Geography & History 6-9

Geography & History 6-9

“...the more the children know the more they will see and then the further they will walk.  To explore, one needs to be filled with intellectual interests, and these it is our business to give.”[1]

The scope of geography and history in the 6-9 classroom enables students to become familiar with the world around them and the origin of that world.  To know first what is out there on Earth and how everything came to be ensures that students gain an understanding and perspective of their place in the universe.  The focus is to help students become aware that there are more places, people, cultures, ideas, and possibilities than they have yet seen in their immediate surroundings.  It is with this focus in mind that the lessons of geography and history are taught.

Initially, geography involves having the students learn the continents and oceans.  They do this with globes, puzzle maps, and labels.  Once mastered, they then learn the countries in all the continents with the same materials.  From there, the students learn the flags and capitals of these countries and do intensive study of the six main continents within a three-year period.  This study includes exploring the languages, foods, religions, culture, holidays, flora, fauna, and landscape of the chosen continent.  Antarctica is also studied but to a lesser extent than the other six.  Next, the focus changes to geographic features.  The students become familiar with most of the main features before taking one, in depth, and drawing a world map of that feature.  If volcanoes are chosen, for example, all the volcanoes would be labeled with an upside down "V" and many would be named.  Generally, students can do world feature maps of any of their favorites.  The cardinal directions are also explored with map drawing exercises stressing the importance of accuracy when using a compass.

“The path of education should follow the path of evolution, to walk and to enjoy ever wider horizons.”[2]

The first lessons on history are the same as those for astronomy.  We explore the origins of the universe, starting with creation stories, and the Big Bang and then move on to the history of Earth itself.  Once again lessons begin with the larger perspective of history.  The geologic time-line is first, taking the six main eras into as much detail as possible and explaining what makes each era unique.  Then the time-line of life is explored by going in-depth into the last three eras, which includes the study of their periods.  The students learn about what makes each era unique; the things that differentiate each period from each other; and, the theories concerning the causes of the two mass extinctions.  Each of these three eras is studied in-depth throughout the three-year cycle ending with the recent extinctions and new life in the Cenozoic Era.  This study discusses the information currently available to scientists and the inferences made due to recent and ever-changing discoveries.  Like most in the Montessori classroom, the research and lessons are necessarily fluid and flexible.  The students are able to see how the constant improvements in carbon-dating techniques can actually change an entire time-line within the three years that they are in the classroom.

“We do not see only with our eyes, and culture is not made up of what we see alone.”[3]

At the same time that the students are studying paleontology, they are also exploring man-made history.  This history, also called the Needs of People, looks at the time-line and changes made to various spiritual and material necessities for life.  For example, the students discover the gradual development and changes made to homes—from caves to mud huts to solar powered houses.  This type of exploration is also done with communication, lighting, telling time, heat, clothing, weapons, air, ground and water transportation, musical instruments, and furniture.  After this, the students see that besides the material needs, there are spiritual needs, such as art, beauty, and religion and they find various examples of these for different peoples on their own.  The students also do a time-line and research of presidents of the United States with biographies of these presidents explored throughout the year.  From there, the students can choose to research famous inventors, sports personalities, women in history—any area which sparks their interest.

The other subject areas of the Montessori classroom are closely linked to geography and history.  Language is an integral part due to the researches that are done and the different vocabulary learned in both.  The knowledge of the hierarchy of numbers makes it possible for the students to conceive of a 15 billion year old universe, a 4.6 billion year old Earth, humans that are only two million years old, and themselves and their families at their current ages.  Astronomy is explored when studying the history of the Earth.  Chemistry and biology are studied when discussing the origin of life on Earth.  Meteorology and oceanography are closely linked to the study of geography when focusing on the oceans in depth.  History and geography are also taught together when learning about the international date line, time zones, and when these were first put into place.  The lessons learned in art help the students draw geographical maps and their features.  Any research of composers for music is going back in time and helping students see how music has changed throughout history—from the simple beat of drums to full orchestras.  Finally, plays and simple skits are used to help bring history to life by having the students become, for example, the first hydrogen atoms, when they started expanding in the moments after the Big Bang.

“The essential thing is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child's whole personality.”[4]

The history and geography curriculum in the 6-9 classroom makes it possible for students to conceive of a world outside of their own city and state.  It also can create a desire to see the geographic features they learned about and to discover for themselves the impact that the ever-changing scientific discoveries have on the perception of history.

[1] Montessori, Maria.  The Absorbent Mind.  New York:  Henry Holt & Co., 1995:  p. 163.
[2] Montessori, Maria.  The Absorbent Mind.  New York:  Henry Holt & Co., 1995:  p. 163.
[3] Montessori, Maria.  The Absorbent Mind.  New York:  Henry Holt & Co., 1995:  p. 176.
[4] Montessori, Maria.  The Absorbent Mind.  New York:  Henry Holt & Co., 1995:  p. 206.

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