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Published Wednesday, December 12 , 2013

Someone taught Steve Jobs how to use a hammer

How do we nurture the next Steve Jobs?

Wired Magazine ran an article in its November issue titled “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses” that made a case for less instruction at schools and more individual discovery on the part of children.

This from the piece:

A new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

The following is a response to the article by Ellen Galinsky, author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” and president of Families and Work Institute.

Steve Jobs’ father gave him a hammer, but he also showed him how to use it properly.

Jobs remembered being impressed by his father’s focus on craftsmanship. “I thought my dad’s sense of design was pretty good,” he said, “because he knew how to build anything. If we needed a cabinet, he would build it. When he built our fence, he gave me a hammer so I could work with him.”

– “Steve Jobs,” by Walter Iaacson.

Debating whether it’s better to let children discover knowledge or teach them directly is the wrong debate to have. I come to this conclusion based on many years researching how children learn best. Indeed, children need to discover and they learn best when they are engaged in their own discovery. As MIT’s Laura Schulz has found in her research, explicit instruction can restrain exploration and discovery.

Children, however, don’t retain what they learned as well unless adults are there to help them build, analyze and synthesize their knowledge.

It should not be an either or. A universal principle among people who study how children learn best and how they apply what they learn to new situations is that children need adults or others to extend their knowledge. For example, David Klahr and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon found that if children were just allowed to experiment on their own they could not pull out principles they needed to learn how to evaluate a good scientific experiment.

That said, even facilitated learning needs to be engaging and motivate children to discovery, not just cram knowledge, or rote learning, down their throats. Likewise, discovery without explanation can leave children floundering or drawing incorrect conclusions.

It’s all about the how – how we encourage children to make discoveries and how we provide information.

This is a debate that’s gone on forever. It’s time to end it.


Published Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2012 6:01AM EDT

The Globe and Mail

The Creativity Gap

Maria Montessori: guru for a new generation of business innovators

By James Martin

Earlier this month, Google announced a new “multitask mode” for its Chrome browser, allowing people to increase productivity by using a mouse in each hand, at the same time. It was, of course, just one of the Internet giant’s many April Fool’s Day jokes. But the germ of the gag – “While browsing, you’re only using 50 per cent of your hands,” deadpanned a designer in a video tutorial – is just a hair away from being a viable idea and, as such, it gets at the heart of Google’s philosophy of innovation: Constantly question everything.

From the outside, Google seems like a study in contradiction: Playful inquisitiveness and a $205-billion market cap don’t go together. Except, for Google, they do. In fact, the one may actually drive the other.

“You can’t understand Google,” Marissa Mayer, now Google’s vice-president of location and local services, told Newsweek, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.”

“Larry and Sergey” are Mr. Page and Mr. Brin, the co-founders of Google, and Montessori refers to the unconventional education system that the Italian physician Dr. Maria Montessori developed in the early 1900s.

Dr. Montessori believed that children have an inherent, “spontaneous” interest in learning (and self-discipline), and that this spirit should be cultivated, rather than stifled through rote instruction of what she called mere “mechanical skill.” The key to this development: Freedom. In her classrooms, children were encouraged to freely explore their learning environments. Teachers were more supervisors than lecturers, offering gentle guidance as children chose what they wanted to work on, for how long, and even where.

Stationary desks were, in Dr. Montessori’s words, proof that “the principle of slavery still pervades pedagogy.” What started in 1907 with a classroom of 50 kids in a low-income Rome neighbourhood has grown into thousands of certified schools worldwide.

When Google went public in 2004, Mr. Page told Barbara Walters that he credited his Montessori training “of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated and questioning what’s going on in the world” with his ability to do “things a little bit different.” But what’s good for the Googleplex (not to mention Amazon or Wikipedia – founders Jeff Bezos and Jimmy Wales are also Montessori grads) may be beneficial to any business looking to think creatively and drive innovation.

“Questioning tradition and always asking ‘Why?’ are essential aspects of who I am and what I do, at all levels,” says Doug Hrvoic, the president and technology director of Marine Magnetics Corp., a 40-person Ontario business that designs and builds sensitive magnetic sensors for resource exploration and other underwater activities. He attended the Toronto Montessori Schools from age 3 through to the end of Grade Two.

