Igniting Curiosity in Middle School Science

A spirit of inquiry, experiential learning, and an integration of academic disciplines are cornerstones of our school’s approach to education.

In our middle school classrooms, where 6th, 7th, and 8th graders explore complex topics in chemistry, physics, physiology, biology, and geology, science isn’t presented in concepts and lectures. It begins with observation. Through observation, our students learn to think like scientists, asking questions and posing theories before being given all the answers.

Even art, which is integrated throughout our curriculum, is used as a tool for understanding STEM topics. For example, in their studies of combustion as part of the 7th grade chemistry block, students were asked to observe and then draw a bonfire and a candle. You can see a few examples of our students’ work below.

As a capstone to the study of combustion, teacher Ms. Terziev performed a demonstration for the class, asking them to watch silently and then offer their theories on what they’d observed.

After watching the experiment, students brought their questions and theories to the group, inspiring both curiosity and critical thinking in the classroom. This approach helps students build a meaningful understanding of complex scientific concepts. In Waldorf education, this is called a phenomenological approach to science. In this way, 7th graders at Marin Waldorf School connect and internalize complex topics in chemistry, like combustion, as well as crystallization, acids/bases, and the lime cycle.

The study of science at Marin Waldorf School begins in early childhood, with the simple observation of the seasons and the natural world, and through nature stories. In elementary school, students learn to ask questions and to learn through doing, laying the groundwork for more complex critical thinking that they will need to tackle their studies of chemistry, biology, physiology, geology, and physics in middle school.

Strings Outdoors & the MWS Music Program

In the sculptural, pictorial realm we look at beauty, we live it, whereas in the musical realm we ourselves become beauty. In music man himself is creator. he creates something that does not come from what is already there, but lays a foundation and a firm ground for what is to arise in the future.
—Rudolf Steiner, Practical Advice to Teachers

Music is an essential part of the curriculum at Marin Waldorf School. Throughout the day, children in the preschool and kindergarten sing with teachers and classmates, learning not only the songs but how to listen and to work together as a group.

In the grades, students begin to study instruments, starting with flutes in first and second grade. In fourth, all students begin studying violin, with some choosing to take lessons on other strings or orchestral instruments. By seventh and eighth grade, the class has become an orchestral ensemble, with opportunities to perform for their parents and the greater community at various concerts throughout the year.

Like everything else, our music programs have been adapted this year. Students and teachers are getting used to singing (and performing!) with masks on, while our orchestra teachers test out the acoustics in the breezeways and amphitheaters (our strings program will be entirely outdoors this year!). Still, there are some upsides to the new arrangements. For one thing, we’ve been hearing our students perform a lot more frequently as we listen to classes practicing outdoors, throughout our campus grounds. Take a look …

Here is the second grade practicing flute in their outdoor classrooms.

Under the protection of the outdoor breezeway, new fourth grade violinist practice strings basics with their teachers Ms. Stewart and Ms. Eldridge.

By 8th grade, students have progressed immensely, with many taking up other orchestral instruments, like cello and flute, to complete their ensemble. Here’s the class of 2021 playing for the class of 2022 in the amphitheater.

In closing, we are delighted to share this video of our students in grades 4-8 performing at the end of the fall semester. Here, you’ll see how the class ensembles progress over their years of study… and enjoy a glimpse of what we’ve been practicing on campus.

You can read more about music in the Waldorf curriculum in volume 18 of Renewal, the magazine published by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, as well as at the informative website Waldorf Music.

The Advent Spiral & the Class of 2021’s Last Walk As a Class

Every December, all the children in our school gather to walk the advent spiral. In the past, this beautiful tradition took place in a hushed and darkened room, accompanied by harp music and candle light.

This year, we went out with our hats and gloves on. The breeze and the blue jays joined us. Rather than candles, children carried apples, bulbs, oranges, and pine cones. And though it looked and felt very different, it was still a gorgeous way to acknowledge the season.

The Class of 2020 walked the Advent Spiral as a class for the last time on Thursday. Some of them had been walking a similar spiral since they were in preschool. Others walked it for the first time. After the ceremony, class teacher Kristine Deason shared her thoughts with 8th grade parents, who, unlike in years past, weren’t able to witness the tradition as usual. We want to share what she wrote, below, as well as some of the beautiful photos our staff took of the day.

Dear Families,

Earlier today, the 8th grade class walked our outdoor Advent Spiral, beautifully built by the Parent Association over the weekend.  Out of respect for fire danger, we carried bright oranges instead of candles — each student carrying the “fruits of their labors” into the center of the spiral. 

