Welcome to Compass Montessori Junior High! We are so excited to start our year off with a name that truly reflects the experience here! During this period of early adolescence, we create opportunities through a prepared environment that allows students to learn about themselves, their communities, and how their unique self contributes to those communities. It’s about finding yourself, and your place in the world. It’s about calibrating your inner compass.
The 2022-23 school year promises to be full of new experiences and adventures. We have settled into our downtown campus at 101 Park St., our new homebase. From here we will launch our studies of geology, botany, freshwater ecology, elections and government, ancient civilizations, applied technology, and democratic movements. Throughout the year we will have opportunities to connect to our local community as well as travel as far north as the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and as far south as Pigeon Key. Get ready, because here we go!
-Tree and Kristina
"The adolescent must never be treated as a child, for that is a stage of life that he has surpassed. It is better to treat an adolescent as if he had greater value than he actually shows than as if he had less and let him feel that his merits and self-respect are disregarded.” - Maria Montessori
Kristina Weidenfeller, Junior High Guide
Kristin Spangler, Classroom Support
The Three Questions
“The old turtle looked at the boy, ‘But your questions have been answered... Remember then that the most important time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in the world. And this is why we are here.’”
~ Jon J. Muth, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy
Pushing Boundaries, Making Connections
No phones, no screens, no dishes, no outside obligations- just salt water, curiosity, wonder, and each other. It was a long journey to get far away from distraction- flights, layovers, and Miami traffic- but it was worth gaining the opportunity to slow down and be simply in the “now.” At the beginning of a typical school day, we take account of who is present, who is leaving early, who is having lunch, who is visiting, etc., and then we begin, working to be present in the moment, as people come and go, the phone rings, and emails pop up. On the island, we start with the sunrise followed by breakfast, wonder, exploration, and learning together.
A lot of people ask, “Why Florida? How does this connect to building ROVs?” One piece of Dr. Montessori’s design for adolescent education is a “museum of machinery,” which, in essence, is a collection of machines that adolescents can explore, take apart, “fix," or create new things- examples of human innovation. Dr. Montessori, a scientist, was an innovator herself (thus the creation of the Montessori educational philosophy) and believed that imagination is the human trait that separates us from other animals, and through imagination, we can create things we have never seen before. She stated, “Through machinery, man can exert tremendous powers almost as fantastic as if he were the hero of a fairy tale. Through machinery, man can travel with an ever-increasing velocity; he can fly through the air and go beneath the surface of the ocean.” ROVs take us beneath the surface of the water, fresh and salt. They push the boundaries of human exploration and experience. Even though our designs only travel the length of our short tethers, the science is there. The concept of being able to see things, and learn about things that our physical limitations as humans don’t allow otherwise, is there. Designing and building ROVs requires knowledge of physics, electricity, and mechanical engineering- some of the same knowledge it took to fly and send rovers to Mars. When we try something new, we learn something new and then we push further and try something new again.
“Why Florida?” In our two-year curriculum, four of our workshops are based on our local geology, zoology, ecology, botany, and hydrology. Traveling to Pigeon Key and focusing on Marine biology and exploration allows students the opportunity to compare and contrast the environments of two peninsulas within our country; Michigan, surrounded by freshwater, with a history of saltwater seas and ancient coral, compared to Florida, surrounded by salt water and edged by living coral reef. Not only do we get to see the change in the species that live in the two areas, but we also get to see how the culture compares. Living in Traverse City, we are connected to protecting our fresh water, and the area we love. Pigeon Key Marine Biology camp and the Coral Restoration Foundation are passionate about protecting their saltwater ecosystems and the place they love. “All drains lead to the ocean.” What we do in Michigan affects what happens in Florida, and vice versa. It’s a small world after all!
