Sunday, January 31, 2010

flow and force

intersection of physiology and physics

a visit to Benner Creek near Chester, CA

When I had studied the human body in medical school, we spent much time naming every single bone, muscle, and organ in the body, we diagrammed metabolic processes, and we learned about disease and pharmacological treatments. Along with studies of the biological sciences as an undergrad at UC Davis, I came away with knowledge of other life forms as lesser species. It seemed that in our efforts in learning more about ourselves and our world, we are actually creating a widening rift between us and everything else. They are unicellular, we are multicellular with specialized cells. Their behavior is only instinct, while our cortical functions help us think things through. This is air, water, and fire, we are humans who can control the elements.

Rarely in our academic studies in the sciences do we appreciate the relationships of us and the universe. Rarely are we given entrance into modes of thought that are more enlightened. It is no wonder that many systems today (economic, healthcare, environmental, government) are deteriorating. We are in need of new paradigms of thought that will lead to new ways to be responsibly and joyfully active in our work on this earth.

A physics block with the serendipitous addition of some physiology for grade eight at East Bay Waldorf gave me a new paradigm of thought. It not only gave me that good teachery feeling of bringing something special to the students, but it gave me that awesome feeling of an aha moment!

In physics with grade eight, we had been talking about heat, light, water, air, and electromagnetism. They can be regarded as the fundamental elements of fire, earth, water, and air. These elements are omnipresent around us, carefully balanced in nature. In terms of their movement and the way we experience them, they exist as a physical presence through flow and force.

Flow and force. Like the yin and yang, flow and force is like male and female, death and birth, night and day. Equal and synergistic, like a magnetic field. The elements surge with power and grace, with strength and restraint, with awe and subtlety.

We appreciate and interact with the elements everyday. The heat of the sun on bare skin, the crunch of river rock during a stroll along the river, water on the fingertips, a breeze to cool the nape of your neck.

And as humans of high cortical function, we even go a step further and try to control the elements. In our study of physics, we gained knowledge of elemental properties, and often this knowledge allows us to control them for human use. The convection of air conditioning systems, refraction of light for corrective lenses, hydraulics, pneumatics, electric motors, and mag lev trains. I will not argue that our technology serves us and the world in some fantastic ways. But let's view the elements from a different light.

In thinking of the elements (the physics) through the human body (the physiology), we discover a much deeper relationship with the elements. Charles Kovacs, in his book Muscles and Bones, touches on this relationship. And forgive me for this non-Waldorfy reference: Yoda, the Jedi Master, also shares this view. The force and flow of the elements are not only outside of us, and they are also more than something we can manipulate, they are within us.

We are the elements.

The fire element, the Sun, the magma that flows within the earth's core, is present in us. To maintain optimum metabolism, our bodies stay heated at 98.6 degrees F, and many chemical reactions in our bodies need heat and produce heat. We have a heat body.

The water element, the oceans, the polar ice caps, Mars with its frozen tundra, is present in us. We are essentially water, as our bodies are about 70 % water and share the same density as water. We have a water body.

The air element, the earth's atmosphere, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, is present in us. With every breath we take, air flows through our lungs and our blood, and every cell of our bodies. Our bones, as strong as they are, have air pockets. We have an air body.

The earth element, stones, seashells, minerals, magnetic fields, bones and nerves, is in us. Like the electromagnetic force of the universe, our nervous system is powered by the flow of electricity and ions. Like the minerals of the earth, our bones are as tough and seemingly inert, the solid material of our bodies. We have an earth body.

In this perspective, with humility, we are of the elements, without which, the human organism would not exist.

We are one with the universe in this regard. The flow and the force of the elements surge within us. The new paradigm of thought that may allow us to live in harmony with our earth is to know that nurturing earth is the same as nurturing humankind. As we proceed with our human needs, we must encompass the needs of the earth. Physiology and physics must be studied and applied together. Thinking, feeling, and doing for us.

