The Pitagora Montessori School brings the authentic Montessori education to the heart of Belgrade, Serbia for children aged three to seven. The first educators to have implemented Cubetto in a school environment in the country, Dusanka Nikolic, Kata Tosovic and Milan Mihaljcic run the school with passion and conscience. Whilst Dusanka, based in London, dedicates most of her effort to software development, she has kept her passion for education alive through writing about science and pedagogy and co-managing the Pitagora Montessori School with Kata, founder and director of the school for more than 20 years. Milan is also based in Belgrade and his passion for Montessori resources led him to invent his own – Assimino, a puzzle game soon to be launched by the German publisher Philos. Below the three educators explain how Cubetto fits into a Montessori environment.
Cubetto and Montessori
Our school has been significantly enriched by Cubetto. Based on Mоntessori principles, our main pedagogy approach, Cubetto is a modern educational toy that fits perfectly with the rest of the school’s educational materials.
If we imagine Maria Montessori living and working today, as a scientist and a brilliant pedagogue, she would have definitely approved of Cubetto (if not invented it herself)!
Concrete and abstract educational materials
When we think about Cubetto in a Montessori environment, let us remind ourselves of one of the many very general classifications of educational materials, namely to categorise them into two groups – concrete and abstract. Concrete materials begin as far as Froebel’s Gifts, used in his nineteenth-century kindergartens, and encompass many types of constructors such as K’nex and Lego. They serve to build or construct concrete objects.
The abstract group of educational materials, meanwhile, conveys abstract ideas or concepts. An example of this type of material is the abacus – but certainly most Montessori materials fall into this second group of abstract materials, especially sensorial and mathematical materials. Take for example the binomial cube, a well-known Montessori tool, which is a three-dimensional puzzle. It brilliantly conveys the binomial algebra formulas: i.e. V=(a+b)(a+b)(a+b)=(a+b)3, representing the volume of the cube whose side is a+b.
Once the cuboid puzzle is assembled, it vividly illustrates that it is comprised of smaller cubes and cuboids of the volumes a3, b3, 3ab2 and 3ba2 – the sum of which is the total volume of the big cube.
Cubetto is definitely a didactic material that falls into the abstract group – conveying a very abstract concept of sequential computer programming to the children. Similarly to other abstract Montessori materials, it conveys this complex concept by allowing children to manipulate objects (Cubetto robot, map and control board), in order to achieve a certain goal. In this process the concept of a program or an algorithm is indirectly absorbed by the children (similar to the way in which many of the Montessori mathematics materials work).
Control of error
There is more if we want to compare Cubetto to Montessori materials. Another general characteristic of Montessori materials, the control of error, is part of Cubetto. Control of error “allows quick feedback for the child by allowing him to self-correct.” Control of error is inbuilt in Cubetto as it will not do what a child wants it to do unless the program is correct. This encourages children to try again until they achieve the desired behaviour in Cubetto. This way, the teacher doesn’t have to interfere with the process of learning as Cubetto itself, like many other Montessori materials, will take on the role of providing feedback (provided that the child is shown how to use Cubetto first).
Cubetto also helps with vocabulary development through the different stories, each with their own terminology, included in each Adventure Pack. Making children aware of the issues of environmental sustainability and connecting together different aspects of studying nature are all typical characteristics of Montessori materials (and Maria Montessori’s pedagogy in general). This is present through Cubetto’s storybook adventures that are connected to nature or to human activities related to saving our planet, for example recycling.
Through creative activities, Cubetto can also be dressed to ‘adopt’ local customs and be part of the local community – something that Montessori talked about in her books: learning about local customs as well as being aware of the existence and connectivity in our world.
Cubetto is attractive, beautifully made, fun to use and educational
If we think of the purpose of Montessori materials, to prepare children for real life as well as to teach them concepts and ideas relevant to their future jobs, we can say that Cubetto can be regarded as a welcome addition to the basic set of Montessori materials. It definitely gives children the opportunity to absorb concepts – logical and computational thinking – that almost no job of the present or future can do without. Regarding children’s preparation for the future, it is probably appropriate to remember of educational theorist John Dewey said about this subject and where Montessori agreed: ’We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything’ (in Experience and Education, 1938). Montessori materials certainly support this and Cubetto fits perfectly among them.
So, in the same manner as the rest of the Montessori materials, Cubetto is attractive, beautifully made, fun to use and educational. It is a modern addition to the brilliant set of existing Montessori materials. It can be used on an individual basis like many Montessori materials, but it can also support collaboration and learning through communication in smaller groups – a necessary preparation for the team work we expect children to start developing at an early age.
Cubetto in Pitagora Montessori School
We acquired Cubetto in April 2017. We tried it first with preschoolers (in Serbia that is ages six to seven) and they loved it. It was presented either individually or in small groups of two to three children. It is used as additional activity to the school’s regular Montessori programme. The children are curious about it and our teachers are very happy about the reception it has received from the pupils.
Not surprisingly, our preschoolers are the age group that best understands and uses Cubetto. They quickly realise what Cubetto can do and what is required from them to input. They understand the concept of the subroutine (or function line), and some of them conclude that without it, it is not possible to complete every task or route required of Cubetto. This is because there are simply not enough blocks in a standard pack to program Cubetto’s movement. So it is necessary to perform subroutines – the repetition of a specific set of programmed movements – in order for Cubetto to reach certain points planned in advance.
All the children in our school love to play with Cubetto and ask for it daily
Below the age of six, the children understand the concept of the subroutine too but it takes them more time and effort. Below the age of four, Cubetto is used for programming simple movements without the use of a subroutine as the concept is difficult for this age to comprehend.
Generally, all the age groups, from three to seven (literally all the children in our school), love to play with Cubetto and ask for it daily. Here are some photos of the children using Cubetto and a drawing of Cubetto by a boy age 5.