Overview of Middle School Curriculum
Early adolescence is a time of dramatic change and growth, when young people are open to the influences of peers, family, school, and community. The middle school years are a crucial time for making life decisions. Yet many adolescents are faced with the prospects of attending large, impersonal schools and a curriculum that is out of touch with their intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal needs.
The middle school program at Millhopper Montessori School was designed according to Maria Montessori’s philosophy of “improving the individual in order to improve society.” It is our goal at Millhopper Montessori School to create an environment for adolescents that challenges their ever-expanding intellect and shows them that they have the means within themselves of making significant contributions to society.
The middle school design is an integration of the current research in human development, the trends and issues in education, and the Montessori philosophy. The mission of the program is to provide opportunities for adolescents to be self-confident and gain self-knowledge, to belong to a community, to learn to be adaptable, to be academically competent and challenged, and to create a vision for their personal future.
The program structure offers a learner-centered environment, a developmentally responsive curriculum, a teaching team of Montessori teachers and special area teachers as resources, parents-teachers-student partnerships, multi-aged grouping of 11-15 year olds, blocks of uninterrupted learning time, and peer and cross-age teaching. The early adolescent is an active, self-directed learner, a vital member of the class, school, city, and global community, a vital member of the teacher-student-parent team, responsible for keeping commitments and being honest and respectful.
The curriculum and instruction include theme units, learning how to learn strategies, personal learning plans, mastery, exploratory activities, long term cooperative learning projects, sense of community and social interaction with peers, meaningful and challenging work, activities for self-expression, self-knowledge, and self-assessment, activities that value all seven intelligences and a variety of learning styles, activities to foster interdependence and learning economic independence, and school and community service projects.
The middle school program was established in 1998. While the curriculum is highly academic and exceeds the standards set by the Florida Board of Education and the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS), it also designed to meet the needs of the students. The curriculum and instruction is designed as a two-year program. Mathematics, Language Arts, Spanish, Physical Education, Chorus, Art, Technology, and Personal Health are courses of continuous progress. Natural Science, Physical Science, American History, and World Culture/Geography are taught on alternating years. Since MMS does not offer high school courses and there is no other Montessori high school in the Gainesville area, thus MMS believes that the middle school program should not only offer a high-quality Montessori education but also an environment that will enable it’s students to transition smoothly into a traditional public high school setting. The teachers are facilitators for learning, consultants for the students, creators of a positive climate for learning, communicators with parents, and community role models.
The school day is divided into two kinds of work: personal and group. Personal work is designed to make a match between the skills, abilities, and interest of the students, and there is a variety of work choices in every academic area to be done alone or in small self-chosen groups. Personal work is assessed individually with various testing methods. Assignment modifications are made on an individual basis.
Group work is done in randomly chosen groups who learn to work together each quarter. These groups work together on academic tasks, such as academic tasks in the thematic units and environmental tasks, such as keeping the classroom environment organized and clean. The thematic unit is assessed by individual written tests and/or group presentation and product.
Students are expected to keep up with class work and if necessary complete assignments at home. Students are welcomed to remain in class at the end of the day to work on assignments or ask the teacher for help. If a student repeatedly misuses class time or interferes with the work of his/her classmates, a conference is held and an action plan is set up with the family. This action plan remains in effect until the student shows a consistent pattern of appropriate behavior.
Homework consists of in-class assignments that require completion at home in order to be turned in by the due date. The formula for calculating acceptable homework time is fifteen minutes per grade level. Therefore, a seventh grade student should expect approximately an hour and forty-five minutes worth of homework and an eight grade student should expect approximately two hours worth of homework. Realistically, the amount of time a Millhopper Montessori Middle School student spends on homework assignments depends upon how the student utilizes in-class work time. The students typically have an hour each day to work on any of their assignments and to solicit help from the teachers. If a student utilizes this time effectively, she or he may only have forty-five minutes to an hours worth of work to complete at home.
Parents are asked to support their adolescent by providing a family schedule that allows time and space each evening for schoolwork. For concentrated learning to occur, students should study without the distractions of television and telephones. Syllabi are given out at the beginning of each quarter. Thus, students know their assignments in advance so they can learn to plan ahead and avoid conflicts or late night studying. When students are not prepared for class (i.e. assignments are not complete or necessary belongings are not brought) the time spent at school is non-productive. Therefore, when a student does not complete his/her assignments or bring required belongings to school the student will fill out a homework notification, which is then signed by the student, teacher, and parent. If a student is repeatedly unprepared, a conference is held and an action plan is initiated.
Mastery learning is a form of personalized learning that gives students the necessary time to master particular skills before progressing to the next level of work. The student takes on the responsibility of learning a skill versus just accepting a low grade and never really learning the information. The teachers’ job is to break down the learning steps, to offer suggestions for internalizing the knowledge, and to give the time necessary to learn the information. The advantages of mastery learning, according to research, is that it offers clear expectations, fosters mastery of a unit of study, is not competitive, and encourages student responsibility. Its disadvantages, as listed by researchers, is that too many student’s receive A’s and B’s. The procedure is to offer information, provide learning strategies and activities, provide a variety of assessments, and reteach and reassess if necessary. To meet the students’ needs of special learning situations, adjustments to mastery learning will be made on an individual basis.
Independent Study – History and Science Fair
Students will complete two independent studies a year focused on history and science. In the fall the focus is a topic of history. In the spring of each year, student will create a project to present to the class on science. There are specific guidelines and due dates along the way. A research paper is expected. This work is to be done individually.
