Samuel Jagoda, Montessori educator, created the app Pocket Montessori in response to school closures. He recalls how the app was created and what he learned along the way.
“Pocket Montessori started as a strange mix of need, exploration, and hobby. The seeds were planted in 2020, when the school I worked with closed for the remainder of the school year in accordance with the lockdowns in Washington State.
“I knew that I needed a way to get my lower elementary students in touch with the materials they had been using in the classroom. It was easy enough to create printable templates that could be slapped on a box, strung with wire and beads, and used as a simple replacement for the bead frame. What was going to be difficult was connecting students with more complex materials like the Racks and Tubes. The materials can be quite expensive, cumbersome, and in some cases only experience usage until the student has mastered the targeted skills involved. I had no programming experience but I had tons of graphics left over from creating my album in training, and creating templates for paper and cardboard versions of some of the materials. I reached out to several programmers I found who were starting to create Montessori material apps such as the bead frames and stamp game. I sought to find one who could make use of my graphics and with their knowledge of programming, create materials to fill the gap caused by distance learning.
“I was unable to make a connection, and instead decided to pursue the programming side myself. I researched several options for programming and found Stencyl, which somehow matched my mindset and allowed me to explore coding and programming and as a result I was able to create my first app, the large bead frame. This led to the creation of the flat bead frame, and then my own bead frame, the divided bead frame.This wasn’t enough though. Bead frames aren’t too expensive, cumbersome, and have lots of replay value.
“I expanded my collection to include a primitive pegboard app, the multiplication board, and the unit division board. Still not enough.
“I worked through experimentation to create a checkerboard. This led me to discovering that programming could create controls of error that cannot be implemented in the real material world. Certain mistakes could actually be prevented, and others allowed, to create a digital environment where students could make simple computational errors, but not mechanical errors.
“I experimented further and created a digital version of the racks and tubes; a very cumbersome material. I had observed in class the racks and tubes being a material that every child wants to get their hands on, but in some cases, becomes a material that is avoided once introduced due to the overabundance of mechanical manipulation needed.This had me thinking of ways of preserving the most important attributes in the materials, while providing a quicker way to move through.
“The Pocket Racks and Tubes was really the start of Pocket Montessori, because through the brain-melting research and experimentation that led to a fully functional app, I started to develop a consistent approach to the design and development of each subsequent app.
“First I focused on making the best use of space. Everything needed to have a place that was essential to the function and use of the material, but certain physical aspects could be left out to keep the space clean and organized, and allow for a quicker workflow. For the Pocket Racks and Tubes, there are no racks and tubes as it would be too much to visually fit while keeping the most important parts visible and well organized.
“Second I focused on putting controls of error on the process. You cannot place a bead where it is not supposed to go with the bead board apps. The next bead needs to be placed right where it needs to be. You can place too many, or too few, but they cannot be placed outside of the area defined by your divisor.
“The third thing I considered was how to quicken or smooth out the workflow. With any material that requires exchanging, it can be done automatically, helping to protect the child from mechanical errors caused by rolling bead bars, or dropping beads. I also introduced progressive setups, where the material guides you through successfully setting up your problem.
“As an added bonus I started including the Pocket Guide, an actual in-app lesson, with a voice that assists or guides through the use of the material by having the user participate in a lesson that gradually unlocks and transitions the material to the user.
“The last important aspect was to make sure each app could be used on a screen as small as a phone just as easily as it could on a larger tablet; hence the name, Pocket Montessori.
“Is Pocket Montessori the perfect solution for every student? No. For younger students especially, tactile response and feedback from mechanical errors is an important part of the learning process. For older students, it can be a huge aid in continuing the work of the former. For teachers, trainers, and parents, it can help to bridge the gap that distance learning has created with our vital manipulatives.
“The main aim of Pocket Montessori, is to be the next generation of Montessori materials, especially for the digital realm. I hope that much of what I have learned through creating the library of Pocket Montessori apps, can someday translate back to the physical world, where we can improve our understanding of the most important attributes inherent in each material, and create even better materials for learning. Whether you are a student, a teacher, a trainee, a parent, or just an explorer, Pocket Montessori allows you to take a slice of the classroom with you in your pocket, and where you go, independence is sure to follow.”
Samuel Jagoda is a trained Montessori teacher at the elementary level who also happens to hold a BFA in illustration and a Masters in Education. He started his Montessori teaching career in Tokyo, Japan, and also led a classroom in the desert of Southeast Washington. Currently he resides in Florida, in USDA hardiness zone 8b which allows him to explore gardening with a variety of both temperate and tropical plants. He also enjoys just watching plants grow, and constantly rediscovering all of the best things in life with his beautiful little family. He currently teaches at Bridgemont International School, among other projects.