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: .
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The Hazards of Too Much Technology

July 4, 2012

New technology has a tendency to be used badly, but that does not mean it can’t be a powerful tool. Konstantin Kakaes argues that the increased use of technology is hurting science and math education.

A 2007 congressionally mandated study by the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance found that 16 of the best reading and mathematics learning software packages—selected by experts from 160 submissions—did not have a measurable effect on test scores.

— Kakaes (2012): Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator in Slate.

He makes some good points –a lot of technology is used employed simply because it’s “new technology” and not for what it can do– but I think he’s missing one fundamental aspect, probably because stuff is so new that we’re still figuring out how to use technology properly. The key missing aspect is that the increasing ubiquity of technology is changing who we are.

Technology is like an amplifier for our cognitive abilities –memorizing facts is less important because you can quickly look up the answers; how much time should you spend solving matricies if your can program your own matrix solver? –, and technology is becoming more closely integrated into who we are –we’re becoming inseparable from our smartphones (and it’s only a matter of time before they become implants).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. The Hazards of Too Much Technology, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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$25 computer

May 7, 2011

Here’s a real computer, the Raspberry Pi, for only $25. It has only two ports, one for a monitor and another for a keyboard. I’d suggest it needs one more USB port so you could hook it up to external devices (like robots), if you can’t split the single USB.

Its intention is to bring computer hardware and programming into schools. I’d love to get hold of one.

(Articles from BBC and

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. $25 computer, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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iPod stands

February 20, 2011

Red paperclip iPhone stand.

I’ve been hoping for a wireless keyboard for the iPhone for quite a while, and Apple has finally produced one. As far as my students are concerned, with a full keyboard to write useful amounts of text, the iPhone is almost as good as having a “normal” computer. And the same applies to the iPad as well.

Once you have the keyboard, however, he next question is, how do you get the iPhone to sit at the correct angle for you to do your work. My students have dug up a couple solutions, starting with the paperclip version you see above. Simple, cheap, and elegant; I really like it.

Lego iPhone stand. The bright sparkles are purely a function of unapologetic awesomeness.

A couple days after seeing the paperclip stand in action, I came across the Lego stand.

“Why,” I asked.

“Because it’s awesome.”

“Oh,” I replied.

And it is.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. iPod stands, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Seismic vibrations of the heart

February 19, 2011

You should be able to see three heartbeats on the bottom line (labled Z), though the Z obscures part of one of the waves.

We were working on plate tectonics last week, and the conversation went from earthquakes to heartbeats.

I think it started with the question of, “How do we know what the inside of the Earth is like if no one’s been down to see it?”

I agreed that we’ve not even been down to the bottom of the crust because the heat and pressure would collapse any hole we tried to drill. I did not mention that terrible movie, “The Core”, because beyond maybe the first ten minutes where there is some actual speculative science fiction, it’s really not worth seeing.

But beneath the crust, how do we know how thick the mantle is? How do we know that the inner core is solid metal (mostly iron) while the outer core is liquid metal?

Not wanting to go into too much detail I tried to explain about seismic waves. Different types can go through different materials and if you monitor their reflections off different parts of the Earth’s interior you can puzzle out the layering and composition. I just gave the simplest demonstration: if you tap a piece of wood with you knuckle, could you tell that it was wood and not metal? What if you tapped a bucket, could you tell if it was full of water or not? Well seismic tomography work in much the same way, except that you’re usually picking up the reverberations from the earthquake rather than making it yourself by hitting the bucket. There’s also a bit more math involved.

But tapping the bucket gives a quick easy feel (pun intended) for the process. My students at least seemed satisfied.

So then I pointed out that you could use an app called iSeismo, to detect seismic waves. Both the iPhone (and its variants) and the iPad have accelerometers that can be used to pick up motion in all three dimensions. My students from last year remembered it, and at least one already had it loaded on his phone.

A quick test showed that the phone’s pretty sensitive. You can pick up two people jumping together all the way across the room. This part of the demo is nice because it helps prove that seismic waves from earthquakes can go very far. You can also see the little squiggles as the waves are picked up.

I did not try it this time, and I’ll need to confirm if it will work, but since the time on the phones should be well synchronized over the network, and iSeismo can output the actual data, we should be able to use three iPhones to triangulate the location of the jumpers. This might work in nicely with geometry now that I think about it.

Checking for a heartbeat using iSeismo.

Anyway, finally, a student asked if the phone might be able to pick up his heartbeat if he lay on his back.

We tried it. Lying on his back on the floor while holding his breath, we could see his heartbeat quite clearly.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Seismic vibrations of the heart, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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The future of education?

January 7, 2011

The innate will to learn is the basic premise of the Montessori philosophy. So we emphasize giving students the freedom to explore the Montessori works, and allow them the time an space to teach each other, rather than intervening all the time. I know I find it hard to shut up sometimes and let them make the obvious mistakes, but they learn so much better that way.

