Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Project Based Learning in the Montessori Elementary Environment

girl makes island montessori project based classroom environment

I love the richness of the Montessori elementary cultural curriculum. There is something to be said about how the entire universe is presented to the child in the very beginning and then broken down in to manageable pieces. I also love how the Montessori method is not a prescribed curriculum in that it gives children the freedom to explore and learn that which interests them.

I have had many Montessori teachers ask me what kind of work I assign for follow-up work. In other words, how do my students practice new skills and knowledge and demonstrate mastery of content? As a Montessori teacher, I prescribe to the Constructionist theory of education. That is to say, I believe that in order for education to have meaning, it must be relevant and learner-centric. The learner must take the information that is presented and construct his/her own meaning and understanding.

Project based learning allows students to autonomously create artifacts that demonstrate mastery of concepts. Information is presented by the teacher in a lesson, but it is up to the learner to take the information and create something new. This requires some amazing higher-level thinking skills!

Project Based Learning in the Montessori Elementary Environment

Bloom's Taxonomy
According to Bloom’s Taxonomy (see image), thinking skills can be regarded as progressing and building on each other, starting with remembering (bottom of the pyramid) and moving up to creating (top of the pyramid). Unfortunately, many teacher-assigned research reports only cover remembering and understanding, the lowest layers of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Projects, on the other hand, require students to take information and apply it in new ways. Projects hit the apex of the taxonomy by asking students to create something with their new knowledge.

Projects and choice work hand-in-hand. I never require a whole class to do the same project. What would be the point of that? I would receive 32 exact duplicates. There is no creativity and excitement there. For this same reason, I do not provide teacher made samples of projects. I do not want copies of what I can do; I want to see what my students can do. Instead, I give choices and ideas. These are not set in stone, but they are a starting place from which to work. Following is an example of the type of project sheet I may offer my students to give them a jumping off point for their work.

Example of Project Sheet for physical geography unit
As you can see, I have differentiated the projects by difficulty and/or amount of time each project will take. Projects in Column A are not as involved as those found in Column C. However, to ensure that all the students spend an equal amount of time on the work, they are asked to choose projects that are worth at least 5 points all together. Of course, if students have other ideas, they are welcome to discuss them with me. I am always open to new ideas; this is just to help them get started.

After projects are complete, I use a very simple rubric to help students understand where they were strong and where there is room for improvement. I give a copy of the completed rubric to the students and keep one in my observation notes. This way, when it is time to write my progress reports, I have everything I need in one spot and I do not have to try to remember what project(s) each child completed and how well she/he worked on them.

Example of Project Rubric
Project based learning is an excellent way to give students the freedom of choice, while requiring them to demonstrate their mastery of concepts. And this form of learning works well in both traditional Montessori environments and Montessori public-school settings. In each case, the goal is to provide engaging, relevant material that allows students to construct their own meaning while following their own interests.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, October 2, 2012.


  1. Wow, the project sheets and rubric are great. Simple but so helpful. Are they yours or can they be bought? Thank you for this post, It is timely and helpful.

  2. Muy precisa e interesante la informaciĆ³n que nos brindan para enriquecer nuestro trabajo diario dentro del ambiente montessori. ¡Gracias!

  3. Great project sheet! Can you explain the three marks on your rubric. Have you developed other project sheets?

  4. I'm a first year upper elementary teacher and found this article very helpful! We are still in the beginning of the school year but I have already begun to wonder how I would guide the children in their exploration without specifically telling them what to do. Giving them clear choices in this format is a brilliant idea. Would you be willing to share your project sheets?

    Also, would you be willing to discuss some other facets of upper elementary with me via e-mail?

  5. Hi
    I am also a first year upper elementary teacher and this article was very inspirational. It would be so helpful to see some more project sheets to gain inspiration and ideas on how to do your own. Are you willing to share your project sheets and rubrics? Help is so valuable when you are starting out!

  6. Annicles - the project sheets are my own creation.

    Martha - gracias!

    Stephlf86 - I'm not sure if you mean the marks on the project sheet or on the rubric?

  7. Sarah Grace and Cary and Sophie - I'm glad you found my work of value in your upper elementary Montessori classrooms. What kind of project help are you looking for. I'd be happy to see what I can share. If you like, my email is Michelle@montessoritraining.net.


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