Montessori and social media
: Challenges and treasures for a new age of learning


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How quiet it was, not using the internet, not having e-mail, not hearing my smartphone alerts when messages arrive. I am 34 years old and I am part of the pre-internet past. The first text on a computer written at the end of secondary school, my first e-mail sent when I was a student at the university of Nijmegen. And although I do sometimes miss that ‘quiet’ life, I remember my excitement about having e-mail: this will bring me closer to my foreign friends, closer to the world. The internet will enrich my life!

Learn and teach using social media

The internet has enriched my life and still does. Social media have enriched my life and I have just begun experimenting embedding them in teaching. This I know: personally I can easily reach out to my foreign friends and make it easier for me to be a global citizen.

Professionally it enriches my learning and teaching. For example, I continuously learn by using Twitter and MontessoriNet, following edubloggers and teachers, reading blogs and articles, participate in online discussions and sharing my ideas and using others’ to develop lessons. I am currently exploring the use of social media in class and I learn through experimenting and consulting the children, asking them feedback. My motto is: a good teacher is critical, reflects, learns every day and always tries to take childrens’ opinions into account. I am proud to be a Montessori teacher. A Montessori teacher should never stop learning, since we have to follow the child. That unique child, that tells us what it needs to develop and grow.

The role of a Montessori teacher is that of an observer whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops. Lynn Lawrence, executive director of the Association Montessori Internationale, emphasizes the child as an active learner, exploring until understanding:

“I am able, I am the actor, not the object. Children rely on us to take obstacles away and not be obstacles. The child is a builder of himself and a builder of its better and brighter future. The child is a teacher, the adult is the supporter, the guide. We have to unlock the thirst for learning, to give them the tools. The child earns freedom by showing ability to be in control. Both children and adults need to learn the art of the possible.”

Social media are amongst the tools that can be used both by the child for co-operative and individual learning and by the teacher to learn, share, teach and engage.

Montessori education, global citizenship and 21st Century Skills

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was a pioneer 100 years ago and she would have fitted well in our 21st modern society. Maria Montessori was globally active. She travelled the world to train Montessori trainers, to give lectures, to observe children, to help people (help themselves). Global citizenship is important in Montessori education. Oxfam explains global citizenship:

“It aims to empower pupils to lead their own action. Along with the knowledge and values that they have gained from learning about global issues, pupils need to be equipped with the necessary skills to give them the ability and confidence to be pro-active in making a positive difference in the world.”

Global citizens need 21st Century Skills

The world has changed so fast the last few decades and we do not know what our future will look like, what jobs we’ll have, if our environment can handle the changes. Now, more than ever, we have to take more care of our world and each other by collaborating: with family and friends, at school, at work, local, national and global. This means being able to communicate well, being respectful, feeling responsible, being open to learn from others and being a critical learner.

Social media makes it easier for people to become and be a global citizen. The internet helps us understand the workings of the world. It helps us learning about other countries, other cultures, other beliefs. It helps us understanding other people, which leads to respect and value this diversity. The internet also helps us communicating with people all over the world, without travelling. We can help others, without actually being physically present. Help others help themselves, one of the main Montessori motto’s, has become easier through internet. Together with e-mail, social media such as Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp make communicating at a distance perfectly possible. Maria Montessori would have loved social media and she would have made use of them, to help even more people and learn about the world. But she would have still travelled lots. Because communicating face-to-face would still be her favourite way of getting in touch with other people.

When one looks at the 21st Century Skills one can conclude that Maria Montessori was aware of most of them already 100 years ago. She was a pioneer and her pedagogy and materials fit the skills children need today. Communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and information literacy, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility: it’s all present in Montessori education. Montessori ‘Madman’ Trevor Eissler made the needs of the 21st century child clear in his video Montessori Madness (2011). In this fast-drawn video he rightfully criticizes school systems that treat children not as individuals, but as one group. He criticizes learning when it’s all about preparing for tests instead of developing as a human being.

The one area that Maria could not have imagined 100 years ago are the skills needed for media literacy and technology literacy. No one could have predicted the immense changes in life and the riches that the internet and all new information technology has brought us. 
Barbara Nesbitt made a video about 21st Century Learning, already in 2007, in which the children of the 21st century cry for engagement. Nesbitt wanted to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills. In my opinion, teachers nowadays are obliged to use technology in their teaching and encourage children to do so.

Montessori principles and media literacy

One of the main principles is a well-prepared environment. This means a mixed age-group, a trained teacher and materials. Materials nowadays have to include computers, laptops, tablets and preferably smartphones to complete the prepared environment. They are essential tools for learning and working in the 21st century. As pointed out before, Maria Montessori would have loved social media. She would have embraced the possibilities that we have today and see ways for social media enriching our Montessori teaching and learning. But she would also stress the need for guidance of the child, so as not to get lost in the jungle of (social) media.

