Montessori Education in the Intermediate Classroom
Montessori Middle School: Self-growth, Problem-solving and Decision-making
Adolescence is the period when your child transitions from childhood to a young adult. Starting at age 12 or 13, the work of the young adolescent is to create a personal vision. In the process, your child begins to address the question of who he or she will become in the future and what he or she will contribute to society.
Adolescence is the period when your child transitions from childhood to a young adult. Starting at age 12 or 13, the work of the young adolescent is to create a personal vision. In the process, your child begins to address the question of who he or she will become in the future and what he or she will contribute to society. The Intermediate program at Butler Montessori provides the context for self-growth and a framework for problem-solving and decision-making. The prepared environment for the adolescent is a place that meets the cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs for development. As one top Montessori educator puts it, “Place is a community to which the adolescent feels that he or she both belongs and contributes.”
At Butler Montessori, this “place” includes classrooms, a kitchen, gardens and a greenhouse, horse barns, chickens, beekeeping, sports fields, and a ropes course.
There is also a pond, hiking trails and woodlands, as well as a caring community of students and staff. In this environment, students not only learn academics, they develop the skills of independence, cooperation and self-discipline. The freedom offered students is balanced by the expectation of a high level of personal responsibility and accountability.
- Mathematics – The underlying aim of mathematics is to challenge students in mathematical thinking, understanding and problem-solving at levels appropriate to individual students. Some students complete Algebra 1 within a year and a half, beginning Geometry the second semester of their 8th grade year; other students complete Algebra 1 within two years. The student’s work includes lessons from a textbook, individual projects, group projects, tests and note-taking. Most students complete and pass Montgomery County Public Schools’ Algebra 1 test at the end of their 8th year, progressing to Geometry during their freshman year of high school.
- Writer’s Workshop – Students practice thinking critically as they focus on a variety of projects that encourage them to attend to both the creative and technical aspects of composition, emphasizing the writing process. Using the elements of literature, plot, theme and setting, students write short stories, literary analysis papers and poetry. In addition, students read and discuss novels and practice constructing thesis statements that answer interpretive questions.
- Spanish – Spanish 1 is offered as a two-year course intended to engage students in the Latin language and culture and to prepare them to participate in a society characterized by linguistic and cultural diversity. Students learn to communicate in Spanish – both spoken and written.
The curriculum emphasizes use of the language in real-life situations. Most students complete and pass Montgomery County Public Schools’ Spanish 1 test at the end of their 8th year, progressing to Spanish 2 during their freshman year of high school.
- Humanities – The framework for humanities is the study of different societies and communities, as well as humans and their social organizations. This structure supports the young adolescent’s exploration of his or her place in the world, which is of great interest during this period of development. Projects and various experiential activities (e.g., debate, dramatic reenactments and role-playing) that allow the adolescent to imagine that he or she is a part of history encourage strong engagement during a two-year course cycle.
- Science – The science curriculum includes experience-based lessons during which students apply scientific concepts to everyday life. The two-year cycle of study includes physical sciences and biological sciences, as well as nutrition and health education. Presented with key concepts and challenges, students engage in exploration, research, discovery, scientific inquiry and discussion. In addition, the science curriculum is integrated with the hands-on activities of the micro-economy (see description that follows).
- Humanities and Science Seminars – Seminars are held periodically as extensions of science and humanities classes. Led by a student, with the guidance of a teacher, these highly engaging seminar discussions provide an enlarged understanding of ideas, values and issues. In preparation for seminar, students read an article from a primary source and develop interpretive, factual and evaluative questions.
Advising, Governance And Assessment
In this time of transition from the child to the young adult, the Advisor Program allows adolescents to develop meaningful relationships with teachers and other staff. Advisors meet weekly with individual students or in small groups to “check in.” This is an opportunity for a student to talk about academics, social situations, challenges and personal goals.
