Science Curriculum: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding


Someone once told me that the Montessori Science curriculum is the foundation for elementary.  As in, children learn all the other subjects off of science.  It basically covers from the Big Bang all the way to all things human.  It’s a vast curriculum.  One where you are not expected to cover everything in the albums by 6th grade.

I have 2 albums for science: geography and biology.  Biology covers zoology (animals) and botany (plants).  Geography in a way covers everything else: astronomy, geology, physical geography, chemistry, water, wind, economics, etc.  You are essentially studying the earth and all the fields related to it. One thing they keep telling us during training is: Don’t follow the album sequence in presentation.  However, even many schools do this.  They may decide to do the section on Wind, Water, or human anatomy in upper elementary, and biology in lower elementary.

Especially with homeschooling, I see the varied interests and various questions the children ask and it seems obvious to follow their interests.  However with such a vast curriculum it is hard to know where to start.  I was really to happy to come across the recommendation of a series of books from What Did We Do All Day.  The books are called Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  For his K-2 book, he divided scientific knowledge into 4 sections, Nature of Matter (chemistry and the like), Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth Science.  What I like about the book are:

  • It follows my Montessori curriculum.  I have only looked closely at the beginning presentations and it’s basically the same order as what we present in the primary albums.  And the contents are mostly the same as well.
  • But it is WAY more in depth.  The author lists recommended books, how many minutes it takes to present, a guide on how to teach science, follow up activities, etc.
  • In a way, Physical Science is modern science so was not included in our training.  So it’s not in our album.
  • The BEST part is the 2 page chart on the sequence of presentation.  He tells you exactly the prerequisites for each presentations, and sometimes those presentations require other presentations from other sections. 

Scope and Sequence!

Last year, Thumper watched a lot of Magic Schoolbus on Netflix and started sprouting scientific facts.  And for awhile I was very confused and wondered, “Why can’t we just watch a lot of TV to learn science?”  I had to have a talk with my fellow homeschooling friend to understand it’s important for the child to also experience science.  I also realized the other important thing is to see how everything is connected.  Biology is connected to chemistry is connected to earth science, etc.  They’re not specific unit subjects to study.  Scientific knowledge, really all knowledge, is not about memorizing little facts but seeing the connections between facts.  And the Montessori curriculum provides a framework through its Great Lessons in tying these things together.   Similarly I feel like this author understands this by that 2 page chart on presentation sequence.  He’s showing me what I need to know in one subject in order to learn about another subject.  Best of all, he’s helping me make sense of my albums.  It’s my one frustration, that there’s no scope and sequence in my album.

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Elementary Nomenclature cards

After 2 days of looking through the 3000 characters, I decided to switch course and start on my solar system nomenclature cards.   I just kept thinking that we ought to be learning nomenclature through actual learning of knowledge rather than reading.  But, I do know exactly how I am going to choose the next 100 words.  I just need to actually choose them and then make up sentences.

I’ve been torn about nomenclature.  Many teachers tell me their kids don’t actually like doing them past 1st grade.  But it IS the thing made most often and sold online.  It’s easy to make and concrete.  But I want those concrete use of vocabulary.  Also, why make cards if the kids can just get their information in little books I find for them?  But recently I’ve been going on and on about the importance of using your hands to learn.  And nomenclature cards will do that since the kids are moving cards around to match.

Nomenclature cards?

In primary, nomenclature cards are also called 3-part cards.  There is the control-of-error card, which has a picture and then the word.  That card is “cut” up into 2 cards so the kids can match it to the master card.  The kids are not expected to read the words, it’s a matching game.

In elementary, this gets extended into an additional card which has the definitions of the words.  Before the child can read, the teacher reads the definitions during the presentation.  There is also the master booklet, which again provides a control of error.  It is how you don’t have to do the activity with the child after presentation.  They check to see if they match things right themselves.  If they can read, they can now do this matching.  It is supposedly also what you do first, reading the booklet with the child. But in training, they have never presented it this way to us.  So I’m not sure.

One thing I realized in thinking about nomenclature cards again is how short the information is.  It’s not there to teach everything.  It’s there to invoke the child’s interest in said subject so that they want to learn more and research it themselves.  On top of that, because the information is short, it is easier for the lower elementary child to read.  They don’t necessarily have to find all that information in a huge encyclopedia.  I know for sure Thumper hates that, reading tiny fonts in books.  That’s yet another reason I decided to go ahead with making these cards.

Apparently a second level of difficulty for elementary children is to cut up these sentences.  I guess it is a good grammar exercise and makes you think about what you’re reading.  We’re not there yet.

Solar System Cards

When I was making cards for my school, I railed against bilingual cards.  If a child is stronger in English, then they will cheat by reading the English when matching.  However, in presenting at home, I realized that I had a problem now,  I don’t know the words in Chinese!  I couldn’t present them myself when we get to the definition part.

So here’s my version, which will allow both Elementary and Primary to use since I’m way too lazy to make a second set for Astroboy.

Primary Nomenclature

Primary Nomenclature

Primary Nomenclature

The primary nomenclature will have:

  1. Master card,
  2. Picture
  3. Label, Chinese only
  4. Optional English label in cursive (I didn’t take a pic of that)

I could have made a master card that has both cursive English and Chinese in it but that is just way too many versions to keep track of.  It would also be confusing in the classroom for us.

Elementary Nomenclature

The elementary nomenclature will have:

Elementary Nomenclature

Elementary Nomenclature

  1. Booklet with master card and master definition.  The master card is bilingual.
  2. Picture
  3. Label, Chinese only
  4. Label, English in print
  5. Definition, Chinese only, with zhuyin
  6. Definition, Chinese only, label word missing, with zhuyin (no picture)

For elementary, given that Thumper is bilingual, I added the English into the booklet.  But I didn’t put them together in the label part because I wanted her to think about the translation other than just read them together in one label card.  I also added the a second definition card, with the main vocabulary word missing so they can guess.  Again something I’m not seeing in ETC Montessori or Montessori Research and Development.  But I saw it in training.  It’s a good way to really make the kids recall their knowledge.  This can be used in lieu of the definition card with the vocabulary word written in.  It could be the higher level of difficulty.

I accidentally printed my cards out before I made one more change.  When I visited a school in Taiwan, I saw how the teachers were making cards where the zhuyin is selective.  They told me that the children were using zhuyin as a crutch.  I plan to make all the first 500 Sagebook words to be without zhuyin.  And if I can figure it out, actually make the zhuyin go left to right instead of top to bottom.  This helps the eyes track when they read.

I’m theorizing that having to read the cards carefully, and having to think while she matches, having to use her hands while learning, Thumper will really learn her solar systems.  When she did her glue and paste of the solar system chart 2 weeks ago for fun, she didn’t recognize her planets anymore even though I know she learned it in primary.

But for now, these cards will do. Spent all morning cutting.  Now off to laminate!