Montessori Matters

March 15, 2019

What is this Montessori Thing about “Mixed Age” Groups?

Your great, great grandparents will surely remember the old, one-room schoolhouse where grades 1-8 were all together. It was like having 30 brothers and sisters all learning, sharing work and excitement, under one leaky wooden roof.

Sound like chaos? It wasn’t. Not then. Not now.

During MSA’s second year, our primary class of students became well established in its new, single-room pre-school building on Sam McGee Road. Picture forty children, two Montessori teachers, two and a half assistants (one carried her baby papoose-style on her back), a hamster, a bird, a few snakes, and a fish tank - all filling the air with joyful promise in the area now divided into two of our toddler classrooms. MSA's young families didn't want it to end.

And so, in 1975, our "one-room elementary schoolhouse" was established. Built by parents to accommodate their growing primary students, their older siblings, some brave and curious newcomers, and two new teachers who covered all subjects in grades 1-6, our second building filled up with 30 happy souls excited to learn and develop together in a brand new environment. The education and experiences that took place within those four walls (currently Tish McAlister's Primary One classroom) remain truly inspiring!

Today, even though our upper grades grow gradually more distinct in their age groupings in a way that is commensurate with their development and academic demands, MSA still upholds the Montessori model of mixed age groups across the whole campus and age ranges. From primary through lower and upper elementary classrooms, you'll still find three age/grade levels grouped together. In middle school, it's two grade levels together, and in high school - one to two.

What is the underlying principle of this "all-in-one" classroom approach? Spend just one hour inside one yourself - listening and watching these mini-communities in action - and the answer becomes clear as day. Here you'll likely catch a five-year-old tying the shoe of a three year old, or a third grader reading to a group of first graders. In the Middle School you might find the grade levels reviewing Spanish words together, or even a high schooler presenting a special demonstration of the physics of things “floating or sinking” to a group of risers.

As Maria Montessori recognized, understood, and fully appreciated (discussed in the last Montessori Matters) - children don’t come “standardized.” They each have their own time table to unfold. Within MSA's "all-in-one" three year time span and more individualized programs, every child has a much better chance to achieve to his full and natural potential while, simultaneously, his risk of being isolated by feelings of "being left behind" - OR feeling "ahead" - are minimized.

These three-year spans actually make life easier for the trained Montessori teacher as well. While she has two thirds of her students already acclimated to the workings of a vibrant and smoothly-functioning classroom, the youngest in the group can look up to and emulate their "elders" engaged in good behavior and exciting work. The elders, knowing they are leaders, embrace the role in a most caring way. In turn, they can find even their own motivation and satisfaction increased. In that sense, there are approximately 16 other “mini-teachers” available to help or explain or share a discovery.

After just a few cycles of this process, by the time a student reaches Upper Elementary, his awareness of “I can’t do this yet, but I see I'll be able to soon - and then help others learn to do it” has taken root. The "student" learns that becoming the "teacher" is a natural progression of hard work and age. The "teacher" learns that there are responsibilities - and rewards - for this role. The elders in each classroom prove to be gentle giants to the newbies at each level. (Extra bonus: there is a gentleness of spirit that is retained all the way into parenthood for many a Montessori-educated student!)

Sounds like valuable life lessons to me!

Yet even among some of the apparent "blurring" of development through the grade levels, there are also significant and distinct steps. So many rites-of-passage, for example, lay right before the eyes of the 7th grader eagerly anticipating her 8th grade year: taking early high school classes, 8th grade projects, 8th grade retreat, 8th grade speeches, and the Native American naming ceremony at Promotion to name a few.

Through this dynamic process of mixing and matching the ages, there is a deep sense of community for all as illustrated in our flag ceremony every Monday at 12:30. Middle schoolers raise the flags, 4th-6th graders provide a quote for the day, high schoolers lead the ceremony and respond to the quote - and every student greets his teachers with a handshake and mutual word of “blessings.”

All this living and learning together, sometimes for eighteen years, proves quite a joyful and important foundation for the multi-layered worlds of college campuses, corporations, communities, and countries still to come for MSA students.

Montessori School of Anderson is one of only 25 such "complete" Montessori programs in the U.S. (infant - high school programs). And for all of us here - students, parents, teachers - being a part of this community, and this process is a blessing.

We look forward to much more.

