Would Maria Montessori Have Approved? Technology for Montessori Teachers

It was a typical Friday afternoon in February and I was picking up my son Natan from Montessori school. Typical in that Natan was being about as talkative as the rocks of ice littering the driveways from last week’s snow storm.

“So what did you do in school today?” I asked.

Natan stared out the window. “Nothing.”

Ok, so I didn’t expect my son to divulge all the day to day going ons of his preschool life – but as a parent, I hoped to know something about the hours that my son spent away from home. I knew from his teachers that he was bright, smart, and advancing well for his age – but as for what he’d learned that day – I had no clue.

And I felt a little left out.

Ok, a lot left out. And not because I wanted to be one of those helicopter parents, monitoring every move my child made. Not at all. In fact, I wanted to be able to talk to my son about his school day at his level instead of always feeling like I’m prying.

I’m a software engineer by day, so my engineer brain started clicking away; trying to figure out if there was something that technology could do to bridge the communication gap between Montessori parent and child. I knew from experience that when parents ask more specific questions about a child’s day, they’re more likely to elicit specific answers.  A few months later, MontesScoring ™ was born. MontesScoring™ is a system attached to Montessori activity shelves that helps record a preschooler’s activity during the day and uploads that information online for the teacher to keep a record of and for the parent to see. Each child gets a nametag to identify them to the system. When I proposed the idea to Natan’s Montessori school, they were thrilled. They immediately installed it for a test run in Natan’s classroom and it was a hit with the kids. They said putting on the nametags made them feel like their parents. And I finally was able to talk to my son in more detail.

But when I brought it to other Montessori schools, not all of them were extremely open to the idea. They said that they preferred not to use technology in their classrooms, in keeping with Maria Montessori’s original vision.

That made me wonder: would Maria Montessori have approved of using technology to educate our children? After all, Montessori herself was very forward thinking for her time. She was a great proponent of using scientific methods of observation to teach our children.

Plus, the more research I did, the more technology for Montessori teachers I found. There’s the popular but controversial Montessorium, which is a group of iPad and iPhone applications based on Montessori materials. There are also online classroom management programs like MontessoriCompass and Montessori Records Express that help teachers stay organized.

Critics of Montessori related technology often cite concerns that technology is not interactive enough, resulting in a dumbing down of learning material. I think there’s some truth in that, given a lot of the low quality games there are out there for children that aim to be fun and addicting more than educational. But what about technology to help teachers, parents, and school administrators? Should technology be out of bounds for them as well?

The Children’s Technology Review is of the opinion that Montessori would view technology objectively, like the scientist she was. She would want to monitor the technology to see whether or not the technology was truly helping teachers and parents be more effective in guiding students’ growth.

Which means that technology is not automatically out of bounds for Montessori schools. Particularly since many parents shy away from Montessori schools precisely because they avoid using technology in their classrooms.

And just FYI, the American Montessori Society’s official position on technology is this: “Technology offers us another tool and another method of discovery. Using Montessori’s methods of observing will help us determine the place of technology in the Montessori world.”

3 thoughts on “Would Maria Montessori Have Approved? Technology for Montessori Teachers

  1. I think it’s lovely that you want to be involved in your child’s day; I wish more parents took an interest in how their children are doing. Unfortunately, Montessori and quantitative methods of evaluation just don’t meld…

    If a child doesn’t choose a single material all day, or all week for that matter, does that mean he didn’t learn? Children between the ages of 3 and 6 in a Primary/Children’s House environment have the freedom to observe their classmates for as long as they want. They are free NOT to choose materials as long as they are not disturbing others. Some children are visual learners and after weeks or even months of not touching a material they will suddenly start working and demonstrate abilities that they haven’t been formally “taught” (I had several in the classroom and they were sharp as whips!). I even knew of a child who spent months sitting under a table, and went on to thrive in the Montessori environment.

    To me, this software demonstrates a lack of trust in the child and the Montessori approach. The success of Montessori does not lie in the number of materials a child works with, but in the freedom he has to develop at his own pace. As a guide, I would rather a child work with one material with purpose, understanding, and concentration, than have him plow through a series of activities that will NOT satisfy his true needs but WILL satisfy the parents’ anxieties.

    And I can’t think of anything more anxiety-inducing for a child than coming home and having his parents ask: “So, how did you enjoy the Pink Tower today?” Children live for the moment, they work for the moment, and that’s why they don’t share much of what went on in school – it’s in the past!!! School is their world, and it is unfair for parents to want to meddle in it. You know your child is learning and developing if you spend quality time with him, talking and exploring the world around him. We’ve been brought up to expect report cards and progress reports to know if our child is learning, but there are other – more effective and less demeaning – ways of finding this out.

    In The Advanced Montessori Method, Vol. I, Dr. Montessori explains the importance of tracking a child’s work choices: it is NOT to see how many materials they worked with, but to determine if they are developmentally on the right path (Are they choosing challenging work and using the material productively? Do they complete a cycle? Are they kind to their peers?). All AMI teachers are trained to observe their students, and we don’t require software to help us keep meticulous tabs on each material they choose, because honestly, we don’t HAVE to know. I don’t need to know every material my students work with; I need to know MY STUDENTS so that I can observe the intellectual and psychological gains they’re making. Technology takes time away from what really matters: preparing the environment, knowing the children, and knowing oneself. It would turn a qualitative approach to education like the Montessori method into a quantitative approach more akin to what we have in traditional schools. And this, I’m certain, is something Dr. Montessori would not have been on board with.

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