Greensboro Montessori School partners with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) to use Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth assessments. MAP Growth is a computer-adaptive test for measuring individual student achievement and growth in math, reading, and language usage.
We've chosen MAP Growth because it is a student-centric approach to standardized testing. Unlike paper and pencil tests, where all students are asked the same questions and spend a fixed amount of time taking the test, MAP Growth is an adaptive test. That means every student gets a unique set of test questions based on responses to previous questions. At the end of each test, teachers are able to determine what individual students know and are ready to learn next.
Unlike traditional standardized tests, MAP Growth testing is administered twice a year, enabling us to measure our students' individual growth over time. Teachers may also use test results to further inform instruction, personalize learning, and monitor student growth.
While we are not a test-driven school, we know test taking is a practical life skill students need in preparation for high school and college. MAP Growth tests are one form of assessment we use, in conjunction with other methodologies of formative and summative assessment given throughout the school year.
About MAP Growth
No. As a computer-adaptive assessment, MAP Growth will provide questions to test the upper limits of your child's skills. Every student will miss questions. The MAP Growth guides suggest that students should expect to miss 40-60% of their questions.
There is no particular score for which students should aim. Instead, your child's individual MAP Growth Report will contain a RIT score. This score represents their achievement level at the time they took the test. As a partner in your child's education, we are less concerned one-time scores and will focus more attention on students' growth measures between assessments.
During MAP Growth
After MAP Growth
Preparing for MAP Growth Assessments
There is nothing families need "to do" in preparation for a MAP Growth test. We encourage families to follow the child – provide the level of support they need to feel successful. This could vary between treating an assessment day like any normal school day to practicing questions on a sample to get comfortable with the format, to talking with your child about the practical life skill of testing (i.e., tests are part of education and you should do your best, and you should not worry or stress over tests).
If you'd like to provide a strong framework for your child before and during a test, we have these tips:
The Night Before
- Relax and have fun.
- Enjoy a healthy snack an hour before bedtime.
- Get a good night's sleep.
The Morning of the Test
- Fill up on healthy, complex carbs and protein.
- Arrive at school on time.
- Connect with a friend or teacher if you have pretest jitters.
During the Test
- Take three deep breaths.
- If you don't know the answer, give your best guess and move on.
Maria Montessori believed that “establishing lasting peace is the work of education...”
While many of us are focused on the end of a school year, on how the pandemic will affect our family and our jobs, and on working to support the emotional needs of our children, as we should be, I felt it appropriate to also take a moment to remind ourselves of what Maria Montessori writes about peace education. For our attention should also be focused on what is happening all around the country and world this week in response to the events in Minnesota.
Greensboro Montessori School welcomes and embraces diversity by providing a safe and supportive environment that is open and inclusive. Our community is enhanced by people from many different cultures, races, nationalities, faiths, learning and physical abilities, political backgrounds, sexual orientations and identities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family constellations.
We work together to empower all of our families to share and grow in their confidence and ability to raise responsible young citizens. And, the recent tragic events in Minnesota with the death of George Floyd must serve as a reminder that we still have much work to do. Being non-racist is not the same thing as being anti-racist. As peace educators, we have a responsibility to make sure we are doing our part to foster empathy and kindness in all of our students.
Our school has always proudly had the following policies for admissions and hiring, respectively,
- Greensboro Montessori School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.
- Greensboro Montessori School does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, national origin, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status with respect to recruitment, hiring, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
We are proud that we do not discriminate. We are proud that we actively teach our students to be just and inclusive. These are at the heart of the foundations of Maria Montessori’s peace education. And sometimes this is not enough. Sometimes we must move beyond awareness of discrimination, acts of aggression, and bigotry wherever they are and at whomever they are aimed. We must also engage. How we each choose to engage these challenging times and challenging events will vary from home to home, and we all stand together with our shared value and commitment to peace education.
