Last week in our homeschool we covered almost all of the topics in the "Nature of the Elements" section of our AMI Elementary Geography album (We have the Keys of the Universe elementary albums). One thing I have noticed is that this whole section of the album (and this would be true of any AMI elementary album, not just the KotU albums) talks about "particles"...particle attraction (strength of and/or lack thereof), particle movement, whether they can dissolve, can't dissolve, whether they are under pressure, different ways they combine... In fact, if you go back and look at the First Great Lesson...that's all about particles too. Does the child understand what a "particle" is?
Mine do! We did a great series of activities and "experiments" from Bernard Nebel's Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We have both levels (K-2 and grades 3-5). In a Montessori environment you don't need to separate the books according to grade level. Different topics are spread across the two different books, all of which tie into and support the Montessori elementary (6-12) scope and sequence. It is good to have both books on hand so that you can draw from them as needed according to topic rather than age. Mine are both on my iPad, an easy and inexpensive way to keep have them accessible.
The activities that we did this day were from Lesson A-4 "Matter I: Its Particulate Nature." This was a diverse and very thorough series of activities presented by Nebel in a very Montessori way. I really feel like they can and should be lifted as is and included as a "key lesson" in conjunction with the First Great Lesson in the Montessori albums and should be a prerequisite for the "Nature of the Elements" section of the album. In fact, I plan on repeating some of these activities next year before I present the First Great Lesson again.
The boys had to learn that all matter is made of particles, whether that matter was a solid, liquid, or gas. They already understood that all matter occupies space and all matter has weight from previous Montessori work. I don't think they understood that "particulate nature" was a third attribute of all matter.
The boys know they are in for a fun day when they see the kitchen table decked out like this:
We started by discovering that solids can be broken down into tiny particles. The first suggestion was to file or cut various solids (paper, wood, metal) into tiny particles. We attacked a few pieces of wood with a file.
Me Too investigated the tiny particles with his magnifying glass.
One suggested activity was to crush a lump of hardened clay. I didn't have that on hand so we moved on to the next activity which was to smear a bit of soil on white paper and note the fine particles.
You can "dissolve" a lump of clay in water. Again, I didn't have clay so I used a "hard as rock" clump of brown sugar (I always seem to have THAT on hand).
We visualized that if we could put the particles back together that we would wind up with what we started with.
As suggested, we discussed the fact that many things we use, sugar, flour, and salt for example are already ground into cookies. We decided that cookies are made of particles too and that the family member who gets the MOST particles all over the kitchen floor when eating a cookie is Me Too.
We looked at containers of flour, sugar, and salt to examine the particles. Me Too identified them by taste which was okay to do because Mom had provided the substances. We discussed that it is unsafe to do this otherwise.
Next we needed to discover that liquids also have a particulate nature. It was recommended that you squirt water from a spray bottle to demonstrate that we are breaking the water into tiny particles. If you do this repeatedly at the same place on your hand you can watch the particles join back together to reform liquid water. I didn't have an empty spray bottle for water so I used Windex. Then my hands were covered in Windex so I didn't get a picture of that, LOL!
Finally, we explored the particulate nature of gasses. To do this the children use a straw to blow bubbles in soapy water. The script notes, "There will be large bubbles, but especially note the tiny bubbles. Instruct children to think about each tiny bubble as a 'package' or air particles. Conspicuously, the bubbles break, allowing the particles to mix again." Let me say, this was a HUGE hit and made a BIG impression.
After discovering that everything they had worked with could be broken into particles and potentially put back together we needed to go further. All of the particles we had made could be, with the right tools, broken down into even smaller particles that could only be seen with magnifying lenses. Eventually you reach a the smallest particle size possible which is the "fundamental particle" of a substance. The script states, "These fundamental particles cannot be subdivided further without totally destroying the nature of the matter we started with. But, the fundamental particles of a substance are incredibly tiny, much to tiny to be seen individually. Even the smallest grain of sugar, for example, is comprised of many individual sugar particles." This was a good time to pull out our salt and the salt grinder. In our house we use Celtic Sea Salt that has quite large particles and use a salt grinder to create even smaller particles. That was actually very handy for this lesson.
At this point Nebel points out that we must "Stress that the fundamental particles of a given substance are the same. A larger lump of clay, for example, does not contain larger clay particles; it only contains more of them, just as the amount of sugar in a container is a matter of the number of granules present." He suggested that this could be demonstrated with "uniformly-sized particles of clay." I had divided playdoh into about 30 marble-sized "particles. I kept two, gave twelve to Kal-El, and the rest to Me Too. We each "reformed" our particles into a solid and observed the differences in size.
This was the "logical stopping point" for this lesson given in the book, but we continued on to "Part 2: The Difference Between Solids, Liquids and Gases." They already had background in this from the First Great Lesson and the work from the "Nature of the Elements" section of the Montessori album that we had already done. But this time I saw the lightbulb go on. The book provides an excellent "light script" that focuses on the following objectives:
- The distinction between solids, liquids, and gases comes from the degree to which their particles attract and hold together.
- The individual particles of matter are in constant motion and the degree of motion changes with temperature, while the attractive force between particles remains constant.
- Explain freezing and thawing in terms of the two factors noted in the objectives above.
We have done A LOT of work and experiments with matter this year and I have to say, they probably didn't truly understand it due to a lack of understanding of the term "particle." Of all the resources I use, this was the only place that filled that gap.
Why did this come up now? The boys are very interested in rocks and minerals right now and as we dove into that work it became painfully obvious that we needed a good understanding of particles to truly study rocks and minerals. The Montessori lessons are not supposed to include presentations for every possible topic imaginable. You can pay a lot of money for some that do, but then you must educate yourself on what is "key" versus "following an interest." Most albums, such as the ones we have, provide the "key" lessons that every child should have but expect that you will help your child follow their interests beyond the albums on their own. Bernard Nebel's Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding has been perfect supplementary resource for our family to use to give me a head start when one of the boys announces a new interest. I wouldn't expect or need rock and mineral lessons in the Montessori albums. However, as I said previously, I do feel that a presentation like this on particles would be a good addition included as a "key lesson" in conjunction with the First Great Lesson in the Montessori albums and should be a prerequisite for the "Nature of the Elements" section of the album.