Saturday, March 15, 2014

a school play about salem

the pedagogy and the pride of waldorf school plays

The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2014 performed their musical Good Village Salem: The Unsung Story. When the final song concluded, parents, friends, faculty, and alumni applauded the students' stage performance. For a Waldorf school, the applause is more than a traditional response to a production that was well executed, more than an appreciation for the actors' abilities. A Waldorf school play has a pedagogical basis.

It is just as much about the process as it is the performance. Through the grades, with a curriculum that is rich in biographies, legends, and stories, the class teacher chooses a play that can bring the curriculum to life for the students. Learning about the fall of Troy and the rise of the Roman Empire, for instance, is brought not only through main lesson lectures, but also through a play.

The work of producing a dramatic retelling of a story requires reading and memorization, delivery and recitation, collaboration and cooperation, music and singing, art and crafts. In this theatrical medium, skills that are honed in the students in language arts, practical arts, and performing arts are creatively taught and practiced. Additionally, in the eighth grade, the elements of theater such as the script, the cast, and set are introduced so the students can further their appreciation of this age-old craft. The curriculum lives through the play. For our eighth grade musical, I wrote a play that retold the circumstances of the Salem witch trials, which is pertinent to our studies of colonial American history. Its themes included the entanglement of law and religion, women's roles, community versus individuality, friendships and reputations.

On a deeper level, the teacher has the opportunity to meet the child's soul force by thoughtfully giving the child a particular character to portray. Through the character, the teacher is able to individually tailor a lesson for the child, whether the child needs more practice in reading or memorization, or that the child needs to learn some kind of social dynamic, or some underlying truth about him or herself.

After all the practice and the hard work, the play is ready to be performed. The theater arts is meant to be shared and experienced by others, the audience. A dialog, a relationship, is formed in that beautiful moment of a live performance. This is what makes a play so thrilling and raw and powerful. When the play is performed by the children of parents who make up the audience, the pride of the production completes the arc of a Waldorf school play.

The applause on the evening when our musical ended was as much for the performance as it was for the pride for the students on a job well done, on an effort made, on the creative spirit released and shared and enjoyed.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

a musical about salem

eighth grade sings and dances through Salem Village



In he beginning of the school year, I promised the eighth graders of Davis Waldorf that I would write them a play. Capitalizing on their love of music, singing, and dancing, I figured, why not really stretch myself artistically and write a musical? So over Winter Break, in the solitude of early morning, I pecked away at the laptop, and amid the afternoons of family life, I pounded away at the piano. Days before our return to school, I had completed my first musical! It is called Good Village Salem: The Unsung Story.

Twelve students, six original songs, one witch!

Not only was writing melodies and lyrics a challenge, but the story itself required sensitivity and plenty of creative license. After all, I was dealing with a dark time in colonial American history, where the Puritan way of life was wrestling with its strict doctrine, the colonists were faced with insurgency from the Wampanoag, and there were land disputes and political turmoil. The Puritans struggled with the clash of community and individuality. Their lives continuously put them at odds with the devil. And how do I deal with the witch craft trials on stage without actually hanging anybody at Gallows Hill?

Well, using historical figures from Salem, adding plenty of real themes and motivations that drove the Witch Trials, I managed to get to the court trial of one of their citizens Bridget Bishop, and after much drama in court (pulled from real transcripts), the judge rules that Bridget Bishop is.......

Sorry for the cliffhanger! I'll let you know, in about seven weeks after the students have performed the play, what happens!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

human anatomy

the four systems for eighth grade

high jumper chalk drawing

the biped leg model

In eighth grade anatomy, it is all about RELATIONSHIPS and GROWTH. We discovered the interconnected network of systems between the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. To function at our optimum level, we must coordinate the workings of the body. A notable exercise the students engaged in was the Quadruped Game. While ambulating as a quadruped, they had to perform tasks such as explore the forest floor for food and to watch out for and outrun potential predators! This led us to hypothesize about theories why human evolved into bipeds. From there we discussed the angle of joints and the muscles that enable us to stand in an upright manner. Along with the model above, it was a great way to compare the animal world with the human world. The model proved very useful and allowed for a dramatic demonstration on how the elasticity of muscles act on the rigidity of bones to allow us to stand upright.

