August 31 – Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori!

Posted on August 31, 2017

Today's famous birthday was a doctor. But she is famous in the field of education, and her name can be found, not on countless hospitals, but on countless schools.

Born in Italy on this date in 1870, Maria Montessori had to face a lot of nay-sayers and stumbling blocks in order to become a doctor. Once she became a doctor, she specialized in children who had what was considered mental disabilities (we now know that mental problems and differences are as physical as any other illness or disorder - but we continue to call brain-centered problems and differences "mental").

Montessori was so important in this field, at a time when few people advocated for children with mental disabilities, that she found herself traveling and speaking and publishing all over Italy and even all over the world! Her main message was that these kids should have educational opportunities that were attuned to their disabilities or differences.

Montessori observed children. She studied others' observations. She trained teachers. She directed a special school that had teacher training and a laboratory classroom. She developed special methods of teaching. She also developed special materials designed to promote learning.

You can see that she was straying pretty far, at this point, from being a medical doctor. And her next studies took her even farther afield:

Montessori enrolled in a university degree program in philosophy, and she did independent studies in both anthropology and in educational philosophy. 

She began to do observation of and experimental research with "mainstream" children (children who were not considered to have mental disabilities). She began to consider adapting her methods and materials for mainstream children - and that is the lasting legacy she gave the world.

Now there are thousands of Montessori schools that use the methods and materials Maria Montessori invented (or, perhaps, the methods and materials that have evolved from those she invented). There are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States, and about 20,000 worldwide.

That's a lot of schools! Montessori had a huge impact on education. Let's look at a few of her key ideas:

* Mixed-age classrooms
* Uninterrupted blocks of time, around 3 hours long
* Kids choose what to do from a certain assortment of possible activities
* Kids discover concepts rather than being directly taught those concepts
* Kids have freedom of movement in the classroom

Those are great ideas!


Also on this date:

Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago

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August 30 – Longest Canyon in the World?

Posted on August 30, 2017

The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the world's largest canyons and is probably the most famous. 

There are, however, deeper canyons and longer canyons, including Tibet's Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon.

Note: the words largest, longest, and deepest can be imprecise when speaking of canyons, given the variations of measurement from rim or from nearby mountaintops, given the fact that we could be talking about the total area of the canyon system, given the fact that canyons tend to have lots of branches. Another problem with assigning "longest" or "deepest" awards is that many canyons in the Himalaya Mountains are pretty much inaccessible - so there may be some record breakers there that we just don't know about.

Speaking of inaccessible, today we commemorate a canyon discovered on this date in 2013. It is about 800 km (almost 500 miles) long and about 800 m (about 2,600 feet) deep in some places. Why would a canyon this huge take so long for humans to discover it?

This canyon, which was carved out by a river over four million years ago, is in Greenland and is covered by the ice sheet covering that huge island.

If it's covered by may wonder how we know about Greenland's Grand Canyon. Scientists used ice-penetrating radar to detect it. The bottom of the canyon is V-shaped, not U-shaped; that indicates that it was carved by running water, not flowing ice.

If the scientists' measurements are correct, it is the new record-breaker in length, although both Arizona's Grand Canyon and Tibet's Grand Canyon are deeper.

Check out this NASA animation of the canyon.

August 29 – Happy Birthday, Temple Grandin

Posted on August 29, 2017

If you were a professor of animal science at a university, would you have an entry on Wikipedia?

Probably not.

If you had autism, would you have an entry on Wikipedia?

Probably not.

But if someone made a movie about your life - and that movie was titled with your name - and that movie won multiple awards - then you for sure would have a Wikipedia entry. And Temple Grandin is all of these things!

Grandin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on this date in 1947. She was lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family - so when she was diagnosed with "brain damage" at age 2, and her mom didn't want to simply institutionalize her, there was enough money to seek out specialists and hire tutors and, later, get admission to cool private schools.

When Grandin was in her teens, her mother saw a checklist about autism, and since then the so called "brain damage" has been understood to be a brain difference that could be best understood to be on the autism spectrum. 

As an adult, not only has Grandin been able to excel in her field, and teach it at a university, she has been able to speak out on behalf of people with autism! She invented a device to help people with autism; she has given a TED talk; she has been featured in a variety of TV shows; she has won many different awards. She was even one of Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people in the world!

.Check out her TED talk. And check out these great quotes:

Also on this date:

Slovakia's National Uprising Day

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