Friday, December 30, 2011

gnome abode

for every elf and fairy sprite

With poplar and some local branches, I made this gnome home and some additional cut pieces. Now, only a child's imaginative play is needed to bring stories of gentle country gnomes and playful forest elves to life. While working on a Shakespeare play for my seventh grade students, I came across a fitting excerpt from Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Through the house give glimmering light

By the dead drowsy fire:

Every elf and fairy sprite

Hop as light as bird from brier:

And this ditty after me

Sing, and dance it trippingly.

First, rehearse your song by rote,

To each word a warbling note;

Hand in hand, with fairy grace,

Will we sing, and bless this place.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

happy holidays

from the Tan family

From Rick, Jennifer, Ricky, Joey, Wilson, and Linden,
happy holidays and blessings for the new year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

more angels

winter concert at davis waldorf

Winter break for Davis Waldorf was heralded by a beautiful evening of seasonal songs, lively dancing, string ensembles, and concert band performances. Students of grades two through eight proudly gave their all in bringing holiday cheer to the DWS community.

My seventh grade students had been practicing a song and dance number that I had composed for the past three weeks. Drawing from their varied talents and strengths - two on percussion, a pianist, two guitarists, vocalists, and dancers (a special thanks to my daughter who choreographed their dance), the students came together to create a very special offering.

Here are the lyrics:

Winter light aglow

whisper of falling snow

Lonely star on high

A silent holy night

Holly and mistletoe

Wreaths on every door

Bells rign in the season

Apples and cinnamon

Friends and family

Are all the gifts I need

Never mind the tinsel

Or stockings on the mantle

In this winter holiday

I sing to heaven and pray

Climb down

Ye angels

Bring peace

Climb down

Ye angels

Bring peace

Climb down

Ye angels

Have a blessed holiday season!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

four angels

linden and her siblings

Linden at one week old with Ricky, Joey, and Wilson

Like autumn leaves turning from green to shades of orange, gold, and brown, the season changes, the children change. Linden "Li" is now nine weeks old, and becoming bigger, smilier, and cuter every day! My wife and I feel very fortunate and blessed that our four angels grace our home with love, warmth, and laughter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

the last supper

homage to da vinci and the renaissance

As is traditional for the classroom, a chalk drawing accompanies the curriculum. It was Labor Day weekend prior to the start of my seventh grade school year at Davis Waldorf School when I made up my mind to tackle Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper.

On average, I spend about three to four hours per chalk drawing. Here are three from my sixth grade year:

With The Last Supper, I knew it would take longer to complete. And to avoid the often painful act of erasing my chalk drawings every four weeks when the block is finished, I figured that The Last Supper would work for my first two blocks of the year - physiology and Renaissance history; thus, I can keep the drawing up for at least eight weeks! In physiology, I introduced the digestive system and the idea of the five core values of food: nutrition (f0r growth), combustion (energy), socialization (getting together), tradition (cultural), and inspiration (for art). The Last Supper, a meal shared by Jesus and his disciplies, is an example of how food inspires art. For Renaissance history, The Last Supper is the iconic painting by the great Renaissance painter Leonardo. It also is one of the best examples of perspective, which is an art technique that I will be teaching the students this year.

This chalk drawing, four feet by eight feet, has taken me nearly twelve hours thus far. The students would come into the classroom to find an unfinished drawing. Da Vinci was notorious for taking his time on his work, and sometimes kept them unfinished. I was afraid I would end up not completing my version of The Last Supper. Nearly three weeks since the first day of school, I am finished! From the print I was using, it was hard to distinguish what the food was on the table, so I omitted it except for the bread rolls and wine.

