Our Montessori Elementary science program ranges broadly across life science, physical science, and Earth science. We ensure our students are exposed to some content from each. Within each area, we provide them the opportunity to delve deeper depending on their own interests. Our goal is to train our students to observe carefully, discover interesting questions, and use their observations and research to answer them. The goal at this age is not to cover each area exhaustively, or even to ensure each student acquires a specific body of knowledge in each. Rather, we want to introduce students to the interesting questions and puzzles of science, by means of some representative, selective content.
We thus give our students plenty of choice regarding what to explore, and how deeply they want to follow their interests. Each classroom may cover different areas of science from year to year.
The following list gives an indication of the kinds of topics our students study:
- Life Sciences. Our life sciences curriculum consists largely of botany and zoology. Children are naturally interested in plants and animals, and eagerly embrace the process of observing and classifying them. Learning more about plants and animals—especially those they encounter in their lives outside of school—ensures that science satisfies their curiosity about the world “out there”, and thus is meaningful to them.In each area, we begin our study with systematic observations, and guide our students to be attentive, to classify their observations, and to draw conclusions from what they see. For example, when students study classification, they aren’t content to merely memorize terms or written statements of definitions. Instead, we ask our students to apply what they learn. For example, a teacher might share photos from a select groups of plants or animals, ask students to place them in the appropriate family, and then explain their placement. These exercises are fun for our students–and by applying what they learn, they remember, and become attuned to nature. The students enjoy this work so much that many of them will even bring to class photographs they take in their free time of animals or plants, or will relate experiences of the organisms they identify in their backyard, on vacation, etc.
- Botany. We ensure our students understand the basic structure of plants, the function of the key parts, and the differences between plants and animals. We introduce our students to different types of plants, and help them observe and classify the plants they encounter in their surroundings.
- Zoology. Our students study the different classes of animals, and gain an applied understanding of the traits characterizing different animals (e.g., how they move, what they use for protection, what they eat and how they digest it). Our goal is for students to be able to look at the bodily systems of an animal, classify the animal, and draw conclusions about its nature from this classification. Once they are grounded in these basic observational facts, we encourage students to research a more advanced topic that interests them. For example, a student may investigate the life cycles of animals, or how animals in the same class may differ based on where they live (e.g., desert vs. prairie vs. forest).
- Earth and Physical Sciences. Our focus here is to introduce our students to a broad range of interesting observations, and to help them develop basic skills, such as measuring, observing, and recording observations.
- Sun and the Earth. We introduce our students to the special relationship of the sun to our planet. For example, they learn that it is connected to the seasons, solstices and equinoxes, temperature zones, and so on. Through this work, our students gain an understanding of lines of latitude and longitude, and time zones. By Upper Elementary, we may introduce additional celestial observations—such as moon phases, constellations, and the path of the observable planets through the night sky.
- Geology and functional geography. To help students understand the world around them, we study the work of water (e.g., erosion, the formation of rivers, and sedimentation) and the work of air (e.g., that it rises when heated, insulates, and circulates in a pattern). Throughout, we highlight the observations that are accessible to them given their knowledge, emphasizing both vocabulary development and careful observation.For example, in geology we start out by handling all kinds of rocks, and classifying them by their characteristics. We handle limestone, sandstone and clay, and carefully observe their properties. (How hard are they? What are their colors? What happens when we apply acid to them?) We contrast these rocks with granite and basalt, guiding our students as they discover the classes to which these rocks belong (sedimentary and igneous). We take our students on field trips, where they can see the rocks in their natural environments. And ultimately, we build upon these and other observations as we help them understand how geologists have developed the theories that explain the key geological phenomena we can experience around us–such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and mountains.
- Chemistry. Our goal in chemistry is to introduce our students to the idea that everything around them is made up of matter (of “stuff”)—and that this stuff can come in many different forms. We discuss phases of matter (solid, liquid, gaseous); we highlight certain properties of matter (for example, the surface tension of a liquid, the fact that air takes up space, etc.); we contrast mixtures and compounds. Part of the purpose here is to expose students to ideas that they will revisit systematically later in their schooling, and to pique their interest in advanced scientific inquiry. Throughout, our students learn to question, to predict, to observe, and to measure.
- Simple machines/introduction to mechanics. In the Upper Elementary program we study the earliest machines used by human beings, and see how applied technology, even at its most basic level, made human life better. We may experiment with inclined planes, levers, wheels and axles, and pulleys—experiments that help students understand their world better. They can see these items in action around them, and are motivated to explore their operations further.