For the nervous system, I created a table that matched 8 parts of the brain with specific functions of each of those parts, and discussed how all the parts must act in concert. The parts and their functions (not exclusive) are:
Meninges - PROTECTION
Cerebrum - CREATIVITY, REASONING, and COGNITION
Cerebellum - LOCOMOTION and COORDINATION
Limbic - INSTINCTS and EMOTION 
Hypothalamus - CHEMOREGULATION
Cerebral Stalk - CRANIAL SENSATION and AUTOREGULATION
Spinal Cord - DISTRIBUTION
Spinal Nerves - PERIPHERAL SENSATION

The fourth system we discussed was the reproductive system. We reviewed the eight-petal flower of Biology/Biography, and touched on fetal development and maternal health.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

brave new world

history for the eighth grade




In American History Part I, the students will travel through about 400 years of development from colonization to industrialization. In Week One, the theme is "A Brave New World," where the British colonists face the challenges of a new environment and learn how to create a new way of life, religions, and government. It ends with the building of the Thirteen Colonies. In Week Two, the theme is "A Fight for Freedom," where sides are drawn between the loyalist British colonists and the separatists, culminating in a fight for independence between the Redcoats and the Rebels. It ends with the drafting of one of the most important documents of our nation: the US Constitution. In Week Three, the theme is "A Nation Divided," and with the fundamental tenet of human freedom hanging in the balance (slavery), it pits brother to brother, North against South, teh Civil War. Lincoln plays a key role in this historical saga that will live on as the bloodiest, costliest war ever fought on American soil. In Week Four, the the theme is "Full Steam Ahead," and after the nation rebuilds itself, it becomes one of the world's leading industrial giants.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

a sweet life

organic chemistry for eighth grade


my chalk drawing for the block, 4 feet x 6 feet


What better way to start off the year than with a heaping serving of sugary sweet organic chemistry! Oh those carbohydrates are so much fun! Along with proteins and fats, the students discovered the building blocks and properties of these groups of organic compounds. With saccharades, we studied their solubility and correlated the length of saccharides with their usefulness. Monosaccharides and disaccharides are readily available sources of energy. Polysaccharides such as starch are a stored form of energy. Polysaccharides such as cellulose, the most abundant organic compound in nature - think trees, are insoluble and are a structural form of energy. Trusting the caramelizing propeerty of sugar, we made, well, caramel. We ate chocolate pudding as well, using corn starch as our thickener.

With proteins, we listed their functions and spent some time studying enzymes such as amylase and catalase. We made the analogy that an enzyme is like a maid-of-honor. A maid-of-honor helps along (catalyzes) the transformation of the bride to the wife, and at the end of the ceremony, the maid-of-honor, like an enzyme, does not become part of the product - only the wife gets married to the husband! It works.

We also studied two individuals: Milton Hershey, the captain of chocolate and philanthropist, and Dr. Marie M. Daly, the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry, becoming well-respected as an activist and researcher.

We topped off the block with another sugary sweet favorite: ice cream - which combined carbs, proteins, and fats - yummy!

Friday, September 27, 2013

new crew

teaching the class of 2014


A new year, a new group. I return as eighth grade teacher after graduating the Class of 2013 at Davis Waldorf School. While it may be true that the Waldorf model of teaching is an eight-year journey with your class, it seems in the modern day, this lofty goal is becoming somewhat of an urban legend. Waldorf centers its curriculum on the development of the child, and it follows intuitively that, next to the parents of the children, a teacher who also grows along with the students will be able to fully meet each child in his or her growth. While my biography did not previously include a journey through the grades with this group, I would say that even just four weeks into the school year, I am connecting with them in an unexpected but happy and welcome way.