I hope it inspires the budding artists of my seventh grade.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

pregnant mommy

jennifer at thirty-three weeks

and laughs
and loves
her tummy
baby bumps around
moves her limbs, stretching
within her warm, fluid home
growing everyday, growing big
mommy radiates goddess nature
the giver of life, nurturer of soul
strong, healthy, spirit-filled
beautiful mommy

five spheres ecourse

sponsored by little acorn learning

If you are interested in knowing more about the Five Spheres of Waldorf Education, I have a five week ecourse available through our friends at Little Acorn Learning. The first online seminar began this week, but it is not too late to sign up!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

lakes, trees, and volcanoes

family time at lassen volcanic park

This summer, the Tans were busy with our own individual endeavors. Jennifer was director of a two-week summer camp at Davis Waldorf School. Ricky spent one week at a music camp at University of the Pacific and another week at ID Tech camp at Sac State. Joey spent two weeks with River City Dance Company learning a variety of dances. Wilson sculpted in clay a mug and a castle at the Davis Art Center. I was at Steiner College in Fair Oaks for a five week teacher training. At the end of July, when all the camps ended, we came together and went to Lassen Volcanic Park for camp of the set-up-a-tent, build-a-fire, hike-up-a-volcano, kayak-on-a-lake, roast-a-marshmallow variety.

The picture above is Summit Lake where we camped nearby, kayaked, and swam.

Monday, July 25, 2011

body, soul, and spirit

summer teacher training at steiner college

In my third summer at Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, I had expected the dry heat, the afternoon snack of popcorn, the last minute switcheroos of classroom assignments, and the very heady foundational studies in anthroposophy. I expected to see friends and classmates from the previous summers. I expected to feel a sense of urgency in the five week program to return to Davis to complete end of year reports, plan for my seventh grade curriculum, and spend time with my family. What I did not truly expect was that just one weekend after it was all over, I would feel a sense of longing for the moments that punctuated the training program - moments that touched my soul and spirit in different ways. I can't describe what made those moments special, so I'll just list them as they come to me.

Two members of my cohort, Loren and Ashley, are expecting their first child. Ashley is pregnant, due in September, and she looked radiant, her soft voice beaming with gladness. Loren will be a second grade teacher this coming school year, and the two of them had a nervous, giddy energy of a young couple diving into familyhood and work and a new place.

Chelsey is not enrolled in training this summer, but I saw her briefly before she flew back to Hawaii to get married. Chelsey just glows, her golden hair tumbling over her tanned shoulders, and there was so much pride and joy in her voice as she shared her experience with her first graders last year. She showed me a memory book of their year, which contained pictures that showed her beautiful students: the girls must admire their teacher as they sported their hair in the same style! I could tell that the children loved her.

Mikko Bojarsky was my instructor in upper grades chemistry and physics. He has an unassuming quality and speaks with a tone that is both direct and sensitive. Quite skillfully, he showed us how to apply the Waldorf method of scientific experimentation and observation. He advises we demonstrate the experiments with a phlegmatic approach - steady, careful, anticipatory, with a shared sense of wonder as the phenomena unfolds. He models this phlegmatic approach in speech, in mannerism, but his brilliant knowledge of the physical sciences clearly demonstrate a choleric person's academic striving. On our first meeting, he paraphrased a passage from my blog - I liked him immediately! Then he generously gives me his physics handbook for the seventh grade. He had me at the blog mention.

Ina Jaehnig and I spent more time with each other than she even remembers ever having with any other student during summer training. Balance in Teaching, Goethe's Faust I and II, Adolescence, Child Study, Minerology, and Geography! In Balance in Teaching in particular, I was her only student, and our discussions were priceless. She kept giving me treasures for my professional growth. In her other classes, it was small groups as well, and she shared personal stories of her childhood. She reminisced about her father who was an architect, and she and her siblings had accompanied him on projects. One project took them to an island in Greece, and her father created a lean-to overlooking the ocean. Ina went for a night swim and she recalled bioluminescent plankton floating all about her and on her arms.

In Carol Diven's music class, I wrote a short song as an exercise in the style of an African spiritual. It had a part for recorder, a soprano part, alto, an ostinato, and piano accompaniment. We sang it on the last Friday class together. They loved it! Carol decided she would make a copy of it to put in her music packets for the other teachers. My classmates decided to use it as a recessional song for their graduation.

