School Blog

Expanding the Mathematical Mindset

Recent neuroscience research has shown that our brains are capable of growing and developing our entire life time. Furthermore, approaching the teaching of mathematics using a ”growth mindset” and embracing mistakes/struggles actually strengthens the synapses in the brain to learn more deeply. These are some of the cutting edge concepts being applied by researchers at Stanford University. Recently, Ms. Amy and Ms. Danna, FMS lead teachers of 4th – 6th grade, had the privilege of attending the training facilitated by Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University and co-founder of “You Cubed.”

What they learned is that many students feel limited in their abilities to grasp and perform mathematical functions when they rely on traditional tactics of memorization of facts and developing the ability to produce right answers in a timed manner.  The science shows that “many of our mathematical concepts are held in our visual and sensory motor memories.”(Journal of Applied Computational Mathematics: J. Boaler, L.Chen, C.Williams, M. Cordero) So by giving  greater emphasis on visual and physical mathematics, students are using more of their brains to actually grasp underlying math principles.  When it comes time to test their knowledge, students who have used this process have performed better than their peers relying on traditional teaching methods. We can actively stimulate the visual representation of math concepts such as graphing equations and using pictures to represent computations which takes nothing away from getting to the right answer, it simply expands the way math concepts are presented and then understood.

To further explore these concepts and see the research on this innovative approach to teaching and learning mathematics, we encourage you to visit the You Cubed website at

Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford and the first female mathematician to receive the Fields Medal (the Mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize), was a strong proponent of “doodling on large sheets of white paper, scribbling formulas on the periphery of her drawings.”

According to her colleagues, “Mirzakhani was able to conjure aspects of such spaces to consider, doodling on a white sheet of paper to try an idea, or remember one, or search for a new one; only later would she transcribe her adventures in the conventional symbols of mathematics.” “You don’t want to write down all the details,” she once told a journalist. “But the process of drawing something helps you somehow to stay connected.” Her Ph.D. thesis began with counting simple loops on surfaces and led to a calculation of the total volume of moduli spaces. This allowed the young scholar to publish three separate papers in top mathematical journals, one of which contained a surprising new proof of the famous “Witten conjecture,” a milestone in theoretical physics connecting mathematics and quantum gravity. Mirzakhani’s mathematics is treasured for its great creative leaps, for the connections it has revealed between distant fields, for its sense of grandeur. (New York Times Magazine)

As we go further into the technological age and the era of information, it will become more relevant for workers of the future to be able to absorb and analyze large amounts of data, and to be able to see relevant patterns of usable information. FMS students will have the benefit of understanding Mathematical concepts more deeply by using visual tools, and to potentially explore some of the hidden complexities that Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani did.

Gardening at Foothills Montessori

Over the years, FMS has had many green thumbs planting flowers, herbs, and plants on campus including the greenhouse. Ms Val manages in the primary outdoor classroom.  Last year, there was a concerted effort, led by Ms. Kerri(E6), to partner with Green Our Planet and create a sustainable gardening program.  The fruits of her labor are coming to fruition as we see the plants thriving in the new brick planters located in the campus courtyard.  Every classroom is represented on the gardening committee and exciting results are starting to bloom.

There are essentially four areas on campus that are dedicated to growing plants: the center courtyard, the east side behind the lower elementary classrooms, the green house in the primary outdoor classroom, and the pollinator garden found outside E6 (upper elementary) on the west side.  Each area has its purpose and the students, teachers, and parent volunteers are involved with the maintenance and growth of the areas. In addition, primary classes are focused on creating a sensory garden with plants which feel, taste and smell amazing. We are even considering starting a seed library.

As stated by the committee, The FMS garden is a learning garden. Maria Montessori observed, “When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” Our garden encourages students to experience the natural world, gain insight into how all living things work together, demonstrate respect, adopt peaceful practices and develop an awareness of personal responsibility for contributing in a positive way to the world. Teachers and staff utilize the garden to facilitate outdoor learning across all domains and school subjects, and to nurture self-reflection, mindfulness, and family engagement. Garden lessons increase opportunities for outdoor learning, support healthy eating, and inspire students to protect, conserve and improve the natural environment around the world. “Education is not something which a teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.” (Maria Montessori)

As the garden grows, elementary students will participate in professional chef demonstrations using produce from our harvest. Also, be on the lookout for notification of upcoming farmers’ markets where students will be selling items from the garden.

Ambassador Leaders

Ambassador Leaders

Leadership is a complex and useful skill that may lay dormant in a young person until they are actually called upon to use it. This summer, six FMS middle school students were invited to attend a week-long leadership training program sponsored by the Ambassador Leaders program.  Some of our students attended the training at Harvard Law School and others went to UCLA.  Each student was nominated by their teachers and then submitted an application to be chosen to attend the training.

Their week was filled with seminars on team building, communications, and learning how to identify their own leadership styles. Successful business people presented during the week modeling many of the leadership traits the students had learned about.  Our students were challenged with creating a community service project and figuring out its motto, purpose, and a strategy for implementing the idea.  Some of our students came up with an idea focused on water; preserving it and providing clean water supplies to communities which they called “One Drop.”

When asked, “What did you learn about yourself through this experience?” One student commented that the experience “opened her up,” another had to “step out of her comfort zone and engage in conversations with people she had just met.”  A student also commented that his group had to speak about their community project idea in front of an audience of over 100 people, and he was “pleased with his performance.”  The experience certainly provided opportunities for students to become more confident in public speaking and collaborating with peers.