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Archive for July 2011

Montessori Methods – Worth a (Re)Look

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The techniques developed by Maria Montessori are getting some press recently.  What is interesting is that Montessori methods cannot be more diametrically opposed to the current teacher-driven, standards-based, test-infused system that is common in many school environments throughout the globe.

The Harvard Business Review featured an article today, July 25, 2011, entitled Montessori Builds Innovators.

Shouldn’t we be paying a great deal of attention to the educational method that produced, among others, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Wales, Peter Drucker, Julia Child, David Blaine, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs? They were all students in Montessori schools. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Peter Sims, there’s a “Montessori Mafia” among the creative elite. So maybe there’s something to the method Italian physician Maria Montessori came up with around the turn of the 20th century.

. . . and from the Wall Street Journal article, Montessori Mafia.

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).”

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…”

. . . and yet for more evidence of the efficacy of Montessori Methods, Google Founders, Page and Brin, credit Montessori School for their success:

If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?
Maria Montessori

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm

An Educator’s Letter of Introduction

with 4 comments

I recently got hired by American InterContinental University to teach a new digital citizenship course for their Masters of Education program.  As is the norm for online universities, I am required to take an online training prior to teaching.  This training started this week and one of the first tasks is to create a letter of introduction, a letter to provide students at the beginning of the course.  I ended up really enjoying the process and was impressed with the guiding questions provided.   I think this is great exercise and artifact for educators to give to learners. What follows are the directions and questions provided by AIU along with the letter I developed.

Dearest Teacher

The Welcome Letter is one of the first things a student will see so it is important that a great Welcome Letter sets a positive tone for the class. The Welcome Letter provides personalization, relays enthusiasm for the program and the class, and gives advice to the student for how to be successful. Here are some guiding questions:

  • What makes you passionate about the work you do?
  • How long have you been teaching?
  • How long have you been in the work field in which you are credentialed to teach?
  • What are your proudest moments or inspirational accomplishments?
  • Who is the teacher behind the computer?
  • What helped you to be successful?
  • What is your advice for success for students in your class?
  • What do you hope for your students to accomplish by the end of the course, and/or for their futures based upon what they learned from the course?
  • How will you express your “open door” philosophy within the Welcome Letter?
  • What are some anecdotes or quotes you might include?

Here is the letter I composed for my learners:

Hello, I am excited to be spending this term with you!  This letter will provide you with some information about me, my background, my passion for education, my general philosophy for approaching my role as an educator, and recommendations for being successful in this learning environment.

My official name is Dr. Jaclyn Gerstein, but I invite you to call me Jackie.  My byline is, “I don’t do teaching for a living, I live teaching as my doing, and technology has AMPLIFIED the passion.”

I have been an educator for several decades.  I began in more informal learning environments through outdoor and environmental education. Then I moved into more formal settings such as psychiatric hospitals and schools.  I have a broad range of teaching experiences from Kindergarten through Graduate school within face-to-face, blended, and online teaching environments in public, private and charter schools.

Since I began my career in the area of outdoor education for at-risk youth, I obtained a doctorate in counseling focusing on group and experiential therapy for that population.  I have maintained my counseling credential (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in New Mexico), but went on to get my K-8 teaching certification and gifted education endorsement.  I moved from counseling to teaching children and pre-service/in-service teachers.  My motivation for this move came from my discovery that educators do a lot of counseling in their classrooms – often more than counselors.  It also fits with my belief that all good education begins with a positive relationship between the educator and the learner.

I feel extremely grateful to be in a profession where I get the opportunity to view human growth and learning.  There is no gift greater than to literally view light bulbs going off in learners’ eyes/brains and self-esteem grow.  I wrote about some of these key moments, which I call peak experiences, in my ePortfolio at

I take pride in my work as an educator due to my guiding values and principles:

  • I work towards creating learning environments that are engaging, authentic, and student-centered.
  • I approach education as a process of co-creation whereby the educator and learners work together to create the learning experiences.
  • I have a theory into practice model.  I assist learners in developing strategies, skills, and activities they can use in their own home and work situations.
  • I have a dream of helping develop an education system where all students can flourish, where their own passions are at the core of their own individualized and personalized education.

My expectations for students as they engage in class activities are based on my guiding principles and include: academic rigor; clear, well-composed and appropriate communication; personal connections to course content, and community involvement. Even though the expectations revolve around these high standards, a lot of support is provided through the readings, additional resources, detailed rubrics, and our community of learners.

  • Read over all of the course materials and resources.
  • Ask questions of and for assistance from both your co-learners and me.
  • Seek answers and resources using the Internet search engines and social networks like Twitter.
  • Share resources that you find with the rest of us.
  • Bring your own passions and interests into the course.
  • Use the rubric criteria to guide your assignments.
  • Use available resources to assist you.  For example, AIU has a great writing center.

I have a mastery of learning philosophy.  How this translates into you being a student in this course is that you have the option to revise and resubmit work that did not meet all of the assignment criteria.  The feedback you receive is based on the grading rubric and feedback you may receive from your classmates and me.  You may submit your work several times until it meets a level to which you are satisfied.

In closing, I am looking forward to our journey together as I believe we are all educators and learners in this adventure.  To quote the famous educational philosopher, John Dewey, “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

See you online,

Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 21, 2011 at 4:30 am

It really is about the technology and . . .

with 4 comments

It is not about the technology.