Eva Cranstoun sings as lovely as an angel, as always. In her class, you just close your eyes and sing what she instructs you to do. Somehow, the room gets filled with voices that you know have so much personal energy in every note. I always feel like my singing in her class is received by loved ones in the spirit world.

Jo landed a job as a handwork teacher at a local Waldorf school. Her energy is unwavering and contagious! The children will create amazing fiber crafts in her stead.

Kelsy is a professional dance instructor. She has a presence about her, integrity, humility, love. She had taught an impromtu West Coast swing class for a friend. I would like to take a class from her.

Trisha has a vast amount of energy. We did the levers demonstration together in physics - she rocks.

Patrick Wakeford-Evans is ever the poet. His words as we study Steiner's Study of Man always find their mark in exacting Steiner's concepts. His imagery paints mental pictures that hover within my head, and inspire me to create images of my own.

Mary, Rebecca, Noelle, Stefanie, Rosa, Sadna, Michelle (sorry for misspellings), the early childhood crew, became eating buddies occasionally as I often invaded their territory in the Commons. I had a pleasant surprise when I entered the Commons to eat and they had set up the room for a show with a story and marionettes they had created. The show was sweet and their marionetting was fantastic!

Ted Mahle allowed me to join his wet on wet painting class halfway through their two week course. It was my third year with the technique, and I appreciated that he gave me much freedom in experimenting with it. He is a wonderful teacher.

Barbara always took the time to say hello and ask how I was doing as we pass each other from class to class.

Enrique was one of few of us dudes who attended the College, so we stood out among the ladies. He has a Spanish accent and is a high school history teacher. In our class together with Eva Cranstoun, we were to present a recorder piece. Enrique was sitting in a bench in the College's biodynamic garden and I could hear peeps and squeeks as he practiced his recorder. I came over to help him out a bit. Enrique, the next day, when it was his turn to perform, did the best he could, and mentioned I helped. We clapped for his striving and bravery.

Cynthia Hoven is a long-time eurythmy practitioner and teacher. She took a small group of us through some eurythmy exercises that had us weaving in and out, and pulling energy from the air, and characterizing letters with movement, and making us feel like points of a cosmic star.

Body, soul and spirit. This threefoldness was the arcing principle of Study of Man. As I plan for my upcoming year, I have a renewed sense of purpose that places this threefoldness at the foundation of my work as a teacher.

Thanks to the people I had the pleasure of knowing at Steiner College.

Friday, July 22, 2011

wet on wet painting

summer training at steiner college

Water moves about the earth and in the clouds and in us. It is elegant in its simplicity. It is awesome in its power. It is miraculous in its phasic fluidity. It is fickle in its use with wet on wet painting!

In my third summer of teacher training at Steiner College, I learned to further refine this traditional Waldorf artistic medium. When I was first introduced to it two years ago, I was irked by the water's stubborn refusal to yield to my desired brush strokes. Each time a dabbed my Filbert brush into a jar of pigment, I would utter a short prayer of mercy. I would gently apply the brush to paper, and immediately, the water would coax the pigment to form tiny hairs that would grow this way and that, moving to places I did not intend. I was baffled as to why it would not remain loyal!

Then I figured it out: water is not an extension of my will force, a tool like a chisel or a pair of knitting needles. I must regard it as an elemental being, not just an element. Water is alive. I must form the right relationship with it. I should not demand of it to bend to my will. I must understand its strengths and its limitations, its properties and its nature. Water's fluidity and sensitivity must be given space to be mischievous and impetuous, then water's elegance and lawfulness can be received as a gift. The artist forms a partnership with water.

While wet and wild, water invites the layering of a cloudy sky. As it begins to evaporate from the paper, foliage of trees and the contours of hills and mountains take form. Traveling less on the paper, the water then allows the more definitive forms of humans and castles to take shape. Playful and generous, water allows me to apply my favorite technique of lifting off the pigment. Counter to one's intuition, it is the removal of edges and planes by lifting away the pigment that reveals the three dimensional shape of faces, bodies, structures, and surfaces.

