Month: February 2013

One Teacher’s Epiphany


Harvard Magazine has a brilliant article about one professor’s epiphany about alternative teaching methods and thinking outside the box. As the article, written by Craig Lambert, explains, professor Eric Mazur was teaching a course when “a warning flag went up when one student raised her hand and asked, “How should I answer these questions—according to what you taught me, or how I usually think about these things?” To Mazur’s consternation, the simple test of conceptual understanding showed that his students had not grasped the basic ideas of his physics course: two-thirds of them were modern Aristotelians. “The students did well on textbook-style problems,” he explains. “They had a bag of tricks, formulas to apply. But that was solving problems by rote. They floundered on the simple word problems, which demanded a real understanding of the concepts behind the formulas.””

The article explains how Professor Mazur took this obstacle and worked with it to enhance student learning. As the article explains, “This innovative style of learning grew into “peer instruction” or “interactive learning,” a pedagogical method that has spread far beyond physics and taken root on campuses nationally. Last year, Mazur gave nearly 100 lectures on the subject at venues all around the world.”

Learn more by reading the full article at

Why Montessori?

One very popular type of alternative education is the Montessori school. Most people have probably heard this term, even if they don’t know exactly what it means or entails. The Montessori method of teaching was started by Dr. Maria Montessori. She was the first woman in Italy to earn her physician’s degree and she developed a new educational model.

She used her method with folding tables and other basic supplies to teach 50 poor students near Rome in 1907. She did not believe that children were born as “blank slates” but that they were fully capable of self-directed learning. She believed that children needed long blocks of time when they could concentrate and the school allows for student-driven learning while the teacher is more of an observer.

She believed strongly in tactile learning and the classroom materials would include many items to touch and use. The method is one that is entirely non-competitive and has no grades, tests or other formal assessments.

Today, this method is used in about 5000 schools in the US and studies have found that students at these schools have higher levels of self-confidence, better social skills and better academic skills when they finish their early learning years here.