Us, as in all things.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

our bones

physics and physiology meet

The last few days of our physics block with grade eight of East Bay Waldorf in El Sobrante culminated in a discussion about the human skeletal system. I had placed a real human skeleton on a table draped with a blue veil and a gray wool cloth. We gathered around the skeleton, and I felt it was important to have approached the learning with much reverence. I simply asked the students to make observations, prompting them to think about the shape and textures of the bones, and their distribution in the body. We then discussed the purpose and mechanics of the bones and joints.

force of attraction

week four of grade eight physics

The topic of electromagentism was covered in three days between the third and fourth week of the physics block with the grade eight students of East Bay Waldorf. We began by playing with permanent magnets (magnets that have been commercially produced or are naturally-occuring, and hold their magnetic field). We experienced the force of a magnetic field.

We then built an electromagnet using wire, a 9 volt battery, and an iron nail. Looping the wire created a solenoid, which multiplied the magnetic force present in the wire. The addition of an iron core, such as a nail, further amplified the magnetic force.

water and air

week three of grade eight physics

Physics for grade eight included four days spent on the properties of water and air. This week allowed for some exciting movement games with water and balloons! For instance, we played a game called life raft, a relay race where two teammates held a balloon between their backs in order to get the teammate across to the other side.

Liquids and gases are both fluids, and share similar properties. Volume, mass, and density were measurements we took of liquids such as glycerin, water, vegetable oil, and alcohol, and air.

I described what volume is, the space that is occupied by fluid and taking on the shape of the vessel. We measured 200 mL each of the liquids, then weighed and compared them. We then calculated for density (D=M/V). Once we had our figures, we predicted the outcome of putting all the liquids together in a tall beaker. I used food coloring mixed with glycerin and with the alcohol. Pouring each one carefully into the beaker containing water, the glycerin flowed to the bottom, the oil rested atop the water, and the alcohol rested on top of the oil. This demonstrated the different densities of each.

We also calculated for air. I filled a balloon with air and submerged it into an aquarium, marking the level of water before and after. We calculated for volume by measuring the height change multiplied by length and width of the aquarium (V=l x w x h). Then we measured the balloon filled with air on a scale, and again after I popped the balloon, and we got the weight of air in the balloon. By calculating D=M/V, we arrived at an answer. Unfortunately, our calculated result did not match the expected density (0.00013 g/mL)! I think there was too much moisture in the air I blew into the balloon (moisture reduces the density of air). It was a good lesson in learning how scientists need to be able to postulate and record where errors may occur in experimentation!

Additionally, the non-compressible properties of fluids allowed us to discuss the work of fluids, as with hydraulics and pneumatics. A typical piston assembly allows us to apply force in one area and transmit it as force exerted in another area.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

path of light

grade eight physics

Grade eight at East Bay Waldorf completed their second week of physics, where we studied pathways of light and sight. The two main concepts discussed were REFLECTION and REFRACTION. Capitalizing on the double entendre of the word reflection, the students began with a a short paragraph, verse, or poem about their thoughts on light.

Day One: Reflection

We brought mirrors into the classroom to demonstrate how light is bounced off of a flat, reflective surface. Mirrors can reflect an image exactly as it is. Using yarn, I had the students follow one end of yarn, held by a classmate, as the incident ray, to the point in the mirror where the image is seen by the observer (the incident point), then to the observer's eye (the reflected ray). Doing this shows two physical laws of reflection:

1. The incident angle equals the reflected angle.

2. The incident ray, the normal line (the line perpendicular to the reflective surface and whose axis is placed at the incident point), and the reflected ray are coplanar.

Day Two: Refraction Observed

On day two, I set up the classroom with five stations with which to view the phenomena of refraction. The five stations allowed for smaller groups of students to experience each station and offer accurate observations and recordings of the phenomena. I rotated each group every 3-5 minutes.

Station 1: Viewing a beam from a laser light pen through an empty beaker and a beaker filled with water, and observing the resulting dot behind the beakers.

