Wheaton Montessori News
Believe it or not, the concept of technology in Montessori classrooms is a rather controversial one. On one hand, we want our children to be prepared for whatever may lie ahead in this digital age. On the other hand, research is leading us to determine what is best for the health and learning of young children in regards to use of devices.
As Montessorians, one of our first considerations is the developmental phase of the child. Once we have considered what our core values lead us to do, it’s important to take a look at how this lines up with current research findings.
One final point to recognize is how educators might use technology to benefit the learning of their students. Teachers’ use of technology can take on many forms, and there are plenty of options to explore!
Technology, screens, devices, media: adults are very interested in how these things affect our children. Research is evolving, and our unpredictable future makes it difficult to know what’s best. There are, however, a number of recent studies that are worth noting.
Most of us agree that keeping digital technology out of our primary classrooms is likely the best course of action. But how might older students interact with devices at school in a way that is both healthy and beneficial to learning? Many teachers have started to think of devices as a support material. If a task can be completed without the use of technology, it probably should be. There are times, however, when the use of technology is entirely appropriate for older children.
Greg MacDonald, director of AMI elementary training at the Montessori Institute of San Diego wrote an article entitled Technology in the Montessori Classroom: Benefits, Hazards and Preparation for Life. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1112230.pdf In his article he argues that even having a pair of scissors (a variation of a simple machine, and therefore falling under the definition of technology) present as a tool that can be of benefit or danger. There are endless ways a child might use scissors to cut paper in a classroom, but as they are sharp there is always potential for physical harm. We have decided the benefits outweigh the dangers, and we explicitly teach young children how to use and transport scissors safely. MacDonald argues that computers should be viewed in the same way: tools that are of great importance to children’s learning. Of course, there are potential negative effects, but with proper instruction and monitoring, the benefits are far greater.
In general, Montessorians tend to first consider the development of the child, then decide whether a specific task can be completed in the physical/sensorial world. If a child is old enough, and if the goal can only be accomplished by using technology, then it is our duty to help the child learn how to use it responsibly. This approach leads to a rather decreased amount of screen time in comparison to many conventional school settings, but children still have opportunities to interact with technology in meaningful ways when appropriate.
From Dr. Bilezikian, the Director of our Junior High:
“The situation changes for the adolescent student, three of which you see pictured. As I write this in the classroom, every student is on a laptop or tablet. One is making music, another is doing digital art, two are researching, and 3 are writing project presentations. Everyone else is downstairs doing math; many of them using graphing calculators.
Why the shift toward computers at this age? Computer screens contain representations of reality. Even if the image appears to be 3 dimensional and is highly realistic, it is still an abstraction. The pre-adolescent brain is insufficiently developed to make optimum use of this kind of technology. However, the rewiring that is occurring in the adolescent brain will eventually result in the ability, that many of us value and enjoy, to form and manipulate abstract concepts. Working on screens, within reason, is important practice for this skill, and adolescents are primed for deep concentration when using the medium.
Maria Montessori predated computers, but she would approve of the judicious use of screens for an additional reason. She believed that preparation for the world of work should begin as early as 7th grade. To that end, she prescribed that adolescents should have access to the technology of the day, and to that which led to its development. She would love that our adolescent community environment is a reflection of the workplaces into which our students will one day emerge.
I feel compelled to share a little more information about this picture. The student holding the phone was doing a project and was unable to obtain a book she wanted for it. She reached out to the author and arranged an interview. In the photo, the author is on speaker so that the whole class can hear him, she is reading prepared questions from her laptop, and the student opposite is assisting by taking notes. It was a wonderful experience for all involved, including the author.”
We all know that each child is an individual. Children learn at their own pace and in their own way, and part of our job is to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. Advances in technology are making it easier for children with exceptional needs to participate in regular classrooms in more integrated ways. The examples are far too numerous to list here, but consider the following:
Remember how we mentioned Montessori teachers recording their observations in notebooks? While that’s still the preferred method for most, many schools are opting to utilize digital record-keeping systems. Special subscription-based platforms allow teachers to login and record their observations digitally. This helps them analyze data, share data and reports with parents, and help them plan future lessons.
Obviously, considerations for technology in Montessori classrooms are multi-faceted. Perhaps the best way forward is to pay attention to current research while keeping a firm grasp on our proven educational methods.