Every artist - and we are all - must find the right relationship with water. And like any other dynamic partnership, you must be forgiving when things don't always go as intended, be joyful in the triumphs, and be open to the possibilities.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

spirit of nature

divine grace of muir woods

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." - John Muir

There was once over two million acres of redwood forests along the coasts of California and Oregon. Now, only three percent of it remains. It is not hard to imagine where the redwoods have gone. Human habitation and economic forces had driven these mighty sentinels from their tranquil domains. Perhaps with divine intervention, preservationists of the early 20th century had the foresight to embrace the glory of a small cluster of woods in the northern portion of San Francisco Bay.

Protected as a national forest, the Muir Woods National Monument is home to redwood trees averaging 600 to 800 years old. These coast redwoods tower over 250 feet tall. Their trunks rise from the forest floor like columns, and their branches reach like buttresses holding an arching roof of leaves and needles. As rays of sunlight penetrate through the canopy and touch the dense understory, one enters this divine space as if it were a cathedral, where the spirit of nature itself is present and celebrated.

Over the weekend, my family and I joined a congregation of people who had come from far and wide to make their pilgrimmage. We found respite in the coolness of this wooded sanctuary while most of northern California was bathed in summer's heat. The feeling of reverence was immediate. It was like when I was in Catholic grade school entering through our heavy church doors: I would dip a finger into the Holy Water and make the sign of the cross on my forehead. My mood shifted instantly to solemnity.

There was no Holy Water at the entrance to the Muir Woods park, but there was moisture in the air that annointed the congregation. A raised boardwalk and decomposed granite paths guided us through the park. Redwood Creek meandered quietly through the horsetails and clover. Decayed, fallen branches lay peacefully along the paths. Flying bugs danced about high in the trees, visible only as light reflected off their delicate wings. Sonoma chipmunks confidently munched on crumbs dropped by young children. We processed through the park. We breathed in Nature's breath, an earthy, primal, green smell.

We pointed to this and that, and made scientific and artistic observations. One thing was evident to me, using an anthroposophical lens: antipathy was helpful in seeing all the percepts around me. They came into my I and concepts formed and sensations developed. But the concepts and sensations drew me into the spirit of what lay behind the percepts. I saw the clover, the equisitum, the rocks, leaves, tree bark; I felt the coolness of the air; smelled the decomposition of earth material; and I heard the birds and the trickling of water. First antipathy, then sympathy. We ourselves were present in the trees and the water and the rocks. It was a relational cycle that helps us humans appreciate the elements and also realize we are of the elements. John Muir's quote is right on: life is interconnected, and we are "hitched" to it as well.

We made a communion with the spirit of Nature. The word communion suggests completeness through togetherness (unity from community). I must believe that Nature herself was made even more beautiful by our very own presence.

Jennifer and our kids

Sunday, June 12, 2011

waldorf charge

from seven to fourteen and beyond

(This article is a slightly modified reprint of a blogpost I wrote for The Magic Onions.)

Sedimentary rocks settle back to their bins inside the science closet. The chalkboard compass acutely rests deep in my desk. My sword leans against a wall like a seasoned knight retired from his last battle. From studying rocks to Rome, knights to starry nights, my year with the sixth grade comes to a close. Here at the end of this amazing year - my first year at Davis Waldorf with my students, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about the development of the child, and how it determines the charge of the Waldorf teacher.

Steiner’s developmental approach to Waldorf intuitively holds the child first from the physical environment. This is the kindergartener whose body and soul are nurtured through the oneness with his teacher, peers, and surroundings. Next, the child of the first through eighth grade, from 7 to 14 years old, is then held by authority and leadership. The teacher’s role through the grades is being the noble knight, to use imagery from my sixth grade year. In chivalric fashion, with unwavering resolve, the teacher must guide the student with charismatic aplomb.