We hope that everyone can engage injustice when we see it, actively see our privilege where it lies, and promote equity and peace with not only our mind, but also our resources and actions. And especially to all our African American students, staff, and community members: you matter. Black Lives Matter. We see you, and we support you.
The president of the board of our accrediting body, the American Montessori Society, recently shared part of this reflection to our 16,000 members:
AMS recognizes that institutional change is required to make an impact in the larger Montessori community. Ensuring environments where everyone feels welcomed, valued, and respected is our most important charge as a membership organization. Serving as the largest Montessori membership organization does not exclude us from the institutional racism that is pervasive in associations, schools, and training programs throughout the United States. We hope that you continue to engage with us as our organization strives to be anti-racist. – Amira Mogaji, President, AMS Board of Directors
We hope that everyone can join us as we work to intentionally move from awareness to engagement.
In peace, and on behalf of the Greensboro Montessori School Team,
Dr. Kevin Navarro
Head of School
As they do every spring, Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High students recently engaged in their final Great Debate of the year in history. Students addressed and argued both sides of two debates. The first questioned whether the purposes of government are best served by an authoritarian approach. The second questioned whether the primary role of a government should be to meet the needs of its people. The debates provide Junior High students the opportunity to argue in a logical and clearly defined manner.
While The Great Debates are usually hosted in the classroom, this year's final debates were argued virtually through Google Hangouts. 57 participants, including students from both Junior High and Upper Elementary, attended the event, deepening their understanding of many forms of government and economic systems, including authoritarian, capitalist, communist, and socialist.
How the Debates Work
Teams of two or three students are given their topic in advance, but they do not learn which side they are on, for or against, until the morning of the debate. As a result, they must analyze and evaluate both sides and research and compile points and examples supporting both arguments. Each student writes two formal position papers, one for each side of the argument. This helps them broaden their thinking and mental flexibility.
The debates follow a modified version of standard debate procedure, with an opening argument, sometimes shared by two teammates; time for preparation of rebuttal; and then closing arguments and rebuttal, by the remaining member of the team. Faculty members observe, discuss and provide extensive oral feedback to the teams about the debate.
How Topics are Selected
The topics of the debates are drawn from subject matter the students have discussed in history classes during the preceding several weeks. Students are encouraged to go beyond the class discussions in gathering information and building their arguments.
The process allows students to go beyond what they have learned and apply it to larger questions, to develop their reasoning and ability to build and support logical arguments, and to gain confidence and develop greater precision in presenting their thoughts persuasively.
How We Learn
As Junior High students move into and through adolescence, it’s imperative they receive authentic support for their burgeoning philosophical questioning, curiosity in the world around them, and deep desire for belonging within their peer group. Greensboro Montessori School honors these needs through the concept of valorization, which is a pillar of our Junior High curriculum.
Valorization is the process of understanding you are a strong and worthy person. It is the process of self-actualization and fulfillment. It is not about surviving hours of arbitrary homework or memorizing facts for the next test. It’s about completing meaningful work, unleashing academic excellence, and solving real-world problems.
The Great Debates are just one example of how Greensboro Montessori School students experience valorization by developing self-worth, skills, and courage through purpose-filled work. Learn more about how we build valorization through our science curriculum in our recent blog about Trout in the (Indoor, Outdoor, and Virtual) Classroom.
If you are interested in learning more about Greensboro Montessori School's student-centered Upper School serving motivated learners in fourth to ninth grades, we encourage you to schedule a virtual information session. We welcome an opportunity to meet you, learn more about your family, and explore Greensboro Montessori School could partner with your family.
Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High students just culminated one of their project based learning assignments – hatching, growing, and releasing brown trout.
Junior High science teacher, Tim Goetz, released the trout in a cold water tributary of the Smith River near Bassett, Virginia. It was a Friday morning in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, our Junior High students would have been stream-side with Tim, and it would have been their job — not their teacher's — to complete the final step of their semester-long project. Instead, students joined Tim virtually to watch the trout meet their natural habitat.
