Barrie Prep: Project-Based and Thematic Learning

Building upon the Montessori philosophy of ‘follow the child’, we believe each student brings his or her own strengths, passions, and voice to the educational process, and we strive to educate the ‘whole child’ by offering a project-based and experiential learning environment that promotes critical thinking and holds students to high academic and personal standards. Barrie Prep students learn through carefully planned project-based learning experiences, interactions with the natural environment on our forty-five acre campus, and thematically-based curricula.

Our commitment to experiential learning led naturally to our exploration of project-based learning (PBL) as a favored methodology at Barrie Prep. In 2012, Barrie Prep adapted the Buck Institute’s framework for project-based learning into its programs and lesson planning because of its emphasis on answering challenging problems and questions, authentic and sustained inquiry, student voice and choice, reflection, and critique and revision. In addition to these emphases, the interdisciplinary nature of projects allows students to gain expertise and perspective in understanding and creating solutions to complex problems. This prepares students for collaborative problem solving roles within academia and industry, similar to those collaborations that are being used to tackle the world’s most multi-faceted problems and puzzles.

Thematic Learning

Barrie Prep's themes, by grade level, are:

Grade 6: Respect for Environment
Grade 7: Respect for Self
Grade 8: Respect for Others
Grades 9 and 10: Discovery and Invention
Grades 11 and 12: Global Issues and Diplomacy

The school frames courses, projects, and programs around each respective grade-theme as much as possible, and teachers develop curriculum and learning activities through the lens of their discipline, allowing students to access and explore these themes in the classroom. Many times, the themes provide a framework for developing meaningful interdisciplinary connections between courses, content, and grades. Barrie Prep courses are often based on essential questions that address the grade-theme and, at times, build from complementary themes and previous student experiences. Many co-curricular and auxiliary programs, such as summer reading assignments, Fall Retreat activities, Extended Study Week programs, and interdisciplinary project-based learning activities also benefit from connecting to, and tying to the themes.

In the Middle School, Barrie Prep builds on Montessori outcomes by embracing the themes of Respect for the Environment (Grade 6), Self (Grade 7), and Others (Grade 8). The Humanities department frames its curriculum around essential questions in each grade theme; for instance, “How does history affect the Environment” and “How does the environment affect history?" (Grade 6). In math, teachers connect content and classroom learning activities to themes in each grade, either through specific thematic projects or problem-based applications. In science, students exhibit this theme by mapping the bottom of the pond and working in teams to design, build, and race boats at the end of the school year. Advisory program and Middle School Life classes offer positive peer interactions, social-emotional and physical health education, and diversity training, and discussion. The choice of programs offered for Extended Study Week, when we suspend regular classes and students take on a project in depth, ranges from learning about conservation in the Chesapeake Bay to exploring Civil Rights sites in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

In the Upper School, students then extend their intellectual and creative abilities by learning through the lens of Discovery and Invention for Grades 9-10. Humanities addresses the American Experience in Grade 9, including “Was American Actually Discovered?” and Grade 10 approaches the theme through the lens of the Ancient World. Opportunities for interdisciplinary work exist especially with Science, which is also organized by grade, into Physics and Chemistry. For instance, tenth grade students explored the “Life of an Element” in an interdisciplinary Humanities and Chemistry project, learning how the elements led to various inventions and how they factored in to discoveries. Recent ESW themes tied to this theme include 3D Printing and Engineering Design.

Grades 11-12 focus on Global Issues and Diplomacy. In Grade 11 Humanities students research the modern international world in once-colonized lands, while in science students have explored “What will Barrie look like in one million years?” which naturally asks students to look at how environmental conditions and genetics over time will affect this campus. World Language (French) has, through a class project, formalized the Barrie partnership with Aumazo, an organization that seeks to build schools for girls in rural Cameroon. Seniors take on the interdisciplinary Community Action Project, which has resulted in exploring the development of a biodigester that can turn manure into energy. ESW options related to Global Issues and Diplomacy include "Nation within a Nation: Lessons of the Havasupai" where students met with representatives of the Native American community in Arizona; and "Not for Glory, nor Riches, nor Honours: Scottish Independence" which examines the rise of the Scottish independence movement and the failed 2014 Scottish referendum through visits to Stirling Bridge and the Parliament of Scotland, among others.

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