Monday, December 24, 2012

winter concert swing

a dance of the soul

Davis Waldorf School began the holidays with our annual Winter Concert. Traditionally, orchestra, band, and grades second through eighth perform for family and friends. The eighth grade students played and danced to Let It Snow. My daughter (pictured in the light blue top) and I (directing with my youngest perched on my arm in the picture) had choreographed the two and half minute piece with an East Coast style of swing, and I arranged music for a rhythm section, flute, violin, clarinet, and vocals. We practiced about three mornings per week for four weeks in lieu of our morning movement time.

When I partnered the boys and girls and told them they had to dance with each other, both sides feigned resistance, but clearly,  they were happy for the sanctioned physical contact! By the third week, we had completed the steps from start to finish, and began the work of polishing up the steps, the arm angles, the spins, and dips.

As a teacher, my role is deeper than merely showing them a dance or teaching them how to play a song together. My role teaches to the soul of the child. In the case of the eighth graders, I am guiding the soul forces of adolescents. Here in this time of their lives when things can get a bit awkward physically, and turbulent emotionally, I must find a way to guide them towards healthy relationships between each other. In our every day contact between men and women, we have to be sensitive, mindful, and respectful. We must acknowledge each other's gifts, give each other a chance to shine, and be both strong and vulnerable. Why not a swing dance as an archetype to human relationships!

In swing dancing, partners have to be able to read signals and gestures, to flow smoothly in unison, sometimes to give one or the other the spotlight, and to achieve an effortless balance of male and female energy. For the eighth graders, they learned through the gentle touch of each other's hands, the movement of their bodies, and the gaze of their eyes that they must truly trust and respect each other. They discovered that their dance had the right energy and the right balance, and was just a whole lot of fun!

Friday, November 2, 2012

path of peril

The veil that separates the spirit world and the material world is thinnest at Halloween, allowing for eighth graders to be transformed into ghosts. Our school's traditional "perilous path" sends upper grades students on a macabre journey through delights and frights performed by the eighth grade class. Paired with the "protected path" of the lower grades, its purpose is to give the adolescent something to singly and courageously overcome, a rite of passage.

This year, our perilous path was called "Lucinda's Curse: A Rescue Mission." It was set in Renaissance Florence, Italy, where the Pazzi family kidnapped the fictitious Lucinda de Medici, sister of Lorenzo and Giuliano. It was reported that Lucinda was taken and held prisoner at the Pazzi Castle, in some secret underground dungeon. She was never found. Fast forward to the present, and archaeologists have discovered a secret entrance to the dungeon, and they may have found evidence to support that Lucinda was there.  But the archaeologists go missing! A rescue team is mobilized to find the missing scientists. Then members of the rescue team go missing too! And supposedly, creepy sounds, scary occurrences, and sightings of ghosts have come from the subterranean catacombs. At the perilous path, the story continues as the student going through the path becomes a new recruit to the rescue team and is sent through tunnels and freakish rooms with zombies, poisoned rescue team members, and the ghost of Lucinda haunting every nook and cranny of the path! Needless to say, the eighth grade students had a blast!

With a wonderful set of class parents, we pulled it off. The mission was a success!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

human anatomy

studying bones and muscles

Working on a 4 foot x 6 foot chalkboard, I rendered a photo of a Cirque du Soleil perfomer for our anatomy block. I chose it because of its clean, minimal lines, and bold graphic nature - and it was do-able in a 2-3 hour time frame! The picture demonstrates the graceful strength of the human body at its most disciplined and conditioned nature.  It expresses the concerted functions of the skeletal, muscular, and neurological systems. He will be balancing himself in this position for the duration of our four-week block!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