As the trout grow, they will make their way up river into the Smith River. Along the way, they will eat land and water insects, zooplankton, worms and other aquatic creatures. They will also search for hiding places from predators, including birds and other fish. Tim Key, a member of the Nat Green Fly Fishers Club, who was present at the release said "these are some of the best fish I have every seen."
The fish were hatched at Greensboro Montessori School as a part of the nationwide Trout in the Classroom program, with support from the Dan River Basin Association, and Tim Key of the Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club. Over 250 eggs were given to the School on December 5, 2019 and the first hatch was December 10.
The fish were raised in a 45-gallon, cold-water aquarium at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Greensboro Montessori's Upper School. To quickly prepare the correct growing environment, students mixed five gallons of water from the School's pond with 40 gallons of tap water. Students tended to the fish daily, including feeding, changing water, and water testing. Daily water tests included pH, ammonia, and nitrites with the goal of recreating a natural, cold-water trout habitat. This attention to detail resulted in the science room smelling more like an outdoor classroom next to a river than a traditional classroom.
Eighth grade student, Nina, was the head aquarium tender and her classmate, Ava, provided the backdrop art for the aquarium.
Prior to COVID-19, Junior High students were scheduled to travel to Virginia to release the trout themselves. Their expedition would have been part of their April Land Week, one of several weeks a year when they learn at Greensboro Montessori School's 37-acre satellite campus in Oak Ridge, N.C. With schools throughout the state suspending in-person learning, the students' land week and field trip was cancelled, but not their learning. Students participated in the trout release through a Live Lesson via Google Hangouts. Tim also documented the release on GoPro cameras so he could share the experience with the entire school community, Toddler through Junior High. After all, Greensboro Montessori School students learn everywhere, whether its the indoor, outdoor, or virtual classroom.
Learning through purpose-filled, project-based learning — like hatching, raising, and releasing brown trout into their natural habitat — is not the exception to the rule at Greensboro Montessori School. It is the rule. Our students learn through completing meaningful work, which often results in real-world benefits to the community. Through the multistep process of researching, designing, implementing, refining, analyzing, and presenting their projects, our students gain real-world skills such as resiliency, creativity, curiosity, time management, and public speaking. They also develop a sense of self-worth by understanding the value of their contributions to society and experiencing personal fulfillment.
Click here to read about about another real-world project our Junior High students are leading: inoculating, growing, harvesting, and selling shiitake mushrooms.
In addition to Trout in the Classroom, Dan River Basin Association, and Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club, Greensboro Montessori School would like to thank Oliver Rouch from K2 Productions for lending us GoPro cameras and editing our release footage. We also want to thank Tim Key for his work behind the camera.
After a long day away from our children, we parents are eager to hear all the details about how they have spent their time. However, so often our queries of “What did you do today?” are met with the same predictable response: “Nothing.” For children, distilling the many details and experiences of a full day at school into an anecdote or two is a tall order. What tools can we use to get them talking about their learning?
Through the Vidigami private photo sharing platform, you get to see moments of your child’s day at school. Viewing photos of your child engaged with Montessori materials can inspire great conversations. Children, especially those younger than five, are not yet able to summarize and describe the many things they experience over the course of a full and stimulating school day. However, photos offer visual cues that trigger a child’s memories and invite them to comment on specific materials and activities. There are many different ways to talk about these photos with your child, and we've provided some suggestions, which focus on your child's intrinsic motivation. Enjoy these special conversations as you allow them to teach you what they are learning at school.
- Ask your child to tell you about the photo. You may learn what they see in the classroom, or what they remember about the moment, and it may be much more than meets the eye.
- Say what you see without judgement. “I notice you are in the classroom.” “Do you know the name of that work?” “There are a lot of colors in your drawing.”
- Speak about their efforts instead of praising their product. “You really look like you are concentrating.” “Is that the first time you have done that work?” “I see your smile. What did you like about that work?” “Are you building with those blocks?”