I have had to be a noble knight this year! The curriculum of the sixth grade is such that it meets the mind and heart of the 11-12 year old. My students were like rowdy attendants to the king’s ball, enjoying the thrill of entertainment, which sometimes can be as economical as pulling one’s lips to imitate a quacking duck. Then, with the announcement of a cause, a challenge, or a quest, and with the possible reward of victory or even certain death, they sober to become unified crusaders! How fitting it was this year that they had studied the clarity of Roman law, and the code of the medieval knight. For the sixth graders, it has been about the passionate interplay of silliness and sincerity.

Banking on their capacity for precision and recitation, I wrote the “Warrior’s Creed” which they performed with martial arts-style movements at the Medieval Games and at our May Faire.

With strength and sacrifice,
My sword I wield.
From righteous code,
I will not yield.
I sheath my sword
And extend my hand.
I giving heart
Benefits all the land.
With discipline
I resolve on the right.
I trust my path
Towards everlasting light.
From spirit mountain
I gladly stand and fight.

The eighth grader, at about the age of fourteen, is then held in a different manner. It is not so much holding as if in cupped, protective hands, but rather open and challenging, like you are asking, “So what do you think you should do?”

After fourteen, the child, or the young adult, is developmentally prepared for independent judgment. It is scary to think that we are empowering our teenagers with making their own decisions! But perhaps, it would not be so scary if truly we as caregivers, teachers and parents, were fully present in creating nurturing environments, and leading with responsibility and role modeling. Then, we should be able to trust that their decisions will be made from a place of our own making.

The charge of the Waldorf teacher, in the context of the threefold nature of the human being (body, soul, and spirit), is to transform the children’s natural desire for learning into treasures of creative and intellectual capacities. As the child develops, the needs evolve. The parent or teacher must recognize these shifts and find the rhythm of the growing child.

My own fourteen-year-old graduates this year from Davis Waldorf. He has decided to pursue his ninth grade at a nearby public school in Davis. The school offers a fantastic music program, and my son auditioned as a clarinetist for the concert band and as a saxophonist for jazz band. I had driven him to the school and I waited in the hallway as the music teacher lead him into one of the practice rooms. A faint but confident melody penetrated through the adjacent wall. Only a few measures later, the music teacher emerged from the room and told me that my son had earned positions in both bands. It struck me with full force for the first time that my first born child had just carved his own path, paved the way for his own fate. My role as a guide for him had reached its apex. From here on, like a waning moon, I glimmer only as a celestial navigator, and I let my son’s own luminous self become the star. I thought about the instruments that we always had around at home when he was a toddler. I thought about the times I would play songs on the piano or when my wife would teach him how to hold a clarinet. We had given him the physical environment and the guidance to appreciate music.

Now he is making his own music.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

stones and stars

astronomy in the sixth grade

Five thousand years ago, neolithic people of Briton carved and moved 80 four-ton bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales to Wiltshire - a 250 mile distance. A 300 foot diameter moat was dug with antlers and encircled the stones. Nearly 1000 years later, massive 50 ton sarsen stones topped with lintels formed a circle around five trilithons and the Altar stone in the middle.

On the summer solstice, heelstones placed at the eastern edge of the moat bracket the first ray of morning sun, which pierce into the center of Stonehenge to the Altar stone. To a people who had shifted from a nomadic life to an agragrian society, the sun and its daily rhythm through the seasons was reliable, its life-giving power was to be revered and honored.

This is Stonehenge.

This is astronomy for the sixth grader.

To the ancients, the movement of the heavenly bodies was viewed from a geocentric perspective and with the naked eye. We studied the movement of the sun, its ecliptic, the solstices, and the equinoxes. We studied the moon and its phases. Then, we expanded outward to the celestial sphere, where we pointed to the north celestial pole and discovered Polaris, the North Star. It follows the axis of the earth and so has become invaluable in orienting navigators and stargazers to the constellations. From Polaris, we found the circumpolar stars such as the Big Dipper. From the Big Dipper, we "arced to Arcturus, and spiked to Spica." Then we discussed the band of animal signs, the Zodiac, that appeared like a belt around the ecliptic.

