Boundless learning at this public Montessori school
Step inside a classroom at Geiger Montessori and you might feel like you entered the headquarters of a business incubator.
Like members of a startup company, students at Geiger select individual projects, but often collaborate. The room pulses with quiet conversations as students ask each other questions.
Student-led learning lies at the core of Geiger, one of Tacoma’s two public Montessori schools. Staff members cultivate independence and lifelong love of learning among their students.
“In a Montessori school, you have the freedom to move around, to work on the floor or at a table,” said Coralyn Armstrong, who works with teachers to support the Montessori Method. “The emphasis is on the whole child.”
In the Montessori Method, teachers provide lessons to individuals or in small groups. Then students choose what lessons they want to work on during lengthy, uninterrupted work cycles. The classrooms are multi-age, giving older students a chance to mentor younger students.
In one Lower Elementary House classroom students in grades 1-3 work quietly at stations. One concentrates on tracing a map of South America and coloring in each country. Others stretch out bead strands on the floor to count multiples.
Hands-on tools for math especially excite student Renell Brown. He loves math and tackles solving the algebra problem 3x + 7 = 4x by using an object resembling a scale. On one side he places three blue chess pieces (the x’s) and a red cube with a seven on it. On the other side, four blue chess pieces. Next he carefully removes the same number of blue pieces from each side until they cancel each other out. Just the red 7 and one chess piece remain, thus x = 7. Problem solved!
“It’s helpful having all these materials,” nine-year old Renell said. “I used to be at a school that was challenging for me. When I came here, the materials helped me with understanding.”
A walk through Geiger’s airy halls alerts you to the school’s special design. Builders worked with architects trained in Montessori design when they rebuilt the school in 2012.
Standout features include shared activity areas, a pottery studio, rooftop garden, learning courtyard and two fully equipped science labs.
Within classrooms students work on mats and small tables in the younger classrooms and long tables in the older classes. Students in Upper Elementary Houses pursue independent research projects. Most students stay with the same teacher for three years, providing continuity and strong relationships.
Geiger Teacher Mary Glenn understands Montessori instruction well. She’s taught in Montessori classrooms for more than 25 years – mostly in private schools because public schools lacked programs. Geiger’s adoption of the Montessori Method thrilled her.
“Montessori materials are so exciting, engaging and concrete with the children,” she said. “The students are independent. They take ownership of their work and plan their day.”
Glenn runs science experiments with her class and receives sign-up slips from students when they need her attention. One of her favorite things is to buddy up classmates. “You’ll see older kids mentoring the younger, and sometimes it’s vice versa too,” she said.
Mentoring especially shines through during the many class presentations she assigns, Glenn said. At first students are shaky in front of a group, but she picks third-year students to speak first. “They help show the younger students how it’s done. There’s so much progress,” she said.