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Cylinder Blocks: Good Learning Objects

In many ways, the manipulatives designed by Maria Montessori more than a century ago satisfy nearly all of these principles. Setting aside any kind of inherent intelligence, they are very capable objects.

Consider the cylinder blocks shown in Figure 5-6. You have several cylinders varying in height and/or diameter that fit perfectly into designated holes drilled into each block. One intent is to learn about volume and how the volume of a shallow disc can be the same as that of a narrow rod. Additionally, these cylinder block toys help develop a child’s visual discrimination of size and indirectly prepare a child for writing through the handling of the cylinders by their knobs.

Montessori cylinder blocks—

Figure 5-6. Montessori cylinder blocks[]

How do these blocks hold up?

As with nearly all of Maria Montessori’s manipulative materials, these objects are treated like toys, for children to get off the shelf and play with, satisfying our first principle, playful interactions. Because children are encouraged to discover these items for themselves, and pursue uninterrupted play (learning) time with the object, we can say it satisfies the second principle: self-directed learning. Attempting to place a cylinder into the wrong hole triggers the learning by either not fitting into the hole (too big), or standing too tall and not filling the space; students are able to quickly recognize this fact and move cylinders around until a fitting slot is found, allowing for self-correction, our third principle. As you play with wooden cylinders, using your hands, we can safely say this satisfies our fourth principle: tangibility. As far as intelligence, this is the only missing piece.

With this kind of orientation in mind, I’d like to share a personal project I’m working on (along with a friend much more versed in the technical aspects).

 
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