November 14, 2014

I tend to let my students have a lot of freedom to use their myriad technological devices as they will. Just as long as they use them responsibly (i.e. for academics during class time). What’s most interesting these days is seeing how they combine the various electronics.

Working with pen, paper, tablet and laptop.

Working with pen, paper, tablet and laptop.

This Chemistry student is referring to her textbook on the iPad, while she creates a presentation on her laptop. Yet pen and paper are still integral parts of the process.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Devices, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

24¢ per hour

October 9, 2011

Picking green beans at the Heifer International Ranch.

We worked in the fields this afternoon: picking beans and planting garlic. Clear skies with a cool, early October breeze; warm, but not hot.

It was enjoyable work. The fields were small and there were a lot of us. Lots of conversation.

We picked somewhere close to 64 lbs of green beans, which, according to our guide, sells for somewhere around six dollars per pound (organic beans). Three hundred and eighty four dollars. Took us about an hour.

Earlier in the morning, we’d had a discussion about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Heifer ranch is a CSA. People from the surrounding towns buy shares in the annual crop, and the ranch brings them a basket of produce every week for the season. CSA’s are great: fresh local produce, for about the same price as in the store. You tend to get a broad enough variety that it helps expand your cooking repertoire. And you avoid all the externailties from long distance transportation and factory farming.

Finding out how much workers make in CSAs vs industrial agriculture.

They (our guides) had compared CSAs to the “typical” industrial agricultural system. Students read out notecards as they went through the all the jobs of the people who get your tomatoes to you. One student, who represented the energy going into the system, had to do a lot of jumping-jacks and pushups – situps too. There are eleven different jobs in the industrial system, with the people actually picking the crops – migrant workers – getting one cent for every dollar you pay at the store. They are three jobs within the CSA, and the farmer gets 80% of the sale price.

The presentation was a little problematic, unfortunately. Heifer is a CSA after all. Trouble started with our facilitator’s terminal question, “So which one do you think is better?” The first response was, “Well with the economy these days, won’t you loose a lot of jobs with the CSA?”

Fair point. But it might be argued that the industrial system might take one big farm and 11 jobs to bring 1200 tomatoes to market, it might take 4 CSAs, and about the same number of jobs (12), to do the same. Although the each person in the CSA system gets a little less, the money is more equitably distributed.

The second question, cut to the crux of the problem, “But what are the notecards leaving out?” Cynical? Perhaps. However, I’d like to think of it as healthy skepticism.

So now our guide was stuck. How could she, an obvious advocate for CSAs, convince the skeptical? Not easy, perhaps not even possible. By being too strong of an advocate for her side, she’d have a hard time convincing even the impartial.

It’s not easy making an argument that you’re passionate about. Not at all.

Snapping green beans. Students agree that beans you pick yourself taste better.

I made sure I had a small discussion with the more skeptical students, to make sure they realized that even if you distrust the credibility of someone, you can often learn something useful. In fact, that’s why you should always look for multiple sources of information. Also, while CSAs are great for some things, local farms in Arkansas or Missouri aren’t going to be producing a lot of tomatoes in January.

That’s why I’m glad we picked the beans later in the day. And it was important that we did the accounting.

It took sixteen of us one hour to pick $384 worth of beans. That works out to 24 bucks per person per hour. Since the migrant workers only make 1% of the final cost, we would have made about 24¢.

24¢ for an enjoyable hour of gardening on a pleasant day. But what do you do when you’re hot and miserable in the middle of the summer, and hour after hour after hour of the same work is what you need to feed your family. And you’re missing school to do it.

Planting garlic.

I’m not sure that students will intuit the difference between what we did and what migrant farm workers do; neither the time we put in, nor the effort we expended were anywhere near equivalent.

I think making that distinction is important. Recognizing what migrant workers do, many who are the same age as my students, might make the point of what organizations like Heifer and Human Rights Watch are trying to do better than just talking about it, or simulating it, in the classroom.

I think it might make a big difference to hear the voices of these workers.

