The initial lesson for the Periodic Table was short and sweet, not even 5 minutes. I told the children that this year we are calling our birthdays by the name of the element with the corresponding atomic number on the Periodic Table. For example if you are 10 you are Neon.
I showed them a beautiful book of elements and they have been poring over it since, asking a multitude of questions that I cannot answer. When I cannot answer a question, they go and research. This past week, Aristotle, Hennig Brand, Mendeleev, Rutherford, Curie, Einstein have become “household” names in our classroom, kita Shalhevet.
I was dispatched at lunch to purchase protons, neutrons and electrons (the existing beads were too big) to make all the elements on the “Atom Board.” How small is an atom? How strong? Why are they so hard to break? Why would we want to split an atom? For electricity, for x-rays, for bombs, to name but a few. The children have more research to do.
Meanwhile across the class, models of the Earth’s poles are emerging and elicited a discussion about how the planet is warming up and the ice is melting. Most scientists believe that the warmer temperatures can be attributed to human activity. The poles were warm once, when the dinosaurs lived on Earth, but if they melt too much now, we will have a great deal of flooding.
When the children discuss their work, they can discuss the possibility of splitting the atom so that it is not dangerous? They can discuss the possibility of how to cool our planet again to prevent flooding, or the possibility of making a good life with flooding? I am never sure what discussions will emerge. It is my job to put the children in contact with the information that will help them think about these issues themselves. In this way, they have a real part of the discussion and see themselves as part of the solution.
Maria Montessori once wrote:
“Not in the service of any political or social creed should the teacher work, but in the service of the complete human being, able to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will and judgement, un-perverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear.” (To Educate the Human Potential)
The most consistent feeling that such work inspires is one of awe. Christopher Bergland wrote in Psychology Today that “being in awe of something greater than yourself promotes prosocial behaviour.” (May 2015)
We do not have to indoctrinate the children at MJDS. They already love the world and love each other. We simply give them wonderful things to think about, to work on and they develop in their natural, normal way, ready to care for the world and each other.
Catherine O’Keefe MJDS Upper Elementary Guide