Listening to your child talk about the photos and speaking without judgement encourages your child's intrinsic motivation – it allows them to continue to work for their own sake, rather than for any praise from adults. As Montessori teachers, we get to witness this intrinsic motivation every day. It looks different at each age grouping and is a critical element to Montessori education. Many elements of the method foster intrinsic motivation without reward and judgement, such as control of error in the materials, allowing for repetition, assessment through observation, and relying on peers as sources of feedback and inspiration. Teachers try never to interrupt a concentrating child or judge their work. Instead, they seek opportunities for meaningful conversations before or after a student's work cycle.
As Montessori observed children, she saw time and time again the intrinsic motivation in the child to work through repetition for long, uninterrupted periods of time. In a book that examines Montessori’s relevance to today’s educational practices, "The Science Behind the Genius," Angeline Lillard refers to several current research studies confirming that rewards and punishments not only negatively impact intrinsic motivation, but also how a student performs on the task. Traditional reward methods used in most schools may actually hinder a child’s performance. Given the opportunity, children are capable of learning to take personal responsibility for their actions.
“Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments … in order to foster in him a spirit of work and of peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
As a Montessori school, we believe deeply in educating the whole child: their academic, psychological, critical-thinking, moral, and social-emotional selves. In addition to the academic lessons and works your children are engaged in daily, our teachers and staff are also guiding your child through other very important lessons to help them with their moral and social-emotional development. For example, teachers give explicit lessons related to grace and courtesy, facilitate discussions at the peace table, and encourage collaborative work and play daily.
And, it turns out, research from our School confirms that we are doing this pretty well …
The Gratitude Project
We recently worked with Professor Jonathan Tudge and his team from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro ("UNCG") to study the development of gratitude as a virtue. As a virtue, gratitude goes beyond a positive feeling when something good happens. Virtuous gratitude is a disposition to act gratefully when someone else does something nice for you. Dr. Tudge explained it to me this way: “Saying 'thank you' is polite, but hardly a virtue. What makes gratitude a virtue is when beneficiaries of good deeds or significant help want to do something back for their benefactor if they have the chance to do so. That first act of generosity, followed by grateful reciprocity, leads to building or strengthening connections among people.”
In previous cross-cultural research, Dr. Tudge and his team found that most children develop this type of gratitude between the ages of 9 and 13, although the age differed depending on the cultural context. In their study, children in the United States developed virtuous gratitude at later ages than other cultures. Keeping this in mind, Dr. Tudge decided to target a new intervention designed to encourage the development of gratitude within adolescents.
Dr. Tudge and his team came to our School to explore this intervention. After working with our Upper School students, they stumbled upon a ‘good’ problem with their research: far more Greensboro Montessori School students exhibited virtuous gratitude than they expected. Our Upper Elementary and Junior High students expressed gratitude at much higher rates (67%) than did children in non-Montessori settings in the United States (46%). In addition, our students were almost twice as likely to express autonomous moral obligation (79%) than were children in non-Montessori schools (44%). Defined originally by Jean Piaget, autonomous moral obligation is a decision-making framework whereby moral decisions are made based on intrinsic motivations to do the right thing.
Dr. Tudge and his team were puzzled by these anomalous findings. Why did our students score higher than other American children, even when compared to other well-regarded private schools in the Greensboro area? And how are these findings related to Montessori pedagogy and culture?
Gratitude in the Montessori Classroom
In our discussions with Dr. Tudge, we discussed the way Montessori teachers prepare the environment to communicate honor, respect, and gratitude to the child. We also described the ways in which our teachers model gratitude and respect when they speak and interact with their students. In time, this becomes our students' definition of "how it's supposed to be.” In addition, we delineated how our grace and courtesy curriculum creates both a framework for community interactions and a schoolwide culture of character.
In collaboration with Dr. Tudge and his team, I presented the results from our Upper School students’ involvement with Dr. Tudge's gratitude study at the Association for Moral Education’s annual conference in Seattle, Washington.