minuteman makeover

teaching american history

The eighth grade students of Davis Waldorf School are completing a four week block on American history. We started with the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Then we went northward to Virginia to catch a glimpse of James Fort, later renamed Jamestown.  We saw John Rolfe save the colony with contraband tobacco, and essentially sparked one of America's first successful cash crops. Oh, and he also marries the beautiful Pocahontas! Plymouth Rock welcomes the Pilgrims, who escape religious oppression in England, only to be blinded by their own faith in the Salem Witch Trials where 20 of their own citizens were wrongfully convicted of witchcraft. Mercantilism builds the Thirteen Colonies. The French, also seeing the opportunities of the New World, find themselves traveling down the St. Lawrence River into the areas around the Great Lakes. They make friends with the indigenous people, trade muskets for beaver fur (whose felted fur is a hit with the fashion-forward Europeans), and establish forts in Ohio Country. Tensions rise as the English colonists crash their party. George Washington unconvincingly tries to encourage the French to leave Fort Le Boeuf, but after a bit of French wine, he leaves; his mission is a failure. Fighting ensues with the French and Indian War. It's an expensive war for the English crown, who subsequently levy heavy taxes on the colonists. The colonists cry "No taxation without representation!" Five Bostonians die in an altercation near the State House against British soldiers - the Boston Massacre. Then a Boston Tea Party. Intolerable Acts are pushed on the colonists to punish them for their actions. Patrick Henry gives an ultimatum: "As for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The colonists stockpile arms, ammunition, and supplies. The British march from Boston to Lexington and Concord, and the minutemen rise to meet them. (That's me in the picture, I taught the eighth graders how to fire muskets - eurythmy copper rods, and we charged across the field to fire at redcoats across the street!) George Washington, now Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, drives the British from Boston, crosses the Delaware River to take Trenton and Princeton from the British and the Hessians, hunkers down at Valley Forge with Baron von Steuben training the Army and boosting morale, and, with French allies, forces a surrender from Cornwallis at Yorktown.

We covered 200 years in four weeks, with a second block of American History planned later this year: the Civil War, Industrial Revolution, WWI and WWII, and modern times. Whew!

Friday, July 20, 2012

the heart of teaching

summer school for teachers

Steiner College in Fair Oaks hosted another summer of the Art of Teaching for Waldorf grades teachers. It was a one week intensive on learning about the curriculum of the grade the teacher would be entering in the fall. As I prepare for my eighth grade year at Davis Waldorf, I found the week valuable. I received practical advice on the themes, biographies, and concepts to bring to my eighth grade students.

Teachers from near and far and wide, some as far as Anchorage, Alaska, got a taste of simple sugars in organic chemistry, witnessed shaving cream placed in a vacuumed bell jar billow like a mushroom cloud in physics, and shared in the excitement of Howard's cloud nomenclature in meteorology. Can you say cumulostratus, or was it stratocumulus?

Biographies for the eighth grader was made clear in American history: it was not as important to present a linear account of a person's life, as it was to illustrate how that person gave a voice to the movement, the cause, that that person represented. I can almost neatly see the themes of biographies from sixth grade to eighth. In sixth grade, where Rome showed the student that people follow or perish, a person's biography is about making a CHOICE between pre-existing conditions. In the seventh grade, the Renaissance is about individual CONTRIBUTIONS to the explosion of learning, science, and the arts. In the eighth grade, set against the nineteenth century backdrop of global conflicts among cultures and economies, it is about the courage to rally a COMMUNAL effort to effect positive change.

The benefit of these summer classes is the guidance of preparing the curriculum and block rotations. The true benefit, for me, is in being in the room with the teachers who are teaching these summer classes. Eva, Antje, Ted, and Mikko. Each are a wellspring of energy, a musician with grace and poise, a dedicated practitioner of the craft of teaching, an artist gifted with creativity and imagination, a scientist in search of the truth. I could muse that the four of them represent the ego, astral, etheric, and physical bodies! Eva sings with an angel's voice, her instrument perfectly tuned, each note that emanates from her lips carries a sense of rightness and purpose: the ego force. Antje teaches with precision, she holds herself with an unwavering devotion, intellectually and emotionally charged: the astral force. Ted grasps his brush firmly and loosely, the vibrant colors of his paints dance about the wet watercolor paper, heartfelt, imaginative strokes come to life: the etheric force.  Mikko makes chemistry look like child's play, he dives into lab equipment like toys, with excited hands, his whole being coaxes an experiment into something fantastically wonderful: the physical force. 

Mostly, I consider them friends. In having spent even just a short week with them, in feeling their radiant warmth, I feel I can go forth in my upcoming school year with courage and vitality.