So I’ll show the HRW video advocating for the CARE Act to reduce child labor among teen migrant workers, and see if it has an impact.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. 24¢ per hour, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Resorting to Poetry

October 2, 2011

We’re off to the Heifer International farm near Little Rock for a week. I have not been there before, but I suspect I’ll be disconnected, loosing contact with the part of my brain that has all the details.

I could program during some of my downtime, but all the reference documentation is online. I could do some reading about pedagogy – I’ve been meaning to get to the book about homework – but I suspect it would be extremely frustrating to not be able to look up the references and follow thoughts with some online research. And I can’t really blog.

I’m not even sure I’ll have phone service.

So instead I’ve brought a book of poetry. It’s the same one I used to take on long trips before I was so fully committed to the internet. I’ve read it through a number of times, but there’s always something new to discover.

And it should provide the time I need to finish memorizing a few favorites. At one point I could recall the first three parts of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, but I think I’m back down to one now.

At any rate, there might be some slow blogging for the next week. I’ve scheduled a few posts but not enough to cover the time I’m gone, so this might be the first significant break for a couple years. We’ll see how it goes.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Resorting to Poetry, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

My Memory is in the Ether

July 18, 2011

The experience of losing our Internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend.

— Sparrow et al., 2011: Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips (pdf).

Internet on the brain. Image creating using internet map by Matt Britt (via Wikipedia).

Last year, my students informed me that humans have a fundamental need for electronics. And I was forced to agree. We’re becoming more inseparable from our devices, practically all of which are connected to the internet. So much so, that people aren’t spending the time memorizing all the stuff they used to memorize, and are instead just remembering where to find it (or what search terms to google).

The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

— Sparrow et al., 2011: Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips (pdf).

Since one of the prime reasons for this blog was to help me remember all the stuff I usually forget (and where to find all the stuff I usually forget), I have to say that these results have the scent of truth. Our cyborgization continues.

So, given this shift to outsourcing our memories, it seems even more imperative that students learn how to think and solve problems, and where to look to find good information they can use in their problem solving, rather than work more on memorization of facts. There are fast becoming too many fact to memorize, and they’re almost all accessible on the internet.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. My Memory is in the Ether, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Osama bin Laden: A Montessori Discussion

May 15, 2011

[…] the whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish daydream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.

Who would not have jumped for joy, in 1940, at the thought of seeing S.S. officers kicked and humiliated? But when the thing becomes possible, it is merely pathetic and disgusting.

–Orwell (1945): Sour Revenge in the Tribune. (Found via Megan McArdle).

Over the last couple of weeks, students have been reading and presenting newspaper articles every morning, so, inevitability, we had a few good opportunities to discuss the death of Osama bin Laden.

The discussions were remarkably mature, and quite edifying to hear, because it was pretty much what one would hope to occur among Montessori kids who’ve been dealing with the peace curriculum since pre-school.

There was remarkably little jubilation. So much so, that one student asked, “Are we not supposed to feel happy?”

The answer was that yes we can feel happy and relieved but we shouldn’t “spike the ball”, letting the celebration get so out of hand that it antagonizes bin Laden’s supporters even more, and makes us seem as arrogant as they caricature us to be. If we want to achieve peace we need to be better than that.

Their broader perspective is somewhat akin to what Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen monk, expressed a couple weeks after the September 11th attack (thanks to Julie H. for the link to the interview by Anne A. Simkinson).

All violence is injustice. The fire of hatred and violence cannot be extinguished by adding more hatred and violence to the fire. The only antidote to violence is compassion. And what is compassion made of? It is made of understanding. When there is no understanding, how can we feel compassion, how can we begin to relieve the great suffering that is there? So understanding is the very real foundation upon which we build our compassion.


There are people who want one thing only: revenge. In the Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha said that by using hatred to answer hatred, there will only be an escalation of hatred. But if we use compassion to embrace those who have harmed us, it will greatly diffuse the bomb in our hearts and in theirs.

