Thursday, December 31, 2009

winter blessing

a wish for the new year

I was sitting at the dining table yesterday afternoon, and the winter sun cast a soft glow on our nativity that rested quietly in the middle of the table. The table runner is of hand spun yarn that the family together had woven. Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were felted by Jennifer and the children. The transparency scenes were created by Ricky and Joey. The twig house was made by me a couple of years ago. A family's heart and hands.

While the Christmas items around the house will soon be stored or transformed for other uses, the image of the nativity will remain with me as the new year approaches. The spirit by which it was created continues to live on. The blessing of family bridges the seasons and the years. Our creative striving and our love for each other continue to sustain our souls for all eternity.

My new year blessing to you:

year to year
season to season
morning, noon, and eve
with creative souls
and giving hearts
love does a family weave.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

winter rain

december in fair oaks

rain drop on a maple branch

oak leaf on a wet deck

I wanted to capture the mood of this morning. It had rained while we slept, and this morning, the sky is gray, the ground is damp, and it is quiet and still except for the gentle sound of the creek.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

winter snow

painting with salt

The kids and I made wet-method paintings of a winter scene. Using table salt (rock salt would also give an interesting effect), we sprinkled a bit onto the sky, which absorbed some of the pigment, creating the look of falling snow. On Wilson's, the sky appeared like far away snow-capped mountains - magical!

Wilson, 6 years old

Joey, 10 years old

Ricky, 12 years old

Daddy, not too old

Monday, December 21, 2009

east bay waldorf

happy holidays to staff and students
in the kindergarten play area at East Bay Waldorf with my kids

Three weeks at East Bay Waldorf School with the seventh grade and eighth grade classes went by quickly - I suppose we must have been having fun! I just wanted to wish all students and staff at East Bay Waldorf a truly blessed winter season. Much gratitude for your warmth and dedication to the art of teaching and learning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

reproductive system

for the seventh grade boy and girl

The following blog has content meant for parents and children 12 years of age and older. If you are younger than 12, do not read on without your parents' consent. (Of course, now that I said DO NOT READ ON, you might be tempted even more to do so...!)

My seventh grade physiology block at East Bay Waldorf in El Sobrante, CA, culminated in a week's discussion of puberty and human sexuality. I was so pleased with how well the students received the material that I am considering turning it into an ebook or a short published unit for Waldorf teachers!

Here are a few highlights of how the week unfolded.

Day One: Reproduction and Relationships

Humankind's experience of sexuality is truly of a dual nature. I pointed out to the students that the cycle of life has two complementary turning circles: reproduction and relationships, or biology and biography. And it starts with the duality of genes and jeans!

On the biological side, our genes, our DNA, are key to the passing on of the human design. On the biographical side, our jeans, which I used to represent the social aspect of ATTRACTION, are key to the turning on of human desire.

Attraction leads to HOPE. On the reproduction side is the male SPERM, and its complementary symbol on the relationship side is a STAR, which I used to represent the wish (wishing upon a star!) or hope for partnership, after attraction.

Hope leads to LOVE. The female EGG, the reproductive side, complements the EARTH, representing oneness, the love formed in partnerships.

Love leads to FAMILY. On the reproduction side, FERTILIZATION. The concept here is that our reproductive capacity to create Life is complemented by the relationships needed to nurture Life.

This dual concept of reproduction and relationship I believe is so important in laying the foundation for the seventh grader in making happy, healthy choices (which is the umbrella theme for the entire physio block). As they undergo puberty, knowing what is going on with their reproductive organs is obviously important. But at 12 and 13 years of age, even though they are capable of having children biologically-speaking, are they ready for the relationship side, for nurturing offspring? I made it clear that creating life is one miraculous human achievement, but nurturing life, having the maturity to be in a partnership with another human, to dedicate oneself to taking care of a child, requires many more years of growth. (My anti-teen pregnancy talk!)

Day Two: The Parts and Counterparts

The second day, I introduced the reproductive organs to the students. (A sidebar: as a teacher, I was sensitive to the delivery of the material. When we talked about digestion, I showed huge drawings on the board. With reproduction, I sensed that the material needed to be delivered on a more intimate scale, so our discussion occured in a small circle of chairs, with no board work. I instead made drawings on handouts.) I had the students make observations on the male and femal parts that I had drawn side by side, and they also labeled the parts. The students could easily see that parts had counterparts, such as with the male testes and female ovaries. I would point to the part and say it, such as PENIS, or VAGINA. Delivered in this way, they got used to hearing the words objectively, removing some of the giggle factor!