In the presentation, we hypothesized that our students' high rates of gratitude could be due to several specific tenets of Montessori philosophy:
- Specific lessons about grace and courtesy provide explicit guidance on character development from a young age.
- Daily practice of grace and courtesy increase opportunities for proximal processes related to virtue development.
- Mixed age groupings of children may expose younger children to older children are further along in virtue development.
- Peer interactions encouraged from toddlerhood may increase opportunities for the development of mutual respect.
Dr. Tudge and his team also did some work with our Lower Elementary students. Tudge’s team again noted that so many of even these younger children (aged 6 to 9) expressed virtuous gratitude. Dr. Tudge reflected: “We think that this must say something about the character-based focus of the general Montessori curriculum, because a far greater proportion of Greensboro Montessori School children expressed gratitude than elsewhere.”
Character Education at Greensboro Montessori School
Overall, the results suggest that a Montessori environment is conducive to developing virtuous gratitude and autonomous moral obligation. These results – while surprising and interesting to the UNCG team and other researchers and educators at the Association for Moral Education conference – are not really that surprising to us. Focusing on strong character education is a key tenet of Greensboro Montessori School. A deep respect towards classmates and other people is so integral to our culture that it's not that surprising our Elementary and Junior High students authentically take their sense of gratitude to a level beyond just saying “thank you.”
My very first year at Greensboro Montessori School, I worked alongside a wise and wonderful teacher, who is also my Montessori mentor. As our year together progressed into late spring, she suggested we teach a unit on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and sent me afield to pick up a caterpillar tent from a local butterfly farm. It was a curious-looking contraption: a flowering milkweed plant with a gauzy covering. A week into our journey with this kit, my mentor had a family emergency that took her on an unexpected trip overseas ... for four weeks. At a moment’s notice, I found myself entrusted with the care of 12 children; one gerbil (my mentor knew I didn’t do rodents); a ragtag tray of fava beans sprouting in paper cups; and this milkweed plant, the presumed setting for the miracle of metamorphosis. That is, if I could keep it alive. It didn’t take long for me to realize that with this lowly plant came some extraordinary lessons in faith, respect, awe, tenderness, and trust.
For those uninitiated in the art art of raising caterpillars: they take a while to become visible. A long while. Though we’d been promised that our plant came with a pair of Monarch eggs, those first two weeks rolled by with nary a sighting of the little beasts. Every day we checked for them, and every day I saw the skepticism grow in my students' eyes as I described the wondrous sight we were going to behold. Probably. Eventually. The morning we finally noticed wormholes in the leaves — evidence that our charges were indeed hatched and hungry — felt like waking up to breakfast in bed on your birthday.
Once our caterpillars became visible, they grew at a blazing speed, delighting the toddlers with their impossibly lovely stripes and ravenous eating habits. The students relished the idea that these creatures never, ever accepted any food but milkweed. “Wouldn’t you like some pizza, dears?,” I’d ask the worms. “Maybe a nice cup of coffee?” The children would squeal, “NO WAY!,” perhaps reminded of their own choosy appetites. An assortment of suggested names were bandied about, ranging from Lexy to Tiger to Dobo to Burp. (The caterpillars didn’t seem to have a preference.)
One sunny morning, we found the caterpillars hanging from the leaves in their mysterious “J” formation, the behavior that immediately precedes the formation of the chrysalis. Within hours, they were caterpillars no more. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I could never have imagined the reverence and care the students extended once this transformation had taken place. They seemed to instinctively know their tiny pets now needed silence and space. Each morning, the toddlers took turns standing guard by the milkweed plant, gazing solemnly at the astonishing beauty of the chrysalises, misting them gently with a spray bottle. Many days of inaction followed ... yet, having awaited their friends’ first emergence, the students now had unwavering patience and faith. Some miracles, they’d learned, are worth waiting for.
