Physics – The Science Curriculum for the Middle Grades Begins
By Donna Simmons
One of the reasons why it has taken me so, so long to write middle grades science resources is because I have had to work really hard to understand science in a living way and not merely accept the current view of ‘how things work’. As some of you know, our science guide From Nature Stories to Natural Science grew out of my first attempts at the Curriculum Overview. I was merrily writing that – a general guide to Waldorf education for homeschoolers oh, gosh – 13 years ago was it?! – when I got stuck at the descriptions of science.
And so our science guide was born. And then re-born several years later when I updated it.
Being a gardener (and at that time, farmer) the botany book and the land-based blocks in the first few years of the syllabuses came easily.
I wrote what I knew, what I had experienced and what I had taught my own sons
and other children who visited our farm.
Life moved on…. boys got older…I taught in a somewhat Waldorf high school…and kept on writing those curriculum materials but stopped short of science books for the middle grades (or much at all for the middle grades but that’s another story…)
All this time I was frustrated as heck by the resources I did find. Waldorf things were written for the classroom – classrooms with labs – and conventional science materials relied on materialistic assumptions which at best limited their use and at worse were candidates for a quick flight out the window.
Science resources for children were – are – for the most part the worst offenders. Real scientists would never make the crass assumptions that provide the foundations for material for children. Not only are the books often dumbed down but because most are based on the assumption that human knowledge means accumulation of factoids, the picture they give of living processes, whether of an ecosystem or of the human body, are one-sided to say the least! Telling children that our brains are computers, our hearts pumps and that relationships between animals – or even between plants (yes Mr Attenborough, I’m talking to you!) are all based on competition is a crime! Any real scientist knows that the brain is nothing like a computer, that it is physically impossible for the heart to function as a pump (see http://www.natureinstitute.org/txt/ch/details/dynamic.htm) and that when one steps away from the individual lion eating the individual zebra, one sees cooperation on a large scale, bringing harmony and benefit to the earth.
So…I have spent a lot of time chewing all of this over. How to bring science materials to parents wanting to use Christopherus with their middle grades children?
Bingo – I cracked it. A lot of thought, self-development, reading and reflection have gone into this process and now I am beginning to write.
Our first offering is our new book, Physics, Two Main Lesson Blocks.
This arises out of the Waldorf curriculum but as with any materials of use to homeschoolers, is firmly based in the home and not the classroom.
Thus there appear activities and an approach which, while based in my 30+ years of working with children and studying Waldorf pedagogy, do not appear in your neighborhood Waldorf school. Everything is hands-on (a much-overused phrase which often bears little relationship to what it should mean e.g. that one is working with real phenomena in a real and not contrived way) and based on things you should be able to do in your home. Unfortunately for me and for the ease at which making assumptions makes the keyboard zip along more smoothly, not all of you will have the kind of barns, outbuildings and garages full of fascinating stuff just waiting, it seems, to be used in physics lessons like I had to hand when teaching my sons and other children. I had to make all sorts of suggestions to get you non barn-owning folks into a physics-rich environment. So local bike shops, sailing schools, playgrounds and other homeschool-friendly places are offered as possibilities.
There are two main lesson blocks in this new book. The first is on Heat, Sound, Color and Light. My now 23 year old son Gabriel illustrated the book (‘Hey Mom – I don’t remember doing this…’ ‘No – we didn’t but some lucky homeschoolers will now!’) and generally helped with comments such as that. One of the most enjoyable activities during this main lesson is to make one or two musical instrument.
Gabriel, being a budding musician (and keen maker-of-things), was especially excited about that. And he did actually remember that he created a couple of musical instruments (which worked!) way back in 6th grade at home.
This main lesson, like the second one, needs you to use Kraul. Remember Kraul? Well, if you’re a faithful Christopherus person, you should! Because dear Kraul (Earth, Air, Water and Fire) has been in Christopherus-use since fourth grade. And here he is again, providing us with all sorts of cool gadgets and gizmos to make to illustrate the properties of those four elements and to enliven our physics studies.
In addition to Kraul, we strongly recommend that you purchase our beautiful new addition to the Christopherus Bookstore, Colour:Seeing, Experiencing, Understanding by Ueli Seiler–Hugova. This book is a must-buy for anyone interested in not just looking at the phenomena of color, but entering deeply into an experience of the phenomena. Such an approach is vital for a Goethean or phenomenological experience of science, which is the heart of the Waldorf science curriculum. Even if you don’t presently have a sixth grader, this book can be used as a workbook for one’s own personal development and to deepen one’s experience of working with a foundational aspect of the Waldorf curriculum.
Our second physics main lesson is focused on simple machines. Somehow this topic seems to be missing from the Waldorf curriculum and that is a mystery. Perhaps Steiner thought it would be incorporated into the eighth grade curriculum as that year’s (now overwhelming) task is to bring the children up to date with technology and modern history. Hmm…that’s a tall order!
Anyway, simple machines it is and this is a great main lesson, especially for homeschoolers (though again, those with that barn full of old bits of machinery definitely have an advantage).
I created this main lesson to be quite open so that depending on your circumstances (ok – I won’t mention the barn again) you can best create it to suit your family’s needs. That’s what homeschooling is all about! And I give plenty of guidance so that all of you can share rich experiences with your children.
Well, I’ve spent so much time talking about our new physics book I haven’t gotten to what I am currently working on….so…you’ll have to check here every once in a while to see what’s up.
And do use the comment box and leave your feedback – I will be checking it and will respond to all comments.
Blessings on your homeschool journey!