I painted the picture above in Ted's class. We had just studied clouds with Mikko in meteorology. We had touched on the American economic movement in Antje's history class. It's all there in the painting: my joy and gratitude for their gifts of the heart of teaching.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

summergarden camp

crafting and gardening at davis waldorf school

After the school year ended in June, many families may have gone on vacation out of town or shifted gears into a bit of rest and relaxation. Not the Tans. Jennifer Tan is camp director of Summergarden Camp at Davis Waldorf for the grades students. It is a four week program of fiber crafting - spinning wool, dyeing, crocheting and knitting, and paper crafting. The young students from grade one to grade four are treated to morning circle time, singing, and enjoying healthy, delicious meals. Rick, the DWS eighth grade teacher, was in the garden with the students, weeding, shoveling, planting seeds, watering, and tending to the chickens. Ricky, the eldest, wrangled a few of his tenth grade friends to join him as camp volunteers; he likes to help out in the kitchen, when not playing clarinet or drums for the campers. Joey, eighth grade, helps Jennifer with demonstrating fiber crafting techniques, like using the inkle loom. Wilson, third grade, manages to keep up with mommy, and often helps his fellow campers with the crafting. Then there's Li, nine months old. Linden completes the family picture, and is always within arm's length from her family. She helps by keeping us smiling and appreciating each day together.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

ropes challenge

climbing to new heights of trust and friendship

The seventh grade class of Davis Waldorf School braved the elements in our ropes course field trip with Challenge Sonoma near Napa Valley, CA. Our leaders took us on a two-day adventure of progressively challenging events. Tethered safely to a belayer on the ground, the students scaled coastal redwoods, traversed across cables spanning at 60 feet above ground, zip-lined down through the trees, and clambered up a vertical "playpen" of ropes and ladders.

The physical aspect of the events supported the building of social and spiritual capacities. Not only did the students challenge their physical abilities of agility, flexibility, strength, and coordination, but they also discovered personal inner strength, and interpersonal cooperation, encouragement, and trust.

It was on the second day, as we stood on fallen conifer branches and mud, with our harnesses tightly fastened, and helmets providing no comfort against the rain, and staring up at 200 foot tall redwoods with metal handholds stapled to their trunks, that I experienced the quiet fire that resided in the hearts of my students: we were on a mission to conquer our own personal fears and reservations, and meet our own personal goals. And the only way we would succeed in this mission was to support each other, to trust our leaders, and ultimately, to trust our own selves.

Monday, February 20, 2012

spirit being being free

human striving for divine connection

Over 600 years ago, an Incan stronghold of dry-laid fieldstone buildings, pastures, and terraced gardens stood perched atop the Andes near the Urubamba River of modern-day Peru: Machu Picchu. A community of about 1200 Incan religious leaders, teachers, farmers, and their families lived there for about 100 years until it was mysteriously abandoned. Remaining relatively intact, one of its remarkable features is Intiwatana, the Hitching Post of the Sun. It is a rock positioned perfectly to meet the noonday sun of the southern hemisphere Winter Solstice. It was designed to honor the Incan Sun-god, Inti. The people had known intuitively that celebrating divine grace gave them a sense of belonging to the vast, miraculous spirit realm.

Over 30 years ago, an anthroposophical stronghold of stuccoed geometrical buildings, lawns, and biodynamic gardens was founded, and remain perched along a bend in the American River in lovely Fair Oaks, CA: Rudolf Steiner College. A community of spiritual beings, teachers, farmers, and their friends connect and learn and dance and sing in wild abandon. One of its remarkable features is the Flowform, a water sculpture employing vortex technology. It is a cascading series of symmetrical catch basins where water often flows with a lemniscate movement. It was designed to honor the spiritual nature of mankind. Flowforms were designed by English sculptor John Wilkes, who was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner had known intuitively that celebrating divine grace gives us humans a sense of connection to the vast, miraculous spirit realm.

Steiner also knew intuitively that human freedom is what connects us to the spirit realm. Human freedom allows us to be connected with each other as well, in thought, in feelings, in deed.

Recently, I was informed that some folks out there were uncomfortable with my blog. I will not elaborate on what reasons they may have for feeling this way. I was saddened to think that these individuals who have spent more years than I learning about Steiner, and who at this point have reached a truly enlightened state, would find offense with my blog. It is, after all, only my striving to practice a literary medium, to share in my creative endeavors, to share the pride I have with the work of my students, and to further my learning about Waldorf. And if truly they believed that we all have the freedom and capacity to think for ourselves, as Steiner believes we do, then it would follow that I have the freedom to write about my personal experiences, and that my readers also have the freedom to read my blog posts and decide for themselves what gems they may find in my blog, if any. I would have to add that for those who dislike my work, you also have the freedom to not read my blog. I did a stat check on Blogger, and it appears that I have had over 55,000 visitors to my blog since I started it three summers ago. Hopefully, most of them enjoyed the pictures, drawings, and writings of my blog.

