“Daddy, did you know that the Universe began 14 billion years ago?
And after a really really really long time, our sun will explode and the universe will end?”
ILM parents are flummoxed when they hear these wondrous comments from their 6 & 7 year olds. However, these far reaching thoughts are not surprising to their Montessori Teachers. After all they’ve just been presented the First Great Lesson.
The Montessori methodology is phenomenal. In which other curriculum are first and second graders introduced to:
– The Wonders of the Beginning of the Universe.
– How life began on Earth.
– How is it that we humans can so effectively speak and count. When did we learn or teach ourselves to do that.
These and several other mind-expanding discussions are explored in the series of The Great Lessons.
What are the Great Lessons?
The Great Lessons are the Hallmark of the Montessori methodology. These are Five Lessons related as dramatic stories complemented with props and experiments to make the experience highly memorable. The lessons are bold, exciting, and are designed to awaken a child’s imagination and curiosity. At the end of the lesson, the child is struck with the wonder of creation, thrilled with new ideas, and left overawed.
Each lesson focuses on one miracle of the universe. The Montessori Teacher creates a narrative with student participation, encouraging children to chime in with answers and punctuates the new Concepts with experiments or physical demonstrations.
The five great lessons are:
First Great Lesson – Coming of the Universe and the Earth or “God with No Hands”. In this Lesson, we explore the Big Bang Theory and how the universe began.
Second Great Lesson – Coming of Life
This is then followed by how life began with simple, single celled Organisms, to Multi-Celled Organisms, to Dinosaurs all the way to Man.
Third Great Lesson – Coming of Human Beings
A story around how the first Human Beings were based in Africa and then spread all over.
Fourth Great Lesson – Communication in Signs
A story of How and when did man begin communicating. Right from cave paintings to hieroglyphics to the language that you are reading this blog post in.
Fifth Great Lesson – The Story of Numbers
A story around how and when human beings began to count. Exploration around the different number systems, specially the Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman to the Arabic numerals we use today.
The First Great Lesson at ILM:
On 15th of July ILM students got acquainted with the wonders of the universe. The First Great Lesson was presented to them by Preeti. The new entrants were enthralled. The older children (who had already attended the Great Lesson in the previous year) developed an even more comprehensive understanding of the “limitless space”.
Darkness, Extremes and the Big Bang:
A room was darkened to give the experience of the beginning of time.
They were asked the first question, “What do you see at night?”
The replies came thick and fast “Stars, the moon and darkness”
Preeti explained that in the beginning there was nothing. The darkness was darker than night. The coldness was colder than ice. At this point the kids were asked to hold ice cubes on their palms. They dropped it after a few seconds claiming they couldn’t. They were then asked to imagine how intensely cold the beginning of the universe would be.
Then a balloon with a bright spot was placed in front of them. Preeti continued with an explanation of the Big Bang. She questioned, “What would you do if you had too much energy?” They students sang “We would jump!”. Some actually did.
Preeti paused and allowed them to settle down and then in a flourish she pricked the balloon. It burst with a resounding thwack. That peaked the excitement in the room. The point (pun unintended) introduced to children that the speck of the universe exploded. Why? because it couldn’t contain its potential energy anymore.
Light & the Particles Experiment:
Next, it was time to talk about particles – the byproduct of the Big Bang. After the explosion there was so much heat that the tiny particles started swirling around. They came together and joined to form larger masses. Or flowed away from each other.
To illustrate the “force” at work, confetti was dropped in a tub of water. Some of the bits stuck together. Others repelled.
The children sagely commented, “Yes. Even we have group preferences. So particles have them too”
The Enormity of the Sun & Speed of Light:
No epic is complete without the hero. And soon enough it was time to introduce the sun. Preeti weaved in tidbits the fact that the sun is fifty million years old and that a single flame from it can contain 22 Earths.
There were oohs and aahs all around.
The story continued.
The planets were born from the elliptical movement of large particle masses. And the sun got its little family of eight members.
Did the students know that the sun is just one gaseous ball and that every twinkle we see in the night sky is another star of our great spiral galaxy? They sure did. The largest galaxy is Andromeda – the knowledge came from poised Nuha.
Did the students know why the sun appeared so small? Of course! It is very far away. In fact its warmth and light takes 8 minutes to reach the surface of the earth. Just to drive home the significance of the distance Preeti stated that light can actually travel seven times around the earth in one second. Whereas we can manage that feat in 10 days and 10 nights of continuous travel.
That was a “go figure” moment. The children pondered the implications.
Exploring the Earth in Greater Detail:
A keen ILMite asked, “If no one was around to witness the birth of the earth, how do we know it was created?”
Preeti welcomed the astute observation and explained that all the information they are learning is based on calculations of great thinkers who assumed a certain truth (the earth was created) and then worked backwards to prove it.
She also reminded them of the nature of solids, liquids and gases. The first has particles that love each other and are best friends. They rarely stray away and hold their shape. The second has particles that value their freedom. They do move around but never leave the group. Gases are strangers! The particles can rush into every nook and cranny in every which way…..
When the earth was new and wild, it was primarily composed of hot gases. But as it revolved around the sun, it started cooling down. The particles huddled together to keep the chill away. And this made them grow heavier. They dropped to the center where there was heat and in the process were propelled to the surface again. This back and forth continued till there was balance. The solid core, the liquid mantle and the thin crust emerged.
Next Preeti mixed blue water, oil and honey in a test tube. The honey sunk to the bottom while the oil floated on top. The layers corresponded to the layers of our planet. Masooma was not satisfied. “What about the earth’s atmosphere? Where is that component?” she enquired. Six year old Ali reminded her that there is after all air filling the rest of the test tube. So that kind of justifies the demonstration.
The Wrap Up:
Preeti closed the session with the simile that the new, cooler earth was as wrinkled as a boiled potato jacket. The valleys became the ocean beds and the peaks became the mountain ranges.
The discussions the day after were epic. ILM had tiny geologists and future astronomers investigating everyday phenomenon and recording observations in their journals. Someone asked her best friend to “obey the rules” because humans are made up of the Big Bang particles which always follow the norms.
Now this is sass we love!
Thank you Preeti for your hours of research that led to the stimulating and highly successful First Great Lesson! Here are more pictures for you to enjoy.