It may be that the immediate feeling of closeness is due to the fact that I have been on the same campus with them for the past three years.  Or, I'd like to think the synchronicity of unexpected and non-premeditated crossings of paths has its own lively way of bringing people together at just the right moment in time. Maybe they need me, maybe I need them, maybe we just simply hit it off!

Whatever the reasoning may be for this developing bond, I just know that we are heading towards an awesome year of growth, learning, building, doing, being. It's their time.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

art of teaching

G7 physiology and G8 anatomy


This post is specifically for the participants of Art of Teaching for G7 and G8 at Steiner College. I will try to post additional related material this summer to help prepare you for the upcoming year with your students. If you have specific questions, please contact me directly by email.

I have included in this post the five key elements of the physiology or anatomy blocks. I then list four concepts within each of the four systems for physiology and anatomy. In this way, you will have a guideline for a four-week block. Most likely, you will conceive of your block in your own special way to meet your beautiful students.

Be Authentic, Enthusiastic, Interested, Open, and Understanding. Tie in the Artistic, Musical, Performance, Language Arts. Use your own brand of teaching and skill set to infuse the science blocks with vibrant life!

If you were not in the Art of Teaching, you may still find the following lists informative and useful - so good luck wherever you teach!


THE FIVE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE BLOCK

1. THEME. In the arc of your year, each block has some kind of underlying theme or message you want to convey. With anatomy, for instance, my theme combined the geometry of the cylinder and the social value of standing on solid ground. The umbrella themes for the upper grades are WELLNESS, SELF-IDENTITY, and HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS.

2.  PERSONAL RELEVANCE.  Draw the children in with how learning about their bodies is important to each of them specifically.

3.  HISTORICAL OR BIOGRAPHICAL CONNECTION. Acknowledge the work of historical figures who have contributed to the study and progress of the concepts, and those where anatomy or physiology play an important role in their lives.

4.  INTRODUCTORY CONCEPTS. These are the actual science concepts you wish to introduce to the students.

5.  PATHOLOGY, DISORDER, or SOCIAL CONCERN. Offer examples of the social impact of disease occurrence related to the body.


SEVENTH GRADE PHYSIOLOGY LIST OF MAIN LESSON CONCEPTS


G7 student main lesson page


WEEK ONE: Digestive System - Flow of EARTH
1. The Five Core Values of Food
2. Anatomy and Function of the Digestive Tract - including the idea that digestion happens before the first bite
3. Healthy Choices (Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats)
4. Biography of an Olympic athlete, or someone you might know who is struggling with a nutrition disorder.

WEEK TWO: Circulatory System - Flow of WATER
1. Components of Blood (Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, and Platelets)
2. Blood Flow through the Vessels and the Heart
3. Blood Typing, Blood Transfusion
4. Biography of Hippocrates or Galenus

WEEK THREE: Respiratory System - Flow of AIR
1. Tree and Human Relationship
2. Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, and the Alveoli
3. Healthy Lungs, Unhealthy Lungs (Smoking)
4. Biography

WEEK FOUR: Reproductive System - Flow of FIRE
1. Male and Female Parts
2. Eight-Petal Flower
3. Female Fertility
4. Spermatogenesis

An extra note regarding the Reproductive System: In the week, it was beneficial for the boys and girls to have a break out discussion with the boys and a male teacher, and the girls with a female teacher to discuss more gender-specific concerns. Another option is to have students anonymously place questions in a box for the teacher to answer in a whole group situation.