Mr. Hrvoic, who holds a BASc in Engineering from the University of Toronto, founded his company in 1998 because he saw “a standstill in innovation” in the design of instruments built for use at-sea. One example was the area of pressure housing failure, which, when undetected, causes water to enter – and destroy – sensitive internal electronics. “I didn’t like that it was so easy to catastrophically lose your tool like that,” recalls Mr. Hrvoic. So he came up with a printed circuit board and a simple on-off circuit. The tiniest bit of water causes a short circuit, which sends an early warning signal to the operator. “It costs next to nothing to implement, but it’s amazing how many people it’s saved from going down at sea—including myself on one occasion when I was doing some work with a customer.”

He says, “One could say that Montessori laid the foundation for encouraging that kind of thought.”

Computer scientist, and fellow Montessori alumni, Carlo Consoli also believes his education has helps him think creatively in the workplace. Until the age of 10, Mr. Consoli attended Rome’s Montessori Viale Spartaco, led by Flaminia Guidi, one of Maria Montessori’s own protégés. Today, the 42-year-old Mr. Consoli is a senior consultant at IBM Global Business Services in Rome, where he’s won a slew of awards for his innovative work – successes that he readily credits to Montessori.

“Being a Montessori child is a gift for life,” Mr. Consoli says. “It’s paid back a lot in terms of quality of my job.”

He has vivid memories of starting each school day in front of shelves filled educational materials, such as a “Great Division,” a wooden board with pegs that children use to explore arithmetic, and feeling exhilarated at being free to follow his curiosity.

“Children tend to learn. They’re not lazy,” Mr. Consoli says, echoing Dr. Montessori’s core belief. “Today at work, I still have that get-your-job-from-the-shelf-and-have-fun-with-it attitude. When I start a new project, there’s that same period of choosing the material and feeling free to explore new pathways, and interrelating the materials as it occurs to me. As a result, I often end up suggesting a correlation that others missed.”

Mr. Consoli recalls being brought on to fix an “extremely defective” software package that had been vexing teams of programmers for several years. Due to the software’s functional complexities, the traditional “brute force” approach of line-by-line fixes was proving to be an ineffective, and perhaps infinite, time suck. Mr. Consoli put his Montessori mind to work, connecting the dots between this problem and a seemingly unrelated artificial intelligence project. His resulting methodology, which prioritizes test executions based on statistical modelling, allowed programmers to fix 90 per cent of the defects by running only 10 per cent of the tests – a time-saving innovation that’s since been integrated into IBM’s daily practices.

It’s not just Montessori grads who see the method’s value to the business world.

When Vancouver entrepreneur Michael Gokturk, now 36, was working at VersaPay, a company he founded in 2005 and took public in 2010, he began to talk to colleagues who had children in Montessori schools. Impressed by the kids’ independence and creative thinking, and intrigued by how these characteristics were being shaped, he began to study Montessori methods “to see if they could be applied to the workplace.”

Mr. Gokturk left Versapay in 2010 to found Payfirma Corp., which provides payment processing services to e-businesses. For his second crack at building a company from the ground up, he decided to put some Montessori ideas into action.

“Rather than interfering, micromanaging and putting boundaries on colleagues,” he says, “I prefer to hire the best people with the best attitudes towards personal growth and allow them to mould themselves into the roles and responsibilities they enjoy the most.” Mr. Gokturk does hire people for specific positions, but in lieu of a formal training process, all new employees, from sales to tech support, are set free “to play with our systems and discover things on their own through intuitive use. And we encourage criticism and identification of weaknesses they see and their recommendations on how to address, improve and fix.”

Sound like anarchy? Mr. Gokturk thinks otherwise. He cites Payfirma’s mobile payment app, which allows merchants to swipe customer payments on their iPads and BlackBerrys, as “a direct result of giving our people free rein on how to make our app the best of the best. Everyone in the company, regardless of their position, was given opportunity to help build and design the user interface, and to improve the user experience.”

The company has already grown from two to 40 employees, with revenue creeping up on $2-million, and its quick growth recently landed Mr. Gokturk on Business in Vancouver magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40” list.

“Like children,” he says, “professionals need to be able to guide their own learning and development based on their innate and instinctual needs – not those imposed by others who don’t know what moves them as individuals seeking purpose.”

