study the twelve different containers, using reason to deduce their thermal properties.

I gave the middle-schoolers twelve containers — cups, bottles, mugs, etc. — that I found around the classroom and asked them to figure out which one would keep in heat the best. In fact, I actually asked them to rank the containers because we’d just talked and read about thermal energy. This project is intended to have them learn about thermal energy and heat transfer, while discovering the advantages of the scientific method through practice.

Day 1: Observation and Deduction: When I asked them to rank that containers based on what they knew, I’d hoped that they’d discuss the thermal properties of the cups and bottles. And they did this to a certain degree, however, part of their reasoning for the numbers one and two containers, were that these were the ones I used. Indeed, since I use the double walled glass mug with the lid (container number 7) almost every day, while I only use the steel thermos-mug (container number 6) on field trips (see here for example), they reasoned that the glass mug must have better thermal properties.

The twelve containers are labeled with sticky notes, while students' initial assessment of  thermal ranking is written on the paper pieces in front of the containers.

The twelve containers are labeled with sticky notes, while students’ initial assessment of thermal ranking is written on the paper pieces in front of the containers.

Day 2: Exploratory Science and Project Organization: On day 2, I asked the class to see how good their ranking of the containers was by actually testing them. Ever since the complex machines project where they had to choose their own objective, they’ve been wanting more independence, so I told them to pretend I was not in the room. I was not going to say or do anything to help, except provide them with a hot plate and a boiling kettle, and keep an eye out for safety.

They got to work quickly. Or at least some of them did while the other half of the class wondered around the room having their own, no-doubt important, conversations. I pulled them all back in after about half and hour to talk about what had happened. But before we discussed anything, I had them write down — pop quiz style — what their procedure was and how it could be improved. The vagueness of some of the answers made it obvious to both to me and the ones who had not been paying attention who’d actually been working on the project.

Experiments in progress.

Experiments in progress.

Of the ones who’d been working in the project, I brought to their attention that they’d not really spent any time planning and trying out a procedure, but they’d just jumped right in, with everyone following the instructions of the one student who they usually look to for leadership. Their procedure, while sound in theory would have benefited from a few small changes — which they did recognize themselves — and the involvement of more of the class. In particular, they were trying to check the temperature of the water every 10 seconds, but it would take a few seconds to unscrew lids, and about 5 additional seconds for the thermometer to equilibrate. They also were restricted because they were all sharing one stopwatch while trying to use multiple thermometers.

Day 3: First Iteration: Now that they’ve had a bit of trial by fire, tomorrow they’ll try their testing again. I’m optimistic that they’ve learned a lot from the second day’s experience, but we’ll see how it turns out.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. 12 Cups: Thermal Energy, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Turning off the Lights: How we Behave in the Darkness

November 6, 2013

Darkness can conceal identity and encourage moral transgressions.

— Zhong et al., 2010: Good Lamps Are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior in Psychological Science.

My students asked me today if we could turn off the lights during biology class and just use the natural light from outside. I’m usually not opposed, but it was overcast, so it would have been a little dark.

I put it to a vote and we had just one or two students who were against it. My policy in these cases, where we’re changing the working environment, is to respect the wishes of the minority unless there’s a compelling argument about why we should change things.

One student proposed a compelling argument. At least he proposed to try to find a compelling argument.

“If I can find a study that says lower light is better for learning can we do it?” he asked, with his hands hovering over his iPad.

“Sure,” I replied, “But not today. You can do it on your own time.”

We’ll see what he comes up with tomorrow. I, however, ran into this article that describes a study (Zhong et al., 2010) that found that, “participants in a dimly-lit room cheated more often than those in a lighter one,” (Konnikova, 2013).

While both groups performed equally well on a set of math problems, students in the darker room self-reported that they correctly solved, on average, four more problems than the other group—earning $1.85 more as a result, since they were being paid for each correct answer. The authors suggested that the darkness created an “illusory anonymity”: even though you aren’t actually more anonymous in the dark than in the light, you feel as though you are, making you more likely to engage in behaviors you otherwise wouldn’t.

–Konnikova, 2013: Inside the Cheater’s Mind in The New Yorker.

Konnikova’s New Yorker article is worth the read, because it summarizes other factors that encourage cheating as well as things to prevent it. Things that encourage cheating:

  • a messy environment,
  • if your peers all do it,
  • when the people you’re stealing from seem to have a lot,
  • when you’re thinking that your behavior is set in your genes and your environemnt (and you have less free will),
  • when you’re in (or even think you’re in) a position of power,
  • when you have achievement goals (think test scores), as opposed to mastery goals,
  • when you’re tired, or sleep-deprived.

The things that discourage cheating are the things the encourage some self-reflection, like:

  • the feeling of being watched (even just the presence of mirrors or pictures of eyes,
  • writing down an honor code,
  • being asked to think about your previous immoral behavior.
  • having a strong moral compass (some people are just much less likely to cheat than others.

And finally, it’s important to note that we will tend to rationalize our cheating, so we’re more likely to do it later.

