Science in the Elementary: Introduction
During the elementary years, every aspect of science is introduced through stories of discovery and with reference to the etymology of the scientific words (i.e., Gk. bios – life; logos – speech – literally “to talk about life”). Various scientific disciplines emerge from and relate back to the Great Lessons of the origin of the universe and the earth, the story of life on earth, and the ingenuity of humans throughout history. The adventure of scientific discoveries is seen as part of a Great Story reaching back to the beginning of time and the student is empowered through activity and research to see himself as an actor in this story.
Upper Elementary Physical Science
Students look deeper into the early history of the universe and solar system through the lens of our study of chemistry. They begin to look at topics such as the life cycle of a star, the role of supernovas, and concepts such as light years and black holes. Students do various researches on these topics. They learn about constellations, eclipses, famous astronomers, the history of space exploration, and they hear stories of astronomical discoveries.
Students work with materials to aid their understanding of the geological ages, tectonic plates, and the theory of continental drift. They study the classification of physical features according to their formation by ice, wind, and running water. They build on the earlier work in geology by studying the rock cycle and the physical and chemical processes involved in the formation of rocks. Students study meteorology more thoroughly, learning to interpret weather maps and looking at both local weather patterns and global atmospheric and oceanic phenomena.
Chemistry and Physics
Students explore in detail the periodic table of the elements, its classification and use. They use hands-on material to create atoms, molecules, and chemical equations such as that for photosynthesis. They conduct experiments, further exploring concepts such as acids and bases. They do field work testing both local soil and water. Study of simple machines is also a focus during the Upper Elementary years. Examples of areas studied include gears and levers, pulleys, inclined plane. Students also use hands-on material especially designed for classroom use to explore electric circuits and electric motors.
The history of technology and inventions into modern times continues to be presented by means of story, and is explored through independent reading and research. As an extension to the earth and physical science work, each year we attend programs at Talcott Mountain Science Center. Rocketry, and a plate tectonics/rocks and minerals programs are given by a visiting expert. Meteorology and astronomy programs are also held at the Science Center. We also may take a field trip to a garnet quarry and quartz vein, where students learn how to hammer out specimens and identify rocks and minerals on outcrops.
Upper Elementary Life Science
Taxonomy during the six Elementary years
Students enter the Montessori Lower Elementary classes from our Primary program with knowledge of significant Life Science classified nomenclature, particularly in the areas of botany and zoology. We build on the great developing interest in living things by opening the students’ minds to the whole span of the Time Line of Life on the Earth. From this historical perspective, we introduce them right away to the Five Kingdoms of Life. This grand scheme of biological classification is explored in a systematic and rigorous fashion over the six years of our Elementary program, culminating in the Chinese Box material, which classifies the major life forms on earth.
Upper Elementary students continue the study of the Animal Kingdom. They look in more detail at the internal anatomy of the various phyla and classes of animals. They use Montessori zoology materials, create drawings and write about the various systems. In addition, they now study in greater depth the work of Kingdoms Fungi, Protista, and Bacteria through prepared Montessori story materials and lessons using the Chinese Box of Life. As always, we relate these studies to the Time Line of Life and key events in earth’s history, such as the invention of photosynthesis. Students also begin the study of cells. They are introduced to the basic parts of both the prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell.
Students explore the classification of the plant kingdom and learn about monocotyledons, dicotyledons, angiosperms etc. Students look in more detail at important processes, such as pollination and seed dispersal. They study humankind’s uses of plants for medicines, and the importance of the great ecosystems, such as tropical rainforests and grasslands. They are introduced to the art of botanical drawing and often use these drawings to illustrate their botanical research work. Students use world and continent maps to identify the geographic locations of the great grasslands, boreal forests, and other plant ecosystems. They continue to plant, tend, and harvest classroom gardens.
Students study the composition of various types of cells. They learn the relationship between cells, tissues, organs and systems. Students undertake an overview of all the major systems of the human body. They review the systems learned in the Lower Elementary program at a deeper level, looking at, for example, the chemistry involved in the digestive and circulatory systems. At this age, the brain and nervous system, and the reproductive system are presented. Other systems are introduced or researched according to interest. Students look at nutrition in greater detail, exploring the function of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and their molecular structures. They begin to analyze the nutritional content of a meal according to the various food groups.
Over the course of the six Elementary years of Montessori education, students learn how to observe from nature and from experiment, gather data, and record their observations. They learn how to use various measuring tools, such as scales and thermometers. They are taught how to use a hand lens and microscope, including how to prepare a microscope slide. Older students are introduced to the basics of writing a lab report and such skills as recording data on a table and using scientific notation. Books are always available in both the classroom and school libraries, as well as ready Internet access in the classroom and library.