Article reprinted without permission.


Posted: 01/27/2012 4:36 pm

Huffington Post

Montessori: The Missing Voice in the Education Reform Debate

By Laura Flores Shaw

Over a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered through scientific observations of children that they are not empty vessels to be filled — they are intrinsically motivated doers. She saw that providing a hands-on learning environment that valued choice, concentration, collaboration, community, curiosity, and real-world application produced lifelong learners who viewed “work” as something interesting
and fulfilling instead of drudgery to be avoided. Now, research in psychology and neuroscience continually validates Dr. Montessori’s conclusions about children and learning, and Montessori schools are flourishing — not just preschools but, increasingly, elementary, middle and secondary schools. So as the education reform debate thunders on, with the many sides agreeing on little beyond the fact that our schools as they are currently designed are failing our children, I can’t help but wonder: Where is the voice of the Montessori movement in the American school reform conversation?

I first learned about Dr. Maria Montessori’s approach to human development while in graduate school to become a therapist. At that time, I was struck by the similarities between some of Montessori’s tenets and the theories and practices of therapeutic intervention for children. Choice, a key Montessori tenet, is at the heart of child therapy. Children’s emotional, social, and academic development improve when they are empowered through choice. At the same time, children, according to the psychological literature, need to have appropriate boundaries and limits to feel safe and secure. Montessori’s “freedom with discipline” (where “discipline means “to teach”) for children ages 3-6 and “freedom with responsibility” for children ages 6 and up align with this literature.

My passion for Montessori, however, really ignited while I was interning as a school therapist in a suburban public school district. Taking students out of a classroom where they had very little choice and bringing them into a small office where I empowered them with choices seemed counterproductive, a short-term fix. That’s when I realized I no longer wanted to provide interventions for children experiencing social, emotional, and behavioral issues. Instead, I wanted to be involved in the prevention of such issues. That, I knew, was happening in Montessori environments. So, I changed career course and became the Head of School at a growing accredited Montessori school for children ages 18 months to (soon to be) 15 years old.

Over the past five years, I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and effective the Montessori method is with children of varying temperaments and from varying backgrounds. I’ve seen children with severe developmental delays improve significantly because of how Montessori teachers are trained to interact with their students. And I’ve seen elementary-aged children from conventional schools who abhor learning have their love of learning reignited in a Montessori classroom.

Why is Montessori so effective? We know there is an indisputable link between movement and cognition, with the former actually enhancing the latter. We know that people of all ages need to feel a sense of control over their lives and that lack of control leads to depression and learned helplessness, which inhibits learning. We know from a huge body of research that extrinsic rewards and punishments don’t work and can actually adversely affect intrinsic motivation. Research tells us all of these things, yet students at conventional schools are still confined to their desks, with rigidly scheduled days, receiving grades for every aspect of their learning and behavior. Is it any wonder that the public school district needs therapists?

In contrast, students in a Montessori classroom are free to move about the room and are provided varying types of work spaces — tables, floor mats, and low-lying tables called “chowkies.” They’re given large blocks of time — generally around three hours — in which they choose their work and participate in one-on-one presentations (at the preschool level) or small group lessons (in elementary). There are no grades or tests. Instead, assessments are occurring daily through the teachers’ keen observations of the children. (The children are taught how to test themselves or each other so they can know if they’ve really mastered something, such as math facts. There are some things that do need to be memorized!) Ultimately, it is expected that the children will use their time in a productive way, balancing their subjects and being responsible for their learning, and what we see daily in our classrooms is that they are. At the end of each semester, teachers provide each student and his or her parents with an overview of the student’s progress, pointing out areas that need improvement.

Education reformers these days cast their nets far and wide to try to find a solution to the current malaise in our schools. They look to Finland, or to digital learning models. Why is Montessori
ignored? At a recent Los Angeles public school district teachers meeting where school reform was discussed, one teacher asked, “Have we ever considered Montessori? My sister is a Montessori teacher, and it seems to work really well for kids.” His question, another teacher told me, was dismissed.

Maybe it’s because people are simply most comfortable with the familiar. Maybe it’s because many mistakenly think Montessori education is a model only suitable for preschool-age or privileged
children. I’m convinced, however, that the greatest impediment to Montessori entering this conversation is that there are so many special interests — from textbook and test publishers to educational entrepreneurs — who profit from the system as is.

