“I think I understand pretty well Montessori's approach to teaching when it comes to small kids (preschool, kindergarten), but how do you implement it with Upper Elementary? For example with zoology, there is a lot of factual material that has to be somehow presented to the students. You cannot put a handout of the Linnaean classification on the shelf and expect the kids to be excited about it. I was thinking about doing a group presentation, introducing the material in a form of a handout that they have to fill out while watching a Power Point presentation. This way, those of the students who are visual learners can retain more. Or should I just make copies of the text from the manual?”
My response is: Why can’t you be excited about Linnaean classification? It is all in how you present it! Remember, Montessori students have been classifying animals since the 3–6 program. They are used to classification, and this is just the next level of difficulty. In the lower elementary environment, students first classify the difference between living and non-living. Then, they classify the difference between plants and animals, and progress to learning the different classifications of animals: amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals.
In the upper elementary classroom, students learn to classify by relationships. They learn that a dog and a wolf are related. How closely? Well, let’s classify each of these animals, starting with its Kingdom and see how far down the chart they differ.
Presentations in the Upper Elementary Montessori Classroom
Wow! Isn’t it amazing that the only difference between a wolf and a common pet does not occur until you get to the sub-species??? How cool is that? Upper elementary students love that kind of detail and it is much more exciting than filling out a handout while watching a presentation (in other words, taking notes from a lecture).
Let’s take a closer look at how we can present the classification of the dog and wolf. First, invite a small group of students to the front of the room to sit on the floor around you. On a work mat, where all the students can clearly see, place small figures of a dog and a wolf (you may purchase such figures at local hobby or craft stores). Pass the figures around and let the students get a really good look at them. Then, encourage them to make observations about each animal. Next, ask the students to make observations about the relationships between the two animals. When the discussion is complete, create a matrix with the students by placing the figures at the top of the mat and the classification labels down the left side. It would look similar to the following image.
Beginning with “Kingdom,” classify the animals with the students. Add labels one at a time to fill in the matrix, continuing until the chart is complete. Remember to read aloud each label as you place it on the matrix. The completed matrix will look something like this:
|Species:||Lupus (Wolf)||Lupus (Wolf)|
|Sub-Species:||Familiaris (Dog)||Arctos (Arctic)|
At this point, you may invite the students to copy the taxonomy into their notebooks. I would not include a “worksheet.” Students retain information far better when they copy directly, rather than completing a worksheet.
Your presentation can now become a shelf activity for the students to work with independently. Place the labels from the matrix and a variety of animal figures in a basket, and place the basket on the shelf. Invite the students to use the concrete labels and models to create their own taxonomic matrix. As they compare different animals, they can highlight exactly where the difference in classification occurs. To demonstrate mastery, students can create their own multi-media presentation and present it to the class.
My number one piece of advice to new Montessori teachers who are used to teaching and learning in a conventional setting is be creative! If you were a child, how would you like to be taught? By lecture? (I always think of the “Charlie Brown” teacher…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah) Or by a teacher who is so excited by all aspects of the curriculum that she makes it come alive and makes you want to learn more?
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, November 9, 2012.