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum
In Montessori, children are the teachers, the adults are the guides. They learn through their interactions with their environment and through experiencing “place,” they become connected. Paddling through mangroves, swimming with fish, rays, and jellies, walking the shoreline of the island, and riding over the Overseas Highway are some of the ways the students experienced “place”, and formed their learning about the ecosystems and culture of Florida Keys. We could open a fabulous textbook and create a t-chart comparing and contrasting the two environments, or even a fancy Venn Diagram. But, the real learning happens when you feel how much you float in saltwater, realize you can get close to sting rays, hold sea urchins, or work with a friend to paddle through a tunnel of mangrove trees. ROVs are cool to fly in a pool, but the application of the science comes when you are standing on a dock at night using your camera to check out the fish that are coming in to feed.
The Florida Keys, ROVs, and Marine Biology provided the perfect prepared environment for our classroom community to realize what is most important; this moment, each other, and what we do for each other as a community, and as part of the global community. Each moment was filled with so much more- watching students support each other as they pushed their boundaries and comfort zones, and watching them make connections among themselves as well as between their home and their home for the week. We had plenty of time for stories- a practice that helps us learn about each other and ourselves. The adolescent years can be challenging and challenge us as adults to focus on what is most important. When it feels like things are slipping away, or you are losing touch, just slow down into the “now” and do the best for the one you are with. If that means listening to what so-and-so’s sister’s brother’s girlfriend said, or how someone just landed a sick trick or any of the various unfair tragedies that have occurred, put down the phone, clear your schedule and be only there, with the one you love more than anything in the world; push your boundaries, make connections.
Learning about who you are, by learning what you are capable of:
Identity and Resilience
Dr. Montessori gave us parameters within in which to guide and support learners:
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed” and “To give a child liberty is not to abandon him to himself.” Our role is to fit in between those parameters. To do so, we work side-by-side with adolescents, being there to support, as well as provide instruction or feedback if necessary, hence the title “guide.”
If you were to bear witness to this beautiful process this week, you would have seen us, the guides, doing things like holding circuit boards, restating questions like, “What did the directions say? Which wire goes in which hole? Did it work when you attached the power? How do you propose to fix it? What have you tried so far?” or providing feedback like, “I think two solder points are accidentally connected which may cause a short circuit in your system.” We work in the space between “do this” and “you are on your own.” That space allows for the learner to show themselves that they can do it, whether it be wiring a circuit board, troubleshooting the power supply, or making a decision as a group. The activity has immediate importance, but learning that they are capable of meeting unfamiliar challenges they encounter, has life long significance.
On Monday the “rubber hits the road,” or in this case, the ROVs hit the water. Students will get a chance to test their designs in a local pool to see if they are able to fly their creation to the bottom of the pool, retrieve a pool ring, and bring it back to the surface. Just over one week left before we leave for Pigeon Key!
In other news, we are looking forward to going curling Friday at the Leelanau Curling Club! It promises to be a new experience (and unfamiliar challenge) for most of us- bring on the learning!!
The adolescent must never be treated as a child, for that is a stage of life that he has surpassed. It is better to treat an adolescent as if he had greater value that he actually shows than as if he had less and let him feel his merits and self-respect disregarded”
- Dr. Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
How do we do this?
At the beginning of any workshop, we take a moment to consider the project, the place, and the process; and how the combination will provide for the needs of the adolescent learner, as well as the individual needs of our community of learners. We design the project to present a challenge to the students; realizing that they will struggle. Productive struggle is purposeful. By putting them in a position of challenge, we communicate to them that we believe they are capable. Through the process of struggle and collaboration, they learn the ways in which they are capable and the ways in which their peers are capable. They also gain compassion for themselves and for others as they build resilience. Through challenging work, with the social support of their peers, they learn that they can do hard things.
