Last week, a few parents had the awesome opportunity to be adolescents again!
What is this mysterious adolescent program Montessori schools offer? Montessori schooling itself is not widely enough known. Adolescent level (ages 12-14) classes are even harder to come by. And boy is that a shame, as you’ll see…
Entering the classroom, we made sure to shake hands with our guides, make eye contact, and say “Good morning. ”
Our guides, Mr. Elliot and Ms. Christina walked us through the routine and had us each sign up for a job on the board.
We started with introductions in a circle and began Community Meeting. We discussed and practiced how meetings were run in the adolescent program. They showed us the community language board that each student signs. When a student uses language that is considered disrespectful, there is a gentle reminder to use “community language.”
Community language also included positive concepts that encouraged openness and support. One was a made-up word espousing the concept of failing in order to ultimately succeed -“succail.” These are words that the students thought up and agreed on together, each taking responsibility and ownership of what they want their community language to sound like.
At the guide’s prompting, we began our community discussion. We were asked to think of a middle school memory. At first, this was tough. Then they all come flooding back. For many, they were not very positive. For all, served as a reminder of the heavy emotional load we all carried back then. Everything was important. Everything felt like it was the end of the world. This exercise helped me (and others, I think) really get not only what the adolescents may be experiencing, but also appreciate the gift of the small, supportive, and thoughtful Montessori experience our adolescents enjoy.
Then we moved onto the math seminar. I was not really looking forward to this, expecting my ignorance of math to be exposed. But it was a supportive environment and frankly, I wasn’t the only one! I already consider a number of the other “students” in the class to be friends, so I guess it mirrored a bit how the current students feel in their class.
But back to the math. We had a problem we were all trying to figure out together. We discussed the best approach and tried different methods. In working together, we gained more perspective and knowledge about the concept (this one being exponents). Every week, they work on three problems like the one we did.
Maybe it was the social aspect of it, or the fact that we never got to verify the right answer, but it made me want to learn more about exponents! And I am not even kidding. It made me curious. And a little excited. I suspected I might feel this way back when I read Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. It made me wish I had been a Montessori kid. I truly suspect I would have enjoyed math and understood it better if I had had the opportunity to learn at a Montessori school.
If that didn’t sell me, the Math Lesson we did next, certainly did. Ms. Christina explained the binomial and trinomial squares to us, as well as the longer blocks representing the 4th power of a binomial.
They explained how our kids start out in Children’s House with these blocks, learning deeply the concept of binomial equations ( (like a2+2ab+b2, remember that?) in a concrete way. As they progress into upper elementary, they branch out into abstraction and then by adolescence, they are demonstrating their knowledge of these concepts again, in concrete ways. At this point, my head was spinning a bit, but I could tell that I really might have understood these concepts better had I learned them in this way.
One of the most fun parts of the day was the engineering activity we did next. We were tasked with figuring out a way to roll a marble to the other side of a rug using only the materials presented to us and a few other parameters. We tried to use a balloon to propel the marble (attached to a cup). I didn’t think this would work (I was right), but this was a group effort. A collaboration. So we learned we from it. And I was in tears laughing at how pathetically we failed. Through this activity, our guides watched and later pointed out concepts that they heard us using like force and gravity. This would normally lead to a lesson on physics or engineering concepts. Again, I was left wanting more.
Then it was time for a wellness activity. We grabbed some yoga mats or nifty little floor chairs and went outside to meditate while holding an ice cube. The lesson was that of what we choose to focus on-the discomfort of the freezing cold in our hands, or the fresh air and beautiful weather. A simple exercise, with an important lesson. What a gift, to teach our kids such perspective!
Finally, we returned to the classroom for our last seminar. A meta-seminar about seminaring. This was my jam!
We discussed our assigned reading about seminars. The reading discussed the interpersonal theory of learning-that we learn best from each other, through exchange of thoughts, through interaction with one another. The teacher is merely the facilitator of the discussion. Notice the connection to the Montessori method of teaching through “guides.”
Our reading also took us through the four types of seminars, ascending order from rich to richer styles of intellectual conversation.
They were: the Free-for-All. Consider this like maybe the comment section of almost every Facebook argument ever Anything goes, the goal is for me to look smart and you to look dumb.
The Beauty Contest-look at me! I’m so smart! I don’t care about your idea, I just want you to hear mine. Lalalaaaa….not listening!
The Distinguished House Tour-Ideas are explained, explored, discussed, and questioned. No one claims their idea is better than your’s.
The Barn-Raising-everyone helps to build the discussion, setting rules and expectations. Everyone can suggest changes and improvements as the discourse is formed. This allows everyone to take ownership of the discussion and contribute positively to the conversation. Every one’s point of view is valued.
Finally, our reading introduced the concept of the cosmic question . This is a question you come up with after having read the assigned reading and bring to seminar for discussion. Rather than just expecting to teach others what you have learned, this cosmic question should help you to understand the reading more deeply.
The cosmic question I came up with was: How can we teach or encourage this higher level of discussion in society, for example, on social media?
I hope I have accurately portrayed the ideas and concepts that the adolescent guides sought to explain. If this seems interesting to you, or you would like to experience it for yourselves, keep your eyes out for the next opportunity to join in on the fun! If you would like the full reading mentioned above (sans my overly simplified reader’s digest version) we can get you a copy. If you or someone you know would like more information on the adolescent curriculum, that is available as well.