From geology to astronomy, I had taken the sixth grader through a journey of their personal development and my development as their teacher. As is true for much of Waldorf, there is a poetic underpinning to the things we do. For me, geology in the beginning of the year represented the firmness of the earth from which I needed to connect with the students. We needed grounding, and geology was the discipline that would do it. In the end of our year, after studying Roman and medieval history, economics, physics, and geometry, we needed a block that would represent the outward optimism of looking forward to the seventh grade. Astronomy, the study of the stars, was the perfect close to our year.

Geology to astronomy, stones to stars, earth to heaven.

In the beginning of the year, we visited Lassen Volcanic Park. Last week, we visited Cache Creek Regional Park in Yolo County. Lassen was meant to be instructive about geology. The Cache Creek trip was meant for the students to have fun - and if stars happened to be visible from the canyon floor and the students happened to pause and look up, then we got some astronomy too!

In the beginning of the year, I had a pre-formed image of the potential ideal of my students. Like a sculptor with a block of limestone, or a conductor with a musical score to an orchestra, I had worked towards that image. From my Renaissance nature, I would shape them through example as an artist, musician, philosopher, and scientist. From my personal being, I would guide them as a father who nurtures my own children. From Steiner's anthroposophical frame, it would be through "discipleship and authority." From a spiritual place, I would go about our day with reverence, order, and peacefulness.

At the end of the year, the students have grown in mind, body, and spirit. The kinetic reality of teaching and learning, of the individual personalities of the children, and of their dramatic age nature produced a sixth grader who far exceeded my idealized picture. In the heart of performing our concerto, it was the spontaneous, inspired accents, the nuanced colors of dynamics, the subtle, yet moving harmonies, and the unifying force of rhythm that the sixth graders concluded their performance with brilliance. Sure, a few misplaced notes here and there to jarring effect, but we kept on going!

What have the students become?

Pretend this is a plexer: a picture of a chunk of granite + a picture of a constellation.

Yes, you got it, ROCK STARS!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

cache creek

regional gems of yolo county

The Tans are enjoying a reprieve from our school rhythm at Davis Waldorf. Yet, in our Spring break, we found ourselves scouting a possible sixth grade field trip venue: Cache Creek Campground. Less than an hour away from Davis, this regional campground in Yolo County was quite a treasure; we found ourselves enjoying an unexpected day at the beach - in the heart of agricultural farmlands of California's Central Valley!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

dark ages

medieval history with grade six

In the sixth grade, we study Roman and medieval history. The cause and effect quality of these periods in history, the sense of law and order, conviction for truth and justice, and devotion to beliefs are soul food for the sixth grader. In studying the events surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity and medieval history, I realized that there really is not a clear line between the end of one period of history and the beginning of another. History has a sequential quality, a cause and effect linearity, that is particulary evident in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of medieval history. A series of events, singular and concurrent, all contribute to the way the human story marches forward. I though I had left Rome behind several weeks ago in our Roman history block, but the Roman Empire proved quite resilient as it formed the foundation for the beginnings of the Dark Ages. So our medieval history block had to start with the fall of the Empire.

Under the Emperor Tiberius, a man named Jesus was crucified by the Romans for fear that his teachings about God and the power of love was counter to the laws of the Romans. His followers began to spread his teachings, and Christianity was born. Under the reign of Nero, many Christians were tortured and executed. By the time Hadrian had taked power, it was unlawful to be Christian and many went into hiding, spreading the word of God secretly. The Roman Empire reached the height of its power during Hadrian's reign, and many roads were built that reached to the edges of Hesperia, Gaul, the River Danube, and the northern coast of Africa.