–Thich Nhat Hanh (2001): What I Would Say to Osama bin Laden (Interview by Anne A. Simpkinson on

There’s also a poignant reflection by Megan McArdle, a New Yorker, who was, at first, extremely angry and eager for revenge, but has become much more reflective, and cognizant that we share both humanity and mortality with even Osama bin Laden.

McArdle elaborates more here.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Osama bin Laden: A Montessori Discussion, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Kindness and Community

May 3, 2011

Just as each species in a biological community contributes something that helps sustain the community, people need to contribute to each other in their communities to to keep them stable, productive, and happy.

We’ve been talking about social action this cycle. Students have been finding and reading articles, and thinking about what they could do — themselves right now — to promote social justice. The articles have come from a number of different places: local stories from the Memphis newspaper, the Commercial Appeal; national articles from the New York Times; and even international things from the from BBC. Now, for Personal World, they’re thinking at the really small scale, about what they do for their classroom community.

The objective is twofold. First, I want them to contribute more to each other, and think about what they’re contributing, to maintain a healthy community. A little self reflection should help them realize if what they think they’re doing for others is actually helping. But, secondly, I also want them to recognize the efforts of their peers for what they are: attempts, even if futile or misguided, to be helpful.

It’s sometimes easier to think about doing charitable things for people far away, because it’s impersonal. There’s little risk of being embarrassed. But even the smallest groups need some altruism to grease the wheels of community.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Kindness and Community, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

“The only time anyone fails is when they are scared to try”

January 28, 2011

“[My father] used to say it was better to fail through lack of ability than lack of effort,” he says. “He also said fear of failure was something you had to go through because the only time anyone fails is when they are scared to try.”
— Ian Holloway in The Guardian

One of the things I really like about European (and other) soccer leagues is the relegation and promotion system. It encourages competition, and the dream that one day your small town side can make it up the the big leagues. Or as in Blackpool’s case, return to the top after thirty years in the lower divisions.

When they barely qualified for the top English division last year, it was widely expected that they would set records for most goals conceded, and be the first team to be relegated. But they’ve done well enough. They’re well out of the relegation zone at the moment and have impressed, even though they’re still playing in the smallest stadium and have the cheapest team. So their coach, Ian Holloway, knows something about facing potential embarrassment, and the fear of failure.

Keeping with our theme of graphing for this cycle, here is a graph showing the position of Blackpool in the English football leagues. Each league has about 20 teams so the graph shows a range of about four divisions. (From Wikipedia user Dudesleeper).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. “The only time anyone fails is when they are scared to try”, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Reading levels?

December 20, 2010

One of Google’s new search options lets you assess sites based on reading levels.

The purpose of this blog keeps evolving in my mind. It is a place for me to keep all the notes and pedagogic reflections that I should be recording, but have not, and would not, be keeping otherwise. It’s also a bit like my writer’s notebook in that I use it to experiment my writing style.

I also hope the site can be useful to other Montessori (or any really) teachers because I have a real, fervent belief that everyone gains when we share as much information as possible.

This blog, being in a public space, should also be friendly to parents who might look in once in a while; this way they can get a fair, if perhaps too revealing, glimpse of my educational philosophy, see where I’m going, and get a bit of an explanation of why I do the things I do.

Finally, I occasionally show certain blog posts to my middle school students. It’s an easy place to link videos like the one about the Northwest Passage. Almost inevitably after I do that though, I’ll find some student perusing through the rest of the blog, usually with the exclamation, “Hey that’s not what actually happened!”

So I try to write posts that are accessible to all these different groups. I try not to shy too much away from using longer words, layered meanings, references, and subtexts, because, after all, if students don’t already get them, this is as good a place as any for them to learn.

Barry Schwartz has an interesting post at the Search Engine Roundtable about the new Google option, as does Adrian Chen at Gawker. Both articles post the graphs for a number of different sites. I’ve not yet seen an actual definition of the what the different levels on the graphs mean, but the Muddle sits almost entirely in the intermediate section of the graph, much like the New York Times’ site. This does not seem like bad company to keep, though I do think I’d like to try for more variety. We’ll see.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Reading levels?, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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