Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Formation of the Universe

Explorations of Matter and Energy are done in the Montessori classroom after The First Great Lesson is told. This First Great Lesson is done on the first day of school, every school year for the Lower Elementary (combined classroom for grades 1-3). One of the cool things about it is that you take a black balloon and fill it with little silver stars, blow it up, and tie it shut. When you get to the Big Bang, you pop the balloon with a pin and the stars fly everywhere! Then you gather the stars and place them on the surface of a bowl of water and watch them "magically" draw towards each other, gather together, and form galaxies.

Maria Montessori designed five Great Lessons. The first is the creation of the universe and our planet. The second is life evolving on our planet. The third is the evolution of man. The fourth is how man developed written language. The fifth is how man developed numbers. They are done in what we might consider a Waldorf way -- through storytelling. The teacher memorizes the story, lights a candle, covers any artifacts that might accompany the story with a silk (I use the celestial silk by Sarah's Silks) to add an air of intrigue, and the students sit in a circle and listen. Then there are follow up lessons and materials to explore the story further. When I first began my Montessori training, I was so thrilled to find an aspect of the curriculum which was so Waldorf-y!

Of course, in Waldorf, a first grade class would not be studying matter and energy in this way. So you would move The First Great Lesson to another grade level. I have read that there's nothing that isn't Waldorf -- it's just a question of WHEN. Waldorf is all about timing and understanding the anthroposophical view of child development. So I pass along the Five Great Lessons as an idea which I still think is a good one.

Jennifer Morgan has written a trilogy of books called Universe Stories which cover the content of the first three Great Lessons. Some teachers read these instead of memorizing the stories. I have read the books and I think they are good. Born with a Bang especially does a good job of getting across the idea that our earthly bodies and everything around us was once a part of the stars. It's amazing to think that we are star-stuff! Her website also contains lesson plans on her blog. At whatever grade level you cover the concepts, and in whatever way you do it, these are good background information for the teacher. At Amazon right now, you can buy all three for $29.85 with FREE shipping! That's an amazing price for all the information that is contained in these books, and to have it written in an accessible, kid-friendly way.

Universe Story Trilogy

BORN WITH A BANG: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story (Book 1)
Cosmology for everyone, this is a story of the universe from the Big Bang to the formation of Earth, in the form of a letter written by the thirteen-billion-year-old universe itself to an Earthling.

FROM LAVA TO LIFE: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story (Book 2)
The Universe continues with the story of Earth from the beginning of life up to the extinction of dinosaurs.

MAMMALS WHO MORPH: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story (Book 3)
Covers the story of mammals from 65 million years ago to today, including the human story.

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