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Dates to Remember

March 11-21 - MAP testing

March 17 - MSA Open House, 1-4PM

March 19 - End of Quarter 3

March 22 - Teacher professional development day, no classes -- extended day available

March 25-29 - Spring parent conferences

March 30 - Spring Benefit at 6:30PM at the T. Ed Garrison Event Center

April 11 - Barbecue, Lower Elementary Play

April 15-22 - Spring Break

April 23 - Annual Meeting and Report*

*Note: The Annual Meeting/Report was initially listed on April 11; it will be held on April 23. We apologize for any confusion.

All Programs Closed Friday

Please mark your calendars for the professional development day this coming Friday, March 22. All programs will be closed, but extended day will be available.

Rising Star Tennis Tournament

Melina Moncada Lema, a student in Upper Elementary, won the 12U Girl's Division of the Rising Star Tournament at the Greenwood Country Club this past weekend! Congratulations, Melina!
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Learning Backgammon in Games Club

Negar Edwards and her father, Ahmad Abdi-Tabari, taught the Games Club students how to play backgammon this past Monday. They had a great time learning this game of luck and strategy! The students have played the game during their free time throughout the week after learning how to play.
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Toddler One Flower Arrangements

Students in Toddler One put together beautiful flower arrangements for their classroom and Mrs. Buchanan's office this week.
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Pi Day in Lower Elementary

Students in Lower Elementary celebrated Pi Day this past Thursday (3/14) by learning about the number pi. Students worked on:

  1. Using circles to find the ratio of diameter to circumference, which is 3 times and a "little bit". Students tested many circles, big and small, to find this special relationship that is the origin of pi.
  2. Children colored "cityscapes", using the decanomial bead bar colors on graph paper in the order of pi.
  3. Children wrote Pi-Ku's - special versions of the Japanese poem style, where students used the pi sequence to dictate the syllables in each line of their writing.
  4. Children are stitching bead bars onto a strip of fabric in the pi sequence.

Children came up with ideas of their own as well. Dr. Hill also showed up as guest chef. She worked with children to prepare bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches with hash browns! It was a fun day that Lower Elementary will be celebrating over many more days to come.

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Nature Walk

With the beautiful weather lately, students have had a chance to enjoy the outdoors. Lower Elementary Students went exploring with their Middle School mentors this past week.
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Fluor Engineering Challenge

For the past few weeks, the Middle School students have been working on their 2019 Fluor Engineering Challenges which were submitted Friday afternoon. The objective of the challenge was to build two machines that would get a ping pong ball over a small net and back as many times as possible without touching the ground within 5 minutes. The students were required to build their machines out of paper, cardboard, solo cups, and other common materials. During the design process, one group even set up a computer for remote rendering and rendered a 3D-modeled animation of their simple machines. A key concept in this project was figuring out the pros and cons of active and passive machines; in this case the passive types made it easier to complete the challenge.
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Click the animation preview below to view the 3D-model of the machine in action.

Gummy Bear Catapult

In Mrs. Miller's High School algebra class, the students have designed and constructed a catapult capable of launching a gummy bear into the sky in order to record the time it takes to complete the trip through the air. Using mathematical and physics formulas for parabolas and gravitational pull, the students were able to calculate the maximum height of the launch and the distance traveled.
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Operant Conditioning

Students in Mrs. Holt's High School psychology class were excited to learn about operant conditioning as they got to hear from a guest speaker, Jane Fink with Dog Works, a dog trainer that brought in one of her puppies for a live demonstration. They learned about positive and negative behavior reinforcement.
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Toddler Lunches

Toddlers in Toddler Two and Three enjoyed their pizza lunches on Friday this week!
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Toddler One

Enjoy these photos from Toddler One students' works and group activities this week.
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Primary Three Activities

These Primary Three students have learned a lot this week throughout their daily works.
This Primary Three student enjoyed the Maria Montessori collage that Lower Elementary created and shared with the community outside of their classroom. Also below is an image from Lower Elementary showing one of the students helping to create the collage.
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Shamrock Run

These students participated in the Shamrock Run 50 Yard Dash over the weekend.
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Spring Benefit sponsor of the week

Thank you to our VIP Sponsor of the week for the Montessori School of Anderson Spring Benefit, Fanello Industries! The Spring Benefit will take place starting at 6:30pm on March 30 at the T. Ed Garrison Arena; tickets are on sale now at MSA.
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Montessori School of Anderson

Our mission is to nurture the whole child, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, preparing students for academic excellence, lifelong learning and responsible, caring lives.