EIGHTH GRADE ANATOMY LIST OF MAIN LESSON CONCEPTS

G8 student main lesson page

WEEK ONE: Skeletal System 
1. Bone Shapes and Function of Protection and Action
2. Bone Growth
3. Bone Structure - Compact Bone with Osteons, and Spongy Bone with Marrow
4. Joints and Fulcrum Action

WEEK TWO: Muscular System 
1. Three Types of Muscle (Skeletal, Smooth, and Cardiac)
2. Muscle Structure
3. Sliding Filament Model
4. Biography of Olympic Athlete

WEEK THREE: Nervous System
1. Central Nervous System - the Brain and Spinal Cord
2. The Neuron
3. Peripheral Nervous System - Somatic and Autonomic (Rest/Digest vs. Fight/Flight)
4. Biography: Ivan Pavlov

WEEK FOUR: Reproductive System 
1. Review of Eight Petal Flower of Seventh Grade  (This will soon be an eBook!)
2. Fetal Development
3. Maternal Health
4. Biography or Invite someone in your community who is a midwife or who is pregnant!

An extra note on Fetal Development: One of our more memorable activities was using a balloon during my presentation and I blew it up to match the size of the uterus as I talked about fetal development. When the uterus was at term, I had the students put their own balloons under their shirts to mimic being pregnant - it was fun and silly.  But....serious too - one of the girls whose balloon she wore under her shirt was adjusting it when it slipped out. One of the boys in class, thinking he was funny, grabbed the balloon, and popped it. My female student was visibly upset to lose her baby. So a lesson there for all of us - these things we do for our students really do matter.

NOTE: For the G8 Anatomy participants: soon, I will post the illustrations as promised that tie in the different systems.

Thank you for coming to class!

Dr. Rick Tan




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

graduation and beyond

DWS Class of 2013


The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2013 graduated this year, June 8. I had the honor and privilege of being their class teacher for three years. I have grown to love them and cherish their soulful ways. While I am no longer their teacher, I hope to always be present somewhere in their hearts. I hope that I had made an impact on who they are becoming. It is my wish that beyond the sunset, they will love and be loved.




Tuesday, May 14, 2013

mahalo, hawaii

the meaning of ohana






The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2013 had the privilege of spending their eighth grade field trip on the Big Island of Hawaii. The young men and women who joined me on this excursion have stories to tell and memories to hold. No words or pictures could do justice to what they now carry in their hearts. They have formed lifelong connections with each other and with this amazing, sacred land. This is the meaning of ohana. Family. We found a family in the facilitators of Hawaii Outdoor Institute. In Waipio Valley, we stayed on a private taro farm where the owner, Les, embraced us with his charisma and we were quickly working the taro paddies, called loi. In this land, he considered us part of one big family. It was the family of earth; we were all stewards of the earth. In Hawaii, where 11 out of 13 ecosystems are represented, where the top ranked beaches reside with some of the highest volcanoes on the planet, the island pulses with the synergy of  ohana. In all its quiet majesty, Hawaii is also home to the most endangered species of animal and plant life.

Engaged in activities that created bonding experiences such as hiking, swimming, preparing food, camping, snorkeling, and sailing together, the eighth graders took ohana into their soul lives. The eighth grade students also learned a life lesson: each of us must take ownership of our world, that it takes each individual to care for our planet and its resources, that we must consider each other and the earth itself as one big ohana, for a family loves, and with love comes compassion.

Mahalo, Hawaii Outdoor Institute. Mahalo, DWS Classof 2013 (for the honor of being your teacher). Mahalo, Hawaii. 

We are ohana.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

conceived in clay

modeling embryonic development with Christian Breme

The February Teachers' Conference at Steiner College promoted the "artistic process as the essential paradigm for education." Art has long been a part of human culture, evident in cave drawings as far back as 10,000 years. In one respect, the artistic process is not a new paradigm at all. It does, however, offer a fresh perspective that boldly regards the arts as the driving force behind child and curriculum development.

Christian Breme, a sculptor and art teacher at the Rudolf Steiner School in Basel, Switzerland, taught a workshop in clay modelling of embryonic development. Having had a conventional learning experience in the sciences, it was a fresh perspective for me to study embryology in the medium of clay. Working with clay, which started cold and warmed gradually in my hands, the stages of development takes on an interactive, dynamic quality that you would not get simply by looking at pictures. In the process of modeling the clay, altering its physical character, transforming it, one can appreciate the development as a continuous process.












