Christopherus’ Middle Grade Science Curriculum — Coming this fall…
By Donna Simmons
I am now in full spate, joyfully writing several science publications for the middle grades. I am very excited about all of this—I had wanted to create science publications for a long time but it seems that I needed to step back and digest for a few years –and deepen my relationship to anthroposophy and Waldorf education—before feeling able to really do this properly.
Science in the middle years is one of those ‘uh-oh danger ahead’ areas of homeschooling—and this is true for conventional homeschoolers as well. Of course Waldorf homeschoolers have the extra challenge to work with material that is at best unfamiliar and at worst, totally opposite to what they may have learned in school, college or in their professional life.
Other homeschoolers have the choice between doing science at home and creating everything themselves; following a set text, or enrolling their child in a conventional middle grades program (like Oak Meadow). If one wants to work with Waldorf when engaging with science, the choices are very limited.
And so science kind of slides by…gets pushed to one side…waits for that day when the right resources or person appears…and I have seen that many Waldorf homeschooled children do not get a solid science education.
This Fall we will strive to bring out three new Christopherus science publications. They will be Earth Science (covering geology and the structure of the earth; biomes; the weather; water; evolution); A Year Of Astronomy; and Chemistry One (based on the four elements, picking up from themes developed in past years in the Christopherus curriculum and complete with experiments one can do at home).
What is important is that these publications are sequential—that is why I am writing them all at one time—so that they fit together and reference one another. If any subject needs to be approached in a holistic way, surely it is science! It can be very daunting to know what to put in which publication because, of course, everything in science is interconnected – that’s part of the point!
Your child needs to have worked his way through Earth Science before working with A Year of Astronomy. Chemistry One builds on themes developed in the sections on geology, soil, water, and weather and therefore needs to be done after Earth Science as well. Chemistry Two (ready next year) will build on Chemistry One.
Whilst remaining true to the pedagogical reasons for why one teaches which science topics when to students, I am writing these publications purposefully so that they can be done with older students because I know not everyone managed, for instance, geology with their 6th grader. I am even creating extra sections in each publication so that 8th graders going on to conventional high school can become familiar with how science is taught in the non Waldorf world whilst also benefitting from the holistic way that Christopherus presents the material. 9th graders at home can also use these publications and again, there are sections specially created for 8th and 9th graders to take the material deeper as fits their age. So while Earth Science comes in the sequence of the curriculum at 6th grade, our Christopherus earth science publications are totally appropriate for older (not younger) students. Astronomy and Chemistry One are for 7th grade but absolutely appropriate and challenging for 8th and 9th graders (they are not, however, appropriate for younger students).
The other exciting thing about these publications is that each is comprised of a Student Workbook and a Teacher’s Guide. The parent-teacher still has to do a lot of work with her child—there’s no such thing as just giving a text to a child in Waldorf education –but the parent’s workload is much reduced. It is now a question of discussing together and ensuring themes and topics have been grasped. The workbooks are mainly composed of text that I have written directly to the child which takes the place of much—but not all—of the presentation by the parent-teacher.
There will be more details soon on our website and in the next couple of newsletters. We are aiming for Earth Science to be ready for pre-order in September and to be shipped in October. Astronomy and Chemistry One will follow though I have not yet quite decided which comes first….Astronomy is meant as a year’s theme (if any subject does not belong in the classroom surely it is astronomy!) so you will need it end of 6th into 7th grade or at the beginning of 7th grade for the whole year (or all of 8th grade). So I might try to get Chemistry One out first. Will let you know in the next newsletter.
Here is an excerpt from the Earth Science Student Workbook from the section on biomes to give you a feel for what I am doing. So this is for the student to read:
Another important difference between Antarctica and the Arctic is that the former is a land mass surrounded by sea and the Arctic is a sea surrounded by land (parts of the countries of Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Finland, the USA and Greenland). This has an effect on the temperature in both places as water does not get as cold as land does and thus the Arctic, though still extremely cold, is not nearly as cold as Antarctica. When you look at a map or globe, you can also see that Antarctica is isolated, far away from other land masses. This also effects its weather, as the interplay between land and temperature means that warm air currents from other parts of the earth can sweep across and reach the Arctic whereas Antarctica is too far away from land masses for this to happen.
