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Inside the Middle School Expert ProjectWashington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut

Inside the Middle School Expert Project

Written by: Tom Fahsbender, Director of Middle School Experiential Learning

Whether you’re a longstanding member of our community or new to Washington Montessori School, you’ve probably heard some mention of the Expert Project. But even those who have seen an Expert Symposium firsthand might not be familiar with the history, philosophy, methodology, and desired outcomes of this core component of our Middle School curriculum. Read on to learn how the Expert Project works — and why it’s become such an important part of the WMS Middle School pedagogy. 

How the Expert Project works

The Expert Project was first implemented over thirty years ago as a capstone project for our 8th-year students to tie together many pieces of their Montessori education. In the years since it was introduced, the Expert Project has become a staple of our 8th-grade curriculum, representing the culmination of the research and comprehension skills our students develop throughout their time at WMS.

Two of the WMS school values — Independence and Purpose — are the foundational pillars of the Expert Project. Students choose a particular subject that they are interested in learning more about and then embark on a self-directed research project. We want the Expert Project to be something each student is excited to plan and feels motivated to construct. For the 8th-years, the Expert Project is science-based, but topics run the gamut from schizophrenia, astrobiology, electric cars, and synesthesia.

The work itself is largely driven by the student, but the typical process for our students looks something like this:

      • After brainstorming various ideas, the students select the subject of their Expert Project.
      • For ten weeks, they conduct the necessary research, finding and processing relevant books, articles, and sources, and taking careful notes as they go.
      • They synthesize the information they consume to make it their own, grappling with any difficult material they may encounter — and asking for help if and when they need it.
      • They write a formal research paper compiling their findings and create a presentation that clearly articulates the expertise they’ve accrued.
      • Finally, they share this presentation with their peers, family, and the WMS community during the Expert Symposium

    The Expert Symposium

    The culmination of this extensive research project is the Expert Symposium. During the Symposium, students gather in small groups in one or two classrooms. After a brief welcome, each student has 5-7 minutes to present their research. The presentations are then followed by a 2-3 minute question and answer session. Since the presentations themselves represent only a small sampling of the knowledge the students have accumulated, the Q&A portion of the Symposium is a great opportunity for them to demonstrate their expertise on the chosen subject.  

    When the students have finished presenting, all attendees of the Expert Symposium are invited to my classroom to browse the completed research papers and enjoy some refreshments. 

    After the Expert Project concludes, a copy of each Expert Project is added to the school archives. The students also take a copy of their project home to share and revisit as they please.

    Why the Expert Project is a valuable learning experience

    Throughout their Montessori careers, our students learn to plan and execute long-term projects, explore areas of personal interest, synthesize information to make it their own, and, when the going gets tough, ask for help and persevere. This invaluable experience stretches and develops students’ skills and comprehension, readying them for future research projects of this depth and difficulty. 

    Here’s what Laura Martin, our Assistant Head for Enrollment (and parent of WMS graduates), has to say about the Expert Project:

    “From my vantage point, the Expert Project is an opportunity for students to explore something they’re interested in, and learn important skills like note-taking, research, source-citing, and answering questions on the fly. All the executive function skills they’ve learned over the years come together into one big academic project. Watching your child become the expert and confidently present material at such a high level is truly an amazing experience.”

    Laura Martin, Assistant Head for Enrollment

    If you have additional questions about the philosophy or methodology of Expert Project, please feel free to email me or the Director of Education, Melissa Hay.


    Photos from the 2024 Expert Symposium:

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