I have developed a sour taste for this common and almost automatic “battle cry” from the educational technology community.   If we view learning as a process that is integrated, holistic, and systemic, then of course it is about the technology . . .  and the pedagogy . . .  and the learners . . .  and the available resources . . . and the community.  It is not about one thing before the other, one thing over another.  It is about the whole picture.  It goes from being a reductionist view of technology integration to one that holistic, taking into account all the elements, and how they influence and are influenced by one another.

I am teaching an online Integrating Technology Into the Curriculum course for a Masters of Education fully online program.  This is the only technology course they have during their Masters work (and it is an elective).  It is an eight week course and one that has been designed by the university’s course designers.  Most of the students come into the course with knowledge of Microsoft products  – Word, Powerpoint, Spreadsheets and hardware such as overhead projectors (yes, they still reference this), DVDs, and Elmos.

Most of the students’ suggestions for integrating technology into their curriculum include examples using these tools they know.  Here are example recommendations from one of the “better” students  from his technology improvement plan:

Computers would make a nice addition to each classroom for use by students.  Software such as Microsoft should be installed on each computer so students can explore with Spreadsheets, word, and database.  In addition, with computers the school should install the internet on them so students may use it to search for topics of interests and study as well as thousands of other things.

They know their learners, their schools, their content areas, and only the technologies I described.  But most of their technology integration ideas pretty much contain these old school technologies.

I make suggestions about how to enhance their curriculum using more current technologies – Google docs and apps, social networking, Blogs, wikis, Skype, Twitter, TeacherTube – but few “take me up” on these offerings.   An emphasis here – they are Masters of Education students in an Educational Leadership program.

This fits with the cliché of “If all one knows is a hammer, then everything is viewed as a nail.”  The same tenet applies to educational technology integration, “If all the educator knows is Word and PPT, then all technology-integrated learning experiences will be viewed through the lens of a Powerpoint.”

The benefits of educators knowing a full range of emerging, educational-relevant technologies include:

  • Content and process can be presented to the learners using a variety of modalities – visual, auditory, interactive.  Use of multiple modalities has the potential to make the content more interesting and more relevant to a broad range of learners.
  • Instructional could be differentiated to meet each student’s needs.  The more tools an educator knows, the more likely s/he can offer the right technology to address that student’s learning style and interest areas.
  • Teachable Moments are enhanced. When learners bring up ideas or questions, the educator has a larger back pocket of options, knowledge of internet resources upon which to draw to address that teachable moment.

It then becomes the responsibility for educators to understand the current technologies being used by society-at-large.  What that means in actual practice is:

  • Keeping informed of how emerging technologies are being integrated into the educational landscape by other educators, librarians, instructional technology specialists, and administrators.  This is where social networks such of Twitter come in handy.
  • Getting to know and understand the tools through webinars often offered by the tool administrators/developers and online tutorials.
  • Understanding the user agreements and privacy issues associated with the tools being used by society-at-large.

If education is serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nurturing a Learner’s Sense of Wonder

with 4 comments

I started my work in education as an outdoor educator. I took elementary-aged kids on environmental education adventures and at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips.  When taking the at-risk students on backpacking trips in Maine, some of my favorite moments came when we came over a knoll to an outlook that appeared to have a view of the whole state of Maine.  Due to numerous trips to this location, I knew what was coming after our long day hiking through the dense woods.   The kids did not.  I would rush ahead so I could see their faces as they approached this magnificent view.  It never failed. I watched their faces turn from the look related to the strenuous climb to that of pure joy and amazement at the view.  These “too-cool” teens’ lit-up faces and cries of “wow’ reminded me of the same reactions I saw in the younger kids as they explored the nature world during our hikes.

A sense of wonder is characterized by full engagement, flow, being present in the moment, and a high “wow” factor.  Rachel Carson stated in A Sense of Wonder:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

I am proposing, then, that a primary role of the educator – of all ages – is to tap into, nurture, nourish, and celebrate each learner’s sense of wonder.

Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school (Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education).

Specific Examples of Bringing a Sense of Wonder Into the Classroom

What follows are a few activities to learn about students’ areas of wonder.  Included are both hands-on and technology-enhanced learning activities.

Four Quad Poster

Learners are asked to paint a piece of plywood, cut about 12″ x 12″, that addresses the following.

This activity has been used with Kindergarten through Master’s degree students. Painting was chosen as the medium to activate a different frame of mind (part of the brain) for answering these questions – possibly tapping into thoughts, areas, creative parts of themselves that they may not with more common medium.  After completion, their quad plaques were hug in the classroom.  Each student explained his/her creation and fielded questions by other students.

1st Grader, Jeff, Wonders About Sunsets

5th Grader, Marc, Wonders About Girls (of course)

A huge benefit of this activity is that it provided me, the educator, with a huge amount of assessment information.  I got to learn about the passions of my students and very quickly got to know each one as a unique individual.

Five Word Memoirs: What Do You Wonder About

The 3rd through 5th grade students were given the following directions:

First, they created artistic versions of what they wondered about:

Then, they converted these into technology-based expressions:

With PicLits

. . . and with Imagechef

WonderPoints: Using Mobile Devices to Activate a Sense of Wonder

Bernie Dodge, of Webquest fame, is exploring ways to incorporate mobile learning into the classroom.  He is developing WonderPoints as a way to use mobile devices to explore personal points of wonder.  WonderPoints, involves studying a small area outside the classroom from multiple points of view. As they note things they wonder about, they take pictures, record sounds and capture the beginnings of a question that is then geotagged.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.   Albert Einstein

Additional Readings

I did an extensive search of the internet to find additional references and resources for creating a sense of wonder and a culture of curiosity in the classroom.  Sadly, I found only a few:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm

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