We have walked the spiral together every year since First Grade, and this was our last time as a class.  Beforehand, I recapitulated the experience, mindful of those students who would be experiencing it for the first time.  I described how, at this time of year, walking the spiral invites us to bring our own light into the darkness and thereby illuminate it.  It is harder to experience this in the light of day, but I described to the class that this year our walk would be a journey inward.  The students took it up with thoughtfulness and reverence.  It was a gift to take part in this with them.

Please enjoy the photos.  We hope they convey some small measure of the mood we experienced. 

We walked the spiral today mindful of those friends who could not join us.  You were in our hearts and we miss you very much.

Kristine

Gallery: 6th Grade Geometric Drawings

Beginning in first grade, Waldorf students study form drawing, working on increasingly complex renderings as they grow. This work is done freehand until the 6th grade, when students begin to work with the aid of a straight edge and compass.

We’re proud to share the beautiful work our 6th grade class is doing this year, under the guidance of skier, philosopher, and 6th grade lead teacher Mr. Stopeck.

Gratitude: Music in the Air

Since outdoor learning began, our breezeways, amphitheater, and fields have been transformed into casual performance spaces. In the picture above, 6th grade tunes up before strings class outside. 7th Grade Orchestra plays “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” in the breezeway in honor of the season of gratitude on Thursday, November 19.

Another way our school has transformed this fall. Enjoy!

We Shall Be Known

After our campus closed last spring, our lovely 8th Grade class worked together to record the song “We Shall Be Known” by Ma Muse, under the direction of choir teacher Ms. Mallard.

May their beautiful voices and the poignant message of hope bring you of joy at this moment of great change!

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth
It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth
It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
— We Shall Be Known, by Ma Muse

P.S. Click here to see some of Ms. Mallard’s other projects for music classes during our school closure—they are amazing!

Gallery: Day of the Dead, November 2

On Monday, our students came together to create a colorful altar in observance of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), overseen by Spanish teacher Maestra Pineda. (You can read her description of Día de Muertos by clicking here.)

As an assignment for Spanish class, 7th and 8th grade students created beautiful individual tributes for the altar and wrote biographies of their loved ones to accompany them.

Their work was on display in the Peace Garden on Monday, November 2. Throughout the day, different classes visited the altar with their teachers, viewing the pieces and leaving their own photos and mementos.

First graders visit the Día de Muertos altar with their teacher Mr. Baril.
8th grade before performing a song on Día de Muertos.

In the morning, the 7th and 8th graders gathered to sing together. Enjoy the beautiful video below.

El Vuelo de los Ancestros

Under the guidance of Spanish teacher Has Pineda, the traditional Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos has become a part of our school’s annual celebrations. Last year, as part of the school’s festivities, our 8th grade class presented a wonderful play in Spanish to the student body, 3rd graders baked the traditional sweet bread pan de muerto, and we all brought mementos and photos to assemble a traditional Día de Muertos altar to remember departed loved ones.

This year, students worked with Maestra Pineda to create a beautiful altar in the Peace Garden (click here for photos). Below, Maestra Has Pineda describes the origins and meaning behind Día de Muertos celebrations.

El vuelo de los Ancestros
Return to the ancient path,
the roadmap of greatness,
the elders call must be obeyed,
thoughts of the ancestors is enough,
everything is hidden within it.
It is the beginning of healing
for all of us and our land.
Put your ears on the ground to listen
to what they have to say.
Tilt your head and look up for
the sky bears witness to this truth.
The air still sings their music,
even the waters also whispers their songs
for they drank from the same well as you.
Emeka Mokeme, The Elders Call
by Morgan Vierheller

Death has been in all cultures and throughout history, an event that invites reflection, rituals, ceremonies, the search for answers, which causes fear, admiration and uncertainty. The festival of the Day of the Dead in Mexico is a tradition that began long before the arrival of the Spanish. About 3,000 years ago, the original Aztecs left a legacy that shows, in the eyes of the world, a culture of great intangible wealth: the spiritual. Through these practices and beliefs they speak to us of respect and love for connections even after physical death.

Pre-Hispanic cultures shared the belief that there is an immortal and soulful entity that gives consciousness to the human being and that after death continues its path in the world of the dead, where it continues to need utensils, tools and food. 

Every year, as the fall season arrives Mexicans and many other people from around the globe turn their hearts and minds  to loved ones that have crossed the threshold and once more  enlighten the bridge between the dead and the living by celebrating “dia de los muertos”. The most representative element of the Day of the Dead festival are the altars with their offerings, a representation of the vision of death, full of allegories and meanings.