Day Three: Puberty and the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle allowed us to talk about female puberty. The signal for reproductive maturity in females is the period, along with other changes to the female body. In the 28-day cycle, we talked about the developing egg, the endometrium, and the hormones invovled.

I wrote a song (sung to Jingle Bells, since 'tis the season):

In the ovary,
The follicle does grow,
Inside there is an egg,
And soon it will explode.
If unfertilized it stays,
The egg it travels on,
Through the tube and uterus,
And with the blood it's gone!

FSH, estrogen, LH, progesterone,
FSH, estrogen, LH, progesterone,
FSH, estrogen, LH, progesterone,
FSH, estrogen, LH, progesterone!

Day Four: Puberty and Spermatogenesis

Our circle of chairs became the lining of the testes. Using bean bags, I described the maturation of the sperm as it traveled from the edges to the center on the testes to become mature sperm. Spermatogonia to spermatocyctes to spermatids to spermatozoa. They then moved to the epididymis for storage, and mixed with seminal fluid from the glands and prostate, and ejaculated upon stimulation of the penis.

If you are wondering, the mechanism of bringing egg and sperm together was in fact briefly discussed. I simply said that the act of intercourse, when the male penis is erect and stimulated, releases the seminal fluid into the vagina where the sperm, all 500 million of them, needs to travel to the Fallopian tubes, and just ONE sperm fertilizes the egg, quite a journey!

The Guy Talk

On the fourth day, we had a break out session, I spoke with the boys, and Mrs. Nelson, my partner teacher, spoke with the girls. I was really impressed that the boys were very open and candid with the guy topics!

The week went very well, and I was glad to have been involved with this crucial stage in the lives of these dear children.

Friday, December 11, 2009

say yes

to hugs, no to drugs

For the seventh and eighth grade students at East Bay Waldorf, I brought an anti-drug presentation that reminded them of the things in their lives to say YES to. Then, they can say NO to drugs with conviction. I had made it interactive to engage them in heart, head, and hands!

I posed to them that it will be the actions of love that will keep them safe from the harmful effects of drug abuse.

I gave each of the students a paper circle with a street name of a drug written on it, and we grouped them into the common illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. We also discussed smoking, alcohol, and steroids. I began with how the drugs are taken and how they enter the bloodstream to affect the brain and other organs of the body. I listed many of their effects, which I hoped had painted a fairly graphic image of the physical consequences such as convulsions, hallucinations, organ damage, irreversible brain injury, and death. Additionally, I touched on the legal consequences of manufacturing, distributing, possessing, and using illegal drugs.

The paper circles that each student held allowed me to do interactive statistics with them. For instance, with 35 of the students in my class, I had 7 stand to show the percentage of eighth graders who will smoke marijuana for the first time. Quite effectively, I had students stand to show how many would start smoking tobacco by high school, and who would end up dying as a result of it.

We also did an impromptu play about peer influence and peer pressure. The students really enjoyed it, as I had four with purple bean bags try to convince two friends to start playing with the cool bean bags. I commended the students who resisted, despite the pressuring and pushing of their peers!

Despite knowing about the consequences of illegal drug use, some people still cannot say no. I posed to the the students that perhaps these people do not have in their lives the things to say YES to. I had the students close their eyes and bring into their hearts the people in their lives who support and love them, and the activities they engage in that fill them with passion and strength. All the things that give us a natural high on life.

On the board, the students one by one placed the drug names in an arch around children I had drawn to show the pressure of negative influences bearing down on them. Then, I had asked each one to tell me what it was in their hearts. I wrote those on the board between the drugs and the boy and girl I had drawn. These things, hobbies, music, sports, family, all provided a supportive barrier against drug use. And if you look closely at the picture, you can see that I had written in yellow chalk the word LOVE - the actions of love that keep them safe from harm!

What are they keeping safe, I asked. Their self-identity, self-respect, self-worth, their health, their spirits.

And finally, I ended the discussion with a verse I had written for them:

My body is a sailing vessel
I am captain of its course
A voyage of wish and wonder
To the magic of distant shores.

North, South, East, and West
I am guided by sun and moon
Waves may batter at my hull
Yet I remain strong and true.

The journey moves my spirit
Love of life and Self drives me,
Joyfulness expands in my wake,
I sail on towards destiny.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

circulatory system

more physiology with grade seven

Grade seven and I spent three days on the circulatory system, or cardiovascular system (CVS). The transition from the digestive system was seamless, as we followed the absorbed nutrients from the small intestine to the bloodstream. The circulatory system distributes necessary nutrients, energy stores, and oxygen throughout the body.