Friday, February 8, 2013

from Dornach

a visit from Christof Weichert



Christof Weichert and I

This week, Davis Waldorf School hosted Christof Weichert to share his insights with parents and faculty regarding the Waldorf Movement. Mr. Weichert has served as the head of the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. He travels the world to inspire Waldorf educators with his insightful and humorous lectures.

I personally had not heard of him until his visit with us. It was not until he decided to come and visit our classroom early in the week to watch us practice our eighth grade play "A Hunch about Munch," that I experienced his warmth, kindness, and joy of teaching. Somehow, we ended up having dinner together. Over sweet and sour pork and spring rolls, we talked about family, teaching, and Waldorf. He revealed to me that he had penned many of his plays for his upper grades students when he was a teacher; and it was from this history that he enjoyed the script I had written for my students. His positive feedback was encouraging. He told me that in Waldorf, the curriculum was embedded in art. "We do art," he stated. 

I asked him what he thought was universal in terms of Waldorf throughout the world - what do people derive from the philosophy of Steiner, regardless of whether a Waldorf school was in the Philippines, or China, or the US, or Europe?

"That's easy," he said. "The development of the child. Every child wants to learn, every child wants to grow. Every child wants to be loved."

Christof had to leave at the end of the week, and he made it a point to visit our classroom one last time. He gave the students some final words about their play practice, and I gave him a copy of our play at his request. The picture above was taken in our classroom on this day. He reminded me to keep in touch.

Safe travels back to Dornach, Mr. Weichert.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

open house

a night at Davis Waldorf School



my chalk drawing of a Canadian national park

Mrs. Kost, our strings teacher, leads an ensemble



Davis Waldorf School welcomed families of current students and the outer community to experience the spirit of Waldorf at our annual Open House. Each grade and teacher showcased the curriculum in  their classrooms. While parents invariably start at their own students' classrooms, families are encouraged to begin in the early childhood and work their way up the grades. The progression of how the curriculum meets the developing child becomes artfully and thoughtfully demonstrated.

The early childhood classrooms, softly lit, swathed in hand-dyed silks, the smell of fresh-baked bread in the oven, resemble your favorite aunt's home, with welcoming rugs, pine furniture, and nature's toys of branches, pine cones, and felted wool. Guests will sense that these spaces were designed to embrace the young child in a warm, loving hug.

The lower grades' classrooms begin to show signs of academic work - the core language mechanics of the alphabet and phonics, and math skills introduced through stories, imagery, creativity, and demonstrations by the teacher. Chalkboards are filled with drawings and meticulously rendered lettering and numbering. Students' main lesson pages show how the curriculum is artistically and lovingly delivered. 

In the upper grades, guests will sense that the classroom spaces begin to support a more academic rigor as the students take on ancient civilizations, Buddhism, the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and the Revolutionary War. Written work and higher level artistic techniques and mediums are showcased.

In the eighth grade classroom, the breadth of our curriculum was on display: a full-sized skeleton and main lesson pages with pen-and-ink cross-hatching for human anatomy, pajamas sewn with a machine in handwork, stools from woodwork, main lesson pages resembling newspaper headlines from the Industrial Revolution, chalk drawings from art class, our strings ensemble performed a couple of pieces, picketing signs with "Women's Right to Vote!" for our eighth grade play.

Our Open House allowed families to walk the journey that our students make each and every day at Davis Waldorf School.


Monday, January 21, 2013

short stories

the elements of good story writing







Our eighth grade short stories block is combined with our play practice. (I'll post something on our play later.)  The students were introduced to the six elements of story writing:

Point of View
Setting
Plot
Character
Conflict
Theme

They will analyze what each element brings to the story, and how each are interrelated in driving a story. The students will then write their own short story!

My chalk drawing above is from a photograph of a national park in Canada. A beautiful "setting!"


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!