We jumped into this year with a deep dive into applied technology. The definition of technology, according to Webster, is as follows: “the practical application of knowledge”; so “applied technology” may be redundant. Our current focus is to examine the range of technologies that take us as far away as Mars, as well as those that take us as deep as the Mariana Trench. The “project” is to design two robots; one terrestrial, the other underwater (ROV). Each robot needs to be designed to complete particular challenges within specified parameters. Teams can 3-D print additional materials to add to their design. The “place” involves collaboration locally with the NMC Marine Technology program, Levi Truelove, a 3D printing guru, and further afield with Pigeon Key Marine Science Center. The process involves combining the engineering design process with reliance on team members to cover the diverse roles such as managing the group and the timeline, wiring, soldering, programming, building, and driving the robots.
Woven through this workshop, is the reading of The Martian, by Andy Weir, literature analysis through a literature seminar, and the exploration of ethics in the use of new technologies through media and discussion.
Lastly, January is the time of the year when we feel “settled in”. There is a general feeling of flow, and constructive chaos that produces an overall mood of calm, albeit teenage calm, but calm nonetheless. In the second week of school, about 12 students presented in front of 31 adults and 15 fifth and sixth-grade students about the work they do as Junior High Students. The confidence they had to take on the challenge and the thought and effort they put into it while busy designing robots were remarkable. I am always moved by their bravery, and willingness to give of their time and talents. We expect more, and they rise to the occasion.
Imagination, creativity, and sheer bravery
This week concludes our workshop on pre-industrial civilizations. After learning about early civilizations in what today is North, Central and South America, students created their own civilizations. Language, Math systems, religions, creation stories, trade, agriculture, societal structures and more were imagined, created, and presented in 23 different ways. After designing their own civilizations, they then imagined what it would be like to live in the civilization that they created. Characters were built, conflicts arose, and stories were told. Some of the characters were successful, some, not so much. One occupational hazard of being a main character in a civilization story due the last week before break is that you may have a shorter life expectancy due to time constraints of the author (many tragic stories this week!). At any rate, it is a brave act to write, and an even braver act to read your writing in front of your peers. Tragic or victorious endings aside, all stories are considered a success!
Finally, a student created spirit week has kept us on our toes! We have worn all sorts of combinations inspired by the 80s or 90s, or a holiday, dayglow neon, or just a collection of the strangest articles of clothing and accessories we can come up with. Being downtown add another level, since we are highly visible by bystanders who don’t know what is going on…
As 2022 draws to a close, we are thankful for the space we get to share, the adventures we have together, and the daily shared moments we have in our junior high community; a wonderful community of learners and their families. See you next year!
Student Led Conferencing
This coming week we will be hosting the first of two Student-led Conferences. For some of you this may be a new experience. We view this as an extremely positive opportunity for students to emphasize their strengths, acknowledge their challenges, and, with you in attendance, revise and/or set goals. Student-led conferencing is an opportunity to continue and strengthen communication with your child about their education and journey toward adulthood.
Why do we do Student-led conferences?
- Students assume greater control of their academic progress.
- Students accept personal responsibility for their academic performance.
- Parents and students engage in open and honest dialogue.
- Students learn the process of self-evaluation.
- Students develop organizational and oral communication skills.
What’s the Role of the Student During Student-Led Conferences?
Students should be able to share what they do well, discuss the samples they show, be able to identify what they need to work on, and set reasonable goals for improving performance during the next academic term.
What's the Role of the Parent in Student-led Conferences?
First, be an active listener.
Student-led conferencing gives students a voice in their learning and in their future. As partners in their education, parents are their most important and (unintentionally) intimidating audience. Sometimes students will become overwhelmed during their presentation; active listening from their audience helps them get back on track.
Next, comment on and/or ask questions after the work is presented.
We ask that you take notes and ask questions after your child has presented everything, in order to give them the opportunity to remain focused and move through their presentation without being distracted.
Finally, identify ways you can support the student to achieve goals that will be set for the next learning period.
The focus of the conference and the portfolio is on learning and growth. The “assessment” is the ability of the student to understand and express where they are at with their learning and where they see they need to go next. Taking responsibility for one’s learning starts with being able to be aware of one’s actions or inactions, be honestly reflective, and then make a plan for improvement or sustainability.
