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Endicott College
The Institute for Educational Studies

Montessori Education and Learning in Living Systems
Prairie Boulmier-Darden

July 15, 2012

In partial fulfillment of program requirements

This document follows the APA Manual of Style and uses gender inclusive language

Montessori Education and Learning in Living Systems 1

Page 2

Table of Contents 2-3

Abstract 4

Introduction 5-15
Why is there a need for learning in living systems or outdoor education? 6-7
What are the implications for a living systems education in a Montessori context? 7-10
The Contents of this Paper 10-11
A Focus on Specific Living Systems 11-12
Living Systems and Self-Reflection 12-15

Chapter 1: How I came to this work 15-30

Chapter 2: Examples of Living Systems on Earth 30-51
Environmental Challenges 32-35
Social Challenges 35-37
Physical and Mental Health Challenges 37-38
Specific Environmental Challenges in Northern New Mexico 39-44
Specific Environmental Challenges in Algiers, Algeria 44-50
Consumerism and the Environment 50-53

Chapter 3: Examples of Environments of the Child 52-64
Consumerism in Children 53-55
Nature Deficit Disorder and Special Needs Children 55-57
Nature Deficit Disorder and Special Needs Children 57-60
Environments of Children in Algeria 60-63

Chapter 4: New Science and Education 63-82
The Newtonian Model and Mechanism 64-65
Relativity and the New Metaphors 65-67
Wave-Particle Theory 68-70
Autopoiesis 70-71
Autopoiesis: Ecosystems 71-73
Autopoiesis: Gaia Theory 73-74
Education in the Context of New Science 75-77
Place-Based Learning 77-80
School Gardens 80-82
Economic Value in Living Systems 83-85

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to address the topic of learning in the outdoors. To me, learning in the outdoors may be seen not

only for the importance of contact with nature, but also for the experiences of living systems

themselves--the chaos, the spontaneous order, the freedom, and the context of connectivity with

all of life. Perhaps the very way that information is made available may be seen as equally

important to the content of what is presented.

Based on the evidence presented it is my assertion that much of Montessori education

already contains the processes and patterns of learning in living systems as well as the structure

to support such learning. To design an outdoors Montessori classroom or school that is

specifically oriented towards learning in living systems might produce a truly impactful

environment for children, which may in turn support a shift for humanity. It has been my dream

and goal to create Montessori environments that focus on and also operate as living systems. For

my practicum work at TIES, I have experimented with these ideas in very different settings, La

Tierra and Madrasat Ardh al Amel.

Chapter 6: Journey through a Montessori learning practicum- La Tierra and
Madrasat Ardh al Amel

Process, Pattern, and Structure

During my time in the TIES program, I have worked on creating two new schools located

in different continents and hemispheres, an experience I have come to view as paradoxical. One

school is public; the other private. One school is focused on the arts; the other restricts

expression through the arts. One school is secular and the other religious. Paradoxes seemed

abundant in the work that I was engaged in, not only in the schools, but also through the

Montessori Education and Learning in Living Systems 101

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reflection of my own patterns of thought. I have come to view my practicum work through the

lens of living systems. Capra identified three components of living systems associated with the

Santiago theory of cognition that I have used to frame my practicum at La Tierra and MAA. He


In terms of our three key criteria of living systems—structure, pattern, and process—we
can say that the life process consists of all activities involved in the continual
embodiment of the system’s (autopoietic) pattern of organization in a physical
(dissipative) structure. (1996, p. 267)

The Santiago theory, closely associated with Varela and Maturana’s autopoiesis, offers

that cognition is “the process of knowing” (1996, p. 267) and is described in terms of “an

organism’s interactions with its environment” (1996, p. 267). Therefore, process, can be

described as cognitive phenomena, which relates to structure.

Structural changes to the environment occur continuously through interactions of

components or individuals in the system. Therefore, the structure of a living system is always

changing in relationship to process. Finally, pattern is the element that was studied by

cyberneticists to aid in describing the properties of organized systems. Cyberneticists looked at

“patterns of communication and control--the patterns of circular causality underlying the

feedback concept--and in doing so were the first to clearly distinguish the pattern of organization

of a system from its physical structure” (as cited by Capra, year, p. 157).

Patterns of communication may include bifurcation points that become amplified—such

as with the excitement of children around an ant in the classroom. Careful observation of how

communication and bifurcation points become amplified may be useful for adult guides who

Montessori Education and Learning in Living Systems 102

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