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Teaching History: The Big Picture #3 The Timeline of Life
November 01, 2007
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Did you miss the first two installments of our featured article, Teaching History’s Big Picture? Click here to read Part 1: Teaching History's Big Picture
The following is the third of a series of articles on teaching history based on Montessori methods. Future articles will cover the remaining Montessori Great Lessons in detail.
The Coming of Life: The Time Line of Life
The second Great Lesson takes up where the God Who Has No Hands left off. (See June newsletter.) It tells the story of how life forms began to inhabit our planet and how they developed and changed over time. As part of the story, students hear about the ever changing face of planet Earth. The story follows changes in land form due to plate movement, resulting climate and vegetation changes, and the adaptations that occurred among the animal species.
A beautifully illustrated Time Line of Life accompanies the story. On the timeline are the names of the geologic eras, ages and periods with accompanying ice ages. There are individual lines for the various classification groups of animals and plants. Each line shows the evolution of the species and, sometimes, its extinction. From the pictures and labels on the time line, students learn how life has grown and changed throughout time.
Children are naturally curious about all forms of animals. They are fascinated by the tale of transition from sea-dwellers to land. The Time Line of Life inspires all sorts of questions and opportunities for further learning.
It would be quite possible for any teacher to tell this story to her students; one doesn’t need a Timeline of Life to present the story to children. Start with the big picture: the story of the Eras and the characteristics of each of them. In Montessori elementary classes, we have a Clock of Eras that represents the entire span of time since the Big Bang. This is a lesson that is given after the God Who Has No Hands story is told.
The Timeline of Life starts with the Proterozoic Era because that is when life was beginning. Here, in the Proterozic, the very simple beginnings of life were first forming in the vast oceans that were the result of chemical-filled rains. As the earth cooled and the thin crust formed, magma close to the surface burst forth, spewing gases, lava and ash. The thick cloud formed from these materials kept the planet in a state of stormy existence. Scientists believe that all the elements were present to cause the first sparks of life in these stormy oceans.
The Paleozoic Era which follows is marked by the presence of thousands of life forms in the oceans. Here the ancestors of many modern species had their beginnings. Next, the Mesozoic Era is characterized by life moving onto the new land masses that were taking shape and moving on the face of the globe. The changing land masses caused climate changes that forced adaptations in the plants and animals. Finally, we come to the Cenozoic Era, the newest and current era in our Earth’s history. The tiny mammals that had been dominated by the reptiles during the Mesozoic, now grew to greater size and dominance. This new life made way for the rise of humans.
The story can be investigated even further by dividing the Eras into the Ages: Age of Fishes, Age of Amphibians, Age of Reptiles and Age of Mammals. When delving into the next level of detail, one presents the story of the Geologic Periods. Here the distinctions become even more detailed, with particular species rising and falling along with the earth changes that mark the beginnings and endings of each period.
The physical timeline that goes with this story can be made right along with the children. One might choose to provide ribbons to delineate each Era, choosing colors to imitate the primary characteristic of the environment in which the life forms were taking place: yellow for the proterozoic for the lightning that sparked the seas and the sun that was finally shining onto the infant planet, blue for Paleozoic because all life was in the oceans, brown for Mesozoic for life moving onto land, and green for Cenozoic to point out the “new” life forms that were beginning to dominate: the mammals.
A next step for the creation of this timeline would be to add ribbons for the ages and then another layer of ribbons for the periods. These ribbons would be in shades of the same basic color used for the Eras, so that Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian would be shades of blue.
Finally, you can prepare lines for each classification group of animals, plants, protists, and as many phyla as you wish. You would trace the beginnings of the group and the species that lived in each particular time period. Tracing the phylum Arthropoda, for example, you might begin with trilobites, or tracing Mollusks, begin with the orthoceras. For detailed, but clear explanations of the periods and their characteristic species, you can see www.fossils-facts-and-finds.com or check out the elementary reading books we’ve written for the eras, periods and a few fossil species at www.fossilicious.com.
No matter how you choose to present this information or develop it along with your students, you’ll be glad you chose to tackle this wonderful life story with your students. The story will feed the imaginations of children from as young as six and will appeal to the curiosity of students of any age.
For more information about this and other variations of the Great Lessons, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Work in Progress
We are currently working on an e-coloring-book. This coloring book will be full size 8 ½ x 11 in a pdf format. It will include scenes from all the periods from Precambrian through the Quaternary and many famous fossil species. We are sorting through hundreds of drawings of original artwork used in illustrating our children's books. We hope to have it ready by late spring. For a taste of this fossil coloring book follow this link. downloadable coloring Pages
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Written by….Doug and Claudia Mann
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