THE CHALLENGE: How does a 100-year-old education philosophy play out in a modern-day middle school classroom? At Millard Public Schools’ Central Middle School, Montessori-based teaching techniques create empowered, thoughtful and self-motivated young adults.
THE CHAMPIONS: Kara Hutton, coordinator of special programs, and Mina Harrison and Jeff Greco, the dedicated co-teachers of the 7th and 8th grade environment.
THE SOLUTION: Montessori is a philosophy of education that is based on the work of Dr. Maria Montessori. The key components of her philosophy are differentiated instruction for all students, very concrete experiences before abstract, multi-age classrooms and peace education.
She observed that children tend to all go through the same planes of development, but not all at the same time. In a Montessori classroom one four-year old might be working on sounds and sandpaper letters in preparation for reading, while another could be working on math using the number chains. In middle school, one group of students may be researching the greenhouse effect and another group is studying water pollution.
In the middle school environment, the students spend part of each day working independently, working in groups, or participating in whole group activities. Each classroom has what is called shelf work. Shelf work are hands-on, concrete methods for learning an abstract idea. A student in the 7th and 8th grade environment created a shelf work to teach her classmates about The War of 1812. The teaching tool is a timeline that students unroll and match dates and cards describing events. Students can do this independently or as a small group activity.
Another key component of Middle School Montessori is what they call "school away from school," a required three to four weeks of immersed learning. Students apply for internships or job shadowing opportunities, take two extended stay class trips, and often participate in some type of community service.
To help pay for the extended stay trips, the students run a business. Each year they decide what products they want to make or buy, how to price them, how to sell them, and how to provide service to their customers. This year the students raised $10,000 to pay for their adventure trip to Colorado. During this week long trip, students will have six hours of school each day, learning about history and science outside the traditional classroom. In addition, students research and plan these immersions. They shop for food, create the daily schedule and assign responsibilities. While way from school students prepare the school, maintain the environment and lead class discussions.
THE RESULTS: Montessori teachers act as a guide as students manage their learning at their own pace. The result is a more confident student who feels empowered and able to learn and understand. Kids are encouraged to ask their peers for opinions and help on assignments, and these relationships build a sense of community that is unlike traditional schools.
The Montessori system also lends itself to teaching acceptance of others, as students are encouraged to share positive feedback about their classmates in their daily morning meetings. The underlying premise of individualized learning is that everyone is different and that’s okay. One Millard Central parent shared her belief that the Montessori system has helped her daughter build stronger relationships with other girls in her class, and has made her a more accepting person.
THE HOW-TO: The Montessori philosophy is based on the idea that teachers should respect the individuality of their students, and “emphasize social interaction and the education of the whole personality rather than the teaching of a specific body of knowledge.”
Teachers focus on modeling lessons and behaviors for students before empowering them to take over and teach themselves and others. This method merges independent thinking with a sense of community. The classroom is a democracy, and each student understands the vital role they play in their own success and the success of their classmates.
• For more information about Montessori, click here.
• To learn more about Millard Central Middle School, click here.