The Future is Here

As head of the Technology Committee, Ms. Erica (E1 Head Teacher/Middle School Grade Level Head)  has been busy bringing technology into the classrooms of Foothills Montessori.

“We have two main goals,” she says of her committee, which includes three other teachers (Ms. Joanie, Ms. Melissa M., and Ms. Vicki) who meet weekly to discuss their objectives and progress. “One, to make staff more comfortable with utilizing technology and Two, to integrate technology into the curriculum when appropriate so that students are prepared for an increasingly tech-dependent future.”

The committee, as early adopters, always take their new Chromebooks to these meetings (a gift from the FMS PTO) and share their notes on Google Drive. Throughout the week, each Committee Member, called a “Techie Partner,” meets with other staff members to assist them as needed. At every school-wide Administration Meeting, the committee presents a new app or skill that teachers may find useful, like systems for tracking attendance or adding comments to report cards.

Technology usage varies by grade level. At the primary level, the focus is on hands-on materials that create a physical connection with the learning environment. As students move into elementary, they use laptops periodically to acquire the basics of online research, MS Office and typing. At the middle school level, students are ready to integrate more cutting-edge technology into the curriculum in a way that enhances the overall learning process. Just a few recent and upcoming examples from E1:

  • Using Prezi instead of PowerPoint to create dynamic, innovative presentations
  • Creating stop-motion videos of cellular mitosis
  • Creating online “Fakebook” profiles for prominent historical figures
  • Visiting to watch weekly student news broadcasts
  • Using email for classroom communication
  • Sending notes to overseas soldiers through online program
  • Using Google Drive to save and store classroom assignments
  • Contributing to the classroom blog
  • Editing photos and collaborating on videos
  • Using virtual dissection apps for an upcoming anatomy lab
  • Researching in-depth topics using both books and accredited online sources
  • Using Quizlet to create study guides

The E1 classroom is an incredibly interactive, dynamic, hands-on place, and the students have constant access to laptops, which they frequently use to “Google” the answers to questions that come up during class discussions. “If they have a question, they just go find the answer,” says Ms. Erica, who encourages this self-directed learning when the students have a moment of free time.

Recently, the Middle School students participated in Career Center Week, where they explored different careers that they found interesting. Chosen fields ranged from fashion design to architecture to medicine, and many students found that their occupation entailed frequent use of technology.

At least one student already has a jump start on the Silicon Valley programmers who create all this exciting new hardware and software. “Benjamin coded his own history quiz,” says Ms. Erica, still surprised and impressed. “He learned it online somewhere. Maybe on Wikipedia?”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the future is here.

The Great Technology Debate

In the April 2013 issue of The Atlantic, author and national correspondent Hannah Rosin takes a long look at The Touch-Screen Generation: the current under-10 set who are just as familiar with Angry Birds as they are Goodnight Moon.

While attending a California conference for developers of children’s apps, a rapidly expanding industry that has some jumping on the “digital education is the future” bandwagon and others longing for less tech-trendy days, she pontificates:

“What, really, would Maria Montessori have made of this scene? The 30 or so children here were not down at the shore poking their fingers in the sand or running them along mossy stones or digging for hermit crabs. Instead they were all inside, alone or in groups of two or three, their faces a few inches from a screen, their hands doing things Montessori surely did not imagine.”

After interviewing various experts, researchers and psychologists — and conducting informal experiments with her own toddler — Rosin ends up echoing the beliefs of Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who directs the Center on Media and Child Health. As quoted in this 2010 New York Times article, he says “with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, ‘like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.'”

In other words, stop setting time limits and stressing out, and just let them touch, tap and swipe away. But then, some say toddler iPad addiction is a very real thing, while studies are suggesting that too much tech time can lead to behavioral and relationship problems.

The debate goes on, even at The Atlantic. This month’s issue revived the roundtable via an interview with longtime tech executive Linda Stone. In “The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World,” she claims that tech overload can lead to a condition that is “worse than autism”, a lack of empathy, and even “a kind of sociopathy and psychopathy.”

But the app-happy parents and entrepreneurs at Rosin’s conference whimsically quote Montessori (“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”) and emphasize their wares’ educational potential. After all, whether they are tracing a “C” on a screen, in the dirt, or on sandpaper, the end result is the same.

Others assert that technology is essentially and fundamentally Montessorian, in that it allows the individual to learn at his or her own pace, unimpeded. The world’s knowledge is, after all, at your fingertips, and the tablet is a powerful, interactive tool that arguably has its place on Montessori shelves as well as in the home. Everyone from the 2013 Ted Talk winner to forward-thinking educators agree that we need to integrate technology to prepare students for the future, as well as to empower and equip them in new, never-before-seen ways.

Somewhere there is an ideal balance to be found between hands-on, person-to-person learning, time spent playing outdoors, and Toca Tea Party. It’s up to us as parents and educators to find it.

What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.