When the butterflies emerged during the last week of school, we carried them to the playground and prepared to set them free. Before they departed, they allowed each and every toddler to hold them awhile and sing them a send-off song (the choice was painfully obvious: “Let it Go”). When the monarchs finally took to the sky and fluttered toward the Primary garden, I knew the students and I were feeling the exact same mix of elation and heartache. After all, many of our toddlers themselves would soon be flying to the other side of the playground fence, away from the nest of our classroom and our many loving days together.
Six years later, having raised monarchs with every single toddler class I’ve taught since that first year, it’s time for my own metamorphosis. I am so excited for the new challenges and relationships that await me as I transition into the director of CASA role at Greensboro Montessori School. Yet there’s something about teaching that simply can’t be matched by any other profession. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the beautiful metaphor of little children caring tenderly for the tiny, fragile caterpillars whose lives begin in our classroom. I hope that’s in small part because they, too, have felt tenderly cared for here; that they understand the reverence and awe a teacher experiences as they watch their students grow, and the bittersweet pride they feel when it’s time to set their students free.
This year, when our current crop of monarchs depart for the great big world outside, we’ll all be ready to spread our wings and join them, together, in flight.
About the Author
Brooke Juneau joined Greensboro Montessori School's Toddler faculty in 2013. She holds her Infant & Toddler (bith to 3 years old) Montessori teaching credential and graduated from Hampshire College with a Bachelor of Arts in education and human development. Brooke is the mother of three boys. Her middle son, Hayden, graduated from Greensboro Montessori School in 2017. Brooke plays the guitar and loves singing with her students. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, Brooke will be the School's director of CASA.
Prekindergarten and kindergarten Primary students love coming to the art studio once a week in the afternoon. Although I am a huge fan of process art where the process of creating is the main focus, I have discovered directed drawing also has its place. At the beginning of class, students meet me on the rug to watch as I draw shapes and lines that turn into an object they can recognize. Then it is their turn to draw. Students have clipboards with drawing paper attached. They follow along as I draw one line (or shape) at a time. Through this directed process, they are learning to find the lines and shapes in things that they see. Then is the fun part when they go to the table and finish their picture with watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils etc.
What about students who think they have a hard time drawing? I am constantly reminding all out students how the art studio is a safe place to experiment, and we don’t worry about being perfect. You might hear me saying, “perfect is boring!” Directed drawing breaks down an object into simple lines and shapes, which helps ensure our students' earliest art experiences are positive (so hopefully they will continue loving art as they grow older). Plus, Greensboro Montessori School students are great at asking for help if they feel they need it. As a teacher guide, I am there to encourage and assist when a child asks for help, but I mostly see the students growing in their confidence and having fun as they practice drawing.
Examples of Primary students' directed drawings were on display at the 2019 Green & White Bash. I worked with YoungDoo Carey on creating an art series based on the four seasons. Students drew snowmen for winter, flowers for spring, ladybugs for summer, and leaves for fall. I gave selected drawings to YoungDoo, who digitized the drawings and created patterns for printing on fabric. YoungDoo then worked with Anne Schroth, owner of Red Canary Studios and a former Greensboro Montessori School parent, to print the patterns on various fabrics. Heather Goggin then used the fabric to create pillows, linen tea towels, and scarves.
While process art is at the heart of my teaching, I am finding a balance using both process art and directed drawing. Teaching both techniques is the best way to follow the child.
Katherine Gwynn is the visual arts faculty for Primary, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary students. She is a mixed-media artist and her art studio is filled with a variety of materials for creating. Students in her classes are exposed to a wide variety of media, art styles and movements, specific artists, and terminology. She often supports the CASA program with enrichment activities, and in addition to her regular class, she maintains open studio time for Upper School students who are often engaged in elaborate projects. Katherine holds two bachelor's degrees: one in interdisciplinary studies in art and design from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and another in social work from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
For this year’s Green and White Bash, Upper Elementary students took inspiration from the beauty and complexity of Greensboro Montessori School's gardens. As one of the room parents in Upper Elementary (my daughter, Stella, is a sixth-year student), I had the opportunity to work with my fellow room parents, Catherine Wolfe and Flory Hénon, to develop the classroom auction project. We chose to invite a collaboration between Environmental Education, Visual Art, and Upper Elementary to celebrate spring and to honor the spirit of Maria Montessori’s words about the importance of building a connection between children and nature. In 1936, Montessori wrote in The Secret of Childhood:
"There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature … so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvelous things which civilization creates."
