Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maria Monessori - A Teacher You Should Know

I've been working on a "Mathematician You Should Know" series to give a little credit to some mathematicians that don't get the credit I believe they deserve.  Since I've been reading about education reform recently, I though I would expand the series.

I recently read a blog post, written by , that listed the qualities of an ideal school.  The part that stood out to me is below.
My ideal school
Is full of resources that draw the kids’ interest
Is staffed with adults who know
That children have their own ways of thinking
That each child moves through learning in their own way
That there must be safety, both physical and emotional
That there must be affection and loving and hugs
The reason that it stood out is that it described my daughter's school pretty well.  My daughter has attended Nativity Montessori School for the past three years, and my son went there for two years.  They have a program for three and four-year-olds and Kindergarten.  It was my wife's idea to put the kids into the Montessori program.  She had learned about Montessori schools in college, where she was studying elementary and special education.  I had only a dim idea of Montessori schools.

Maria Montessori

Montessori schools are based on the Montessori Method, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori.  Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy in 1870.  She attended an all-boy school to prepare to study engineering.  She was the first female graduate of the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, and became the first woman doctor in Italy.  She started teaching at a school for developmentally disabled students in 1896.  She was able to have some of the students take the State reading and writing tests with above-average results.  Montessori was able to try her methods with developmentally normal students starting in 1907.

Maria Montessori traveled extensively to demonstrate her method.  Montessori came to the United States in 1915 to give a lecture at Carnegie Hall.  She gave a demonstration of her method at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  During World War II, she went to India at the invitation of the Indian government to teach her method to teachers.  She died in the Netherlands in 1952.

Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

Montessori developed her method by observing her students.  The core of the Montessori method is a series of activities on which the students can work at their own pace.  Children are able to select their own activities.  The activities can be worked on different levels of difficulty.  The activities are designed to be self-correcting.  In his TED Talk, Will Wright credits the self-correcting aspect of the Montessori activities as part of his inspiration for creating Sim City.

Included with the standard academic areas are practical life activities.  My favorite of the practical life activities is silver polishing.  When my daughter's teacher told me about silver polishing I asked about the wallet stitching activity.  She laughed and reminded me that the program was developed in the Victorian Age.

I really support educators going back and dusting off the work of Maria Montessori.  There are several misconceptions of her work, but they are quickly dispelled once you see her methods at work.  With school reform a popular topic, it is best if educators can have some alternatives to the status quo that we can support.

More information is at The International Montessori Index.