I can tell you that the solutions we are all looking for are both simpler and more radical than the noisy debaters would have you believe. We need to do more than reform education. We need to transform it.

We need to talk about Montessori.

Article reprinted without permission.


Press release announcing the selection of Nancy Errichetti as Head of School.

The Montessori School of Raleigh Appoints New Head of School

The Montessori School of Raleigh selects Nancy Errichetti as its new leader.

RALEIGH, NC – March 5, 2012. The Board of Directors of The Montessori School of Raleigh (“MSR”) is pleased to announce that they have selected Nancy Errichetti as MSR’s new Head of School. Ms. Errichetti will formally begin her duties July 1, 2012. MSR has been providing families in the Triangle with authentic Montessori education for more than 35 years. With campuses in North Raleigh and the Brier Creek area, the school provides preschool through ninth grade education to approximately 400 students.

“We are delighted that Nancy has accepted our invitation to guide MSR in its continuing mission to be a leader in Montessori educational excellence,” said Search Committee Head Kurt Arehart. “I could not be happier to be able to place our wonderful school in her capable hands.” Ms. Errichetti said, “I look forward to working closely with our Board of Trustees, our Interim Head of School Phil Hadley, and our faculty and administration to participate in a smooth and seamless transition. I am committed to continuing the school’s strong Montessori program. For me, there is no higher purpose than serving our young learners and helping to prepare them for their future.”

Ms. Errichetti joins MSR with over 23 years of experience in law, business, non-profit and independent school administration. Nancy spent the last eight years working in three independent schools around the country. In her school administration roles, she has been deeply involved in development work, strategic planning, construction and renovation of a campus, facilitation of faculty and staff professional development, board training and internal/external marketing efforts.

“I am excited about the opportunities we have to build on the rich history of MSR and Montessori education. Our students are self-directed learners who are creative and critical thinkers and I am thrilled to share the exciting work we are doing with the Raleigh community,” said Errichetti. “For example, this May we are hosting best-selling author Daniel Pink to speak about his book, A Whole New Mind. Dan’s book emphasizes the importance of preparing students, in new ways, to become the critical, creative and conceptual thinkers who will succeed in our increasingly integrated and technological world. It is exactly that kind of thinking and preparation that the Montessori method and MSR provide by design every day.”

Ms. Errichetti earned her undergraduate degree in History and English from the University of Richmond and her Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School. She is currently serving as the Director of Development and Alumni Affairs at The Montessori School of Raleigh and previously served as Director of Development at The Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, CA.

MSR Board Chair BJ Stolz states, “Anyone who spends time working with Nancy learns quickly that she is an incredibly talented individual with natural leadership ability and tremendous drive. She will be an outstanding Head of School.”

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The following article is from the Raleigh Midtown News section of The News & Observer

Wednesday, Apr. 06, 2011

Montessori bake sale helps Japan

Raleigh school’s event nets $1,300 for earthquake victims

BY CARLA TURCHETTI – Correspondent

One batch of sugar cookies on the bake sale table at The Montessori School of Raleigh stood out from the rest because of the simple message baked on top of each one – Help Japan.

Monday’s sale was part of a nationwide fundraising effort known as Bake Sale for Japan that encouraged businesses and organizations to host charitable bake sales. By the end of the school day Monday, the sale raised $1,300.

Proceeds from the sale, and the other bake sales across the country, will be donated to Peace Winds Japan, a humanitarian group that is providing services and supplies to survivors of last month’s earthquake.

Dylan Pham, 9, middle, mans a table at the Montessori School of Raleigh\’s bake sale to help Japan.

The Montessori table was piled high with brownies, pies, breads, cupcakes and cookies that were baked and donated by school families.

Students helped to make the promotional signs and took turns at the cashbox. “Business is good,” said Dylan Pham, 9.

The sweets weren’t marked with prices. Customers simply made donations. Talk around the table was that one plate of brownies went for $40. Parent volunteer Felice Bogus noted that people had been generous with donations of cash and baked goods. “It’s the ethos of Montessori,” Bogus said. “We’re part of the community and need to give back to the community.”

