Work Models

  1. Flow Model
  2. Sequence Model
  3. Artifact Model
  4. Cultural Model
  5. Physical Model
  6. Metaphors


  1. Design Problem
  2. Literature Review
  3. Work Models
  4. Design Patterns
  5. Design Experiments
  6. Lesson Ideas
  7. Montessori Computes
  8. Thinking About Circles

Related Links

Patterns and Design



If we want to design software to support a particular sequence actions, we must understand the intent of the teacher or child performing the actions.

There are lots of intents that need to be considered in designing software for the Montessori classroom.  For example, finding a workspace and choosing material to work on might involve many intents on the part of the child, both general (to engage in challenging work, to enjoy companionship, to be seen in a positive light by others, to express individuality) and specific (to fit a cylinder into a cylinder block, to distinguish a cylinder that fits properly into a hole from one that is too small for the hole).

To show how intents have implications for design, I want to elaborate on an intent of teachers.  In Neubert's study, teachers reported that one of their primary roles is that of observer (Neubert, 1992).  However, Neubert also found that teachers observe, on average, for only about 3 percent of class time (Neubert, 1992).  How do we reconcile the teachers' apparent goal with their behavior, what does this mean about the teachers' intent in conducting observations and what is the implication for software designers?


What does it mean to say that teachers spend only three percent of their time on observation?  Neubert (1992) hypothesized that teachers in America don't observe as much as teachers elsewhere because American culture is different.  Specifically, she sited the American cultural bias toward "active participation [rather than] standing back and observing". 

But the fact is, no teacher spends a typical day in the classroom with her eyes shut and her ears plugged up.  She is scanning the classroom all the time, observing informally.  This informal observation typically happens in parallel with other teacher activity.  I suspect that Neubert was only counting teacher behavior as observation if it was done in some formal way, for example, if the teacher was taking notes.

Below are some conjectures related to Neubert's findings.  I think they're pretty good ones, based on readings I've done and my own experience as a teacher, but they need to be verified through field work.

  1. Teachers are engaged in informal observation all the time.
  2. Most teachers observe to support their other roles as teacher (director), preparer of the environment, facilitator (encourager), affirmer of the individual, model.
  3. Most teachers prefer informal observation to formal observation because, for them, it is the kind of observation that supports their roles in the most cost effective way.
  4. Most teachers use formal observation for assessment or other intents that are consider critical to the roles mentioned in item 2.
  5. A minority of teachers spend much more than 3 percent of their time conducting formal observation which they use extensively to gather data that can inform other areas of their practice (see, for example, the Teachers Research Network).

There could be a difference in the amount of formal observation done in classrooms outside the US as Neubert (1992) suggests (I haven't seen any data).  If so, it could be that American pragmatism leads American teachers to think in terms of the utility of observation and the cost/benefit ratios of informal vs. formal observation.

Design Implications

Based on teacher reports (Neubert, 1992), software designers might decide to focus on elaborate systems to record mouse clicks and keystrokes to support the teacher's role as observer of student work.  Or, if it's true, as Neubert suggests, that observation is not important in practice, designers might decide not to worry about building observational aids into their systems.

However, if my conjecture is true that teachers do a great deal of informal observation that is critical to their work, then designers must take another approach to supporting teacher observation.

For example, designers might consider the fact that Montessori materials support informal observation by making student work visible.  The teacher can look across to other side of her classroom and see how a student is doing with the knobbed cylinders or the pink tower.  How might designers provide similar support for informal observation of computer work? 

In conducting an informal observation, teachers would want to be able to scan the room and assess the work being done on computers as easily as she can assess the work being done on traditional Montessori materials.  But, at any given time, the teacher may be anyplace in the room.  Computer screens might be facing the teacher, but they might not.  Or they might be too far away for the teacher to see what's on them.  Or the computer user's head might be in the way.

Designers might choose to address this by suggesting a particular layout or pattern of use for classroom computers, or they might offer some kind of technical solution, like a hand-held device that displays the screen of a selected computer.  This might not work for teachers who are technology averse or if students see it as a snooping device.  They might also offer a log of student activity that keeps track of information that teachers can reference quickly, such as who's using which applications and for how long.

Designers might want to take a look at the formal observation that takes up 3 percent of the average teacher's time.  If this kind of observation has a higher cost/benefit ratio than informal observation, could automation change that cost/benefit ratio?  Is there, for example, some statistical analysis that could be done automatically on student usage of an application that the teacher could use to better support the child's work?

Finally, designers might want to think about ways to support the minority of teachers who do extensive formal observation by looking carefully at their practice.