In Britain, the Romans had tried to extend their laws and customs to this forested island. Pagan tribes of Celts resisted the might of the Romans. One tribe, the Iceni, led by Queen Boudicca, fought the Romans bravely. But Queen Boudicca and her two daughters finally poisoned themselves when they realized they had lost, and did not want to be brought to the city of Rome as prisoners to be humiliated, tortured, and executed. The Iceni were one of the last Celtic tribes to resist the Romans, and from then on, much of Britain, except for the northern lands where the Picts and Scots had lived, went under Roman rule.

The sixth graders and I, on a sunny Friday at the end of school, re-enacted the battle between the Romans and Celts out on the school's lawn, which abuts a mound of dirt and logs. The Romans marched with shields towards the Celtic hill fortification. I played the role of a Roman officer. On my command, we charged towards the hill, PVC pipe-swords drawn and ...we all threw water balloons at each other, and the children dumped a bucket of water on me! Glorious!

But Christianity continued to spread, and in the city of Verulanium in Britain, a Roman nobleman named Alban had chanced upon an old man he helped. The old man was a Christian. After hearing his stories about Christ, Alban proclaimed himself Christian. Roman soldiers came to his house, and he helped the old man escape. Alban did not deny to having helped the old man, and also admitted to the Roman officer, a family friend, that he had converted to Christianity. When Alban refused to renounce his faith, Alban was executed. He became the first Christian in Britain to die as a martyr.

Emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. He gave the Western Empire to Maximinius. Their successors, Maxentius, the son of Maximinius, and Constantine, disagreed about the rule of the two halves of the Empire. They declared war on each other. Constantine had a vision from God and he instructed his men to paint crosses on their shields. When they went into battle against Meaxentius' soldiers, they scared them off with a crucifixion image on their shields, and the seeming determination they had on their countenances. Constantine decided that Rome would no longer be the center of power, so he established Constantinople. The executions of Christians stopped. It became fashionable to be a Christian.

Meanwhile, Germanic tribes, barbarians, from the northeast, began to push against the fortified boundaries of the Roman Empire. The tribes did not have centralized power so the Roman tried to convince them to battle as Romans against other Germanic tribes. Roman law, loyalty, and power began to crumble under the weight of unruly, uncontrollable hoardes of people.

Attile the Hun, the "Scourge of God," struck fear and destruction across the Empire. Eventually, the Goths and the Vandals took their tour of pillaging and plundering the Empire. The Western Empire fell into ruin, and the Eastern Empire, ruled from Constantinople, managed to maintain some power due to tenuous alliances with the barbarians. The Angles and Saxons, also Germanic tribes, traveled northward into Britain as mercenaries against the Picts and Scots, battling at Hadrian's Wall and everywhere in the British countrysides.

The great Migration of People, the huge nomadic tribes of the central plains of Europe, continued their movement into what was left of the Roman Empire. Odoacer, a strong Roman Commander-in-Chief of Germanic descent and Christian faith took control of the Western Empire and threw away the title of Emperor. In 476 AD, the Empire ceased to exist. Along with the unrecorded history of the Angles and Saxons in Britain, and the settling of Germanic tribes throughout Europe, this period of history became known as the Dark Ages.

The monks believed that to be a true Christian, one must live simply and virtuously. In their monasteries were scriptoriums, where they spent night and day as scribes, creating beautiful, delicate, and perfect manuscripts of religious texts.

The sixth graders are learning the art of calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts. They will be completing a page of their creeds, of what it is they have a conviction for, of what they believe. It ties in with the strong devotion of the Christians, and of knighthood and chivalry. We had touched on the seven knightly virtues, and they seem to be getting into the spirit of the chivalric ways!