Station 2: Through a 600 mL beaker filled with cloudy water (I mixed in a bit of flour), viewing a flashlight beam as it is passed horizontally across the outside of the beaker.

Station 3: Observing a large diameter glass container with a quarter at the bottom. Students were asked to angle their vision so as not to be able to see the quarter at the bottom. Water was poured in, and they observed if the quarter became visible.

Station 4: Observing a beaker with a straight rod in the water.

Station 5: Viewing objects passed across the back of a water-filled beaker.

Day Three: Refraction Explained

We returned to the previous day's demonstrations and discussed the results. I explained the phenomena of refraction, the bending of light as it passes from one medium into another. The direction of the bend required careful explanation. I did an exercise with the students outdoors to better illustrate the phenomena:

The students lined up in three rows of five holding hands. They stood on the asphalt at an angle to the grassy lawn. The asphalt represented air and the grass represented water. I asked the students to skip on the asphalt, and walk slowly on the grass (to show the speed of light is slowed in water).
Coming in at an angle from asphalt to grass, the first student to touch the grass will walk, while the others will still skip until they also touch the grass. It demonstrated a physical law of refraction: a ray of light hitting another medium at an angle will change its course as the ray hits the medium at an uneven speed. In the case of air to water, the angle becomes steeper. From water to air, the angle becomes less steep. (This really has to be demonstrated in steps in class!)

Day Four: Magnification

Just as our knowledge of the properties of heat (radiation, conduction, and convection) allows us to control heat, our knowledge of light refraction allows us to control light, useful in magnifying glasses, telescopes, and corrective lenses. We viewed different lenses and noted the distortion of image sizes, depending on the shape of the lenses.

Day Five: Recap and Intro of New Topic

On day five, we revisited magnification. I introduced the new concepts for next week: water and air. I decided to make it an extra fun day. We had a few water games that pit one tribe against another. They did a relay race with heavy, water-filled jugs. They passed cups of water along to see which tribe would be first in filling a container. Two warriors from each tribe even dueled with water syringes to decide the fate of their nations!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

heat energy

grade eight physics

Continuing the science blocks at East Bay Waldorf school, I am teaching physics for grade eight. Physics in the upper grades begins in grade six, and continues on as a sequence of advancing concepts through grade eight. In grade eight, the concepts covered are thermal dynamics, refraction, hydraulics, and electromagnetism.

Our first week of physics, we learned about heat energy. Heat energy travels via radiation, conduction, and convection. I organized our week according to these three principles. The approach to physics in Waldorf is phenomena-based, meaning, the instruction is designed to be experiential, and not abstracted through lecture or texts. Through direct experience and observations of demonstrations, the children live in the phenomena of physics.

The beauty of physics is that, unlike learning about Renaissance art, or the American Revolution, physics is experienced in the everyday. The physics block can be regarded as a way of simply giving a vocabulary and elucidation of what the children already know and experience.

Day One: Heat Experienced in the Everyday, and Radiation

On our first day, I had the students write a paragraph on their experience of how heat and cold are experienced in their everyday lives. It was a way for them to give thought to their actions and their feelings as they wake in the morning and feel the coldness of a bare floor, the warmth from a robe or a cup of hot chocolate. They become active in feeling warmth in standing close to their friends, and the sun as it filters into the classroom space.

In observing the effects of the sun on dark and light materials, and in experiencing the heat from a radiant heater, the students learned about RADIATION, the transfer of heat energy through space. The key observations were that dark objects tend to absorb heat, while lighter objects tend to reflect heat.

Day Two: Conduction

The rhythm of the main lesson is such that the students are engaged in some movement exercises and mental acitivities to synchronize the class as a whole, followed by a review of material introduced the day before, then the new material, and work in their main lesson books.

In day two, I had the students form two lines and, joining hands, formed a wave. Good for their physical beings, and also had demonstrated for them how radiated heat travels (through waves).

