To start with the fun, my afternoon "artistic" seminar is an introduction to beekeeping. Most of the information is not new but we got to suit up today and it's a lot of fun seeing somebody else's hive. I was glad to get a definite look at what capped honey looks like and also picked up a good tip about using formic acid to control varroa (which we haven't seen any evidence of in our hive yet, thank heavens). Coincidentally, when I called Q this evening he was working on the new hive stand to replace the concrete blocks. I'll be anxious to see how it turns out.
In the morning "focus" group, I've been attending one entitled "Recreating the Gestures of Embryology Through Clay Modeling". It's a really amazing experience. After covering the reproductive system and some education regarding sexuality and social issues around sex this year with my 7th grade I think this would be a great art block for them in 8th. It's an absolutely beautiful way to combine science and art and create a very spiritual experience. The full progression is properly experienced during embryology in 10th grade at Waldorf high schools. I'd hate for my students to not have the experience just because we don't have a high school in Eugene because they will never be anywhere with that kind of opportunity again. I do think that it can be brought with a light touch (more experiential/phenomenological - less intellectual) as an artistic exercise and be simultaneously enriching and appropriate for 8th graders.
Today's keynote was presented by a teacher from Lake Champlain Waldorf School. They have completely changed the 7th/8th schedule there over the past two years to try and meet the pre-adolescence because they had been observing that something wasn't working.
The key points I took away from the lecture were...
- The concrete thinking that is still present for the adolescent requires very systematic, consistent expectations enforced objectively (The example she gave was that if a student is allowed by one teacher to wear a hat indoors, he then assumes that this is acceptable, no matter how many times the rule to the contrary has been stated and enforced.)
- At this stage of development it is especially helpful for the student to have experiences of wholeness because their feeling life is so fragmented. This can be well-met by working closely with all subject teachers to more tightly integrate the curriculum. (Having close collaboration among all teachers who work with the class is imperative for supporting both this point and the one above.)
- Craft work can give the students the ability to observe themselves improving a skill following a path similar to that of an apprentice-journeyman-master. For them to be able to see this, they've decided to use short, concentrated blocks for these experiences. (She pointed out that the improvement in skill is difficult for them to experience if a project is stretched over too long a time period, i.e. completion of a stool over the course of an entire school year working only a short time each week.)
- Students of this age are more productive during a main lesson if the morning activities prior to work include an extended movement activity to wake them up and increase alertness.
- If the curriculum can be reenlivened for the upper middle school students they don't leave 8th grade feeling "over" or "done with" Waldorf. They've been getting anecdotal evidence that this change to middle school is helping support enrollment into their high school. They've expanded it to include changes in the 9th and 10th grade curriculum to better meet those students as well. (This seems like we could see similar results and maybe eventually build enough momentum to actually get the high school started up again.)
- Combine the 7th and 8th grades for 20 minutes or so of movement first thing in the morning followed by some artistic (speech, recorder, singing) activity together before breaking back into separate classes. To make up for the slightly shortened main lesson time, it seems like one movement specialty period could be replaced by an extra main since they're getting more a mini-movement class each morning.
- Split the year into 6 five week "blocks" where 7th and 8th grade alternate having 2 woodwork or 2 handwork classes per week instead of one of each. A lot of time seems wasted each week reorienting themselves with their projects and it's difficult to keep energy up for work that is so spread out. The woodwork and handwork teachers would have the same teaching times that they would have had anyway so there would be no budgetary or scheduling difficulties to overcome.
I'm anxious to bring the notes back to my colleagues and see what they think of my ideas or if they have others.
Tomorrow's the last day of fun - 2 keynotes, 1 focus session, and 1 artistic session. After the last keynote the conference will officially wrap up and I'll be here for two more days attending delegates meetings. I've never been to one so it should be interesting to see what all of the regions are working on and what AWSNA is trying to do at the continental level.