Why Montessori Philosophy?

November 17th, 2013

In my experience as a Montessori educator, my feelings about the importance of understanding and reflecting on the philosophy of the Montessori method has only grown stronger. Recently, while reading Darling-Hammond’s book, The Flat World and Education, I was given some insight into a very common educational problem, which Montessorians suffer with in a singularly unique fashion. The common educational problem is that of tracking. That which makes the Montessori educator’s struggle with tracking unique is the logical similarities between it and differentiated instruction.

Although Montessori herself probably never used the Italian equivalent of ‘differentiated instruction’, this is not an altogether misleading label to place on what Montessori teachers strive to do every day. That is, in Montessori classrooms, good ones anyway, Montessori teachers are guided in part by a principle that requires students to be individually challenged according to their own academic and developmental needs. (Articulating Maria Montessori’s thoughts on this concept based on her writings would be a great topic!)

The struggle of Montessorians – teachers, administrators, and parents alike – that I see is being overwhelmed by the desire to differentiate instruction and student work to the point of creating separate “tracks” within a curriculum area and accepting it as differentiated instruction that is better meeting the needs of students “at their level”. It is a slippery slope between working to provide individually tailored educational experiences to tracking students under the weight of external performance goals. This is where a deeper understanding and an ability to reflect on the philosophy that drives you as a Montessori educator, or simply as an educator, can serve beneficial to yourself as well as to your students.

There is a significant consensus in the research literature that tracking students, and retaining them to repeat a grade level, has a negative impact on student academic performance. Students who are tracked “downward” suffer from less challenging academic work. The less challenging academic work is not of the same kind or caliber as the higher tracked class. It is not as if the lower track is just a few chapters behind in the book and will eventually be doing all of the same kind of work as the higher track class. Rather, the lower track class is simply providing a lower quality of education. The work students are assigned and the questions they are asked are not near the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. And this has long term detrimental effects on a child’s education.

Let me clarify that tracking is normally the practice of separating groups of students for instructional purposes based on the performance of an academic assessment. And, conceptually speaking, there may be any number of groups and each group may have any number of students. So tracking may occur even in the case of two students who are separated for the purpose of instruction based on the performance of an academic assessment. The negative connotations with tracking are derived from the strong tendency to vary the quality of the curriculum based on the level of a group’s track. It is not as if both the low and high track will eventually do all of the same challenging work. The issue is that those placed in the lower track will be provided an education that focuses more on memorization and rote skills out of context as opposed to the transference of higher order thinking skills.

However, as a Montessori educator, the curriculum and pedagogy within which I work is enormously rich with higher order challenges throughout. During the work period, the notion of grade level and a student’s identity with it disappear and the child is working where he or she is in the curriculum. For students who are struggling for any number of reasons, academic supports might include having more time for a job, doing a fewer number of problems per job, repeating a job more times than most, etc. But there is no dumbing down that occurs. Yet, Montessori educators, and all educators for that matter, often mistake dumbing down with providing developmentally appropriate challenges. And this is where we can sometimes trip ourselves up by slipping into a tracking mindset in the spirit of meeting the child where he or she is.


Only our own education can be used to educate others.

Montessori & Technology

September 1st, 2013

I came across the following article on the University of Washington’s website:


It shares the findings of two researchers whose brains have been able to directly communicate with one through non-invasive means. One researcher was able to control the finger (or hand or something) of the other researcher. They were on opposite sides of the campus from one another.

This is a good case for Montessorians to consider. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the implications of technology and educational practices. One of the major, and valid, objections I hear made against the use of technology within Montessori circles is that it depersonalizes education. Well, this perhaps somewhat frightening example of the use of technology does not get any more personal.

Questions for you:

How would the use of this kind of technology depersonalize education?

What does this mean for education in general and for Montessori education?

I would love to hear responses from all points of view. Please share, anonymously or otherwise.

The Montessori Math Software is Back Up

December 3rd, 2012

I have received a few requests for the Montessori math software that I previously hosted on another website. The domain name for that website expired and it was no longer accessible. So I have finally brought it back. There is nothing new. I wish had more time to spend on this project. It’s a fun challenge.

Online Montessori Software – Free!