We discussed that there is about 5 liters of blood in an average sized adult. Going to the microscopic level, we thought about what is really in blood. If we were to examine a given sample of blood (I simply drew a test tube on the board), it shows about 50% fluid, the plasma, which contains the sugars and proteins floating around in it. About 4% are the platelets, which help our blood clot, and 1% white blood cells, essential against germs. The most important element in our discussion was the red blood cells at 45%. Using a clear vase, I poured water into it, put in an apple to represent a red blood cell, an orange to represent a white blood cell, a chestnut for the platelet, and an assortment of stones and shells to show the other stuff in the plasma. I wanted to show the students that a sample of blood contains a number of individual cells, with the RBCs giving the red color of blood. How many red blood cells can fit on the head of a pin? Five million!


Transporting the blood all over the body are the blood vessels. I showed that the capillary beds (those web-like areas on the diagram above) were the sight of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, and nutrient movement to the tissues and organs. From arteries arose smaller diameter tubes called arterioles, to capillaries, then widens to form the venuoles (carrying deoxygenated blood), and to veins. Capillaries are just wide enough in diameter to allow one RBC (1/3500 inches in diameter) at a time to travel. Its walls are thin, which allow for gases like oxygen to pass from the lungs to the blood, and oxygen in the blood to muscles and organs. I had the students act as RBCs and they had to squeeze in between desks I arranged in the room and travel in single file.

The diagram shows the circulation of the blood in the body and into the heart. This super highway of blood vessels cycles blood at about 5 liters per minute. You can follow the path on the diagram above.

Day Three: THE HEART

We then discussed the pumping station of the system that keeps that blood going and going, the heart. It has four chambers that act in concert to receive and eject blood. The diagram above represents the cycle of the heart, showing the "lub-dub" of the heart. The two heart sounds are when the valves in the heart close. The LUB is in the beginning of ventricular contraction, forcing the valves between atria and ventricles to close. The DUB is when the ventricles just finish contracting, and the blood from the exiting vessels (the aorta and pulmonic artery) push the aortic and pulmonic valves close. The kids enjoyed the stethoscope I allowed them to use to listen to their heart beats!

Friday, December 4, 2009

digestive system

physiology block for grade seven

still life by Paul Cezanne

This first week of Advent, I began teaching as a guest teacher the physiology block on the digestive system for grade seven at East Bay Waldorf in El Sobrante, CA. While the rhythm of the week included preparations for an Advent assembly, my grade seven students and I had a wonderful week learning about the journey of food through our bodies.

Here is a brief recap of our week:

Day One

I introduced the topic of digestion by bringing samples of food to the classroom - a good place to start! Food is valued by us as humans for several reasons. I cut an apple in half and showed the children the five-pointed core. From it, I created a drawing on the board to show the five "Apple Core Values of Food." At each point of the apple star, I worte: Combustion, Nutrtion, Tradition, Recreation, and Inspiration. Food is important to us because we use it for energy (combustion), for nutrients (nutrition), for culture and family (tradition), for social gatherings (recreation), and to inspire art such as in Cezanne's still life of fruit (inspiration). I said that the balance of these core values of food leads to happy, healthy lives.

I also posed an idea for them to think about: in going from origin to table, the less steps in food processing it takes, the healthier the food is. We compared an apple, a potato, a bag of trail mix, and a Lunchable. Just in attempting to read the ingredients on the Lunchable box was enough to convince us that some of those chemicals listed should not be ingested! We figured it took lots and lots of step to bring the Lunchable to the table. In contrast, the apple simply was planted from seed, grown, picked, washed, and eaten!

Day Two

The second day of the lesson we started with a discussion of how we engage our senses to start the process of digestion even before we take the first bite. Not only is this important physiologically, but it brings the whole human into the realm of the lesson (the core values of food also brings this holistic approach). Then I drew the anatomy of the human as I talked about the path of the food.

Day Three

On this day, I traced for children the path of the food using a schematic diagram of the digestive tract I drew on the board, and talked about what was happening to the food as it passed through the different parts. As a visual aid, I put some crushed crackers in a sandwich bag to show how the food looks in the mouth, then I added some water and flour to show how it looks as a bolus, then chyme, then took some water out to show undigested matter.

Day Four

For their main lesson book, I had them copy this table to show the functions of each part and organ. This tabular form helped to recap the lecture from the day before. The colored bars represent the five processes: motility, digestion, secretion, absorption, and elimination.

Day Five

On the last day, I emphasized some important points. I also brought the material back out of the parts to the larger picture of our place in the world. I commented that I believed how truly amazing it is to know that our bodies have been designed to perfectly break down the foods that are available to us from our earth. We are of this world, made of this world.