The internet as a learning tool

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher – High School

In July this year, I had the distinct privilege of attending the Orientation to Adolescent Studies at Hershey Montessori School, in Ohio, USA. One of the discussions that came up in several different contexts, and which feels particularly relevant at the moment, was the role the Internet plays in the adolescent Montessori learning environment. Should we regard the internet as a tool, much like any other that we are helping adolescents learn to use?

Since I categorise the internet as a tool, I am drawn to make comparisons with the tools we use for woodworking. In the hard technology workshop, we identify tools that are appropriate for students to learn to use, such as the belt sander and others that have inherent risks so great, that we can’t justify making them available to students yet, like the table saw.  It may be appropriate for students to assist a teacher working with the table saw, to observe how it is used, but not to have access to it themselves.

Also, generally the tools that we use in the workshop have a built-in “control of error”, that is to say, in their very function, they focus our attention to the job at hand and let us know if we have used them correctly or not. A student can see pretty quickly if they have sanded a piece of wood properly, or if they have gone too far.  The internet doesn’t really function in this way. When students pull up search results on Google, for example, it can be much harder to know if they have really found what they need.

In her book From Childhood to Adolescence, Maria Montessori identifies, ‘two needs of the adolescent: protection during the time of the difficult physical transition, and an understanding of the society which they are about to enter to play their part as an adult.’

As educators and as parents, it is our responsibility to balance these needs. Through the internet, students have access to a much wider spectrum of humanity than they have ever had before. They can communicate with people all over the world, and learn from experts practising in every field of human endeavour. However, much (perhaps even the majority) of the content adolescents have access to on the internet, reflects a distorted view of society, dominated by advertising and inappropriate adult content.

So as we prepare an educational environment for our students, we have to consider how tools like the internet should be used and whether or not they can even be considered appropriate for our environment.

Either way, it falls to us to help ākonga learn how to evaluate the information that they find. Undoubtedly, the internet is one of the most powerful tools we have ever had access to, but as the old adage goes – with great power comes great responsibility.

The ‘Going Out’ programme

By Tania Gaffney  – Deputy Principal Primary

From about 6 or 7 years ākonga (students) are developing their reasoning minds and continuing to build on their independence that began in preschool.  As teachers, we guide them towards becoming independent and an integral part of society.  It is during this time that ākonga begin stepping out further into the world to figure out how it works and where they fit in, by physically interacting with it.

‘The Going Out Programme’ was developed to help with this and involves a small group of ākonga, who arrange to go somewhere, usually for one of three main reasons – to get supplies for class or school, to look further into an interest or to do some sort of community service.

The point of ‘going out’ is not the end product, i.e. of getting the ingredients; rather it is the journey along the way.  When adults run errands, much of the planning is instinctual, based on years of experience and done on the fly.  An equivalent comparison for us might be going to visit a new country, where we don’t speak the language.

There is scaffolding from adults around the planning side of these ākonga trips – all planning is looked over by teachers before ākonga leave school – resulting in them being abler to arrange things for themselves as they get older.

When planning for a ‘going out’ there are many things to think about before ākonga even step out the door – where to go, how to get there, what to take, arranging an adult, sorting money and a timeframe, practicing and then making phone calls, writing up what could go wrong, how to prevent it happening and what to do if it still does! Finally, everything needs to be signed off. And only after all that comes the outing.J

To get on their way ākonga now need to make sure they have everything – money,
first aid kit, maps, lunch, correct clothes and shoes and their adult. They must sign out of the office in good time to perhaps catch a bus, get their tasks done and return to school in the time that they said.

Accompanying ākonga on these trips is part of the teacher assistant’s job in the 6-9 programme, but in the 9-12 classes we are reliant on the good will of our parents to help us out.  The adult’s role as a safety net is an important one.  They are a shadow, walking a number of paces behind and not interacting, but allowing the ākonga to operate independently of them.  I have been on a few of these and have had to train myself to step back, don’t help, don’t ask or answer questions.  It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, but oh so rewarding to watch and be a part of.

So I am calling for whānau in any part of the school, who have some time during the school day and are happy to add their name to a list of potential accompaniers.  There will be a training hour at 8.50am-ish on Monday 20th August or Tuesday 21st August at 7pm in the new staff room.