Our exploration of “the harmony and the beauty in nature” took the form of a printmaking workshop. Using gelatin plates, soy-based inks, found objects, and baskets of garden finds, we experienced nature’s beauty and fragility firsthand through art-making. Gelatin (also called “gel” or “gelli”) printmaking is a fun and safe monotype printing method used by both professional artists and weekend crafters. It is particularly well-suited to children, because gel plates and the water-soluble inks used in the printing process are nontoxic. It is also easy to achieve beautiful results, because the gel material is spongy and shows even small details of the objects being printed.
Our printmaking day began in the morning with Eliza Hudson, Greensboro Montessori School’s lead environmental educator, taking several student volunteers into the Upper Elementary garden to collect fresh materials. They gathered an exciting assortment of flowers and herbs bursting with the colors and textures of spring. Later in the morning, I arrived to set up our printmaking workshop. As I prepared the area for working, many curious students stopped by to see what was happening. Some poked at the squishy plates; others picked through the assortment of materials on display. I enjoyed seeing their curiosity piqued, even though we had yet to begin the actual printmaking. Catherine arrived soon after me, and together we inked each of three gel plates with a different color. We chose deep blue, reddish-pink, and an ochre yellow — all the way around the color wheel! — to represent the wide spectrum of colors found in nature. Once everything was ready to go, the teachers sent us groups of students by grade level during their recess.
The sixth-grade students arrived first. They were quick to organize themselves: three students lined up in front of the gel plates while the other students crowded around to watch. They chose garden materials and recycled objects, then arranged them into compositions on the inked plates. We took preliminary prints, with the objects still on the plates, that resulted in strong, saturated colors and amorphous drifts of white left behind where the objects blocked the ink. We discovered that these prints made perfect background layers for prints taken of the detailed images left in the ink once the objects were removed. Sometimes enough ink remained on a plate after pulling these two prints to allow for a third “ghost” print that the students could use as yet another layer. In this way, each final print was created as the result of multiple rounds of printing through student collaboration. The shapes and colors on each print intertwined to create a beautiful and organic complexity, mimicking that which is found in nature. The students enjoyed the process of working together with their fellow students, and over time, began to design their prints collectively, keeping all of the layering possibilities in mind.
Upper Elementary students of all levels enjoyed the activity and many wanted to spend additional time making prints. I loved watching their faces as they pulled a fresh print off the plate. Their eyes would grow with excitement, and occasionally I’d even hear a gasp. The teachers were equally fascinated by the process. Katherine Gwynn, Greensboro Montessori School’s visual arts faculty, along with Eliza and the Upper Elementary faculty visited to observe and participate. Cathy Moses took photos and John Archambault partnered with a student to make a set of prints. When all of the students were finished with their work, we cleaned the area, and I packed up the prints to take home. In my studio, I combined and transformed them into the petals of a large, three-dimensional flower — a nuanced and strikingly beautiful tribute to spring that showcases the diversity found in nature and also among the children who dwell in it here at Greensboro Montessori School.
This project came together with the help of several important collaborators. First, thank you to Eliza Hudson for taking volunteer students into the garden on a beautiful spring day to collect flowers and herbs, the stars of this project! Thank you also to Katherine Gwynn for her enthusiasm and for placing an emergency order of paper for us. Many thanks to the Upper Elementary teachers, Cathy Moses, John Archambault, and Tessa Kirkpatrick, for weaving our project into a busy school day. And, finally, thank you to my year-long collaborators in Upper Elementary, fellow room parents Catherine Wolfe (who is also the division coordinator) and Flory Hénon, for their excitement about the project and their support during the printmaking workshop.
