The Great Lesson The Coming of Life Part 1: Presented by the Sixth-Years

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The Upper Elementary children have been busy and creative during this past month of school. September has brought with it an outpouring of ideas, meetings, signing of the classroom constitution, reports, and even a play performed by the sixth-years on the second Great Lesson: “The Coming of Life.” Below, some photos from the play, and Upper Elementary Directress Rebecca Callander’s thoughtful, complex reasons for engaging the sixth-years to present this lesson.   

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Beginning where the “Story of the Universe” ended, the sixth-years presented the second Great Lesson, “The Coming of Life,” with a play, which, according to Upper Elementary Guide Rebecca Callander,  “…resulted in a spontaneous and searching conversation about life, creation, energy and science.” Each performer had an important role to play, and the fifth- and fourth-year students were completely captivated.

In Rebecca’s words:

“Great Lessons are meant to fire the imagination in order to answer the why questions of childhood, to allow the child to develop morality and reason. They offer a concrete representation for abstract concepts of the ancient past, such as the origin of life.  These tangible representations provide child with an image and story from which to understand such concepts.  

Naturally, the children come to love and cherish these stories, but as they begin the transition from second plane to third, from the child to the adolescent, a new set of rules, a new operating system is required. Paramount to Montessori education, to support this somewhat tenuous passage from second to third plane, it is important to meet the child where they are—to follow them.”

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“This means simultaneously appealing to both their intellect and their emotions, their mind and their heart.  The characteristics of the elements of the story are well understood at this point and the basic story, presented as status quo will become redundant and therefore fail to fire the imagination of the oldest child.  

Further, the sixth year child is an emerging skeptic. Having the sixth years present the Coming of Life keeps them in the conversation, maintains their engagement on both an intellectual level as they research the story and also an emotional-social level as they express their feelings via a play and working together. Finally, the sixth year is the culminating year, where the children are asking themselves what they know.  By being in charge of the presentation, they are accountable for their knowledge – they own it!”

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“Our Great Lesson, the Coming of Life presents the story of the rise of life. The story begins as narrators recap the First Great Lesson, the Story of the Universe, discussing the laws of the universe and focusing on the ending of the story, where volcanic activity subsided, water emerged on Earth, and the Earth was comprised of Rocks, Air, and Water, all in cahoots with the sun. The narrators remind the audience that while no one was there to see this amazing transformative moment on Earth, we can imagine what it must have been like.

We are introduced to the characters Air, Rocks, and Water, and the Sun, who are in a heated discussion because Water was carrying crumbled Rocks into the Sea and muddying the waters.  Water, as a result was a caustic mess of acid, and Air was oxygen deficient.  Life is introduced on the Earth’s stage to help the balance of the environment.  To solve the problem, life is given basic instructions–all life must eat, grow, and reproduce.  Some of life uses the excess carbon and creates its own food, while others must find other food.  The emergence of the plant and animal kingdoms. There is a unity to the conversation of life. All life follows this rule and lives in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth.”  

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Above: the “Big Boss” convenes with “Air” and “Sun”

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The sixth-years thoroughly enjoyed their roles!

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“Let us not forget the second plane characteristics of Hero Worship.  We elementary guides are so sneaky sometimes—we help create the framework that supports the community of the room! By having the oldest children in the Upper Elementary room present the Coming of Life, the youngest children engage in the presentation on a new level, one of burgeoning self-identity, ‘I could be like them one day’ and emulation ‘I will make my own play too.’  The fourth years feel a deeper sense of connection to the social fabric of the room when the sixth years present, ‘They cared enough to tell the story to me, that must mean they like me too!’  

And finally, presenting the Coming of Life generally happens within the first month of school.  For the sixth years, this is an early experience of leadership as a sixth year student, and helps to set the tone of their year of reflection and culmination.  Also, by having the sixth years present the story tells them that the guide values their input, their work,  ‘Ms. Rebecca cares enough of us that she is asking us to present the Great Lesson!'”

Following the second Great Lesson, the fourth-years are studying the Timeline of Life, focusing on the advent of life, the evolution of single-celled organisms to multi-celled organisms, and a general overview of different geological time periods. As a follow-up to the timeline, fourth-years are planning a Going-Out to the Meramec Highlands Quarry at Dee Koestering Park in Kirkwood.  It is an incredible place to view the fossil life of our environs during the Meramecian Period, roughly 346.7 to 330.9 mya.

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The Upper Elementary classroom is chock full of resources relating to these lessons and areas of study, including the comprehensive Smithsonian book, Earth: The Definitive Visual Guide. 

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Please be sure to check back for part 2 of this post, where we will discuss more on the Coming of Life through our upcoming fossil hike through the Highlands Rock Quarry in the Dee Koestering Park! 

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing all of this insight into the sixth years and setting the stage for success in Upper Elementary!