Even if you’re not sure, come and hear more and see if it might be something you could do.  By the way you don’t need to say yes when asked to join a ‘going out’, as it is part of the journey for ākonga to find someone who is available.

Choice Leads to Success as Life Long Learners

By Rose Langridge  – Senior Social Studies, History and English Teacher;- High School

Imagine that it is a hot day. The heat is rising up off the pavement, your clothes are stuck to you and all you want is ice cream. Luckily, there is a dairy ahead. You walk in and go to order but there is only one flavour on offer; the one that you don’t really like at all (for me that is rum and raisin) but you have to have ice cream so you take it. Your choice has been taken away and I am certain that you would not be happy about it.

As adults we are constantly making choices but most importantly we have the option to make these choices. We even can complain about all these decisions.

I would like you to spare a thought for those who cannot make these choices. Think of students engaging with school content. I remember being told as a class we were all learning the same thing and we were all being assessed on the same thing in the same way.

I am so very glad that our classes look nothing like the ones I had at school. The focus is on agency. In senior humanities the class makes choices about the topics that they look at and where there is the room, they have varying ways of showcasing their learning.

There is movement as the year continues, if a topic of interest comes up then we can learn about this.

The level two class has deadpan discussions about the earth being flat and how no one has landed on the moon. What this has ended up looking like is that I have ordered at tee-shirt that says “stand up for science” and the focus next term will be conspiracy theories.

Every single day at Wā Ora, ākonga make choices about their learning, be it what materials to work with in preschool, what big stories to listen to and lessons to attend in primary through to what topics to engage with at a deeper level in the high school.

Because our students are taking responsibility for their learning, they are evolving the skills to learn independently. This means that they are developing true agency and taking ownership of their learning journey.

In Montessori high schools the staff are referred to as guides, which I think is very telling. It is no surprise whatsoever that all the current research shows that agency and achievement go hand and hand.

I would like to quote Philip Bell, one of the school alumni, from his leaver’s speech last year. “At Wā Ora they do not teach us; they show us how to learn”. It is something that has stuck with me and something I try to take into the classroom every day. I love learning with and about my class and am so very happy to guide them on their journey towards being lifelong learners.

Science at Wā Ora – Primary Learning Supports NCEA Success

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

I have already mentioned in this space how easy it is to become trapped in one’s own high school silo and not realise the great things going on not far away. Through recent conversations with my colleagues in the primary school, I have been prompted to think more about the experiences of our students in the sciences in the primary school and high school at Wā Ora.

Working as we do under Maria Montessori’s guidance, one might expect that learning in science had been very deeply considered and that is indeed the case. In other primary schools the quality of the science learning experience for young people can be determined by whether there is a teacher present in the school, who feels confident about teaching science. There is nothing haphazard about the strategy for a Montessori student’s science learning from 6-12 years. They are offered the entire universe as their domain of exploration, then provided with materials that deal with everything from atomic structure, properties of materials and hands-on chemical experiments to key developmental concepts in biology, geology, astronomy and more.

But then, about that bomb-proof age of 12, bodies and minds start to change radically. Suddenly things aren’t so certain. The learning domain is no longer the universe, but the world of social discovery. A key Montessori concept now is the ‘hands in the soil’ experience of the history of human cooperation. Other schools have tended to call this social learning the ‘hidden curriculum’ and in the worst examples, it is side-lined or suppressed. But actually it is the day job of the adolescent. So, what science learning is appropriate? In the Kawakawa class, ‘occupations’ is the name of an activity in which students work on projects with a community orientation and learn the scientific knowledge they need to complete the project ‘knowledgeably’. This is just-in-time learning, not just-in-case learning. Richard has worked with the occupations teachers in the past year to add some science experiences that cover aspects of the curriculum that don’t arise quite so automatically in occupations. In Kawakawa the net effect is students with real, practical experience of science-related community activities.

At 15 years, the focus shifts again in preparation for ‘social life’, the adult world. This will include formal academic learning and assessments that might open doors into that world. And so the much-anticipated NCEA appears over the horizon. Are our students well-prepared by their past science experiences? Consensus amongst the Tāwari science teachers has been ‘yes’. All the absorbed experiences of the young mind, that well thought-out plan from the Second Plane, the practical experiences of Kawakawa upon which formal learning can be based and what I am convinced is the encouragement of natural curiosity that happens right from the start in families that choose Montessori education for their children, all work together. The result is, our NCEA students are succeeding in the sciences and our graduates are too.

