What will you see when you walk into an upper elementary (grades 4-6) classroom at Bluffview Montessori School? What you won’t see is a teacher talking to a roomful of students sitting quietly in rows of desks. What you will see is twenty-four students (more or less) working independently on a variety of tasks throughout the room; some sit on the floor, others sit alone in a chair; others work in small groups at tables.
There’s a busy buzz to the room…it’s not noisy, but it’s not dead quiet, either. It’s calm, as each student engages in some productive work. For instance, Rachel is pulling up a chair to join a group of four upper elementary students who are taking turns reading a novel. They’re being guided by a parent volunteer (a grandparent, in this case), who helps them explore the book with probing questions
Francesca and her friend Ava are sitting in a comfy corner, writing poetry. They completed all of the work on their daily work plans, the document that ensures they’re making choices that help them cover all topics in the curriculum. Now, they have some free time to choose their own work, so they’re collaborating on a poem that they will present to the class later.
Andrew, who is struggling with long division, is getting one-on-one help from the assistant teacher. They’ve spread out a work mat on the floor, where they set up a Montessori work called the Stamp Game. Under the guidance of the assistant teacher, Andrew is working out a long division problem in his math notebook, while at the same time working it out using the “skittles” and “stamps” that are laid out on the floor. Engaging all his senses with the problem makes it more concrete for Andrew, who seems relaxed and engaged as he works.
Where is the lead teacher? She’s at a table with six students, explaining a long-term interdisciplinary project to them. They will each be creating an imaginary island from the ground up, from topography and climate to biomes and cultures. They will have to create topographic maps on grid paper, calculate the area of their island, locate its longitude and latitude, and then populate it with plants and animals that might plausibly thrive in such an environment. The kids are excited, already coming up with imaginative names and strange possibilities for their islands.