A Montessori classroom offers many choices of work. Children learn to choose what they need to learn, what they want to know. To be able to make most of this, they need to be in self-control, to be self-disciplined, to be in control of their actions and to make positive choices that actually help them develop themselves, whether it comes to cognitive or social skills.
The internet on its own is a challenge for people, let alone children. The choices you have on the internet are endless. One has to know what they want, what they seek, to be able to find the way and not get digitally lost. Montessori children who are self-controlled should be able to cope on the internet, with the guidance of a teacher to teach them the needed skills. 
When it comes to personal behavior, social media forms an extra challenge: what do I use, why do I use it, whom do I want to communicate with, what and how do I communicate, what language do I use, how do I want to be seen on the internet, will I have different profiles, will I be me or supposedly someone else? Montessori children that are in self-control should be able to make positive, sensible choices when it comes to social media and profiling.

Throughout the four planes of development, the child and young adult continuously seek to become more independent. It is as if the child says: Help me to help myself. (Social) media in their turn, can help the child help himself. Throughout the planes the child and young adult also seek to be more socially engaged. Social media are a perfect means to increase social engagement.

Educational software and apps

intro-to-letters-montessorium

Letters app by Montessorium

The young child (0-6) – the sensorial explorer – has a sensitive period for learning through using physical materials such as the golden beads. However, young children are also already sensitive for ICT-learning and the tablet is an intuitive tool as the fingers can directly touch the screen. Montessorium has taken to develop Montessori apps. My view is physical Montessori materials should be used and known first, before a child can practice further and apply his knowledge using the corresponding app. Good educational software and apps give children the opportunity for repetitive activity, an important aspect of learning during a sensitive period.

The older child (6-12) – the conceptual explorer – can still use these materials, but they develop powers of abstraction and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further. The use of internet and learning through software (e.g. applying mathematical strategies learned through Montessori materials) is a logical step. Good educational software and apps give children the possibility to challenge themselves and try more difficult levels. This is what the Montessori materials are also about: they are specifically designed for auto-education and contain the control-of-error. Good educational software, games and apps also include a control of error and / or immediate feedback for the child. This helps the child help himself, learn from its mistakes and continue on an appropriate level, preferrably calculated by the software (learning analytics). Needless to say, there should always be a teacher present to help and guide when asked and intervene when one observes gaps in learning.

Co-operative learning through social media

Then we have the humanistic explorer (12-18) seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute to it. Seeking their place in school, in society and even in the world, will be inevidently done through the use of social media such as Facebook. When it comes to learning, children use Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube to retrieve information and / or share materials. A school can use social media and/or develop a virtual learning community.

Finally the young adults (18-24) – the specialized explorers – seek to contribute through universal dialogue and now even more the internet and the use of social media are necessary means to contribute as a global citizen. They can discuss on forums, communicate through Twitter and use Skype to easily get in touch with people all over the world.

Using social media: challenges for teachers

It is a relatively new area for teachers to use social media in school. It is a challenge, but a necessary one. Because children today are using social media and they take an important part in their life and learning. And we have to be curious and learn as to understand and follow the child. We need to have faith in this child, just as we have to have faith in ourselves. Explore the treasures of social media and take small steps. Take them together with the ‘experts’: the experienced children that can help you to help yourself!

Montessori teachers can teach help children help themselves by flipping-the-classroom. Recording short lessons and sharing them through a website or QR-codes in the classroom. The teacher can set an example and start a Twitter account for the class through which children become more globally engaged. Both teacher and children can decide on who to follow and try and get in touch with people they would like to interview for projects or with other schools in other countries.

A wonderful and easy way to work together online, is Padlet. With Padlet one can create interactive walls to share. Thus, a child doing research on Nelson Mandela for example, could create a wall, share this and ask others to help sharing information. Children, parents and teachers can put comments, links and photo’s on the wall. A teacher could also create walls himself to introduce a cosmic educational theme, to activate prior knowledge or to share interesting links with the children. Even in the youngest elementary age-groups Padlet can be used very well. The teacher can use a wall to invite children to type words for a spelling category or can ask parents to help their children sharing information and photo’s, for example about holiday experiences or help children type their own words and messages.

When it comes to global citizenship, it would be wonderful to have your class get in touch with a foreign class, through e-mail, Twitter, Skype or Padlet. Sharing information about each other’s lives, about each other’s school and ways of learning and even work on a project together.

The 21st century child is a curious child. Offer him the knowledge, skills and tools it needs nowadays. As Lynne Lawrence points out: Our work is to recognize this curiosity and to fan the flame. Curiosity will then turn into passion, which will lead to lifelong love for learning. And that is what it is all about. A lifelong love for learning can turn any child into a loving, social, respectful, responsible, global citizen and this is what our 21st century world needs.

It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know – Lynn Lawrence

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