This year at Marin Waldorf school we will be honoring with respect, wonder and inclusivity this festival of remembrance. Each class will be offering a gift to the “ofrenda”. First graders cut out pieces of paper to make banners or “papel picado” that will represent the air element. Fifth grade will be making Cempasúchitl  flowers(marigolds). They are a symbol of the impermanence and fragility of life and have many uses in Day of the Dead celebrations. 7th graders learned about the history and the components of an altar while 8th graders will write biographies of a loved one they will be honoring during day of the dead. 

We set up an altar in the peace garden to allow all students to walk through and in reverence take part of this beautiful celebration. 

Meet the Globe-Circling Sally Li

Raised in Zhangzhou City, China, Sally Li has followed her heart around the globe and through diverse careers before she joined the faculty at Marin Waldorf School this fall, where she currently teaches Mandarin to grades 2, 3, 4, and 5.


“I don’t know how I make my decisions,” Sally says. “I just feel it. Something is calling me.” Those instincts brought her to Malaysia at age 20, prompted her to leave her corporate job in Beijing to pursue a career in filmmaking, and eventually led her to Waldorf education. Read about it all (and see her short film!) below.

Sally, we’re so glad you’ve been called here!

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from and what was your childhood like?
I’m from Zhangzhou City. It’s in the middle part of China. I have some friends who say it’s like Nebraska.

My childhood was really free. In China, at that time, in my surroundings, moms tended to be very controlling and always focused on academics. My mom wasn’t like that. She trusted me. I could play with boys and I loved adventure. I was a wild little girl. 

We lived in a huge military compound and my dad was a teacher at the academy. There were people there from all across China, and they spoke many different dialects. I grew up in that type of inclusive surrounding, where people speak different languages but we are all neighbors. 

When I was 20, I moved to Malaysia.

What brought you to Malaysia?
A lot of my decision-making is very ad hoc. I was studying hospitality at the university. A Crown Hotel and a Holiday Inn had just opened in the city, and they went to my university to pick a few students who would work in their hotels after graduation. I was one of the two who were selected. My parents were super happy! I had a job already, even though I was still in school!

One day I was riding my bike and I rode past a storefront that said something like, “Go Overseas!” I went in, they told me what they did, gave me some options of where I might go. The next day I brought my dad there with me and told him, “I’m interested in this.” That was the beginning.

My dad had a friend whose daughter wanted to go to Malaysia, but she was introverted. She didn’t want to go alone. My dad said, “Why don’t you take a break for the summer and go with her to Malaysia?” After that, there was no return. I came back to China and said, “I’m not going to take that job. I’m going back to Malaysia.” I really liked the tropical weather and the blue sky, and everything was new. It was mind-blowing.

Seven years later I went back to Beijing for a project assigned by the company I was working for in Malaysia. I fell in love with Beijing all over again. I decided to come back to China. I was in Beijing for 6 or 7 years. At that time, I was doing soft-skill training, teaching corporate people how to communicate, how to influence without authority, leadership skills, and so on. 

One day I was training a bunch of IT people on how to ask powerful questions. I used myself as a real case scenario. I told them I felt a little bit stagnant in my job and I wondered if there was anything else I could do with my life. There was just a tiny little bit of feeling in me. I still loved that job. I just brought myself as a case for them to practice on. I wasn’t expecting anything.

They asked me, “What is the thing you always wanted to do but you never had the chance?” I said, “Be a movie maker!”

The next question was: “What was the last movie that you watched that inspired you?” I told them Life of Pi. 

They asked,What do you like about that movie?” I said, “I like the feeling when he encounters the tiger. At that moment, I felt very connected to the movie.”

The next question came in. “What is the tiger in your life? The thing that makes you feel excited and also a little scared?” I said, “That’s a great question! I think being a moviemaker is the thing that makes me feel most sharply alive.”

I took one month off my job. I went to Beijing Film Academy to do a workshop led by the New York Film Academy. After that, I quit my job and I went to New York.

To New York City?
Yes, I went to New York City for a year to study fiction filmmaking. I learned the skills, but I wasn’t drawn to narrative filmmaking. I found I was more interested in documentary. I told my teacher, but it was too late to change course. It was a two-year program. For the final project, everyone made their narrative films and I did a documentary anyway, and many people were touched by it.

What was the film about?
It’s about mystical coincidences. It’s about 15 minutes.

Around that time, a friend invited me to San Francisco to film the experience of a tour group that focuses on spiritual learning. I fell in love with San Francisco! So then I came here. I got married, had a son, and when my son was 9 months old, I felt very disconnected. I almost went into depression. I thought, I need to save myself. I need something that connects me to myself. I emptied myself and I couldn’t feel myself anymore. 

I had a feeling it had to be something to do with education, because I’d just had a boy and I wanted to be a good mom as well. I found Waldorf Teacher Training. I went to the three-day Visiting Day program and after the first day I said, “I’m enrolled!” Life changed again, for the better. The teacher training really helped me to reconnect with myself.

