Ever since I heard about Montessori method last year, I have been intrigued by the concept coined by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator in the early 1900s. In fact, I am seriously considering whether I should enroll my sons to a Montessori school.
If you do a search using Montessori as the keyword in the App Store, you will find many educational apps for the iPad carrying the Montessori name. Even though I have tried several of them, I still wasn't able to pinpoint any distinguishable difference between Montessori approach and the traditional approach. Fortunately, this great app by Montessorium was able to change my perspective.
Intro to Geography - North America
Intro to Geography - North America is one of four iPad apps that June George and Bobby George of Montessorium created based on the Montessori method. Using this app, your juniors will be able to learn about 17 different countries in North America. The lessons covered include learning about the shapes, names, flags and geographical locations of these countries.
There are 10 steps that your juniors need to take to complete the lesson. In order for you to have a better understanding of what the app has to offer, I will dissect it into four achievements:
- Getting familiar with the shapes. The first two steps try to get your juniors familiar with the shapes of each country. Using a typical jigsaw puzzle activity, your juniors must match the shapes of each country with the available slots on the map. Upon correctly placing a shape, a voice-over will pronounce the name of the country.
- Associating the shapes with the names and geographical locations. Step three and four are designed to help your juniors associate country shapes with their names. Once your juniors complete the first challenge, they will be asked to place the labelled shapes into the matching slots on the map. Finally, the app will ask them to identify the countries as they are laid out on the map.
- Associating the names with the shapes and geographical locations. The fifth to seventh steps repeat the above associations but take your juniors in a different direction, stressing more on their capability to recognize a country's shape and location by its name. Your juniors will be asked to identify all 17 countries in the eighth step.
- Associating the flags with the names and the shapes. The last two steps will introduce your juniors to the flags of these countries, associating them with their names. Because previously your juniors were already able to associate the names with shapes and geographical locations, it shouldn't be too hard for them to associate the flags with the shapes or the geographical locations.
My impression of the Montessori methodology
I have no prior knowledge or experience in Montessori methodology, but I learned a great deal about it from Intro to Geography - North America. As it turns out, the developers of the app are also the founders behind Baan Dek, an accredited Montessori school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On their website, I found a description of how a Montessori classroom is different from a traditional classroom. For the purpose of this review, I would like to highlight one of them here, paraphrased for readability:
Montessori classroom encourages personal feelings of progress over rewards and punishment.
Feelings of progress over rewards and punishment
Most other apps would give awards such as stars or coins, and punishments by reducing points or making uh-oh sounds, but Intro to Geography - North America chose to emphasize on achievements. As this video shows, it's better to make the learners gain self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment. As strange as it may seem at first, I found this concept to be liberating after giving it some thought.
With this concept in mind, the app developer then carefully designed the app -- the first example being the existence of a roadmap within the app. When you finish a chapter, you're moving along the line towards the cup (award) in the end.
The second example is shown in the number of steps needed to complete the journey. Even though the journey can be made shorter, the developers carefully chose not to and decided upon 10 steps. I believe this was done to allow the learners to digest information in smaller bits and let them feel the progress.
The third example is shown at the beginning of this review, where I explained each of the four achievements that your juniors will earn as they progress through the 10 steps.
What I like about this app
Pardon my lack of knowledge in Geography, but honestly, I've never heard of Belize before. I didn't know the whereabouts of many countries in the Central America, even though I have visited the Cayman Islands. I wasn't aware of many of their flags either.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Geography through the app, even if I had been skeptical at first. In my opinion, the steps this app chose to offer made a lot of sense. It was easier for me to play a jigsaw puzzle first, then associate those shapes with names before remembering where their location on the map. Once I could make all these associations in any direction, flags were just another thing to add to the routine. While I'm not exactly sure how well Montessori works for our juniors, but as a learner, I can definitely see its benefits.
Intro to Geography North America is a highly recommended app if you're trying to help your juniors learn about Geography. This app implements the Montessori methodology well, and you can definitely feel the difference of the approach compared to the traditional route. I personally think this app is that good that I can't wait to try other apps from Montessorium.
Update: As of 11 September 2015, Intro to Geography - North America is no longer available on the App Store. Instead, you can download Intro to Geography - World Edition, which also includes North American countries.