Drug and Sexuality Education
Drug and sexuality education is an integral part of the middle school program. The significant factors in helping students make good choices for themselves are decision making strategies, goal setting and planning, constructive ways of having fun, stress management, good peer relations, self confidence, taking responsibility for their behavior, respect for others, and learning to defer immediate desires. These elements are on-going skills and include activities in the classroom. In addition, the health curriculum focuses on information in sexuality and drug education with follow up activities. Montessori Middle School is a drug free school, and students who posses and/or use alcohol, tobacco, or other chemical substances on school property are subject to action by the school. Parents are expected to monitor student’s activities so that students are in safe and healthy places where they are not exposed to abuse of chemical substances.
Physical education is an important part of a holistic education. MMS is fortunate to have a partnership with the University of Florida Physical Education Department where we employ a student who is working on a master’s level. These university students are trained in the latest and most state-of-the-art techniques and are experienced in the use of the Sunshine State Standards. The PE curriculum includes a variety of team sports, fitness through the National and President’s Council of Physical Fitness. The students become competent in physical education literacy and develop a level of personal physical fitness promoting a physically active lifestyle. The physical education class focuses on team sports, individual sports and aerobic activities. Students also participate in cooperative games. All students are included in all activities. Health is the study of issues pertinent to the needs of early adolescents. Students explore topics such as belonging, friendships, adolescent development, stress management, self-esteem, peer pressure, drug education, sexuality, nutrition, and balanced living.
The fine arts are an important part of a holistic curriculum. Students integrate their artistic knowledge and skills to the on-going projects and use it as an avenue of self-expression. On Friday, students work with the school’s art teacher who uses the Florida Sunshine State Standards as a scope and sequence format.
Language arts include the study of vocabulary, literature, grammar and mechanics, and composition.
Vocabulary is presented across the curriculum and is formally approached by learning the word elements and the Sadlier-Oxford Vocabulary Workshop. Literature is taught in small ability-level groups and includes the study of literary elements and the reading of various genres of literatures including poetry, short stories, novels, autobiographies, newspaper and periodical articles, etc.
Creative Writing and Composition
During each quarter, students attend writing workshops to work on various styles of writing. The main area of focus is expository, descriptive, and comparative essay writing, as preparation for high school and collegiate compositions. Students compose two research papers a year as a part of an independent study. This writing follows a format of rough draft, edit, revision, and final draft. Feedback in revising and editing is received from peers as well as teachers.
Mechanics, Spelling, and Grammar
Grammar concepts are covered through the use of the students’ compositions.
At the middle school level, formal handwriting instruction is covered on an as needed basis. However, the students are encouraged to use a word processing program to type all composition papers and reports.
The senior elementary and middle school students have formal math instruction in small ability-level groups. These groups occur at the same daily time block allowing for the integrity of developmental placement and a wider breadth of math levels to be offered. The two classes are divided into groups of six to twelve students. The students are placed in the appropriate math group by means of placement teats at the beginning of each school year. The lowest level offered is a fifth/sixth grade Saxon Math grouping using the Saxon 65 text. The levels progress through Saxon 76, Saxon 87, Pre Algebra, and Algebra I.
This math course uses the Saxon 65, 76, and 87 textbooks. This text utilizes basic computational math skills.
This math course uses the University of Chicago Math Book Transitions. This text utilizes real life experiences as well as computers and calculators to provide critical thinking and problem solving skills. Students take quizzes for feedback and master comprehensive tests with at least 85% accuracy.
This math course uses the University of Chicago Math Book Algebra I. This text utilizes real life experiences as well as computers and calculators to provide critical thinking and problem solving skills. Students take quizzes for feedback and master comprehensive tests with at least 85% accuracy.
The physical science curriculum includes the study of the structure of matter, forces motion, energy and waves, work and machines, and chemistry. The natural science curriculum includes the study of plant and animal classification, human biology and anatomy, cell structure and theory, ecology/biome study/geology, and astronomy. Students do personal work and group work in these themes.
This course includes World Cultures/Geography and American History. The Geography curriculum includes the study of the themes of location, place, movements, regions, and interaction of people and their environment. The American History curriculum focuses on the progress of the American governmental systems and the American people from the end of the Civil War up to the present. Current events are natural inclusions into many topics of discussion and are used as connectors to previous events in American History.
In the middle school, The Spanish program includes a variety of proficiency-building activities as well as substantial supplementary cultural materials. A high school level of Spanish 1 is covered over a three-year period. The basic objectives of the program are threefold. The first objective is to help students attain proficiency in the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). The second objective is to aid the students in acquiring a firm linguistic base, which is the foundation of effective communication and meaningful language proficiency. The final goal of the program is to present the target language within the context of the contemporary Spanish-speaking world. In addition to gaining communicative competency in the four language skills the students participate in many cultural and technological projects that will help them use their abilities in Spanish in the “real world” now and in the future. The textbook, ¡Ven Conmigo! is used as well as resources from a variety of programs. Additional activities are provided for native speakers who are learning to read and write in Spanish.
This computer literacy course includes the use of a word processor, spreadsheets, database, graphics, academic programs, and simulation games. All of these activities are integrated into all subject areas. Students also have the opportunity to work with other equipment such as scanners, use the internet to gather data and communicate with other schools.
Seventh grade students spend one week as an assistant in a Montessori classroom and eighth grade students spend the week working in a business of their choice. The supervising teacher completes an evaluation form. For both experiences, students prepare a business letter stating their goals and verifying arrangements. Students also prepare a resume to include. The supervising adults then complete an evaluation form. Students do other spontaneous service activities based on need and interest.