Friday, May 31, 2013

What is a "Montessori" app?

There is a growing number of educational apps with "Montessori" in the title. In a quick search, typing in "Montessori" in the search on iTunes yields about 450 iPad apps. I suppose claiming "Montessori"might automatically give you some cred, that the app follows a fairly successful educational approach developed by Maria Montessori. But does it? I think of the many educational approaches, the Montessori approach has the most potential as an app because of the underlying principles, especially the materials that require hands-on learning. However, many of the Montessori apps out there don't live up to it's name.

What are the Montessori principles? Here are eight principle of Montessori education - taken from Montessori - The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard (pg. 29). (Angeline Lillard was one of my professors in grad school and we spent quite a bit of time on Montessori!)

1) that movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning
2) that learning and well-being are improved when people have a send of control over their lives
3) that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning
4) that typing extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn
5) that collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning
6) that learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts
7) that particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes
8) that order in the environment is beneficial to children

So how do these principals translate to the app world? What I look for in a Montessori app:

1) Is there interactivity where the movement is meaningful and enhances the learning? Do the materials used in the app capture the purpose of Montessori materials? Can kids move around a bunch of "1" blocks and then see that 5 "1" blocks is the same length as a "5" block? Can kids easily make these types of connections from the interactivity offered by the app?

2) What is the premise/context of the activities? I've stressed this before...

3) Is there open-ended play? Is the open-ended activity well-designed and balanced? While we want to give kids control to explore and learn, the activity itself needs to have a purpose, context, and be engaging so that kids will want to choose to play it.

4) Is the app polished, simple and beautiful in design? This might seem like a trivial point, but Montessori materials are polished, simple, and beautiful. Kids should be attracted to it, but not distracted by it. (Back to my Balance issue).

5) How much are kids "rewarded"? I'm not opposed to light forms of rewards, but Montessori apps should be light on reward systems.

6) Are there cooperative learning opportunities? This doesn't just mean make it multiplayer. Do the open-ended activities encourage kids to work together?

Here are a few examples of Montessori apps I like. They may not hit on every principle nor the six areas I look for, but they are some of the better ones of what I've seen so far....

Apps from Les Trois Elles Interactive - I think overall, they do a solid job, though their latest app, Montessori 1st Operation was a disappointment. Check out Montessori Geometry or Montessori Letter Sounds instead.

Apps from Montessorium - These apps are clean and simple. I'm more familiar with the first three shown here...

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