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Being a parent of two Montessori students and an ardent supporter of High Quality Project Based Learning has helped me appreciate and cross the bridge between two fundamental methods of learning. The educational methodology which governs a Montessori school is a wonderful and effective breeding ground and incubator for PBL in our young students. It is clear to me that, every day, our sons apply the elements of high quality project based learning in order to create, explore, and develop as a whole person. The elements of intellectual challenge, authenticity, project management, reflection, collaboration, and public product are the same air that circulates in a Montessori classroom.
A few weeks ago at our son’s school, I participated for the first time in “Montessori Experience,” an annual 7-hour special event for parents and guardians to experience an in-depth journey through the children’s daily work. It was a meaningful experience for me, who grew up learning with conventional teaching methods, to actually experience my son’s learning in a public Montessori school environment. I was excited to bridge my perception of learning with that of our sons.
A Day in a Montessori School
The first period was all about observation. It was a silent journey for two hours where we navigated the kindergarten, lower elementary, and upper elementary classrooms without speaking and touching any material. Just pure observation. This experience was magical because it opened up my inner child curiosity and allowed me to be present and be fully immersed in the moment. This experience prepared me to be reflective and recognize what is intellectually challenging – two of the six criteria for High Quality Project Based Learning.
The second period was the “discovery” period. This is when the practice of different lessons takes place. HQPBL’s elements of authenticity, project management, and collaboration are at the center of this period. During this period throughout the week, a student’s voice and choice are respected. With the teacher’s guidance, the learner becomes responsible for his or her project. The teacher, also known as “guide,” serves as facilitator and meticulous observer who understands the uniqueness in each child and stays ready to provide guidance and lessons based on each student’s interest, need, and choice of work.
The third and last period of the day is dedicated to sharing. This when the High Quality Project Based Learning criterion of public product manifests itself. For parents and guardians participating in the event, it was an opportunity to put into words our entire Montessori Experience.
Our Older Son’s 6th Grade Experience
When our eldest son was in sixth grade at a public Montessori school, he worked on a project about skin cancer. The goal of his project was to educate young people of his age about this type of cancer. Even though the project was an individual project, he constantly collaborated with subject matter experts from various agencies such as The Skin Cancer Foundation and Mayo Clinics throughout his research work. The selection of his project’s topic was based on requirements that the topic is intellectually challenging and authentic for him, with real life implications, impact, and research tools.
Throughout the project, he naturally applied project management tools and strategies from initiation to completion. Thanks to his Montessori upbringing, he was comfortable in efficiently using the self-management skills he had learned by organizing his time, tasks, and resources during the project. Both he and the teacher reflected about the celebrations and wonders throughout the process, asked questions, and changed directions when needed. In the end, he presented the project with confidence not only to his classmates, but to the entire school community of students, families, and teachers.
As Dr. Maria Montessori professed, “Within the child lies the fate of the future.” When we encourage our children to follow their curiosity, use their multi-senses, and become problem-solvers who enjoy self-expression, we are preparing them to find PBL as a comfort zone, thriving in critical thinking and discovery. The now and future of successful learning lies in High Quality Project Based Learning for all students, regardless of background and status. Both principles of learning advocate for educational approaches that empower the student to master academic and life skills essential for realization of one’s wisdom and contribution to mankind.
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