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Montessori School’s Jim Fitzpatrick to Bring ‘Binomial Cube’ to TEDx

Children will assist in his presentation of the seminal materials of the late Dr. Maria Montessori

Despite her relative “age,” Dr. Maria Montessori will part of the program for TEDx event this Sunday, Oct. 10, at the Bacara Resort & Spa.

Although Dr. Montessori died in 1952, the Binomial Cube — one of her seminal materials — will be presented by Jim Fitzpatrick, longtime Montessori teacher and current head of school at Santa Barbara Montessori School.

Fitzpatrick, who founded the school along with his wife, Frances, was selected as one of the TEDx speakers for his presentation titled, “The Binomial Cube: Key to the Universe.”

“The Binomial Cube is one of the great Montessori materials because its activities can span a child’s entire time in a Montessori school,” Fitzpatrick said. “My goal with this presentation is to give the audience a clue as to this material’s multiple uses by children as young as 4 years of age, up to the junior high level.

“Our plan, at this point, is to have several children on stage actually demonstrating their age-level activity with the material. They’ll be doing their work before the live audience of 200-plus attendees, and I’ll be there to explain each level and each step of their activity. It’ll be fun, and hopefully those in the audience will understand how this simple activity becomes the ‘Key to the Universe!’”

The earliest level of activity with Montessori’s Binomial Cube involves disassembling and reassembling what might best be described as a puzzle made up of cubes and prisms that fit specifically in its own particular box.

“The very young child, a 4-year-old, can successfully complete the activity once they’ve been given the presentation by a properly trained teacher,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a matter of matching shapes and colors, and they’ll usually succeed. You know they’ve really got it when they can do the whole activity blindfolded!

“Then, years later, a child around the age of 8 or 9 years can be represented the same material, but the lesson for the older children includes numerical values for those cubes and prisms the children used successfully when they were younger. The numerical activities allow the children to cube numbers like 34 or 67 or 89, and the whole process is sensible because the Binomial’s cubes and prisms are used as a literal representation of the numeric values. It makes sense.

“Success with the numerical version the provides the older children the algebraic equation. It’s the algebraic activity that gets ever more abstract, but the Binomial’s cubes and prisms are still part of the initial algebraic lesson. It’s this lesson that begins the introduction to quadratic equations, and that’s why it’s easy to suggest this activity is the ‘Key to the Universe.’ All future studies of chemistry and physics, of algebra, all begin with the child’s understanding of the Binomial Cube.”

Fitzpatrick’s presentation most likely will include a few children actively demonstrating to the audience their sensorial activity with the Binomial Cube; and a small group of older children showing the mathematical and algebraic work, too.

“It’s live theater,” Fitzpatrick said. “The children will do great! What they may not realize is that the event is being Webcast live, and some TED Webcasts have reached audiences of more than 5 million viewers.”

Other speakers at the TEDx event, all selected from the Santa Barbara region, include former World Champion surfer Shaun Thomson, Noah Ben Shea, Yulun Wang, Ph.D., Larry Barels and Dr. Keith Witt. Click here for more information about TEDx.

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

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