By Sherilyn Moore, CEO
Our Middle School teachers have been executing Project-based learning since 2015. It is a natural progression from the hands-on/student-led Montessori approach in the Primary and Lower-el classrooms to the hands-on/curriculum-led focus in Upper-el. The approach becomes hands-on/project-led in Middle School. This is otherwise known as Project-based Learning, or PBL. As our students grow and learn, we adapt and deepen the educational approach to best meet their needs. Just as our Peace Education develops into Restorative Justice as the students mature, our curriculum expands to best serve their needs.
Project-based learning is one of the most effective and deepest ways to connect with content and develop strong intellectual skills. “Students who participate( ) in PBL also benefit( ) from improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Mergendoller, et al., 2006; Shepherd, 1998; Tretten & Zachariou, 1995.) This dovetails into the “21st Century Skills” most needed to succeed in today’s world. Some students are never directly exposed to these important skills. Our Innovation Montessori Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers are immersed in the process of exploring and honing them.
Our Middle Schoolers are taking their Project-based Learning challenge seriously and are tackling a real issue facing all of our students on our property. Rainfall behind the main building takes its most natural course in a gentle slope to the swale and pond, which is lovely when there are only native birds, turtles, and flittering butterflies. When there is an entire school full of students wanting to enjoy lunch on the pavilion, or a walk on the grounds, it can become a muddy mess!
Both faculty and students have lost the shine off their shoes, and some have gotten temporarily stuck in the muck. Just yesterday, students were observed with hospital coverings on their sneakers to walk to and from the pavilion. That is a genius way to keep clean, but finding a permanent fix for the problem is the PBL du jour, and our Middle Schoolers are tackling the challenge in earnest.
Last week, Andrew Ranieri, Project Manager from Building Hope (our landlord and developer) and I visited all the Middle School students to answer questions about the property and to dig into this problem. The students had questions about regulations, the American Disabilities Act, best practices in construction, environmentally-friendly building materials, aesthetic preferences, and budget. Their excellent questions revealed that even in this one project, they are touching upon so many important subjects and practicing critical real-world skills.
What impressed Andrew and I most were the well-thought out inquiries, which showed the level of critical thinking present and the deep engagement of the groups, which demonstrated their collaboration abilities. Collaboration and critical thinking are two of the “4 C’s” of the “21st Century Skills” that will best serve our students throughout their education and careers.
We also saw the third “C” of creativity already on display in some of the lofty suggestions like a suspension bridge from the second floor, and a beautiful garden seating area (as seen in this great mock-up from a group of energized Middle Schoolers): Molly Higgins, Mackenzie Hill, and Angelina Alarcon.
The fourth “C” of communication comes into play during their group work and will be critical when each group presents their findings in late October. We look forward to seeing what great solutions the students come up with, and how we can execute that soon to save the shoes!
To learn more about 21st Century Skills, please take a look at this .pdf designed for educators that has definitions of the skills and examples of ways the “4 C’s” can be incorporated into classroom work. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/A-Guide-to-Four-Cs.pdf
Our Middle Schoolers are not just taking a lemon and turning it into lemonade. They are digging into a real issue, considering all the angles, testing-and-adjusting solutions, working in teams, and preparing to present their ideas before a panel. This exercise will also result in a real impact to their school that they can take pride in and enjoy when it gets built. IMO was built for the students, and these Montessori Scholars and now really making it their own!