Patterns and Design
In Montessori learning environments, learning is fostered through materials, physical environments, teacher interventions and independent work by children that are aimed at promoting concentrated effort and mutual support (Montessori, 1964). Because of its emphasis on independent learning through the use of designed materials the Montessori classroom is a rich source of metaphors for the use of computers in the classroom. A good set of metaphors can also help Montessori teachers and researchers to formulate and assign appropriate roles to computers in the Montessori classroom.
This paper discusses three metaphors for classroom computers from a Montessori perspective. As a piece of hardware, the computer can be considered as a man-made artifact which is used to accomplish learning in classrooms and work in the wider world. It may also be considered as a place where various applications reside, just as the classroom is a place that contains instruments and guides for learning. As a portal to the internet, the computer may be considered as a gateway to the wider world, an opportunity for virtual field trips.
The metaphors and perspectives are drawn from Montessori literature, discussions with Montessori teachers and researchers, and personal experience as teacher and observer in Montessori classrooms.
The purpose of this discussion is not to make specific recommendations about the use of computers in classrooms in general or Montessori classrooms in particular. Rather, its purpose is to increase awareness of the contribution that Montessori can make to discussions of educational technology and to increase awareness among Montessorians of the affect that metaphors have (implicitly or explicitly) on the decisions they make about computers in the classroom.
For example, the metaphors we use and the way we interpret them can influence the way that computers are assigned to students in Montessori and non-Montessori classrooms. It can also influence decisions that Montessorians make about the age appropriateness of computers, or the design of educational software. Using the metaphor of computer-as-artifact, I looked for design hints from Montessori in Design Lessons from Montessori Exercises with Fractions.
Educational software designers who are interested in incorporating Montessori design ideas might also wish to explore the metaphors of computer-as-place and computer-as-gateway.
Anyone interested in improving the use of computers in schools can also benefit from consideration of the metaphors and perspectives of other stakeholders, or from recognizing metaphors and perspectives of their own that they might not have made explicit.
Specifically, it would be instructive to consider perspectives and metaphors used by students, teachers, parents, researchers, administrators, designers, developers and suppliers of educational materials and financers (taxpayers, private donors, tuition payers).
For example, researchers in general might be more comfortable with the idea of "discovery learning" because it incorporates the aims and practices of their own work. There might be a tendency for software developers to compare the teaching of a student with "teaching" a computer to perform some task. All stakeholders have perspectives and metaphors that can contribute to the process of improving education, and all can benefit from the perspectives of others.
Finally, we can use the development of other practices and technologies as a metaphor for improvement of educational practices and technologies.