It was at the Teacher Conference at Steiner College this morning that I was informed about the negative feedback. Interestingly enough, just a few minutes later, as a large group of us were gathering to hear the keynote speaker, Aonghus Gordon of Ruskin Mills, I was stopped by a nice gentleman who extended his hand out to me. He said, "Dr. Tan! I recogninze you from your picture on your blog. I wanted to thank you for your ideas on the Roman history project. It is wonderful to see how teachers are so creative in their own ways." (For the blog post on the Roman aqueduct, click here.) That was a welcomed comment! And it is for that very reason I write my blog.

My objectives have not changed: 1. to share my teaching journey in the Waldorf classroom 2. to serve as a companion in my studies of anthroposophy, Steiner, and waldorf education 3. to share inspired crafts, stories, verses, and other jewels of our life's striving, and 4. to catalyze spiritual, creative paths for those who happen to chance upon my blog.

We all strive for some kind of spiritual connection to the divine, and to each other. The Waldorf Way is just one medium of my personal striving. I am a family man first, and my spiritual connection is to my wife and children. I am a teacher, and my spiritual connection to my students is through the curriculum and to my being present in the classroom. I am also an artist, musician, and occasionally, I like to think I am a writer.

Am I an anthroposophist? No.

Do I claim to be an anthroposophy scholar? Never have.

Am I spiritual? Yes.

Am I free? Absolutely.

Do I want to visit Machu Picchu? That would be super cool!

Friday, February 3, 2012

cultural geography

a week in the Philippines

The seventh grade curriculum at Davis Waldorf includes a visit to exotic places such as South America, Africa, and the South Pacific islands. As part of our studies in Renaissance history, we will be taking a look at the impact of global explorations by European explorers to the New World. But before the conquistadors set foot on these distant lands, the seventh grade is introduced to the geography of these places and how it defines the culture of their inhabitants.
Being Filipino, I decided to take the children to the Philippines for a week. Well, perhaps, more accurately, I took the vibe of the islands to them. The Philippines Islands is an archipelago of 7000 islands on the rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its tropical climate, rugged shorelines, and active volcanoes is home to a mix of people of aboriginal origin, Malaysian descent, and Spanish blood. It is also home to forests of bamboo, a natural resource that is widely and creatively utlilized by the Filipinos.

The seventh grade built models of "bangka paraw," a trimaran that is effective as a fishing boat in shallow, choppy waters. We also did the "tinikling" dance, the national dance of the Philippines. And what better way for the seventh graders to experience life in the Philippines than to hear it from people who had lived there in their childhood. I invited my parents to share their experiences with the seventh grade. My dad described games he played as a child and the blooming courtship between him and the love of his life, my then would-be mom. Their courtship was a classic Romeo and Juliet story, and it piqued the interest of my 12 and 13 year old students! We ended the morning lesson with a few Tagalog words that my mom wrote on the board, such as "mahal kita," meaning I love you.

Then we sampled a dessert called "halo-halo," or literally, mix-mix, that I prepared for the students. It is an assemblage of tropical flavors of coconut, sweet beans, jackfruit, purple yam ice cream, and other assorted toppings, mixed together with sweet milk and ice.

Friday, January 27, 2012

sacred geometry

from phi to Fibonacci

It all started with a single point. A vertex.

Then two vertices were joined by a line. A line segment.

Then three line segments formed a polygon with three sides. Triangle.

Joined by a fourth line, the polygon became a quadrilateral. Trapezoid. Parallelogram. Square.

A fifth line segment formed the pentagon. Pentagram. Pentacle. Star.

Moving through the seventh grade geometry was about the evolution of shape and its properties as it transformed from a single point to a pentagram. Much like the evolution of the universe from a single particle to the infinite stars.

On a human level, the sacred geometry was discovered in the ebb and flow of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians used the magical 12-knotted rope to plot perfect right angles for crop fields whose boundaries were washed away with the seasonal floods of the Nile. They discovered the aesthetic quality of the golden ratio to design the Great Pyramids. Centuries later, Thales of Miletus establishes theorems to formalize geometry.

