The day starts early in Mr. Tim Swick’s classroom at Pontiac Elementary School. Mr. Swick’s students trickle in one-by-one as they arrive to start their day. They open their Chrome books to get a head start on projects, or they silently read to themselves as they wait for class to start. During this time, Mr. Swick visits with each student to touch base.
“Did you finish your Social Studies projects?” He asks one student, who proudly shows Mr. Swick his projects on his Chrome book.
Mr. Swick, a teacher for 15 years, teaches at Pontiac Elementary’s Montessori Magnet Program. This “school within a school” features five primary, four lower elementary and three upper elementary classrooms serving students from three years old through fifth grade. Fourth- and fifth-grade students fill Mr. Swick’s multi-aged classroom. Montessori is a hands-on, interactive learning approach that allows students to learn in an enriched, supportive environment through exploration, discovery and creativity, with guidance and encouragement of a guide or teacher. Each child learns and develops at his/her pace through the use of materials and lessons introduced by the teacher. The program is child-directed, where students pursue interests, make responsible choices for themselves and direct themselves to constructive activities.
The first thing you might notice when you walk into Mr. Swick’s classroom is the lack of desks. Instead, the room is filled with book cases stacked with books, science projects and lessons — all accessible to students to help foster independence. There are group tables, rugs and a small library area where students can sit and read or work on projects. These areas allow students to work together as a group or work independently. The room is cozy, warm and welcoming. This enforces the Montessori idea that students learn best in a homelike setting, with materials provided that allow self-exploration and independence.
Once the school day starts, Mr. Swick asks his students to put away their materials and gather on the large area rug by the window for morning announcements. After morning announcements, students head off to “Global Time” — which, on this day, happens to be art. While the students are in art, Mr. Swick meets with Principal Katie Barber and Assistant Principal Jennifer Gillespie to discuss end-of-year data.
After “Global Time,” students file back into the classroom and take their seats on the rug for their daily morning meeting. Mr. Swick uses the time to help the students focus on the tasks ahead, which allows them set up their day for academic success.
“Let’s talk about what we are going to work on today, our plan of action,” Mr. Swick says. A big part of Mr. Swick’s job is keeping track on individualized work for each of his students.
“Fifth-graders, I would like you to write your own commencement speeches. I want you to have one final chance to say something about your school,” he says. The students watch a video of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford on the SMARTBoard.
Afterwards, students grab their writer’s notebooks. “What are some of the ingredients for a good speech?” asks Mr. Swick.
“Good quotes.” said one student. “Memories,” says another.
“You want to develop a theme,” says Mr. Swick. “And make it funny,” says a student.
“Keep adding to what you think makes a good speech as you work on your speech,” says Mr. Swick.
After the morning meeting, students move to uninterrupted work time, which allows them to work at their own pace on assignments. Mr. Swick walks around the classroom, posing questions to students as they work and offerings suggestions and encouragement.
“Try to use Scratch to make a presentation. Do you think you can do that? Give it a shot. You may surprise yourself,” he says to a student working on a social studies project.
While Mr. Swick acts as a guide in the classroom, he also steps in to offer a little extra help to those struggling with a task. “Bring your Chrome book, and let’s work on it together,” he says to one student.
During this uninterrupted work time, Mr. Swick also moves students into other tasks: spelling assignments for fourth-graders or a lesson on speed for a small group. After completing assignments, students are also encouraged to mentor a young student on different lessons. This is a win-win situation: one student learns new material while the other student masters old material through teaching. Mr. Swick can also determine if the student needs more practice in a lesson when they are unable to teach it to another student.
In the room, one fifth-grader mentors a fourth-grader on pre-algebraic equations.
“Are you going to use materials with that lesson? We are in a Montessori classroom,” Mr. Swick says with a laugh.
A highlight of Montessori education is its hands-on approach to learning. Students work with specially designed materials that they can manipulate until they master the lesson. Each material or lesson teaches a single skill or concept at a time.
To stay on track, students fill out a Work Time Choices sheet. This sheet lets them log their lesson or project, the time they spent working on it, as well as a description.
After two and half hours of uninterrupted work time, students gather on the rug for guided reading. Mr. Swick spends 30 minutes reading aloud The Fourteenth Goldfish, a book about coping with change and growing up. As he read, he notes important items. “There has been a foreshadowing in this book. Do you remember what foreshadowing means?” Mr. Swick asks the class.
After lunch the students return to the classroom for more independent learning. His fourth-graders stay working with his Teacher Assistant Lala Bowman while Mr. Swick takes the fifth-graders outside for fresh air and some spelling work.
Next, all the students spend time outside for recess, running laps or playing a friendly game of soccer. Mr. Swick joins in as a referee, coach and sometimes even as a player. Back inside, the class watches their favorite webcast and conducts an afternoon meeting before dismissal for the day. Mr. Swick ends his day with helping afternoon dismissal.
For Mr. Swick, the best part of his job is the 11 fifth-graders and 6 fourth-graders that make up his class. “I get the most out of being a part of helping my students learn to challenge themselves and accomplish new things they never thought they could accomplish.”
Below is Mr. Swick's day in photos. Visit our A Day in the Life album on Flickr to see more!