Week 26 – Observing Montessori Style & Project-Based Learning

Week 26 – Observing Montessori Style & Project-Based Learning

This week seemed pretty brief.  I was out (for the first time this year) on Wednesday to observe our elementary campus and their Montessori approach to education.  Also did a bit of final assessing for current units before our break.  While spring break isn’t for two weeks, this next week is something my school does called Project Week.  There are no classes and students spend the week on any project of their choice.  It’s awesome 🙂


The Khabele School haS three campuses; the early childhood campus (18 mo – 5 yrs), the elementary campus, and the middle/high campus (where I work).  The campuses are pretty spread out across Central and South Austin so we don’t get as much cross-talk when it comes to vertical alignment.  Our academic dean has been working to begin to remedy that a bit. Some of the elementary campus teachers came and observed the 6th grade classes a few weeks ago.  This past week, the academic dean, myself, and two other 6th grade teachers went down to see what life was like down on the Brodie campus. It was enlightening.

The spaces are vastly different.  The Montessori style usually has two grades in one class so 4th and 5th graders (and two teachers) are in one really big class.  The students are highly autonomous during work time.  At one point, I was observing some students working with math manipulatives, others completing a writing activity, another in a small group for math instruction with a teacher, and some others reading a book.  The teachers have done an excellent job on getting the students aware of what they needed to be working on.  There aren’t grades in Montessori and just about everything they do in math is hands on.  I loved this multiplication checkerboard!  I had never seen one.

This system of visual division took a bit more thought to figure out.  There were test tubes, beads, boards, and lots of movement of all them.

I heard the teachers talking to the students as mathematicians; discussing big concepts and using mathematical vocabulary; you don’t hear ‘now add the phantom zero’ in a Montessori classroom!  Math is very self-paced so students are all in different places which has it’s pros and cons.  In one essence, students work on what they need and can excel at their own pace if given the opportunity.  On the other hand, students may get stuck on borrowing with subtraction and remain there for weeks…maybe even months if they don’t understand.  The question comes up where you just ask, ‘is it doing more harm than good to just stay on this concept for this long of a time?’

Seeing where my current 6th graders are coming from helps me see why some of them have struggled in the way they have. The lower campus environment is full of natural light, large classrooms, shelves of manipulatives, and quite a bit of autonomy during lessons.  One of the biggest limiting factors for us at the middle school is that our classrooms are actually just rooms from renovated Victorian houses.

Beautiful, but not ideal for classrooms.  Moving around a room filled with chairs and tables and backpacks can be a challenge it and of itself.  With our limited space, we’re unable to house many physical resources, hence why much of what we do with the students is online.  Students are still collaborating everyday, sharing ideas and working together in all subject areas, but it’s definitely a big shift from the environment they came from.

I will be in communication with the 5th grade teachers about the upcoming 6th grade students and what math placement would be best for them (6th grade Math Skills or Pre-Algebra, which is traditionally a 7th grade class).  It was great to see the magic happening down there.


Not much to say about my math classes this week.  I gave a short 4 question quiz early in the week as we were closing out the unit, then ended the week with a unit test in all my math classes.  Felt a tad rushed but the alternative would have been to have a review day on the last day of class before break and then test when they got back 2 weeks later.


I’m excited for Project Week.  I’m going to be working with any students who are making films for their projects.  I did my own little project week last year, which was to film a documentary on what Project Week was (#inception).  I’ve linked it below.

I want to do something this year as well, some sort of intro video to myself as a filmmaker / educator.  Not sure what it will look like yet.  I also want to do a short 2-3 second intro animation to put at the beginning of all my videos.  Will have to learn some After Effects for that.  Perhaps I’ll blog each day of Project Week to track my progress?  We’ll see 🙂

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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