On a more personal level, Leonardo Pisano aka Fibonacci was fascinated - no, obsessed - with numbers all around him. Unlike his up and coming Renaissance counterparts who found beauty through paint and marble, he found beauty in nature's numbers. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13... The same numbers seemed to appear everywhere. Mother Nature revealed herself to Fibonacci - it was the growth pattern of the universe.

The universe, indeed, for the Fibonacci numbers even reflected the approximate lengths of the lines of a pentagram. Each line, in relation to the next longest or shortest line, was close to the ratio of 1.618 to 1, the golden ratio, phi.

The seventh grade students discovered the golden ratio in the star. But they did not have to look to the stars to find it, for in their own fingertips, they held the golden ratio in the lenghts of their bones. The point was driven home once again, we are connected to the universe.

Our study of geometry took us to the introduction of measuring volume in cubes, cylinders, and spheres. In art, we continued to refine our skills in manipulating light and shadow. With an advanced technique of drawing black and white on blue paper, we got some magnificent effects of contrast and realism in the study of a hand holding a cube.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

star cross'd

our seventh grade play

When one thinks of the Renaissance, usually one pictures Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or the Medicis. But if you travel westward from the Italian countryside, cross the vast western European taiga forests, and swim to the British Isles, one encounters the greatness of the English Renaissance. Here, it is not about the explosion of painting and sculpture, instead, the Elizabethan theater. And one immediately recalls the great wordsmith of 16th century England, William Shakespeare.

Renaissance history for the seventh graders of Davis Waldorf would not be complete without the performance of a Shakespearean play. However, perhaps in the spirit of creativity, and in a very conscious effort to give a balanced amount of lines for each of my students, I wrote a play, which incorporated passages from Shakespeare's plays, epic poems, and sonnets.

The play is titled Star Cross'd. It takes us on a journey from Shakespeare's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe Theater in London. What had interested me as I imagined the plot of Star Cross'd was how Shakespeare got his start, and what inspired him. His life during the time of Queen Elizabeth I included many people that were as interesting as his fictional characters, so I decided to include some of them in our play. And though while historically they existed, I took creative license in their interactions with Shakepseare.

If love is at the heart of the writer's soul, then it was Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife, who was his muse. When Shakespeare leaves Stratford, he arrives in London at the Master of Revels office where he meets the Burbages, financiers and actors in the Chamberlain's Men. The Master of the Revels is the Queen's censor, and with Shakespeare's wordsmithing prowess, the Burbages ask Shakespeare to join them as their playwright.

The play jumps a few years and Shakespeare is invited as the guest of honor of the Queen and her Royal Court. Here, he meets Sir Walter Raleigh and Bess Morton (Elizabeth Throgmorton). I discovered that Morton was secretly in love with Raleigh and the two eventually married each other. I decided to use their secret love affair as the vehicle that inspires Shakespeare to write his play Romeo and Juliet. So the second half of our play is a "play within a play," as the Chamberlain's Men perform Rome and Juliet (excerts from the play) for the Queen and the Royal Court to convince Bess Morton to follow her heart.

Here is an excerpt of our play, where Shakespeare is quietly talking to Bess Morton:

Oh, Mr. Shakespeare, I hope I did not offend thee
With an amateur’s recitation of your epic poem.

No, not at all! I express the opposite, gentle lady.
Words are just words without heart. And your heart
Sings of one truly in love. And dare I presume, a love
You are keeping in shadow.

Sir, you are gifted in knowing the human soul.
It is no wonder the characters in your plays speak
With genuine emotion.
I am in love, but I must not act upon my heart’s call.
As Lady to the Queen’s Privy Chamber, I am
To serve only Her Majesty.
I am forbidden to fall in love.

Forbidden to fall in love?!
Can a rose be forbidden to bloom in beauty?
Can the wind be ordered to hold sway its might?
Can the sun be estopped from slicing the summer sky
With it glorious rays of light and heat!!

The Queen cannot ever know, else I draw her rage.
Or worse, I become a prisoner of the Tower.

Oh dear Lady Bess, I am reminded of what my
Wife Anne tells me:
Love looks upon tempests and is never shaken.
We were young, foolish perhaps, but impassioned
By the unwavering truth of love.
A Queen’s temper cannot temper love.

You are asking me to disobey the wishes of my Queen.

I am asking you to obey the wishes of your heart.