7th Grade: The Age of Exploration

At the end of the 7th Grade year, students are immersed in the stories, personalities, and legacy during the Age of Exploration. Below, teacher Ms. Deason explains the significance of this block and its themes to the 7th Grader. (Please scroll down to read her important addendum to this lesson.)

The seventh grader can be described as a person filled with interest and eager to take initiative. At this age, young adolescents look into the world and feel strongly pulled by the glimmer of new horizons and compelled to venture out and expand in new directions. The thirteen-year-old possesses a curiosity and a hunger for encountering and discovering the “new” which imbues their work with vigor and powerful enthusiasm. It is with good reason that exploration is a foundational theme of the year.

We recently ended our year with a culminating curriculum project focused on an individual explorer. The project required in-depth research, strong writing skills and artistry. Students worked for many weeks on multiple drafts and drawings to create their finished product. Despite the challenges of distance learning and being separated from peers and teachers, students reached new levels of excellence in their projects, directing their efforts with increasing independence and initiative. Last Thursday, we celebrated their work with a wonderful evening of oral presentations by the students, each one dressed as their explorer! Some of their work is posted below.

The creativity and diligence of the students in Ms. Deason’s 7th Grade class is evident in their finished reports. Look at the vibrant colors and fluid writing in 7th Grader Sydney’s report on Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Here’s an excerpt from a wonderful report by Aurelius on arctic explorer Matthew Henson.

Here’s a gallery of more illustrations and maps from the 7th Grade.

Addendum:
Recent Events and the Relevance of the Waldorf Curriculum
in the Upper Grades

            The topic of exploration is a difficult one to teach in our time – it is filled with stories of courage, ingenuity and tremendous human endeavors, which the 7th grader deeply needs. However, many of those stories are also fraught with injustice, racism and unfathomable inhumanity. All of this must be brought truthfully to the students, both as history and also as the roots of systemic inequity in contemporary society. Last Tuesday, as we were preparing for our final presentations, I was keenly aware that I had to acknowledge what is happening right now, today. I talked about the current protests and the longstanding systems of injustice and inhumanity people are challenging.  I connected the theme of exploration with colonialism, slavery, and the need for change. Then I pointed to the curriculum we would be taking up next year in 8th grade and its overarching theme of revolution and of how human beings can and must effect change. 

I talked about Alexander von Humboldt, whose short book the students recently began to read, and of his work as an extraordinary explorer, scientist and humanist.  I read them a passage from his biography, describing how he addressed Thomas Jefferson and his cabinet in his time and spoke passionately about the environment and the need to respect the earth, and also equally passionately against colonialism and slavery and the evil they represent, urging the third President of a new United States to dismantle these structures. It was an opportunity to connect 7th grade themes to 8th grade themes.  

It was also a moment in which the upper grade curriculum became incredibly relevant and potent. After all, the ultimate goal of Waldorf education is to guide the child, in loving, beautiful and truthful ways, toward becoming a truly free human being, unafraid to move into unknown territories and willing to apply themselves to making substantive change in the world. — Kristine Deason

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