Students cover all areas of the curriculum taught in South Australian schools. The Montessori Middle School differs in the way the information is presented and organised, and the way the students learn. The interdisciplinary curriculum enables students to see connections between areas of knowledge that are often artificially separated. Teachers ensure that as students work on a range of different multi-faceted problems, they also understand the fundamental knowledge of each of the disciplines and are able to apply that knowledge. Students learn actively through solving problems, and the knowledge gained is therefore relevant to them. There is an individualised approach to learning that is tailored to each student. Other key components of the program are Community Meetings and Seminars. These provide a chance for students to participate directly in the functioning of their surroundings while learning the importance of active engagement in a community.
Occupations are important, relevant, and educational roles and projects focused around a specific area and need of the school campus and the adolescent community. They combine meaningful, hands-on work with study of the practical sciences, maths, history, and language skills needed to complete the tasks, and the taking on of significant responsibility. In this way, the curriculum is directly tied to the real world. Each occupation leads naturally to the study of many traditional subject areas. Occupations also develop skills in planning, problem-solving and collaboration. Occupations may include for example: vegetable gardening; constructing, maintaining and studying a pond; bush care; bicycle maintenance; building structures such as a chicken coop; event management.
Business endeavours are an ongoing component of the Middle School curriculum. Students learn the importance of self-sufficiency through the creation and administration of a Micro-Economy on the campus. Each year students research and develop real business enterprises. The students are completely responsible for the success of this venture. They learn the importance of working together to complete tasks and gain first-hand knowledge of the process of production and exchange, which helps form the basis of our society. This aspect of the program also teaches an understanding of division of labour, organisation, management and financial responsibility while building confidence and self-esteem. Students may sell produce, offer catering services or provide other services for example to sustain the business, and to fund other projects that the community decides on.
Creative and Physical Expression
Creative and physical expression is an important component of the curriculum, helping the students to develop skills and expertise in areas of personal interest that build confidence and passion. They also provide a means to explore their emerging identities, a focus for physical energy, an exposure to a range of activities, and an opportunity to challenge themselves. Each week, students participate in creative and physical expression activities, both as individuals and in groups. These may include for example: outdoor education programs; yoga; hiking; bike riding; the performing and visual arts. Each year, students have the opportunity to be involved in a “Coffeehouse Cabaret”. Students may choose to participate in singing groups, music ensembles, and to have private instrumental music lessons from visiting teachers at the school. Students are guided and supported in sourcing external subjects they are interested in. The choice of activities are based on each student’s learning pathway and interests.
Central to each student’s learning is their Individual Learning Plan. Students and teachers set objectives for different curriculum areas together, with links made to projects and ‘big picture’ issues. Students and teachers chart the student’s progress using the Individual Learning Plan, and regular meetings. Students demonstrate their mastery of understanding in each of the core curriculum areas through a variety of means that may include: articulating and presenting a project using art, drama, music or audiovisual presentation; or teaching a lesson. The Middle School does not use exams, since the goal is to assess students’ conceptual understanding and ways of thinking and working, rather than their ability to rote learn and recall facts in the short term. Because teachers work with students over an extended period of time, they develop a good understanding of each student’s strengths, weaknesses and interests, and are better able to monitor progress than teachers in mainstream settings who may only see students for a small number of hours each week. Students in years 7 and 9 sit the compulsory National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests. Students are given the necessary skills to do their best under test conditions, as an example of another Life Skill.
The Middle School timetable is devised to meet the following needs:
- Uninterrupted work time
- A developmentally responsive curriculum
- The need for physical activities
- Integration of the curriculum across traditional disciplines
- Psychosocial emphasis
- Real-world activities
- Ongoing internships and placements in local organisations
Rather than spending 30-60 minutes on a subject and then having to change room, teacher and subject, students are able to spend an intensive period of time on one piece of interdisciplinary work. This provides time for continuous, undistracted thought and deep concentration. It is also a more efficient use of time.
Community Links and Learning
A sense of connection between the adolescent and the broader community is essential to a student’s perception of belonging. Students undertake major independent study projects, using the resources of the city and local area as an extended campus under the guidance of a teacher or mentor. Co-operative skills and inner resourcefulness are developed as students work with others in the school and the wider community on local and regional projects. Community service is a regular part of the program. The adolescents mentor younger students and volunteer in local organisations such as libraries, bush sites, animal shelters, community gardens, nursing homes, community centres and more.