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Math and the Adolescent

November 8, 2019

 

Montessori adolescent environments are strikingly distinct from traditional Middle Schools. While traditional classrooms may be doubling down on homework, desks in rows and fifty-minute classrooms, Montessori Middle Schools recognize that the rapid and diverse physical development of learners at this age is inconsistent with desk and book-based learning. That is not to say that Middle Schoolers are incapable of big thoughts and intellectual engagement. Quite the opposite... Montessori classrooms will offer those challenges in ways that support learners' need for movement, for application in real settings and for grand conversations on elevated themes. Learners now are both capable of abstract thinking and intrinsically driven to move. Unlike younger children who needed concrete materials to understand concepts, Middle Schoolers can understand fully abstract ideas. They are just often distracted in the doing by the primary demands of their growing bodies. A responsive environment, then, will be one that gives them enough to do with those rapid physical changes so that they don't interfere with the learners' equally important intellectual curiosity. 

 

Instead of handouts or following equations on the board, students in Montessori adolescent programs influence their own environments, designing their classrooms to meet their own intellectual interests, identifying (with the probing of a well-prepared teacher) what kinds of spaces will evoke the best thinking from them, and then working together to create and maintain those spaces. In these settings, the need to understand applied mathematics is a practical one. Learners who are charged with caring for their garden need to understand significant concepts in science and math to be able to design the beds, measure the planting season, prepare the soil and so forth. Learners who want to build a loft for small groups to gather need to understand measurement, physics and operations to be able to construct a sound platform. Because Montessori classrooms support learners' agency in influencing their own spaces and understand the need for large-scale, physically challenging experiences, practical math will be driven by the collection of different students each year. 

 

But at the same time, these are learners who seek to understand the universe, beyond just their own classrooms. They seek noble conversations on lofty topics. They want to understand not only  how math can be used, but the mythology of math as a human evolution, how cultures employed math toward their own betterment, how current thinkers use math to define the universe. Teachers need to be as well verse in the great stories of math and the ways in which the language and principles of math cross time and culture, to seed those conversations and support learners as they discover their answers. 

 

Finally, math in the Adolescent classroom will be curiosity-driven. How tall can a tomato grow? Does it really matter if you're wearing flip flops or athletic shoes when you're playing basketball? Can we measure the arc of a skateboard as it leaves its ramp? Is there a maximum amount of time middle schoolers can be together without finding something to debate? As these inquiries emerge from the classroom community, Montessori teachers will adeptly navigate them into scientifically-sound applications, integrated into the day-to-day life of the students and yet still serving their development beyond the demands of the classroom. 

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