Antarctica is also higher in altitude than the Arctic. When we get to our study of the Mountain Biome, we will see that the higher one gets in mountains, the colder it gets. This is true as well for Antarctica. The Arctic, being mainly composed of frozen sea, or pack ice, is at sea level and this also helps explain why it is not as cold as Antarctica.
When finally the sun peeps above the horizon and the sea ice around Antarctica begins to melt, the male emperor penguins, who have each faithfully guarded and protected the egg that the females laid before they went back to the water to feed, now await their return. Slowly walking across the miles of ice between the open water and the nesting grounds, the female emperor penguins find their mates who can now, after several months of not eating, take their turn feeding in the sea. Soon, though it is well below freezing, the chicks will hatch and when they are big enough, they and their mothers will take the long hard walk to the sea.
The emperor penguins are at one with their icy home—their ability to withstand the cold, the wind and to go without eating as well as their ability to keep their eggs warm on the tops of their feet under a fold of fat, show how they are a part of the larger picture of extreme cold of Antarctica. They are the only animals that can live on the land in this inhospitable part of the earth.
However, in the waters around Antarctica, other animals make their homes. Many of kinds of fish live there, feeding on krill, a tiny animal that lives in cold water. Whales feed on the krill as well, and toothed whales also eat fish, seals and penguins. Seals feed on the fish and some feed on young penguins.
Compared, though, to the Arctic, Antarctica is bare and without life. Only a few simple plants such as algae and a few lichens survive on the land. There are no trees and no flowers. It is a land of ice mountains, deep valleys and fields of endless snow.
There are no trees in the Arctic either, but there are vastly more animals. This is because the arctic is a continuous land mass blending into less inhospitable regions of the earth, such as the tundra, which we shall come to next. Many animals such as polar bears and seals live there and other animals, such as caribou and numerous kinds of birds, come for short periods of time, usually in the summer. Whales such as smiling white belugas and fierce black and white orcas, travel in packs or pods though the water.
The Arctic tern is an animal that we can say joins the Arctic and the Antarctic in its life. These birds migrate each year between the Arctic in the far North to the Antarctic, in the far South. Taking the shortest route, this is a journey of at least 12,000 miles one way and these birds make a round trip each year! Their journeys give us a beautiful picture of the wholeness of the earth, from pole to pole.
Although now, in modern times, people visit and study and even live for short periods of time in Antarctica, no people have even lived there permanently. In the Arctic, though, Native people, mainly Inuit people, have lived in various parts of the Arctic for thousands of years and still do. You might have studied the People of the Ice in third grade, when you learned about how they made their homes from ice and lived by hunting whales and seals.
Tundra and Taiga
The word tundra comes from a Russian word meaning ‘treeless’. There is no clear line between where the Arctic ends and the tundra begins—they share a number of similarities. But one thing they have in common is that neither have trees. Like the Arctic, the ground in the tundra never completely warms—under the thin layer that supports plant and animal life is the permafrost, ground that is permanently frozen. No tree can live in permafrost as there is nowhere for their roots to go.
The thin soil above the permafrost supports a wonderful array of plants which do not grow as far north as the Arctic. In the short warm summer, the tundra comes alive with beautiful but short-lived flowers. Insects fill the air and animals quickly bear and raise their young. Some of the ice melts and because it is on top of permafrost, it cannot sink into the ground. Great marshes and swampy places are the results, a haven for all sorts of insects and invertebrates. Birds, mainly ducks, geese, swans and other water birds, come to the tundra by the million to breed and raise their young. By the time the waters have frozen again, these summer visitors have left, flying south to find open water where they can spend their winters.
Within the workbooks, the students are asked to draw or copy particular pictures and possibly label them; to record observations from a field trip; to look at a map and find and list certain things and so on. The narrative addresses the student directly and asks her to do things such as look at a map of the place we are studying; collect things around the house or to look for certain geological features during a field trip etc. and then there are blank or titled pages within the workbook for them to record their work. It is a hybrid workbook and main lesson book. I think many middle grades students will really appreciate this as will their parents! The Teachers Guide is full of advice about how to approach and form lessons and to continue work throughout the year (Earth science also should not be confined either to a classroom or the duration of a main lesson!. We also include reading selections and things to consider for teacher preparation. These will be very full, very large books.
Always interested in feedback on Christopherus plans and projects! You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org or open up a thread on the Facebook group or leave a comment here!