Cosmic Education: An Introduction

As an elementary teacher, one of the things I’m most excited to implement is Cosmic Education. At the opening Philosophy class at my training center, we were lucky to have Jennifer Morgan speak and tell us her version of the First Great Lesson, the story which begins the journey through Cosmic Education. For those unfamiliar, Morgan is the author of Born with a Bang, From Lava to Life, and Mammals Who Morph, three books many Montessorians consider to be companions to the first three of the five Great Lessons.

But what are the Great Lessons? And how do they relate to Cosmic Education?

To give a simple answer to the first question, the Great Lessons are stories. In fact, that’s how we name them:

  1. The Story of the Universe
  2. The Story of Life
  3. The Story of Humans
  4. The Story of Language (sometimes this is told as two stories–the story of oral language [1] and the story of written language [2])
  5. The Story of Numbers

These five stories make up the heart of Montessori Elementary education. Each story acts as the starting point for many of the curriculum areas in the classroom:

  • The Story of the Universe: Earth Science, Physical Geography, Astronomy, and Physical Science (the study of the laws of the universe)
  • The Story of Life: 6 Kingdoms, Animal Phyla, Botany, Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Mammals
  • The Story of Humans: Early Humans, Ancient Civilizations, Fundamental Needs of Humans, all of human history
  • The Story of Language: History, Parts of Speech, names, the alphabet, etymology, writing
  • The Story of Numbers: Counting, Basic Operations, units of measurement, geometry

An Example Demonstration of the History of Numbers

This is just a sampling of where the Great Lessons might take you. In a larger sense, the function of the Lessons is to Strike the Imagination of the children, to inspire wonder for the world around them. Once that wonder has been sparked, their own natural interest drives them to learn more about the world around them. And our job as teachers is to give them the tools they need to fulfill their interest.

That’s why research is such an integral part of elementary education. Our students have questions and we empower them by giving them practice in the skills they’ll need to answer the questions on their own. There’s a famous quote about education that I find particularly fits the role of the Great Lessons:

With each Great Lesson, we kindle the fire of the children’s imagination. Through the use of storytelling and impressionistic charts, we inspire the students to ask questions; then we empower them with the ability to answer those questions.

Materials for Follow Up Work for the Story of Humans

The Lessons also encourage students to look at the interconnectivity of the universe. And, in exploring the achievements of past humans, students begin to formulate ideas of how they, in turn, might contribute.

Another Example Demonstration of the Story of Numbers

This is, in essence, the answer to the second question: What role do the Great Lessons play in Cosmic Education? While Cosmic Education and the Great Lessons are often lumped together, they are part of a larger pedagogy developed by Dr. Montessori toward the end of her life.

My Impressionistic Charts for the Story of the Universe

Dr. Montessori’s son–and many other distinguished Montessorians–have continued to expand and evolve the concept since her death in 1952.

If you are interested in exploring Cosmic Education a little more, I suggest the following books and articles: