Thursday, November 26 , 2015, 4:56 am | Fair 38º

Santa Barbara Montessori School Open House Features ‘Binomial Cube: Key to Universe’

By Jim Fitzpatrick for Santa Barbara Montessori School |

(TEDxTalks video)

A unique opportunity is being included in the schedule for Santa Barbara Montessori School’s Open House at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 24. The Open House, which will allow visitors the opportunity to observe children in the school’s pre-school and kindergarten classes, as well as their elementary classrooms, will also include a live version of Head of School Jim Fitzpatrick’s TEDx presentation from 2010.

The school’s Open House will provide the opportunity for families to venture into classrooms where the children will be engaged in their morning activities. With children as young as 2 years old in what is described as the “Toddler Community,” visiting adults will see the scaled version of furniture and activities that Maria Montessori first envisioned more than 100 years ago — small tables and chairs the young children are capable of arranging for themselves, along with shelves displaying the activities they are guided toward, or choose on their own.

Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first classroom in Rome in 1907, essentially introducing the world to what has become known as “Early Childhood Education.” Occasionally still referred to as “Pre-school,” SBMS’s Open House will also include the school’s “Primary” classrooms for children ages 3 through 6 years. “Traditional ‘pre-school,’” Fitzpatrick explained, “usually includes children up to the age of 5, or those readying for ‘Kindergarten,’ Montessori classrooms are organized a bit differently, but visitors will be able to see how the school introduces its wide range of activities for young children — including lessons and activities providing the foundation for later academics, and, of course, ‘The Key to the Universe!’”

Santa Barbara Montessori School Head of School Jim Fitzpatrick will demonstrate a Montessori Binomial Cube at Friday's open house at the campus at 7421 Mirano Drive in Goleta. (Aran Klingensmith photo)

Fitzpatrick, a Montessori teacher trained in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori’s son, Mario, has been working with children for more than 40 years. It was, in fact, one of his lessons from his experience in Italy that prompted him to create the presentation for Santa Barbara’s 2010 TEDx event. As he explained, “Mario Montessori, like his famous mother, was quite the mathematician, and his lessons to us seemed to always include a deeper or broader understanding of the materials and activities we were being shown how to introduce to children.”

According to Fitzpatrick, the Binomial Cube is an iconic Montessori material that is typically first introduced to children as young as 3 or 4 years of age.

“For TEDx, what I attempted to demonstrate,” Fitzpatrick said, “was the multiple levels of activity with the Binomial Cube that can be accomplished in a Montessori setting. Four year olds use the Binomial Cube for a specific level of activity, the 8- or 9-year-old has a completely different experience when using it for numeric calculations, and the 10 or 11-year-olds begin a whole exploration with algebraic equations. It’s truly an amazing tool that often times fascinates parents as they discover the complexity of what the Binomial Cube represents and their child’s engagement with such an interesting activity.

“Usually,” he explained, “when I pull out the Binomial for a lesson with 8- or 9-year-olds they’ll say, ‘Oh, I remember that doing that!’ And that’s when things get interesting. We review how the puzzle is assembled, and then we begin to apply numerical values to the different dimensions. Along with other lessons and other materials the children begin ‘squaring binomials’ — multiplying numbers of two terms, 50 + 2 times 50 + 2, or ’52 squared.’ The Binomial Cube then allows the children to cube the same terms, 50 + 2 times 50 + 2, times 50 + 2. 52 cubed adds the third dimension so clearly on display with the cube, itself.

“The next step in learning the ‘Key to the Universe,’” Fitzpatrick continued, “is then substituting variables instead of numbers for the multiplications. For example, ‘50 + 2 cubed’ becomes ‘a + b cubed,’ which is the entry-level work for quadratic equations, algebra, chemistry and all the skills and abilities necessary for exploring the universe. The transition to algebraic equations for 10- or 11-year-olds is fairly seamless and they progress through the levels of activities with the Binomial Cube ... of course, then there’s the Trinomial Cube!”

Fortunately, for those families not yet interested in the outer reaches of the universe for their 3- or 4-year-olds, they can concentrate on the school’s Open House, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday, and will include guided explanations as to what activities are taking place while visitors enter into the school’s classrooms. For those interested in experiencing the “Key to the Universe,” Fitzpatrick will begin his presentation at 10 a.m.

The number of visitors is limited. RSVP to the school at 805.685.7600. Click here for directions to the nine-acre campus at 7421 Mirano Drive, Goleta 93117.

— Jim Fitzpatrick is head of school at Santa Barbara Montessori School.

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