So, I think it’ll take a lot of convincing to get me to turn off the lights, except perhaps on very sunny days.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Turning off the Lights: How we Behave in the Darkness, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

How much Math do Students Need

October 24, 2013

Gary Rubinstein argues that we teach too many subjects in math, so we should reduce the number of topics in the curriculum and make math beyond eight grade into electives.

The biggest problem with math education is that there are way too many topics that teachers are required to teach. … When teachers have to teach too many topics, they do not have time to cover them all in a deep way. The teacher, then, has to choose which topics to cover in a meaningful way, and which to cover superficially.

–Rubinstein (2012): The Death of math on Gary Rubinstein’s Blog

And the decision on which subject to cover in-depth is determined by the design of the tests.

I’d certainly support his first suggestion.

The Dish

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. How much Math do Students Need, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Key Qualities of Teammates: Focused, Hardworking and Fun too

October 3, 2013

Today we reconstituted our small groups for science. One student was late getting their name into the bowl so did not get randomly assigned to a group, so I deviated a little from our standard procedure and asked him which group he thought would be the best for him. Not which group he most wanted to be in, but which group he could be most effective — and learn the most — in. But, as a means of following up on all of our discussion at Heifer about what makes a community, before I gave him the chance to answer I asked the entire class to identify what qualities they thought they brought to their groups, and then, separately, I asked them what qualities the would like their teammates to have.

Qualities students would like to see in other people in their working groups.

Figure 1. Qualities students would like to see in other people in their science working groups.

I got a number of interesting answers to the question about what they thought their qualities were. I know how hard it is to self-assess sometimes so I required that they could only put positive qualities, and allowed them to ask their peers for an external perspective.

My favorite response was from one girl who asked her friend sitting next to her what her positive qualities were, and the friend responded, “bossiness”. She thought about that for a second, then nodded and said, “that sounds about right.” When I asked them both why they thought “bossiness” was a positive quality they explained that the one girl was good at taking charge when necessary, and telling everyone what to do. I couldn’t argue with that description, because I’d observed it in their previous group work. The key part though was the “when necessary”, because while she does take charge, she’s very good at managing her group: giving everyone the opportunity for input while still being decisive. Instead of bossiness, I’d probably have used the term “leadership”.

After they had the time to compile their list of qualities they wanted to see in teammates, we compiled a list on the whiteboard (see Figure 1). Perhaps it’s just that they know what I want to hear, but it was quite nice to see that the top two characteristics were:

  • focused, and
  • hardworking.

“Smart” and “fun” were the next most popular on the list, but after some discussion I/we decided to drop the “smart” since their criteria for smart was just having a basic level of intellectual competence, and it was somewhat less important than the other major qualities listed.

Of the remaining three major qualities that they’d like to see in teammates — focused, hardworking, and fun — I asked them each to pick the one they were going to focus on developing over the next month of group work. I asked a couple of the students who chose “fun” to reconsider since it was already one of their current areas of strength.

I then let them pick a second quality to work on from the full list, and had them write their two chosen qualities down somewhere prominent, because we’ll be checking in with them regularly over the course of the next month to see what specific things they’re doing to work on them, and how their efforts are going.

Then I let the student choose his group.

The discussion took the entire class period, and we did not get much “science” done, but if it can get students to be a bit more focused on their work it would be well worth the time.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Key Qualities of Teammates: Focused, Hardworking and Fun too, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Thinking About Science Makes You Act Morally

August 29, 2013

… the association between science and morality is so ingrained that merely thinking about it can trigger more moral behavior.

— Valdesolo, 2013. Just Thinking about Science Triggers Moral Behavior

Piercarlo Valdesolo reports on an interesting study into people’s perception of science as having an, “emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else” that causes people to act more morally after thinking about science.

So, I’d be curious to see if this means that students act more morally in science class.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Thinking About Science Makes You Act Morally, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Teaching with the Hands

July 19, 2013

Doug Stowe is an artisan who specializes in making small boxes. He also teaches woodworking and records his thoughts on the melding of education and craftsmanship on his wonderfully reflective blog, Wisdom of the Hands. For example:

In his introductory remarks published in the Teacher’s Hand-Book of Educational Sloyd, Salomon notes the difference between a trained artisan and a teacher. While the trained artisan is focused by necessity on the qualities inherent in the finished product, the teacher must be concerned with the qualities developed within the child. An artisan might step in to make sure the child gets the work right, while the teacher might step back to see that the child learns. In other words, the predisposition of the artisan vs. teacher may be leading in completely different directions.

— Doug Stowe: beyond craftsmanship on Wisdom of the Hands (blog).

I really like the core message here. I’m an advocate for apprenticeship learning: how better to learn to think and act like an experts. But the key lesson for the expert is that students need to be given the opportunity to experiment, and even to make mistakes, in order to learn.

After my own, rough, experiments with making a slide holder, I’d love to take a lesson from someone who knows what they’re doing.

P.S. Hat tip to Karin Niehoff of the Crescent Montessori School for the connection.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Teaching with the Hands, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Creative Commons License
Montessori Muddle by Montessori Muddle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.