Geometrical Form of Long Division

April 10th, 2011

In my training, I was shown how to do the geometrical form of multiplication (see math album 1 on albums page.) A couple of months ago I had some students who were struggling with division using the Stamp Game. They were not struggling because they didn’t understand it. They just didn’t like using the materials – they thought it slowed them down. Yet, they were unable to do long division purely in the abstract. If these were 2nd graders, I would have simply insisted that they continue with the stamp game. However, these are students brand new to the Montessori setting in 4th grade. So I worked through the Stamp Game with them making sure they understood each step, querying them at the right moments. Once I was sure they understood the logic behind it, I introduced them to the Geometrical Form of Long Division. Maybe this is already out there, but I have not seen it. I created the following lesson using graph paper, green, blue, & red pencils.

Download pdf of lesson: Geometrical_Form_Division

Lesson: Geometrical Form of Division

Sequence: After student is proficient with division using stamp game.

Materials: Black, green, blue, red colored pencils; graph paper of appropriate size grid

Presentation 1: Illustration below

  1. Tell students you will show them the Geometrical Form of Division.
  2. Ask students to follow along with you. This is a lesson/activity that they must do in order to learn it. Teacher must do each step carefully and in full sight of each student. (I do this by holding clipboard with graph paper in front of me and giving the presentation upside down so students see the activity from their perspective.)
  3. Begin by writing problem in upper left corner of paper outside of the grid area. Wait for students to finish writing problem. 4362 ÷ 3  (write in long form.)
  4. Ask how many times 3 can go into 4? “1”
  5. Begin in upper left corner of grid area. Color in one row of 3 in green.
  6. Mark number of rows above the thousands place in answer area.
  7. Ask how many are left over? “1”
  8. Ask them what they would do if it were the stamp game? “Trade it in for 10 hundreds.”
  9. Ask how many rows of 3 can you make with 13? “4”
  10. Color in 4 rows of 3 in red (**see picture for where to start.**)
  11. Write in number of rows (4) above the hundreds place in the answer area.
  12. Ask how many are left over? “1”
  13. Ask what to do? “Trade in for 10 tens.”
  14. Ask how many rows of 3 can you make with 16? “5”
  15. Color in 5 rows of three in blue (** see picture **)
  16. Write in number of rows (5) above the tens place in the answer area.
  17. Ask how many are left over? “1”
  18. Trade in for 10 ones.
  19. Ask how many rows of 3 can you make with 12? “4 with nothing left over”
  20. Color in 4 rows of 3 in green.
  21. Write in number of rows (4) in answer area above the units place.

Leaf Classification

November 4th, 2010

Download Classification of Leaves

Here is a pdf of information for leaf classification. I borrowed heavily from the following web page: http://botanical-online.com/hojastiposangles.htm. What I have done here is just a scaled down, cleaned up version of what is available on that web page. They have other neat stuff.

Checkerboard Software

May 2nd, 2010

My software development efforts have been in full swing lately and I am really excited about where it is going. Just finished an Alpha version of the Checkerboard for the Virtual Montessori Project. It’s free. It is a barebones version right now and assumes prior knowledge of the real thing. I hope to soon add directions to this software to be more helpful. In the meantime, however, use my albums available here. The Math 1 album has directions for the Bead Frame and the Checkerboard.

Timeline of Scripts – Printer Friendly

October 15th, 2009

Here is a printer friendly version of the Timeline of Scripts found below. This version has also fixed several spelling errors. It prints out on 36 pages of letter sized paper. Sorry for the size – it’s 9.1 MB.

As with everything else on this website, you will need the most up to date version of the free Adobe Reader – www.adobe.com

Timeline of Scripts – Printer Friendly

Timeline of Humans – Printer Friendly

October 11th, 2009

Timeline of Humans – Printer Friendly

This version is tiled to print out on 30 pages of letter sized paper.

Work Cycle

October 6th, 2009

A layout and matching sort for young children (first, second grade) to develop the concept of a Work Cycle.

Work Cycle

Peace Activity

October 6th, 2009

These two downloads together make up a matching sort for children to learn the vocabulary of peaceful conflict resolution.

Code for Peace

Code for Pain