Speaker: Author Rob Keys

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The school hosted an excellent talk by speaker and author of the book - Follow the Child - Rob Keys. Rob presented the central ideas behind the Montessori system and the pedagogy that underlies the school.

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According to Rob, in the last 5 - 10 years a lot of research has been done by non-Montessori education experts to verify the effectiveness of the Montessori system in guiding children to learn. This has led to a wider acceptance of the Montessori system among educators and to the
opening of some public Montessori schools. These new schools have also enabled setting up of longer term studies on the effectiveness of Montessori methods.

One of the key components of the Montessori system is the “prepared environment” of the classroom. This prepared environment has three main parts - the materials, the adults (or better known as the teachers) and the other children in the space. All three parts work together to enhance a child’s education. Physically the classroom is arranged to be conducive to the children’s independent, self-directed work. The materials are designed to meet the learning needs of the children in the relevant age group and are placed in the environment in a logical manner. The teachers are keen observers of the children and actively support the classroom culture of challenging work, movement and independent work. By working with each other children in the space learn from each other.

The classroom is designed to support the need of children to move by requiring them to go to a shelf, pick up the material, bring it to a table or floor mat. Once they have completed the work, they are required to put the material back on the shelf. This physical interaction with the material makes things very concrete for the children and fosters their learning.

Rob demonstrated how some of the materials like the knob cylinders help toddlers learn to hold things and lets them understand concepts like bigger and smaller, by comparing cylinders of different sizes. The materials are also self correcting, which means that there is only one right way to put the materials together and so if a child makes a mistake, they can see it themselves without a teacher explaining to them that they have made a mistake. Initially the materials give children a feel for the concrete and slowly move to the abstract as the child gains understanding of the underlying concepts.

A very concrete example that Rob demonstrated used the Binomial Cube.

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This material introduces children to the concept of (a+b)^2  and (a+b)^3. In 2 dimensions, the square represents a^2 + b^2 + ab + ba in 3 dimensions it represents a^3 + b^3 + 3a2b + 3ab2. Children learn this concept practicing putting this cube together at first and once they have an understanding of how this cube is put together, they are introduced to numbers and how numbers fit in. So, for example, if you are to calculate 72^2. It can be broken down to (70 + 2)^2 which can be further split into 70*70 (represented by the bigger red square in the
2D picture) +  2*2 (represented by the smaller blue square) + 70*2 (one of the black rectangles) and 2*70 (the other black rectangle) which equals 4900 + 4 + 140 + 140 = 5184. The 2D square makes the children aware that there are going to be 4 terms in the equation while the cube makes them aware of the 8 terms in a cubing function. While the terms squaring and cubing function are not introduced to the kids, they gain an understanding of the underlying physical geometry behind the math that leads to increased cognition and understanding of the
concepts.

The next concept Rob talked about was the concept of choice and how that plays a very important role in the classroom. The children are free to choose the work they would like to focus on during each work period and this leads them to more involved in their work. Rob
stressed that this freedom is not completely free and comes with some constraints. There are limited number of materials and so children have to wait patiently while their friends complete their turn. Once they have picked their work, they are free to focus on the work for as long as they like. There are few stoppages in their work cycle and that enables the kids to get into the “flow” of work and be fully engaged with it. This also goes a long way in helping kids feel joy
through their work and helps with their concentration on the work itself. This concept of choice was also closely related to interest and the goal of a Montessori classroom is to get children interested in various topics which in turn would get the kids to focus on their work more.

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Another very interesting concept that Rob introduced to parents and teachers was the lack of rewards in the classroom. Grades, scores and ranks are a form of rewards. The lack of rewards in a Montessori classroom goes a long way in promoting behavior by the child for the
inherent value of the behavior as opposed to behavior done for a reward. Lessons in the classroom tend to be Socratic in nature to promote thinking among the children present and not to get to the right answer right away. Since each child spends three years in each
classroom with the same teachers, the teachers get to understand what motivates each child and tailor the instruction and classroom to meet each child where they are.

The final concept Rob introduced was the concept of a Cosmic curriculum. Instruction and lessons relate each concept to the wider whole so that children get to have a sense of the bigger world and their place in it. For example, when the concept of triangles are introduced in a class, related concepts in language would be how triangle is a noun or a name of a shape, examples of triangles in the real world, how one can divide up a triangle and how can triangles be combined to form squares or rectangles.

The various concepts Rob introduced to the parents were very informative and gave us a new appreciation of the Montessori classroom. My biggest takeaway was to start researching the Montessori way to better understand what our children are experiencing in the classroom.

This blog written by our WSF-PR Wire Reporter Manu T., a T1 and P3 parent.