Upper Elementary (4 th , 5 th , and 6 th Grades) Curriculum Flow
Dr. Maria Montessori and her son Mario Montessori developed the curriculum for the Upper Elementary together. It is a well laid out, broad, and well planned three-year cycle of teaching.
Montessori classrooms share some outstanding characteristics which make them different from traditional classrooms. One is the multi-age classroom, with fourth, fifth,and sixth grade students. Another characteristic is that children learn at their own pace following their own interests and abilities. The trick for the teacher is to follow the child while keeping in mind that parents usually expect their child to be progressing at (or above!) grade level. At any time, a child could leave Montessori school and need to perform on grade level at a traditional school. It is possible to achieve both goals, following the child’s innate interests and simultaneously reaching acceptable milestones in academic development.
In mathematics, children polish their long division skills in the beginning of fourth grade. By that time, they know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers. These skills are practiced and remain sharp through word problems and drill. Children spend fourth, fifth, and sixth grade learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide decimal numbers. In fractions, they learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide a fraction by a whole number or another fraction, with either a like or an unlike denominator. Work with multiplying binomials (2+3) X (7+2), and trinomials, (2+3+4) X (9+6+3), leads to square rooting work. Children can even proceed to cubing, cube rooting, and algebra if they are ready. This work would be rather advanced, but possible.
In geometry, children do much work with equivalence in the plane figures. Then they proceed to work in surface area. They derive all the formulas for surface area of the plane figures, square, rectangle, trapezoid, and so on, even to circle. Finally, in the 6th grade, children derive the formulas for volumes of the geometric solids.
There is much to do in language work. Each part of speech is studied in greater depth. Children begin conjugating verbs. They learn that nouns can be concrete (dog) or abstract (justice). They learn more about each part of speech. Children also study sentence diagramming, which we call sentence analysis. They learn to identify the sentence elements, subject, predicate, direct and indirect objects, and adverbials. They learn that phrases and clauses exist, and that sentences can be simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex. All this work helps them to become better writers. By now they can read well. Their reading skills are put to use by doing research and writing reports, be it about literature, an experiment write-up, or a history report.
In Life Science/Biology, children begin with microscope studies and plant and animal cell studies. They are already acquainted with the Five Kingdoms of Life. They study the “more invisible” kingdoms of microscopic life, the bacteria and protists. Then they do more advanced studies of classification culminating in classifying a plant and an animal from kingdom through phylum/division, class, order, family, genus and species.
In science we study both chemistry and physics over a three year period. The periodic table of the elements is presented along with the structure of the atom. Children work hands-on in many chemistry and physics experiments. In physics, they learn about simple machines and work, light, sound, magnetism, and electricity.
History is combined with geography, continent studies, and literature. Children start by studying early humans and hominids. They progress to stone, copper, bronze, and iron ages, Native Americans (Paleo-Indians), ancient civilizations, the Age of Exploration, and U.S. History over a three year period.
Imagine how challenging it is to find the time to teach 4 th grade math, language, grammar, writing, geometry, history, geography, literature, life science, chemistry and physics, and then to do the same for 5 th and 6 th grade. As part of intelligent classroom management, some subjects: math, geometry, life science, and language are taught in separate 4 th , 5 th , and 6 th classes. Other subjects, notably physical science, history, and geography, are taught on three-year cycles in lessons combining 4 th , 5 th , and 6 th graders. Each child does follow on lessons which take into account their academic abilities. One of the most exciting aspects of a Montessori Upper Elementary classroom is how children build knowledge so beautifully based on work done in the primary (preschool) and elementary classrooms. The binomial cube, built as a sort of puzzle, in the primary and elementary classrooms, can be related to the multiplication of binomials at the end of upper elementary. Geometric solids from the primary and elementary classrooms are used to compute the volume in the 6 th grade. There are many other beautiful connections which continue past the primary classroom