Walking past the classroom, you might not even realize that our new middle school class is in full swing; it’s so quiet and calm in the back corner of our administrative hall, despite the serious work being accomplished in our temporary classroom. In fact, this friendly bunch of bright students, with Ms. Sharon Clarke as their guide, has been steadily self-organizing and defining what our middle school program looks like since the new year began just five weeks ago.
When speaking with these young women, it’s apparent that they feel a sense of balance, adventure, and empowerment in their new class.
Emma Rose said, “We have more freedom and privilege now…we get to read better books, do art, do yoga…weird stuff like that.” Jasmine added, “We get to choose more of what we do” and explained how she feels like she can really voice her opinion to Ms. Clark and help lead the direction of her (and her friends’) educational journey. When prodded about why they might have these new freedoms, they all agreed that it’s likely because they’re now older and it’s a much smaller class, so there are fewer competing opinions.
Freedom of choice isn’t a foreign concept in Montessori schools, but it’s a very foreign idea at the middle school level. Our staff has paid close attention to giving our students a level of freedom that you won’t find for students of this age range in other facets of society.
The students really seem to enjoy the fact that they get to participate in hands-on projects like marble launches and measuring sandboxes/gardening boxes with Ms. Donna. Jade mentioned that she’s really into the science they’re doing right now–growing clovers near the sunny window. They’ve even fed animals at a nearby farm, traveling in the class van, and they’re actually looking forward to going back again to shovel hay (can you believe it?).
Make no mistake, though, weaved into opportunities for choice and hands-on experiences, these students are doing significant intellectual work. Gia explains how their group does pre-algebra every day; it’s just one of the many expectations they have to keep up with from their work plans. Jasmine added, though, that she feels like it’s just the right amount of work. They have two weeks to complete the independent work on their work plans; they all agreed that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. In fact, they’re enjoying it.
One aspect of middle school that’s new to all of these students: textbooks. They all agreed that it’s quite different for them; however, they’re getting a kick out of learning in this way. It’s a departure from the quintessential Montessori experience they’ve all grown up with, but also important for them as they prepare for high school and post-secondary education. This is a safe place for these students to gain confidence and get comfortable with textbook learning–at least for some things.
Another exciting new material for these students: laptops. They lit up when given the opportunity to share what they’re working on with their new tech. Grammar and reading comprehension are seen in a new light when paired with technology for the middle-schooler. Jade explained how one of the programs they use will inject characters from their favorite series/movie into reading comprehension questions. Her pick right now is Harry Potter. Marcelina added, “It’s very hilarious!”
In addition to school work, the students are also using their laptops to start planning and purchasing new supplies for their new classroom. They’ve been given a budget and some planning tools to begin thinking about what they’ll need for the new middle school building that CMS will add next year.
What does Ms. Clark have to say about her new class? Just that she’s loving getting to know her new students. They’re quiet. So quiet. And when she poses a question, there’s often a long pause before someone speaks up. But she’s working with the students to iterate–to decide where they need to pre-test, what lessons she needs to give, what ends up on the week’s checklist, and what gets pushed back. Unlike other middle school programs, there’s no week-by-week lesson plan here–just a flexible path that they’re all on together.