The middle year classroom at Montessori Habitat promotes the growth of each student through vigorous academic pursuits and vibrant community activities. While that “formally” defines our middle year classroom, what it looks like each day is a space filled with happy, industrious, messy, striving, confused, inspired adolescents!
Throughout each school year, the students work through five themed cycles. This past year, the cycles were Forces, Structures, Power, Changes, and Balance. Using study guides (syllabi) for science, history, language arts, and personal growth, the students work together, along with their teacher Mrs. Smith, to schedule due dates for both individual and group work. Within this set of assignments, there is some choice and some strict requirements. Thus this balance of internal and external expectations mimics their future schooling and careers. Each student’s math curriculum is individually designed by Mrs. Smith, the student, and the student’s family utilizing multiple resources including University of Chicago textbooks, internet resources, and trade books.
To further illustrate the concept of themed cycles as an interrelated and integrated course of study, we’ll explore more deeply the first cycle of this past year, Forces, and how the theme of “forces” relates to different areas of the curriculum:
In history coursework, the students studied the American Revolution concentrating their attention on the forces that drove the patriots to write the Declaration of Independence and begin the American Revolution. They also explored the causes, leaders, and effects of revolutions in general. This year, the students chose the French Revolution (1789) and the Russian Revolution (1917) to highlight their studies.
In literature they chose between two novels – Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang or April Morning by Howard Fast. The students read and wrote about poems, stories, and other readings which examined the forces of power, stereotypes, metaphors, and missing voices in the literature.
In their science studies, the students learned about Newton’s Laws of Motion and the forces of electromagnetism. Through readings and experiments they came to understand and apply these principles.
In health studies the focus during the Forces cycle was on stress and coping strategies. This included writing and reflecting on ways that some people and things support us and others deplete us.
At the end of each cycle, the students take an extensive exam in which essay questions predominate, but also includes other types of test questions such as multiple choice. These exhaustive exams help the students recognize their strengths and weaknesses for a particular cycle. Their own reflection, in addition to Mrs. Smith’s feedback, helps them move into the next cycle with a plan in place to shore up any weak spots in their learning strategies and skills and to continue to exploit their learning strengths. The goal is for students to continuously learn about themselves, and through that ever evolving self-knowledge, to deepen their understanding of what they need to grow as learners.
Homework is purposeful and designed to prepare the students to participate in collaborative classroom work the following day. Collaborative classroom work includes discussion groups as well as large and small group project work. As part of the daily homework, the students can expect to continue their math work from earlier in the day. The students have individualized math goals and will be working to achieve their goals based on their completion timeline which was agreed upon by Mrs. Smith, the student, and the parents at the student’s goal setting meeting. Math is a subject that responds well to a steady rate of progress and working at one’s own level in math provides for each student to be working on the edge of their knowledge, growing in their math skills and understanding, each and every day. Other homework includes reading literature (either novels or selections from an anthology) as preparation for group discussions or writing projects.