In December, I had the great opportunity to attend the Google Teacher Academy in Washington, D.C.  I had a fantastic  day and a half with the other GTA teachers and GTA leaders.  The time at Google ranks in the top professional development experiences of my career. The chance to meet with other teachers and talk about how technology can transform the classroom was invaluable.  These teachers are now part of my PLN, and I feel that I can call on them for help and contribute to group discussions.

It was also wonderful to see how a large corporation like Google really operates.  I was very impressed that each Google employee gets to spend 20% of their time working on a project that they are passionate about.  The Google offices are designed to promote collaboration with lots of areas for employees to work together. What would it look like if we could design our classrooms so that students have areas for collaboration, and if we could provide the students with time to work on projects that they are passionate about?

And that brings me back to the GTA application.  I was required to complete a one minute video about classroom innovation or classroom motivation.  I chose innovation as my topic and spent a lot of time reflecting on what innovation in the classroom looks like.

At GTA, we were placed into innovation groups and had to discuss the best examples of classroom innovation (not using technology) that we had seen.  I immediately thought about the five years that my daughter attended a public elementary Montessori school.  I also had the opportunity as a district ITS to provide staff development for teachers at that school.

After a lot of reflection about Google and Montessori education, I believe that these are some of the key elements to creating an innovative classroom:

1.  Give students time to work on projects that they are passionate about.  Tie into their interests as much as possible.  In my daughter’s classroom, she had monthly projects and was given complete freedom in the topic and how she would present the topic.  I feel sure that the students would have produced inferior projects if they were not given choice.  Project-based learning should be incorporated into every classroom.

2.  Let students teach each other.  Students learn the most about a topic when they have to teach others.  The Montessori classroom is designed so that students can take the opportunity to collaborate with other students and help other students. They often teach each other how to use the lessons.   Even though my daughter is now in high school, I still see her incorporating teaching opportunities into her classroom presentations.  She recently gave a presentation to the class on carbon dating and spent a lot of time creating problems that the class could solve.

3.  Arrange the classroom so that students have the opportunity to collaborate, relax, and work independently.  You do need an area for whole group instruction, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the room. A Montessori classroom had a variety of spaces for students to work.  They can place their mat on the floor to work on the lesson and other students can join in if needed.  Students who need personal space are also provided with areas where they can go to be separate from the group. If they need a few minutes of relaxation, they can go and get a snack. Aren’t we all happier at work if we can take a quick break now and then?

4.  Montessori materials are self-correcting and students only achieve mastery when they successfully complete the lesson.  What types of formative assessment strategies do we need in the classroom to make sure that all students are progressing as needed?  Is too much focus placed on testing and grades and not on the activities that will help each student achieve mastery?

5.  Montessori students are also taught to be self-directed learners.  They create their own learning plan for the week and have freedom in choosing which activities to work on, but they are expected to meet all of their goals and achieve mastery in all subject areas.  Think about ways that you can incorporate goal setting into your classroom.

6. Students in the Montessori clasroom are interdependent on each other. If a lesson has missing materials, no students in the classroom can complete the lesson.  Students are taught to take ownership of the materials, keep everything neat, and return everything to the right place.  I’ll never forget the birthday party that my daughter had in first grade.  At the end of the party, all of the children started cleaning up and putting all of the toys back where they belonged.  We need to teach our students that individual success depends on the success of the entire class.  Everyone in the classroom should have a role to play, and each role is important to the success of the class.

7. The teacher  in the Montessori class is an observer. Montessori teachers are called directors because they direct the activities in the classroom.  The students are the actors and the director sets the stage for what is to happen that day.  All students are expected to carry out the plan, and the teacher is available to step in as needed when someone is having difficulty.  The other students are also available to help a struggling student.  This goes back that saying, “Are you the sage on the stage or the guide on the side?”.

I hope that you take some time to think about what strategies you can incorporate into your classroom to foster motivation and innovation.  I also think that we can learn a lot of lessons from the environment that Google provides for their employees.  Let’s make our students passionate about learning!

Please leave your comments here if you have success to share.