March 1, 2014

Working by the fireplace.

Working by the fireplace.

The most productive place to work varies for each student. Some need more rigorous structure–chair and desk; pen and paper–while others can get a lot done while lying in front of the fire. A key here, I think, is that the students have enough space. They’re working on different projects and they don’t need to collaborate, so a meter separation (the same distance they’re required to be apart during personal reflection time) gives everyone space to do their own thing.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Fireplace, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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 February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Student-Led Classroom Design

February 17, 2013

When given the choice, the environments students choose to work in does not look like the typical classroom. Mrs. D., our head of school, shared a link to this article about the Swedish Telefonplan School that’s designed with the students’ preferences in mind.

From inside the Telefonplan School. Image via Zilla Magazine (hat tip Edudemic).

The inside of the Erika-Mann Elementary School. Photo by Jan Bitter.

It’s a lot like the Erika-Mann-Grundschule in Berlin, and the type of open-plan rooms that Montessori Middle Schools aim for. I particularly note the design gives lots of space for small group work. Adolescents tend to cluster, but seem to work most productively in smaller groups.

The group of Lamplighter Montessori students work in parallel but help each other out.

And given the choice, students often prefer the floor to the tables.

Fulton School students choose to sit in the window to work on their math.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Student-Led Classroom Design, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Time to Focus: Using Earbuds in the Classroom

August 16, 2012

People need chunks of quiet time to get work done. Big cubicle farms with open office plans increase stress and don’t make for happy workers (Paul, 2012 summarizes). But, using earbuds might help people focus on the job at hand:

Although it might seem that importing one’s own noise wouldn’t be much of a solution — and although we don’t yet have research evidence on the use of private music in the office — experts say that this approach could be effective on at least one dimension. Part of the reason office noise reduces our motivation is that it’s a factor out of our control, so the act of asserting control over our aural environment may lead us to try harder at our jobs.

— Paul, A.M., 2012: Why the ‘Open’ Office Is a Hotbed of Stress in Time.

It has been my observation that the earbuds help a lot in helping students stay focused and on task. However, for the middle school students at least, I usually require them to to have preset play lists so they’re not distracted by skipping through songs every five minutes. I also recommend quieter music because it tends to be less distracting to the student, and there’s almost always someone who’s volume is so loud that everyone else in the, now very quiet, classroom can hear.

Appel at The Dish.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Time to Focus: Using Earbuds in the Classroom, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Letting the Kids Design the Classroom

November 30, 2011

The inside of the Erika-Mann Elementary School. Photo by Jan Bitter.

At the Erika-Mann Elementary School, they let the kids help design the learning environment. We need more of this I think.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Letting the Kids Design the Classroom, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Facilitating Movement in the Classroom

August 17, 2011

… the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning.

— Jensen (2005): Movement and Learning in Teaching with the Brain in Mind.

I’m setting up a new classroom this year. How it’s arranged is very important to me. Montessori classrooms are designed for open movement and having different things going on in different places at the same time. Unlike last year, I won’t have to manage the entire middle school in the same room for the entire day. Instead, middle and high-school students will come in for two-hour periods for math and science.

Two hours is a long time for anyone, so I don’t expect them to be able to sit still for the entire period. In fact, just like in last year’s middle school classroom, I intend that the class devolve into smaller groups for most of that time. Students will need to be able to move around freely and associate freely, so long as they respect each others ability to work. I’m trying to arrange the room to facilitate that.

So how to arrange the furniture?

I need open spaces for students to walk and move. Eric Jensen has an entire chapter of Teaching with the Brain in Mind dedicated to how important movement is to learning. His focus is primarily on the need to save time for recesses and PE in increasingly regimented school days, but he also talks about integrating movement into everyday learning: energizers to wake kids up; stretching for more oxygen; and so on. I certainly know that I do a lot of pacing when I’m trying to think.

David Walsh also sees movement in the classroom as particularly important for boys.

Adolescent boys can have five to seven surges of testosterone every day. … And because testosterone is geared towards quick release, adolescent boys are prone to follow any impulse that might release stress. [p. 62]

Some experts think that making students sit still at a desk all day isn’t good for either sex, but girls are better able to tolerate it. Boys are more likely to get frustrated by school and loose interest. [p. 100]

— Walsh (2004): Why Do They Act That Way.

So no rows of desks. Instead, I’ve tried to make different work areas.

  • There’s one big area with a set of tables along three sides of a rectangle facing the whiteboard; students can be inside or outside of the rectangle depending on their needs.
  • Another area is centered around the couch, which may seem highly desirable, but I’ll be curious to see how they use it to work.
  • Toward the back of the room, there’s a solitary, larger-than-normal desk for a larger group that need space from the big set of tables.
  • I also have a smaller table near the window, that I envision would appeal to smaller, quieter groups, or even individuals sharing the same table.
  • And, finally, there is a bank of individual work spaces along the back wall.

That’s the plan, anyway. Classes have not started yet, so we’ll see how it holds up when it meets the enemy students. I am always happy to let them rearrange things, but most often they don’t seem to want to spend the time and effort.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Facilitating Movement in the Classroom, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Enjoying the silence

June 29, 2010

That was one of the most poignant moments for me—conversations I had with a class of kids in a school in a tough neighborhood who simply had no positive associations at all with the idea of silence.
– George Prochnik (Gorney, 2010)

In constructing the Montessori classroom we aim for an open, uncluttered environment. George Prochnik has an interesting little interview in the Atlantic about the value of silence in our noisy world. He points out that there has been a movement away from the sound deadening carpets, tablecloths and wall hanging in the interior design of restaurants, in an effort to generate more energy. Of course that makes things louder. Thinking about the interior design of the classroom, I can see how there might be a trade-off between creating an uncluttered environment and designing for a quiet classroom.

Of course, in a classroom of adolescents, some prefer to work in quiet, while others favor the energy and noise in the background. I try to create nooks and crannies where students can get out of the noise but are still visible to the rest of the room. I also allow students to use headsets during individual work time.

Thinking about it now, the nooks were designed to fit small groups of three, but the students only really migrated toward them as individuals. So it may be that their primary value has been to provide small cones of silence and I should make more of them but smaller ones.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Enjoying the silence, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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