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It’s not Rocket Science. It’s Montessori.

montessori-rocket-scientistI grew up with a really wonderful friend, Stacy Weinstein, who went off to MIT and became a real rocket scientist. She’s worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena since graduating years ago.

The thing I remember most about Stacy is calculus homework (really!) from our senior year in high school. The topic was u-substitution, and neither of us understood. But we sat in her basement, and we gave it a go. After 30 minutes of trying, I gave up. I didn’t see the point, nor did I really believe I’d ever understand.

But Stacy kept going, kept erasing, kept giggling, kept at it. In fact, she was having so much fun, I just sat there even more dumfounded, as to how anyone could find this amusing. And I still remember those eraser shavings flying off her page. The more eraser shavings, the more joy she seemed to experience.

Finally, she turned to me and said, “Got it.”

Well, I never forgot that moment. Never. And when Stacy called me out of the blue a few years back, mentioning that she had recently married (she’d been very busy sending probes to Mars), I emailed her and let her know what I was up to.

“Montessori?” she asked. “That’s great. I went to Montessori when I was a kid, too.”

That explained everything!

In the Montessori classroom, young children are presented materials and are left free to work, sometimes struggling with those materials prior to mastering them. But if the directress does her job (and does not interfere), children will eventually solve those problems on their own. And with each solution comes joy, confidence, independence, and ability, all of which come in no other way.

MIT gave Stacy Weinstein the tools to be a tremendous rocket scientist. But her greatest assets are her tenacity and her love of learning, her love of doing, her belief in herself.

I saw all of those attributes in her basement decades ago. I didn’t know what they meant at the time, but I do now.

They are everything.

For your reading pleasure, I’ve included a Powerpoint she presented at a conference at Cal Tech in 2013.

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