We observed the phenomena of CONDUCTION. I used a heating plate with a baking stone set on top, and placed various materials on top of that: a piece of marble, a metal cup, cork, rubber stopper, a beaker of water, a shell, wood block. The students touched the materials after the baking stone had heated, and also after the heat was turned off.

Conduction is the transfer of heat energy between materials that are in direct contact with each other. We witnessed that different materials behave differently to applied heat: the metal cup seemed to have heated up the fastest, the marble heated to the highest temperature, and the marble also retained the heat the longest.

Day Three: Convection, Part I

Our movement exercise included two lines of students who demonstrated the wave, and they also passed a ball from one person to the next, showing that "direct contact" is required for conduction. Each line of students raced one another - let's see who can conduct heat the fastest!

The phenomena demonstrated on day three was CONVECTION, the transfer of heat energy through air or liquid by a moving current. I demonstrated for them how heat from a candle produces a current of warmed air that rises. This rising heat can be used to do work - thermal dynamics. I showed them how to make tiny pinwheels that balance on bent paper clips. They held their pinwheels over the candle, and the pinwheels turned!

Day Four: Convection, Part II

We continued the concept of convection. This time, using a large glass container, I showed them how a red dye placed at the bottom of the water-filled jar would begin to move towards a corner that was being heated by a candle. It showed how heated liquid rises, and as the water cools with an ice cube placed at the opposite end, the cooled water sinks, creating a convection current.

In their main lesson books (MLBs), the students would write a paragraph and draw a picture that would help them synthesize their learning. Following a two-day rhythm, the material that I introduced one day would be become their MLB work the following day.

Day Five:
Designing an Eco-Friendly Home

The knowledge gleaned from the week's work is connected with practical application. In designing homes that are energy-efficient, and eco-friendly, which is a growing industry, knowing how to regulate temperature of a home with efficiency and with resource conservation is very important to the comfort of its occupants. I put the students in small groups and gave them the following exercise: they are an architectural firm who a client is asking to design an energy efficient home that uses heat energy wisely, so innovative use of materials and design elements is essential in winning the bid. The students took the exercise whole-heartedly and came up with some creative solutions such as grass rooves, rain catchment systems, gray water, radiant-heated floors, solar energy, wind energy, and use of materials that have good thermal retention and are eco-friendly.

To keep things fun, and help them with remembering concepts and terms, I had them draw little cartoons associated with the concepts. With radiation, they drew a surfer enjoying heat from the sun, saying "Radical, dude!" With conduction, they drew a duck whose feet are in direct contact with an icy pond, "Quack, my feet are cold!" With convection, they drew a conveyor belt, where heat was actually being moved from one place to another, "More heat, coming right up!"

Sunday, January 3, 2010

happy now year

living fully present

In the New Year, we are thrilled with the idea of facing new endeavors. The new stuff of tomorrow we promise ourselves we will meet head on. Certainly, the New Year gives us a sense of courage and hope for the future.

Equally important is the Now Year. In the now year, it is about being fully present in the everyday, about appreciating the stuff we already have, about the steady completion of tasks already begun. I read somewhere that a new journey does not always mean traveling to a new place, a new journey could be seeing the same old place with new eyes.

I wonder if anyone has ever taken an old item from their home, wrapped it, and re-gifted it to himself? It seems silly, but I am going to try it! Instead of the excitement of newness, I want to foster the excitement of nowness!

The image above is a close-up picture of a pregnant belly cast we took of Jennifer when she was pregnant with Wilson. We decorated it with colorful glass stones embedded in mortar. The sculptural piece sits peacefully in the bamboo in the back yard. We see it everyday, coming and going from our daily activities. By using fresh eyes (with the help of a digital camera), it helped me stop for a moment to appreciate how the children had pressed these stones into the mortar, and I see its beauty again.

To see our old stuff with a new perspective, a renewed sense of reverence, it expands the spirit of the thing. We then transcend the materiality of the world. Things don't lose their value. In the era of eco-friendly and green, this represents true resource conservation, a spiritual sustainabilty.

Sustaining our spirits, the Now Year has begun.