How does it feel being a new teacher?
The hardest thing isn’t the content, it’s classroom management! I started teaching at the San Francisco Waldorf School, with the 2nd grade and the 6th grade. Even though they are just a few years apart, they are a very different group. 

I started handing out questionnaires—asking what kind of pets do you have, how many siblings do you have, what are you most scares you. I wanted to build a relationship. I want them to know that they can trust me and this is going to be fun. That act alone made them feel that their teacher wanted to know about it—and then they were really into Mandarin! (Below, see some of the beautiful work Sally’s students created at San Francisco Waldorf School.)

Chinese idiom: ma ma hu hu
Chinese story drawing

Now I’m starting at Marin Waldorf and I’m learning more every day. I just love it. The students bring me so many surprises. Sometimes, I take ideas from students in one class and apply it to another class. It’s not coming from me. I’m just a carrier!

Tell me a little bit about the things you teach, and how you build a connection to Chinese culture.
The first class I had with them, I brought pictures to help create more connection to China. You never know who has a connection to what—food, Kung Fu, panda. I did a puppet show for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. I received so many compliments from the students. I’m still exploring new and different ways to teach. I see them having a good connection with me. They are learning! There are still things I want to improve. I want to make my lesson more beautiful.

Pandas by Sally Li’s students at Marin Waldorf School.

I’m going to bring more Chinese literature and storytelling to the class. I’m preparing The Monkey King’s Journey to the West—it’s a spiritual journey, in a way, a Chinese version of the Odyssey. And later we’ll bring more ancient idiom stories. Which is super fun! Because they have to draw the character. Like “the pot calling the kettle black.” Each four-character phrase has an ancient story behind it. I did it with the 6th grade at San Francisco Waldorf School and they loved it. That can create beauty! 

MWS Boletin Escolar: Primera Edición

As part of his advanced study of the Spanish language, eighth grader Luca is working with Maestra Pineda to write articles and essays in Spanish about things happening on campus this fall. In the first edition of the Boletín Escolar (School Bulletin), Luca describes how 8th graders constructed their own outdoor classroom in the Magic Forest.

En este año escolar, a causa de Covid 19, construir aulas al aire libre era la única opción que teníamos para regresar a la escuela. Muchos grados armaron sus aulas debajo de los árboles grandes que nos rodean, a excepción de la clase de octavo grado quienes no teníamos un lugar físico bajo la sombra de los árboles. Construir un aula y proveer la sombra con una lona fue el comienzo de nuestro año escolar.

Durante las primeras semanas de escuela construimos nuestra aula en el Bosque Mágico.  Los estudiantes nos encargamos  de construir casi toda el aula.  Sacando  la corteza de los troncos, cortando  ramas y excavando varios pozos de dos y tres pies de profundidad fueron algunas de las muchas cosas que tuvimos que hacer. A pesar de los días de mucho humo, calor y además de todos los protocolos que tenemos con respecto a Covid logramos levantar la lona que nos cubrirá del sol.   Durante los días siguientes, agregamos otra lona y construimos un pizarrón para el aula, además El Señor Neale trajo troncos que usamos como asientos.  

Fue muy lindo ver que nuestra aula empezó con una pila de troncos y después de unas semanas se convirtió en la estructura completa que es ahora.  Fue mucho trabajo, pero con la ayuda del señor Neale y toda mi clase trabajando juntos pudimos construir el aula que vamos a usar este año. Empezamos el año escolar el Martes, 29 de Septiembre al aire libre con la vista de las colinas de fondo. 

In this school year, because of Covid 19, building outdoor classrooms was the only option we had to go back to school. Many grades set up their classrooms under the large trees on campus, with the exception of the eighth grade class, which did not have a physical place under the shade of the trees. Building an outdoor classroom and creating shade with a tarp was how we began our school year.

During the first weeks of school, we built our classroom in the Magic Forest. The students were in charge of building almost the entire classroom. Removing the bark from the logs, cutting branches, and digging several two- and three-foot deep pits were some of the many things we had to do. Despite days with lots of smoke and heat, and in addition to all the protocols that we have regarding Covid, we managed to lift the canvas that will cover us from the sun. Over the next few days, we added another tarp and built a blackboard for the classroom. Mr. Neale brought logs that we used as seats.

It was very nice to see that our classroom started with a pile of logs and after a few weeks it became the complete structure that it is now. It was a lot of work, but with the help of Mr. Neale and my entire class working together we were able to build the classroom that we are going to use this year. We started the school year on Tuesday, September 29th outdoors with the view of the hills in the background.

[p.s. We have more pictures and stories from the 7th and 8th graders’ return to campus here.]