Freedom and Responsibility

By Sharon Udy – Tōtara Teacher – Primary

I have heard two criticisms of the Montessori philosophy from people who have only a fleeting glimpse of it in action (or have never seen it at all!). The first is “it’s too structured – there’s no creativity” and the other is “there’s not enough structure – the children do whatever they want!” Obviously, both of these cannot be true.

Within each akomanga (classroom), the kaiārahi (guide or teacher) is constantly striving for a balance between freedom and responsibility. Doctor Maria Montessori wrote that, “Young people must have enough freedom to allow them to act on individual initiative. But in order that individual action should be free and useful at the same time it must be restricted with certain limits and rules that give the necessary guidance”.
Montessori, M. (1994). From Childhood To Adolescence, Oxford: Clio Press, p.73.

Real freedom, in the Montessori context, comes from within the child. It manifests through engaging with the environment and from concentrating deeply on self-chosen work. When a child is following her or his passion and is able to work without interruption, the child develops great self-discipline. Maria Montessori used the term ‘normalisation’ to describe this transformation based on intense concentration.

As kaiārahi, or guides, we are responsible for helping all of our tamariki to make wise choices. We give Grace and Courtesy lessons to establish the limits within our community and have conversations with individuals and groups about making choices for the common good – not just for ourselves. As an example of this, tamariki in the Montessori environment do not have assigned seats. Rather, they choose each day – sometimes several times a day –  where they would like to sit and work. This encompasses many freedoms: to sit where they would like – at a table or at a mat on the floor; to choose with whom they sit or whether they will sit alone. Along with this comes several responsibilities: to sit at an appropriate place (eg. enough space for the materials he/she chooses); if working with others, to choose those who will not distract her/him; to ensure he/she does not distract others.

As our tamariki become older and move through the different levels of our kura (school), they experience more freedom and more responsibility. Just like the materials provided for them, the expectations placed upon tamariki are different according to the characteristics and the needs of their particular stage of development.

As mātua me kaitiaki (parents and caregivers) we must also consider what freedoms and responsibilities our tamariki are ready for. At home, just as at kura, some tamariki will be ready for more freedom and more responsibility at an earlier age than others. For this delicate balancing act, Dr Montessori offered the following advice: “To let the child ‘do as he likes,’ when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom.” Montessori, M. (1964) The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, p. 205.

Multi-age Groupings

By Jackie Kirk – Kauri Teacher – Primary

Montessori environments are prepared for multi-age groupings of children. These groupings encourage children to aspire to the achievements of older peers. New (younger) students enter an established and mature environment with effective models of both work and social interaction and in turn, the older children learn to treat younger ones with care and respect, providing them with opportunities to reinforce their own learning and understanding through ‘peer teaching’. Children are also able to work through the curriculum at their own pace without being limited to one year of the curriculum only.

At Wā Ora Montessori all our environments are prepared for multi-age groupings – playgroup (for children from 0 to 3 years), preschool (for children from 3 to 6 years), primary school (classrooms for children aged from 6 to 9 years and for children aged 9 to 12 years) and secondary school (a learning environment for students aged 12 to 15 and one for students aged 15 to 18 years).

The advantages of multi-age grouping include the following:

– the opportunity to experience three roles i.e. being the youngest, in the middle and the oldest and the time to develop appropriate behaviours for all three roles.

– experiences that stimulate a sense of caring and responsibility for others and the continuation from year to year of the culture of the class as a caring community.

– experience of social cohesion and a sense of place gained from being in the same environment for three years.

– exposure to a diversity of talents, aptitudes and interests and a wide curriculum beyond a single year.

– participation in peer teaching.

– experience of appropriate behaviour and teaching and learning modelled from a broad age range of their peers.

– development of self-esteem and a greater understanding of community responsibility from roles as leaders in the group.

– groupings of similar interests and learning needs from across the age groups working together at their own pace.

– experience of stability and social cohesion with the same teacher within a stable community for three years.

– the teacher is able to build a solid relationship with each new student.

– individual learning is more effectively supported because there is more opportunity for teachers to know the students well.