The Purpose of Productive Struggle
Productive struggle is the process through which learners, when faced with a problem or challenge they don’t automatically have a solution for, persist, treat error as a stepping stone toward success and as a result, develop the habits of mind, such as grit and creativity, necessary for facing future unknowns.
Early adolescence is the beginning of what Montessori refers to as being a “social newborn.” Students who once loved to argue answers with others, compare and contrast processes, and/or couldn’t wait to show everyone how they “did it” are now challenged by their inner narrative; the narrative that tells them everyone is watching them, judging them. It is a difficult time of development for both the adolescent and the adults in their life. As adults, we want to be reassuring, comforting, and at times, want to just “fix” it. The result of rescuing them does not change, it’s the same as it always has been- it robs them of the chance to build their confidence and their identity. Who are they? Who are they to the group? What unique talents and skills do they have? Are they persistent? Can they overcome obstacles? Or not? As we move into our second workshop (and into the remainder of the year), these opportunities for productive struggle will arise throughout their work. Our role is to continue to be present, encourage, guide and support their work throughout- so that when they reach a solution, the solution is the product of their effort, and persistence. The narrative “I can” becomes part of their identity.
Last Friday, we enjoyed our first Friday with Steve. We traveled down to Kingsley to play the disc golf course. What fun! In teams of four, we all worked together to try and figure out the best strategies and techniques to get the disc to the basket in the least throws. A lot of discussion and analysis took place as we walked through the woods in a light drizzle.
The week we launched the Democratic Process workshop with a visit to the Government Center and a tour from our City Clerk, Benjamin Marentette. Wow! We were there for nearly an hour as he explained the structure and function of our local city government. It was a fabulous way to kick off our presentations on local, state, and federal government, and the voting process. Over the course of the next few weeks, students will be choosing a ballot proposal or office to research and present. Plenty of opportunities for productive struggle as they sort through all of information, comparing, contrasting, and fact checking.
Fall is definitely here! Hopefully everyone gets a chance to enjoy the long weekend, either outdoors exploring or cozied up inside!
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Happy fall! How lucky we are to have had such a beautiful September! Our trip to Copper Harbor and back taught us much about Michigan’s history, rocks and minerals, and how to grow together as a community of humans with needs. Thank you for trusting us to take your children on epic adventures. Our learned experiences on the road cannot be replicated elsewhere!
In class we have made our agreements and have begun our work in Traverse City. Math and Spanish are in full swing, and our time at the Timbers has begun. With a focus on identifying, measuring, and mapping trees, your children have begun to plug the data they’ve collected into ArcGIS–a cloud-based software used to create and share interactive web maps. It’s a powerful tool companies pay millions of dollars to use, which schools get for free. Amazing!! Today at the Timbers your children made land art based on Andy Goldsworthy, and created instruments from found objects using photos from indigeonous cultures as inspiration. It was a glorious day in the sun!
What a great start! The first week of school is always an exciting time. It’s full of newness, wonder, anticipation, and hope. In our opening week activities through our Northern Michigan Experience trip, we work to capture this magic and use it throughout the rest of the year. Yes, of course there are the logistical talks about keeping track of keys, where to store your belongings, and math assessments. But, beyond organization, we take a deep dive into the questions: How do we want to live together? How do we want to care for our environment? Ourselves? In which ways do we want to grow? Improve? What kind of community do we want to build? How will we do that? What will we do when things fall apart? How will we support each other through struggles? What strengths do we each bring to this community? How will we share those to the benefit of the whole?
This is deep work- it is also slow and deliberate. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but neither does a well built foundation once the house is placed on top. How many times have you driven past a construction site and wondered if they will ever actually “build” anything? They’ve been working on that foundation for EVER! Next week, our daily schedule will start. Spanish lessons, math lessons, bullet journals, field notes, and more will fill our days- right after we put words to the experiences of the first two weeks and solidify our foundation.