Sugata Mitra wondered what would happen if you gave a computer to bunch of developing-world kids and let them use it as they would. As with Montessori, it turns out that the kids learn a lot, especially because they end up teaching each other.

Mitra’s TED talk is quite interesting in that it’s amazing just how much students will learn from a computer, even if unmediated by a teacher, if you just let them at it. Based on this work, he wants to add more computers and more unmediated spaces, all around the world. I think it’s a good idea.

In middle school we don’t have all the Montessori works students use in pre-Kindergarten through Upper Elementary. Students and their studies are getting more abstract. Instead, there are lots of individual and group projects. I like to view it as a set of apprenticeships: learn to be a scientist, learn to be an author, learn to be a geographer, and so on. One of the key questions I juggle is how “real” should their projects be. Should I give them a basic assignment and have them figure out the questions on their own, or should I point them toward specific resources, like chapters in the textbook. The answer is somewhere in between, but there is a constant tension. I also just try to mix it up a bit.

At any rate, Mitra’s work is interesting and I think its long-term results will probably affect the way we teach Montessori middle schools.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. The future of education?, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Idea Sketch: Graphic organizer for the iPod

September 29, 2010

I’m quite happy for students to use their handheld devices if they’re being productive. They’ve used them to take text-based notes (I’m still not sure how they are able to type so fast), make flashcards (I need to find or make an app for notecards and bibliography cards for the IRP), and now they’ve discovered one for making graphic organizers called Idea Sketch (thanks go to J. for showing me, and M. for finding it).

Idea Sketch for the iPod.

I’ve been using graphic organizers (GOs) a lot at the beginning of the year and students are getting the idea that we will inevitably put one together to summarize the weekly themes. So today, during our Needs of People discussion/lesson, when I did a quick spot check to see what the the iPod users were doing with their devices, they showed me that they were already putting together GOs. Because I really want them to develop the skill themselves, I’ve not been giving them GOs ahead of time, and we’ve been practicing putting them together. I was quite happy to see them being proactive. Maybe the lesson helped after all.

Idea Sketch is simple, seems to work pretty well, and is a free download at least at them moment.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Idea Sketch: Graphic organizer for the iPod, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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How much technology in the classroom?

February 16, 2010

The title of Mark Bauerlein‘s book is somewhat provocative. It’s called, “The Dumbest Generation, How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” As I am very much an advocate for incorporating technology in the classroom, it’s not too unexpected that I disagree with large parts of his thesis.

Yes there is probably an important link between the brain and the hand that facilitates creative work. But it does not necessarily follow that, “Writing by hand, students will give more thought to the craft of composition. They will pause over a verb, review a transition, check sentence lengths …” (Bauerlein, 2010). As we work on habits of revision there seems to be no real reason why they should spend more time on improving a sentence they’ve hand written than one they’ve typed. True, if students are conditioned to write in short rapid bursts of texting it will translate into their other writing, but it is the role of the teacher to help them delineate these different genres of writing. I also have not seen the evidence that writing by hand is any less abstract than writing by typing on a keyboard. We are already expressing ideas using an abstract medium, words, why is one form of expression better than the other?

Where I do agree with Bauerlein is on the need to take breaks, even substantial ones, from technology and the online world. Where I see the greatest need for this is in aiding student’s comprehension of the natural world. You live too long in the virtual world and you begin to translate that experience into the real world. Yet the virtual world remains a model of the real one. It is simplified and enhanced to make it a more enjoyable experience, so the lessons you learn there do not truly apply to the real world. In addition, physical experience in the virtual world, at least for now, cannot create the kinesthetic, mind-body understanding of the laws of physics and biology that you learn from real-world games and just walking along the nature trail. This is why I am a firm believer in our week-long immersions every six weeks.

So I continue to allow my students to introduce new technology to the classroom, as long as they can show me that it is effective in helping them learn. The latest thing is the proliferation of iPod Touches. I like the iPods because of apps like iSeismo that lets you monitor vibrations in 3D. However, on our recent visit to the Le Bonheur Hospital a number of my students took their notes on their iPods. I personally don’t believe that these are more effective than pencil and paper because you can’t combine text and images very effectively on an iPod, but they did take copious notes (which they were quite proud to show me). I’m planning on giving them a quick quiz to see what they learned from the trip so we’ll see just how effective their note taking was.

We’re all swimming in a sea of new technologies, and we can’t really tell what will benefit and what will hinder without trying them out. So, I at least conclude that the key goal of middle school education should be to create in students a core competence and confidence that will help students navigate steadily in this world of much information and rapidly changing fads. A fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that underlie people’s behavior is key. Know yourself and understand how societies behave. The first is not trivial and the second requires drawing general conclusions from a lot of historical data, which is quite challenging for most adolescents, but that’s why we teach the way we do.

Note: There is an interesting discussion of the use of technology in the traditional classroom going on now on Will Richardson blog post “The Big Questions: Now What?

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. How much technology in the classroom?, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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