He absorbs the life going on about him and becomes one with it, … - Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1995, p. 101.
In the 9-12 classroom, a much more in-depth and cohesive approach is taken with the Biology curriculum than was received in the lower elementary classroom. The students are reacquainted with the Six Kingdoms, as well as introduced to basic life processes, microbiology, and the organization of the living world. A greater focus on the internal functions of organisms in our world is provided, in addition to an awareness of how and why living organisms function the way they do. The students also gain an understanding of the similarities and differences between the functions of their own body and that of other animals.
Beginning with the Life Processes, students explore the vital functions carried on by all living things—starting with the whole organism and moving on to processes at the cellular level. They begin to see that all creatures, no matter how small, have specific functions which enable them to survive and thrive. Then, the Living World is categorized and explored, focusing initially on the largest category—the Biosphere—and moving on to the most microscopic—the Atom. As with much in the Montessori curriculum, this focus from the whole to the component parts enable the students to have a greater understanding when each part is further dissected and discussed. Once the students have seen what makes up the world’s smallest creatures, microbiology is introduced—as well as the microscope and basic cell theory. It is now very important for students to become comfortable with perceiving objects through the microscope as much of the next area of study is dependent upon being skillful in this area.
The next area of the biology curriculum focuses on cell theory, whereby parts of the cells are explored, followed by the differences between animal and plant cells. The students become comfortable with the parts of the cells by assigning each part a function that is similar to jobs that many humans have. They can then write stories about the various functions of the cell (as they would about someone in their lives), or create their own cell using any art medium with which they are comfortable. Study of the cell is then followed by a review of the evolution of life. Now, when discussed, the students have a better understanding of life beginning with prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and, only many years later, multi-cellular organisms.
Anyone who has beheld not only the qualities of things classified in an orderly way, but also the gradations of each, is able to read everything that their environment and the world of nature contains. - Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1995, p. 183.
The Six Kingdoms are then reviewed, by discussing the classification system as it pertains to them. Then each kingdom is delved into by exploring those characteristics that they all share and those things that make them different. The students can then take the kingdoms and conduct further research—finding representatives of each kingdom and more defining characteristics. Before moving on to a more in-depth study of each kingdom, the students then study viruses and bacteria. As they are quite comfortable with microscopes by this time, they are ready to explore what makes viruses non-living yet possessing characteristics that enable them to be reproduced like a living organism. They also discover how bacteria can affect them, both positively and negatively, and how integral to their world bacteria is.
The first kingdom discussed, Moneran, naturally follows the study of bacteria. The students first review the classification and nomenclature and then delve into the inner functions of the organisms within this, then each of the other five, kingdoms. They take the Moneran, Protista, and Fungi Kingdoms and learn about the various aspects of the creatures in each kingdom and what makes them classified from simple to complex. In each kingdom study, the students learn about representatives of each that are very familiar to them. For example, many students have heard of bacteria (Moneran), algae and amoebas (Protista), and lichens (Fungi). This brings the study to a level that is both comfortable, yet challenging.
Botany is then reviewed, first by looking at the parts of the plant—including the flower, roots, leaves and fruits—and proceeding with classification, functions, experiments, and gardening. Plant classification is presented with a focus on a clearer understanding of the differences and similarities between the various divisions than was explored in the 6-9 class. Then, the vital functions of plants are discussed with a focus towards helping the students understand plants as truly living organisms, with needs and cycles very similar to those found in animals. The experiments the students do during this study and the information they gain help prepare them to be aware and responsible gardeners in the school’s or their own gardens.
Zoology, in the 9-12 curriculum, begins with the study of invertebrates—their classification, characteristics, habitat, diet and history. Then, the vertebrates are reviewed (an area where many students are quite comfortable and knowledgeable) by once again looking at the classification, characteristics and internal and external parts. While students are focusing on these areas of study, they are also learning how to identify functions of the creatures’ bodies in terms of digestion, respiration, circulation, support and movement, sensitivity (the nervous system) and reproduction. At the end of this zoology study, the students will be able to take the internal and external part cards for all the various functions of each of the classes of animals and sort out all the functions for all the animal classes.
This study of the functions of the internal systems of animals leads directly into a more focused study of those same functions in humans. Now, instead of simply looking at all mammals, the students focus on the Digestive, Nervous, Circulatory, Respiratory and Reproductive Systems of their own bodies. This is made more tangible for the students by seeing the body as similar to a town, functioning entirely around a Great River. This is one of Montessori’s Great Lessons and helps the students see the functions of these systems before taking them to the more abstract level of anatomy. However, an in-depth study of anatomy and nutrition follows this Great Lesson.
…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. - Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1995, p. 163.
The study of ecology wraps up the biology curricular area in the 9-12 classroom. This enables the students to once again see themselves, other living organisms, and the world around them, as interdependent. With their understanding of the functions and characteristics of the living organisms which make up their world, they will better be able to make informed choices about themselves and their world.