We are now in Spring Break. The timing of this block seemed to work well, as some families will be celebrating Easter, a time important to Christianity. When the children return, we wil learn about Islam and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of medieval history! We will be working more on our calligraphy and completing our creeds. We will also be working on our individual coats-of-arms just in time for our participation in the Medieval Games, where we will compete with other sixth graders from other Waldorf schools.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

sound and light

physics for the sixth grade

The sixth graders at Davis Waldorf School completed their three week block of physics where we covered the phenomena of sound, light, and magnetism. In the sixth grade, physics is about the experience and observation of the phenomena. There is less emphasis on quantitative data, and more on the quality, the sense-experience, of light, sound, and magnetism. However, I found myself not sticking strictly with the experience, but diving into the abstract as well. Maybe it is my science background, or perhaps the way the students had appeared to want to know about the abstract stuff such as sound waves, but I found myself introducing the hidden mysteries of the experience, in particular, the idea of the wave. I had to use my intuition as a teacher.

For light, I organized the material and the main lesson pages as:

1) the phenomenon of light, where I had the students copy the "gift of light" verse we sang at our Winter Assembly,

2) the sources of light, where we drew images of luminous objects, those that actually produce light, and illuminated object, everything else that reflects light,

3) the rays and rainbows of light, where we identified the properties of the light ray as reflecting, absorbing, and transmitting, including using a prism to see how visible light separates into the rainbow colors, and

4) the refraction of light, where we performed an experiment. We shone a beam of light through a water-filled tank at an angle, and observed the bending of the light as it passed from the medium of air and into the medium of water.

For sound, I organized the main lesson this way:

1) phenomenon of sound, where the students copied a verse about hearing,

2) making sound, about the three ways that sound is produced: striking, strumming, or blowing, told as a story about a king wanting music played at a spring festival,

3) affecting sound, about the qualities of sound: duration, volume, pitch, and character,

4) hearing sound, where we discussed the vibration, and the sound wave, and its properties such as frequency and amplitude. I wrote a rap about sound:
vibrations, vibrations

objects in motion

strum, pluck, or blow,

and feel the sound waves go

sound can be high

sound can be low

sound can be really loud

or quiet like an echo, echo, echo

sound goes on and on and on

sound can stop like this

sound has character

a bark, meow, or hiss

frequency and amplitude

waves have attitude

patterned or continuous

waves are not superfluous

big words - don't you fear

c'mon, just use your ears!

For magnetism:

1) the phenomenon of magnetism, where in our main lesson page, I had them copy down a medieval style of courtly love poem (force of attraction = magnetism, get it?)

2) earth's magnetism, about the history of the discovery of lodestone and its use in navigation

3) field of magnetism, where the students practiced their 3-dimensional drawing and shading to show a magnet and its lines of magnetism.

Our project for the block was making an instrument. The students created some lovely-sounding instruments!

I chose to do a chalk-drawing of a lotus flower in a still pond. The photograph that inspired it had a luminous lotus flower and I wanted to try to capture it in chalk. Also, I was struck by the quietness that the image had. So sound and light.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


sixth grade visits europe

The sixth graders of Davis Waldorf School (no, we really did not take a filed trip to Europe - but that would have been molto fantastico!) came back from their winter break to learn a little about geography. The three branches of geography are physical (biomes, cartography, coordinates), human (cultures, populations), and environmental (resource management).

We learned about the different biomes of the world (forest, grassland, tundra, desert, marine, and freshwater). The students created dioramas of their biomes, which we called "bioramas." They were spectacular! Some had fashioned trees from wire and frayed rope, animals from beeswax, snow from old cotton jerseys, and rocky cliffs from clay.

We learned about latitude and longitude, and how to make accurate maps using a grid technique.

To study human geography, the students are researching European countries for their reports. It is a big undertaking for the sixth graders as they are learning to choose the right resources and compile information about the land, the culture, and landmarks. They are writing creatively and using illustrations to create beautiful reports.

To bring in the global, environmental consciousness into our work, I had the students list their observations of things outside our classroom. It was not surprising that when I had them categorize their observations between human, human-made, and nature-made, most things they listed were human-made. I had told them that it was very important how our geography is closely tied to human impact, that it was our responsibility to always be mindful of how we interact with our earth.