Each student in Butler Montessori’s Intermediate program becomes a member of a community. Within this community, governance is the result of an ongoing dialogue among members about needs arising from community life. With the guidance of the teachers as needed, the establishment of community standards and protocols is left to the students as much as possible. Weekly community meetings, in which all students and teachers participate, provide a forum for raising, discussing and making decisions around a variety of topics.
Assessment and Self-Evaluation
- In the tradition of Montessori, our goal for the students is for them to move beyond extrinsic motivations and rewards to intrinsic evaluation and establishing a pattern of personal responsibility.
- While formal evaluation takes place in the form of test taking, informal evaluation is ongoing through interaction with the students. Assisted as needed by the teachers, students engage in self-evaluation by answering questions such as: 1) what did I learn? 2) did I do my best? and 3) did I seek help if needed?
- Students are expected and encouraged to work to their highest potential. At the end of each semester, students and parents receive a progress report, including percentages/grades based on the student’s performance in each class. If a student is doing work consistently below 75%, the student’s parents will be contacted.
During the school year, Intermediate students enjoy many opportunities to engage in various forms of creative self-expression. These small group activities are art, music, theater, movement, construction and cooking related, guided by adult specialists from the Butler community. Other activities have included swing dancing, photography, sculpture, building a chicken coop, mosaic work, painting and construction of marionettes.
Intermediate students continue to incorporate art into their curriculum. By the 7th and 8th grade, your child is taught art in small groups in blocks of two-hour segments each week. Students work on one project for the six weeks, which gives them the opportunity to tackle bigger projects, allowing time for appropriate research, problem-solving and trial and error. Most importantly, your child
discovers a trust and delight in his or her own individual creative ability.
The Intermediate students learn how to analyze and segment a musical piece, how to create their own musical idea acquiring the basic elements of music as language and expressive means. Students experience how to rearrange and perform a musical piece for their end-of-the-year production and for the graduation ceremony.
Drama, improvisation and acting techniques are usually taught through group games. Many of the games are based on techniques such as fast interaction, quick response, follow-lead, cut-freeze. For Drama, students master staging and directing techniques, while learning how to develop an idea into a skit or a play. The students are also guided toward a productive approach to become the creators of the whole process. Creativity and self-expression play a key role in Drama classes.
Using the music educational method Dalcroze Eurhythmics, the Intermediate students experiment how to segment choreography. They also learn how to create their own choreography upon analyzing the form/structure of a chosen piece.
Butler Montessori offers a unique Micro-Economy experience as part of its Intermediate program. The Micro-Economy provides students with an opportunity to experience the economic life of our society in a way that is meaningful to them.
As part of the Intermediate program’s Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), students raise chickens; grow vegetables, fruits and flowers; and produce items such as homemade breads, tomato sauce and salsa. These items, as well as eggs from the chickens, may be purchased by parents and staff. During the summer months, the CSA is supported by small groups of students who come to school for two weeks.
A greenhouse, gardens and chicken coops support the students’ CSA and are also available to the rest of the Butler Montessori community.
Travel opportunities are an integral part of the program, and participation is considered part of the academic requirement. A student’s perspective and knowledge widen from new experiences, whether the trip includes challenging oneself physically and/or engaging in stimulating academic studies.
Past trips have included traveling to Costa Rica to study biodiversity and peace, to Arizona to work on a Navajo Indian reservation and visit the Grand Canyon, and to New York City to study immigration. Other more local trips have included hiking on the Appalachian Trail and studying ecology at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
The Physical Education (PE) program for the Intermediate students focuses more on the rules of games, endurance, strength-building through the traditional physical exercises of sit-ups and pull-ups, increasing flexibility, and stamina-building through plyometrics and running. Intermediate students have two 45-minute PE sessions a week.
Afternoons on the ropes course elements additionally provide both physical challenges and team building for these young adolescents.
Physical exercise is also achieved through various Creative Expressions and Occupational Projects that are an integral part of the Intermediate program. Over the years, these have included constructing a school store, chicken coop, fence and bread oven and making and maintaining gardens.