The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, December 21, 2009

Can Videogames Teach Kids?

 Here's a good, short article from Parade Magazine on how schools are using videogames for education. Not surprisingly, there are many creative applications of games, and these seem like a huge step up from the traditional way students are taught.

Games are especially wonderful for creating whole worlds in which people can learn, i.e. how to navigate, strategize, learn finance, see photos of far-off places - heck, I can't begin to summarize the numbers of things you can learn through games.

But young children and adolescents - well, even adults - need sensory and physical experience to adequately develop their minds. Virtual reality just isn't the same.

Since students don't get a lot of sensory and physical experience in the way knowledge is taught in traditional schools, games may not be worse than all the paper-and-pencil learning, in this respect. But there are far better ways to convey knowledge through sensory-motor and real-world experiences, such as the materials and experiences used in the Montessori Method.

In fact, at our school, Council Oak Montessori, we're seeing so many children who hardly get to play outside anymore. Their parents are too busy or worried about danger. This deprives them of essential experiences with nature and physical reality.  What we do through the Montessori Method, then, is more important than ever.

Consequently, I'd like to see the use of games - but judiciously.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading and the Brain

"Information, Please: Our species ancestors didn't have to follow recipes or digest 'Catcher in the Rye.' So how did the brain learn to read?" from the Wall Street Journal reviews neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene's new book Reading in the Brain. Looks like an excellent read - I've ordered it already.

One element I liked: the research on reading tests the commonly-held view that the brain functions "modularly" with little interaction between different modules. That theory has always flown in the face of human experience but it hasn't stopped it's advocates, who seem to argue that the experience of wholeness is an "illusion."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Answer to Future Shock

John Davis sent me a link to this fascinating video on the exponential changes happening right now, due to technology. It can leave a person with the feeling: how can I keep up with all this change and information?

As usual, that genius, Maria Montessori, had the answer - decades ago:

"It is not the accumulation of a direct knowledge of things which forms
the man of letters, the scientist, and the connoisseur; it is the
prepared order established in the mind which is to receive such
knowledge. On the other hand, the uncultivated person has only the
direct knowledge of objects; such a person may be a lady who spends a
great part of the night reading books, or a gardener who spends his
life making material distinctions between the plants in his garden.

"The knowledge of such uncultured minds is not only disorderly, but it
is confined to the objects with which it comes into direct contact,
whereas the knowledge of the scientist is infinite, because,
possessing the power of classifying the attributes of things, he can
recognize them all, and determine now the class, now the
relationships, now the origins of each; facts much more profound than
the actual things could of themselves reveal." Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method, 1917

Hat tip to Rachel Davison for the Montessori quote

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Liberating Montessori Ideas on Social Skills

Maria Montessori's thinking and work presents some of the most liberating ideas about education to be found on the planet. 

Here's her answer to a question about how the set-up of her classrooms advances excellent social skills which prepare the child for a life of productive work, trade, collaboration, and individual expression. It's from the Association Montessori Internationale website, in the section under Montessori's articles and letters.
"This article was first published in the Call of Education Vol, 1. No. 1, 1924.

"If the children in a Montessori school work individually rather than collectively how will the be able to prepare themselves for social life?
"Social life does not consist of a group of individuals remaining close together, side by side, nor in their advancing en masse under the command of a captain like a regiment on the march, nor like an ordinary class of school children.

"The social life of man is founded upon work, harmoniously organised and upon social virtues - and these are the attitudes which develop to an exceptional degree amongst our children. Constancy in their work, patience when having to wait, the power of adapting themselves to the innumerable circumstances which present themselves in their daily contact with each other, reciprocal helpfulness and so on, are all exercises which represent a real and practical social life and which we see, for the first time, being organised amongst the children in a school. In fact, whereas schools used to be equipped only so as to accommodate children, seated passively side by side, who were expected to receive from the teacher (we might almost say in a parasitic manner), our schools, on the contrary, have an equipment which is adapted to all those forms of work which are necessary in an active and independent little community.

"The individual work in which the child is able to isolate himself and to concentrate, serves to perfect his individuality and the nearer man gets to perfection, the better is he able to associate harmoniously with others. A strong social movement cannot exist without prepared individuals, just as the members of an orchestra cannot play together harmoniously unless each individual has been thoroughly trained by repeated exercise when alone."

An advocate of individualism down to the root.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The War on Kids

My friend and Marketing Advisor, Don Hauptman, highly recommends this new documentary. He described it as: "a scathing attack on American education—on everything from curricula and teaching methodology to draconian security measures to psychotropic drugging that turns normal children into zombies."

Currently playing only at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village, you can see a trailer at their website. I'm planning to get the DVD!