About the Author
Gina Pruette is a parent and substitute teacher at Greensboro Montessori School. In addition to helping at the School, Gina enjoys tackling creative challenges as a freelance copy editor, writer, and visual artist. She is writing her first book, a guide to collaborative art-making with children, with the hope of encouraging more parents and educators to make art with the children in their lives. This summer, Gina will teach bookbinding methods during the School’s GMS Press book-themed camp. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. She holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Pennsylvania.
Why is professional development so important at Greensboro Montessori School?
We talk about our students being lifelong learners.
We always want them to discover, to ask questions, to think new things, and to have new thoughts. Especially at a Montessori school, we believe the adults who help guide our students’ education also need to be lifelong learners. We, too, should ask questions and think and try new things, just as we ask our students.
As professional educators, we are always watching for chances to learn: observing students or other teachers, having that unexpected conversation with a colleague, or connecting with professionals and researchers and new theories through more organized professional development — conferences, workshops, speakers, or graduate classes. We spend a lot of resources on professional development because we believe our School is only as good as our professional educators are.
The Montessori Event
Our crew was quite fortunate to have an amazing professional experience recently. A trip up to Washington, D.C. was the setting …
For four days 26 faculty and staff from Greensboro Montessori School joined 4,400 other Montessori educators from around the world. We were all there for the American Montessori Society annual international conference. To have 26 of us together at the same place and same time at such a high-quality professional conference is truly spectacular. We thought together, asked questions, learned new things, built community amongst ourselves, and talked about how we further build community amongst our students and families. Being together with the 26 of us allowed for unprecedented synergy; for deep conversations about specific Greensboro Montessori School curricula or programs; for conversations about new ideas for which there's never time in the midst of our normal school days; and for space in our minds and hearts to dream about what we want our School to be. (Oh, yeah, we did laugh a little bit, too.)
A unique opportunity like this allows us, individually, to be better educators, and for us, collectively, to make our School stronger ... ultimately providing a better educational experience for our students. Every professional development workshop or seminar our faculty and staff attend is for the benefit of our students. Our professional development is for our students.
What did we Learn?
Since our time in Washington, D.C., we have already begun to put to use much of what we learned and thought. The turn-around practical value is very high at a conference which is so focused on our exact curriculum and pedagogy. The 26 of us expressed our reflections in a shared space. Here are a few things we wrote:
- "Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone shows you a new way to use a [Montessori] material. This made me think of other ways I could use the materials..."
- "Something new to start doing is taking more time to create a comfortable, prepared environment; I would like to involve the students more consistently on these decisions..."
- "I’d like to think more project-based learning and how it does fit (perfectly) with Montessori philosophies, especially in the Upper School; I talked with the director of the Riley Institute that does all the Montessori research at Furman University about a new workshop they created about project-based learning, and she said she might be able to come up to Greensboro to give a workshop for us..."
- "Creating an empowering environment for my advisee group [in Junior High]; finding and providing activities that help each [student] to know [their] own strengths and weaknesses..."
- "Our Land program and microeconomy are incredible, everyone else seems to really struggle with [adolescent] programs..."
- "Observation; I had forgotten just how fundamental and essential it is to sit and observe; in order to appreciate this process, it might be helpful for the rest of the team in the classroom to have their own time to observe as well; I remember now that we must make this a priority..."
- "In the storm of adolescence, we must be the calm… Don’t get on the rollercoaster with the students.”
- Some of the titles of our favorite workshops include: “What makes a Secondary Montessori Program Unique?,” “Enhancing Student Engagement in Secondary [Adolescent] Classrooms,” “Critical Partnerships for Children with Exceptionalities,” “Parent Education That Will Keep Them Coming Back For More!,” and “Visual Arts in Socratic Seminar.”
Thank you for supporting our faculty and staff in our own professional development. It only makes us better educators, and our School a better one for our students.
Everything we do, professional development included, is for our students.