If you get the opportunity to observe in a Montessori environment, then consider the essential element of multi-age grouping and see for yourself how it works and allows children to develop socially, emotionally and intellectually at their individual pace.

Spontaneous Science

By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I was once asked how we, as Montessori preschool teachers, incorporate science into our curriculum.  I had to think for a moment to figure out how to answer, because it’s not a simple answer.

You see, in our preschool classrooms we don’t have many activities with the sole purpose of investigating a scientific concept. Instead our Montessori curriculum invites the child to engage in what we like to think of as “spontaneous” science – the sensorial experiences of different concepts in real time, directed by the children.  Preschool children explore the world with their senses and when they make scientific discoveries, sometimes by accident, we, as teachers, have the privilege of watching the wonder unfold without having to always explain the science behind what they have experienced.

A 3-year old child, who mixes paint at the easel, will discover by accident one day, that blue and yellow make green and the next time they choose to paint they may put blue and yellow together again to see if green appears.  A child building the Pink Tower may attempt to build the tower upside down and will watch as it topples due to insufficient support.  An attempt may be made again, with a different block at the bottom and the tower may stand, or not.  This is how the preschool aged child develops their own working theories about the world and we want to allow these theories to form without a lot of “spoilers”.  So, rather than tell the child that blue and yellow make green and then invite them to prove our theory, we wait for the child to figure it out and tell us.

Having said that, kaiārahi (teachers), do not ignore the science happening around them!  We support children by naming their experiences; a surface can be “rough” or “smooth”. We also ask questions when we can see a child needs help; we might ask, “Where do insects like to hide?” when a child is struggling to find them.   Children make sense of the world through their discoveries and their ability to share them with others.  This idea is so powerful for young children, that they can work together alongside a friend or a teacher and solve a problem, or hypothesize and then experiment to determine whether their hypothesis was correct.  We listen and we stand back as they explore and experiment and we often guide them with questions, as they try to make sense of something new they have experienced.

As children grow older, they refine this technique further, but for our preschool tamariki it is so important to be given the space to truly explore, try something new, and share their findings with their community.

Through their daily work and play in our Montessori classrooms, these children are laying the foundation for future scientific study.  Not only are they developing working theories about the world that they will further investigate in primary and secondary school, or even in their adult careers, they are also building confidence in themselves as explorers, scientists, discoverers and pioneers.  Their minds know no limits, their hands are their tools, the world is their laboratory.

Personalised Learning

By David Starshaw – Mathematics Teacher – High School

Amplify is a personalised learning company based in the US. Its CEO, Larry Berger, is a seminal thinker in this field.1 He wrote a reflection in February 2018 on personalised learning, given the experiences educators have had in personalised learning to date. The following is an excerpt from that reflection (abridged):

“Until a few years ago, I was a great believer in what might be called the ‘engineering’ model of personalized learning, which is still what most people mean by personalized learning. The model works as follows:

You start with a map of all the things that kids need to learn. Then you measure the kids so that you can place each kid on the map in just the spot where they know everything behind them, and in front of them is what they should learn next.

Then you assemble a vast library of learning objects and ask an algorithm to sort through it to find the optimal learning object for each kid at that particular moment. Then you make each kid use the learning object.

Then you measure the kids again. If they have learned what you wanted them to learn, you move them to the next place on the map. If they didn’t learn it, you try something simpler.

If the map, the assessments, and the library were used by millions of kids, then the algorithms would get smarter and smarter, and make better, more personalized choices about which things to put in front of which kids.

Here’s the problem: The map doesn’t exist, the measurement is impossible and we have collectively built only 5% of the library. To be more precise: The map exists for early reading and the quantitative parts of [primary] mathematics; but the map doesn’t exist for reading comprehension or writing or for any area of science or social studies.

We also don’t have the assessments to place kids with any precision on the map. The existing measures are not high enough resolution to detect the thing that a kid should learn tomorrow.

So we need to move beyond this engineering model. Once we do, we find that many more compelling and more realistic frontiers of personalized learning open up.”

I can hardly add more to what Berger has already said. There are great advantages to personalised learning, but it’s not a silver bullet. In Kawakawa and Tawari maths, we are still exploring what makes effective teaching and learning of maths in a Montessori context. My reflection on our journey so far is that the relationship between student and teacher seems to be the most important factor; something that personalised learning can’t yet match.



