Why Montessorians need a new biology album July 28 2021, 0 Comments

I am very happy to tell you about a new publication, an authentic Montessori biology album based on up-to-date concepts. In Montessori jargon, an album is something like a teaching manual, although it is much more than a series of lessons to give. The new publication is called Life Science Lessons for the Montessori elementary classroom, and it was written by Cynthia Brunold-Conesa. She is a well-experienced classroom guide and teacher educator. You can see more about it and purchase the pdf at https://georgeconesa.wixsite.com/lifesciencemont. Email the author at lunalearningpress@gmail.com for purchase information.

Why does the Montessori world need a new album? Basically, there are two reasons, content updates and approach updates. The need for content updates is easy to understand. Science is a dynamic subject, and there have been many changes in the field of biology since the first or even second generation of Montessori albums was created. If you take a look at a current biology textbook for an introductory college course, you will see what I mean. If a goal of Montessori education is to prepare children for further studies, then we should be giving them the current view of biology. I’ll say more about that later.

When you read “approach updates,” did you think I was trying to change Montessori philosophy and approach to the child? I do NOT recommend changing these. What I mean by “approach updates” is changing from presenting science as a body of knowledge to bringing more active investigation and thinking skills to the subject.

Science as a body of knowledge was the sole approach to the teaching biology for the first half of the twentieth century. Later, another model began to take hold. What has emerged is education to teach a scientific way of thinking, and science as an activity that children are able to do, not just hear about. Both of those approaches are valid – provided children get both together.

A strong emphasis on thinking skills is a good preparation for life in general as well as science studies. Under the optimal situation, the adult guide helps children learn to find and evaluate information. The guide also encourages good thinking skills and problem solving in science investigations.

In life science (aka biology) studies, children need to experience and engage with the living world. Active exercises can involve observing and recording natural happenings as well as experimenting. Children need help developing scientific thinking and explanations. Just learning classification is not enough. Children need to study the basics of the diversity of life, but they need to go beyond that body of knowledge to interact with the living world.

I’m very pleased with the guidance that Cynthia’s Life Science Lessons for the Montessori Elementary Classroom provides. There are sections on connecting with the natural world and care of classroom animals. The latter is an applied life science activity that can lead to care for life outside the classroom as well.    

What traditional biology content needs to change? Here are some ideas.

Give children an introduction to the needs and characteristics of life. If your lessons don’t include that life needs water, that’s a sign you’ve skipped important basics. Likewise, children should know that living things are adapted to their environment and that life has evolved and continues to do so.

In diversity of life studies, use domains (bacteria, archaea, and eukarya) and the Tree of Life – NOT Five or Six Kingdoms. The only valid kingdoms are fungi, animals, and plants.

Show the diversity of life with branching diagrams and help children learn to “read” them. Children need to hear about important clades (branches) such as tetrapods, amniotes, embryophytes, and euphyllophytes. They need to know that scientists group living things by shared ancestry.

Use clade names above the level of orders for the embryophytes (land plants) rather than phylum or division names. For example, the fern clade contains the ferns, whisk ferns, and horsetails. They were previously considered separate phyla (or divisions).

Call the fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals the major groups of vertebrates. Do not call them classes. Fish are not a single branch of life, although the amphibians, reptiles plus birds, and mammals are and can be called lineages or clades.

Rather than “internal parts,” call this study “organ systems of animals.”

Before children finish their elementary years, they should know about the organization of life – the structures that make up life and how they are put together. See my book, From the Biosphere to Atoms: A Teacher’s Guide to the Organization of the Living World. https://big-picture-science.myshopify.com/collections/biology/products/from-the-biosphere-to-atoms-a-teacher-s-guide-to-the-organization-of-life

This is a start for revising content. See my other blog articles for more information.

Enjoy your life science studies!