Think bigger… and smaller

By September 14, 2018

Upper elementary students are about to launch an intensive scientific exploration of biology, botany, habitats, and animals. How do you imagine the students would approach the introduction of these studies?

A fundamental approach to the Montessori curriculum for 6-12 year olds is the Five Great Lessons. The first of these lessons includes bold and exciting themes like the coming of the Universe and the Earth. Upper elementary students start with the largest possible ideas and concepts, and then through the course of diving into the many details of their academic explorations, they begin to see for themselves how the smaller concepts they are studying actually fit into a bigger framework.

This week, students in Upper Elementary paired off to develop and write their own creation story of the Universe. Using their study of myths from various cultures as a foundation, students had the freedom to imagine their own mythical creation story. They selected one theme from five possible myth narratives, created their own characters and settings, and then described how the universe was created from their personal and unfettered perspective. I was captivated by the student presentations. Each narrative was incredibly unique and inventive, sometimes involving mythical creatures or goddesses in their story of the creation of planets, stars, and the universe. In addition to their written narratives, each group presented illustrations of their Creation Story.

Far too often in education today, students simply plod along in the curriculum exploring one subject after another without taking the time to step back and see the big picture of how things are actually connected, or without slowing down to discuss in depth a fascinating detail that particularly intrigues a student. One of the real benefits of a Montessori education is that every student, at every age, is constantly given opportunities to see the big picture as well as study the smaller details in depth, usually in very experiential ways.

This is the way education should happen. As adults, we know this approach to tackling any subject or problem is actually far more like the way things work in the real world. A few years ago, I had a very inspiring meeting with a group of highly successful scientists and engineers. They were sharing their insights with me about what enabled some of the most important discoveries and inventions to occur. Every single person in the room emphasized the same point. The most profound and transformative problem-solving in the sciences does not occur in isolation by looking through the lens of just one narrow discipline. Real breakthroughs happen when it is possible to explore the problem through the bigger picture of many different disciplines, viewpoints, and experiences, as well as taking the time to deeply examine the smaller and sometime unnoticed details. That’s the kind of environment we are seeking to create for our students at Oak Meadow every single day. We strive to prepare them for a lifetime of exciting, bold, and creative discovery and problem-solving in the real world.