Camping Montessori Style!

By Carol Palmer – Tawhai Teacher

Last week our 9-12 community went on school camp.  We do this every year, but this time we decided to do something completely different. We decided to go for a more Montessori approach, where we did everything ourselves.  Everything!

Firstly, we wanted the children to prepare their food. However simply preparing their own food was not enough!  We wanted them to understand where their food has come from and to understand all the work that goes into every stage of production. To do this they needed to work through each of those stages themselves.

So our plan, was for the children to source all of the food for camp from as close to ‘scratch’ as possible.

Over the past six months we have made cheese, filled sausages, churned butter, caught fish, preserved fruit, grown vegetables, visited bee hives, made pasta and even learned to press oil from seeds.

All this preparation meant that when the children got to camp and began to cook and serve each meal, they recognised every single ingredient and were able to discuss both its origin and its importance in the meal.

Each fish that was wrapped in foil and laid onto the campfire was revered as it was opened up and shared out.  Each spoonful of jam was savoured and each bagel relished! When it came to scraping the scraps from our plates at the end of each meal, there were practically none to be found – there was no way the children were going to waste the food that they had worked so hard for.

And the quality of the food transcended that of any camp we have ever attended.

As if all this food preparation wasn’t enough of a challenge, we also wanted the children to make their own shelters.  We asked them to build a shelter that would keep them dry overnight and, if possible, only use natural materials.  They were expected to sleep in their shelters for at least one night of the camp, though most choose to sleep there for several nights (including the one where it was pouring with rain – that’s another whole story!).

The children came away more tired and satisfied than I have ever seen them at the end of a school camp and the work done has opened the door for all manner of learning over the next few months.  The biggest realisation upon our return is that apple season is upon us, cheese needs to age, vegetables need planting and animals need raising, which means, it is already time to begin planning, gathering and preparing food for Camp 2019.

Closer to peace.

Easing back into School Routines

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa Teacher

During this first fortnight back at kura we are reminded of the importance of routines and community. After a quiet first day when most/all tamariki were eager to be back at kura to see their friends and work with activities they hadn’t seen in a long time, we then come to days three, four, five. . . . when they realise this is a permanent thing and suddenly the preschool deck, in particular, can become a place of tearful farewells. No doubt across all sectors, there are some ākonga, though perhaps not tearful, who may be a bit anxious or hesitant about starting the year. As tamariki leave their whānau each morning, again the consistent routine of our akomanga (classroom) helps to make this easier. We see some tamariki a bit unsure and unhappy at having to separate from whānau, but observe as they then follow the same routine day after day (hanging up their bag, taking off their shoes, greeting their kaiārahi (teacher) and friends), that it gets easier; until the day arrives, when they happily walk into class, knowing what will be happening and feeling secure in that environment.

This is all the easier if there is a consistent routine at home also. A regular bedtime, wake time, leaving the house process and saying goodbye routine takes a bit of effort, but this does go a long way to helping your child settle into school.

The class community also plays a big part in helping tamariki settle in. There are many benefits of having a three-year age range in each akomanga, but seeing it in action as the older tamariki care for and support younger, newer tamariki is something that we, as teachers, are privileged to see time and time again. A child who is now happy and excited coming to class each day will often take a younger one under their wing, perhaps remembering back to when they were new; holding their hand as they walk around the class looking at the activities available, reading a story together, offering a hug for a crying child or suggestion of something to do – and many children will try again and again until they find just what it is that is needed.

Another factor that plays a big part in settling, is the behaviour modelled by the adults. If both kaiārahi and whānau are calm and happy during the goodbye routine (even if this is just a front for your child’s benefit), it shows your child that this is a safe place to be.  It is harder to do when your child is upset, but even more important. Keeping calm and staying with the same routine shows your child that there is nothing to be anxious about. Feel free to ask any questions of your child’s teacher for your own piece of mind and know that just as the class community is there for your child, the whānau is there for you.

And the great thing is, that all tamariki do settle in!  While all children are different, the tears and cries gradually fade away until they reach that magical day, where there are no tears, no shouting, no holding on, no protests – a day in which the child calmly walks happily into class, a day where the parent and teacher share a special smile!