School administrators say that community is larger than just Raleigh. “We want to build global citizens,” said David Hughens, the school’s director of communications. “That’s why we don’t just do things locally, we do things internationally.”

Veda Bynum, a teacher at MSR, said the bake sale is an extension of what students learn in her class. “We are always talking to the kids about the fundamental needs of human beings,” Bynum said. “They learn that shelter is something people need to survive; it’s not a want, like a Nintendo.”

Article reprinted without permission.


The following video clip was taken from the Today Show appearance by our very own Margalit Mermelstein


The following article appeared in The Wall Street Journal

April 5, 2011, 10:57 AM ET

Montessori Mafia

By Peter Sims

Montessori learners – Image by Getty

It may seem like a laughable “only in New York” story that Manhattan mother, Nicole Imprescia, is suing her 4-year-old daughter’s untraditional private preschool for failing to prepare her for a private school admissions exam.

But her daughter’s future and ours might be much brighter with a little less conditioning to perform well on tests and more encouragement to discover as they teach in Montessori schools. Ironically, the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs.

Is there something going on here? Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?

After all, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were famous life-long tinkerers, who discovered new ways of doing things by constantly improvising, experimenting, failing, and retesting. Above all they were voraciously inquisitive learners.

The Montessori learning method, founded by Maria Montessori, emphasizes a collaborative environment without grades or tests, multi-aged classrooms, as well as self-directed learning and discovery for long blocks of time, primarily for young children ages 2 1/2 to 7.

The Montessori Mafia showed up in an extensive, six-year study about the way creative business executives think. Professors Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of globe-spanning business school INSEAD surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products.

“A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity,” Mr. Gregersen said. “To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different).”

When Barbara Walters, who interviewed Google founders Messrs. Page and Brin in 2004, asked if having parents who were college professors was a major factor behind their success, they instead credited their early Montessori education. “We both went to Montessori school,” Mr. Page said, “and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”

Will Wright, inventor of bestselling “The Sims” videogame series, heaps similar praise. “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery,” Mr. Wright said, “It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori…”

Meanwhile, according to Jeff Bezos’s mother, young Jeff would get so engrossed in his activities as a Montessori preschooler that his teachers would literally have to pick him up out of his chair to go to the next task. “I’ve always felt that there’s a certain kind of important pioneering that goes on from an inventor like Thomas Edison,” Mr. Bezos has said, and that discovery mentality is precisely the environment that Montessori seeks to create.

Neuroscience author Jonah Lehrer cites a 2006 study published in Science that compared the educational achievement performance of low-income Milwaukee children who attended Montessori schools versus children who attended a variety of other preschools, as determined by a lottery.

By the end of kindergarten, among 5-year-olds, “Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary school in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children,” according to the researchers. “They also tested better on “executive function,” the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future school and life success.”

Of course, Montessori methods go against the grain of traditional educational methods. We are given very little opportunity, for instance, to perform our own, original experiments, and there is also little or no margin for failure or mistakes. We are judged primarily on getting answers right. There is much less emphasis on developing our creative thinking abilities, our abilities to let our minds run imaginatively and to discover things on our own.

But most highly creative achievers don’t begin with brilliant ideas, they discover them.

Google, for instance, didn’t begin as a brilliant vision, but as a project to improve library searches, followed by a series of small discoveries that unlocked a revolutionary business model. Larry Page and Sergei Brin didn’t begin with an ingenious idea. But they certainly discovered one.

Similarly, Amazon’s culture breathes experimentation and discovery. Mr. Bezos often compares Amazon’s strategy of developing ideas in new markets to “planting seeds” or “going down blind alleys.” Amazon’s executives learn and uncover opportunities as they go. Many efforts turn out to be dead ends, Mr. Bezos has said, “But every once in a while, you go down an alley and it opens up into this huge, broad avenue.”

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Montessori alumni lead two of the world’s most innovative companies. Or perhaps the Montessori Mafia of can provide lessons for us all even though it’s too late for most of us to attend Montessori.

We can change the way we’ve been trained to think. That begins in small, achievable ways, with increased experimentation and inquisitiveness. Those who work with Mr. Bezos, for example, find his ability to ask “why not?” or “what if?” as much as “why?” to be one of his most advantageous qualities. Questions are the new answers.

Peter Sims is the author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Article reprinted without permission.