Part of being a Montessori guide is a commitment to reflecting and adapting our practices to best serve our students. In today’s parlance this could be considered a “hack”. As my students these days are adult learners, I tend to focus my reflections on how to better help them transfer Montessori pedagogy into their spirit and practice. One of my greatest satisfactions is when I witness an adult learner overcome with an ‘aha’, that moment of inspired understanding.
The other day, I had an ‘aha’ myself.
Embodied Cognition as an Educational Hack
Just the other day, I was explaining to non-Montessori friends about how Montessori is unique in the tremendous order of the environment and how embodied cognition leads to indirect preparation of reading and writing. Our conversation lead to a question regarding how Montessori environments indirectly prepare students for math concepts such as Base 10, linear counting, and place value in which I shared how the Sensorial materials are in groups of ten, the numerous layouts such as knobbed cylinders that are in linear order, and how the color coding of units, tens and hundreds continue through the hierarchical materials. I also became meta-cognizant that I was sharing examples of materials that I favored.
Does the Hundred Board Belong? Maybe With This Hack it Does!
We all have favorite (even if it’s secret) materials, and materials that make us feel “meh”. These biases can enhance or mute our enthusiasm and therefore practice with them. For me, the Hundred Board has been on of my least favorite materials in the early childhood environment. I could never fathom why this material is so attractive to our students when the hundred chain introduces linear counting, skip counting, and square roots! The chains are so beauteous with shiny tactile beads to boot. I’m mean really, who doesn’t love the bead chains?
I have heard more-learned-than-me Montessori gurus both extol the Hundred Board and conversely, those that believe it has no place in the canon of Montessori 3-6 materials. In fact, the Hundred Board stood out in the Results from a Survey of Association Montessori Internationale and American Montessori Society teacher trainers in Angeline Lillard’s study of “What Belongs in a Montessori Primary Classroom?”
“One math material consider negative among AMI trainers, but necessary/desirable for 94% of AMS trainers was the Hundred Board. This material was developed in Holland to assist counting from 1 to 100 and is not described in Montessori’s books.”
Despite this assertion regarding its origin, further investigation shows the concept of a Hundred Board may have originated in Roman times as a board game emphasizing military strategies and today is used frequently in conventional preschool classrooms. Also, in light of my lineage as an AMS credentialed teacher educator trained in part by AMI trainers, I find this dichotomy of alphabet soup affiliations to be problematic. Despite differences in training affiliations, Montessorians I’ve worked with see themselves as “scientists in the field”, testing theories (hacking lessons) and trusting the child. Dr. Montessori herself asserted that guides are to not to be waylaid by the materials or our own ideas in seeing and meeting the child’s potentiality.
Why Hack the Hundred Board?
Yes, the Hundred Board provides an opportunity for number patterns to emerge and all those squirrely tiles are somehow satisfying to order on the slick board. I’ll concede that there is direct preparation for linear counting and that it creates a static square giving an impression of number groups of 10 that lead to a square of 100.
Yet couldn’t it do more?
And then it dawned on me . . . my ‘aha’ is a Montessori hack! Why do we set up the Hundred Board to start from the top left corner moving to the right and ending in the bottom right corner with the 100? Isn’t this directionality preparing our students more for reading and writing than for the variety of concepts the Hundred Board promotes? Couldn’t we hack the Hundred Board to better serve our students’ knowledge and indirectly prepare them for greater, more abstract math concepts to come?
What if we started counting to 100 in the bottom left hand corner finishing with 100 in the top right hand corner? The child would then acquire the motor memory of increasing numeration moving to the right like on a number line, of which my trainer John Chattin-McNichols suggested may need more emphasis in Montessori to introduce more facility with number sense.
As the child moves to the next group of tens, the directionality would then heighten the idea that moving “up” is increasing in quantity rather than the counterintuitive moving “down” increases quantity. Additionally, it seems working from the bottom up from the chart would allow our older students to superimpose an X/Y Axis and again, the directionality supports the quadrants far better.
Is my Hack Reinventing the Wheel?
My curiosity lead me to further research what is known about the Hundred Board and I found there is little research out there for this common material. I did find an interesting piece of research by Winifred Randolph and Verne Jeffers from 1974, “A New Look for the Hundreds Chart” that suggests this very thing, turning it bottoms up. I also found this excellent article with great ideas for Hundreds Board extensions in the Nov/Dec 2017 Teaching Children Mathematics Volume 24, No. 3 on the National Council of Mathematics Teachers website.
So now that I have this newfound math hack that assists me in seeing the Hundred Board in a new way, I’m ready to give it another test in the field. In the meantime, I ask of you, what material that you feel so-so about that needs a fresh look?
What Montessori hack might lead you to your own aha?
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12