Beauty and Big Ideas: How We Teach Math

“We are all mathematics learners, and we can all develop active, inquiring relationships with mathematics,” writes Stanford math education researcher Jo Boaler in the research paper “Prove It to Me!” “When we do, and mathematics becomes a creative, open space of inquiry, mathematics learners will find that they can do anything, and their mathematical ideas and thinking can extend to the sky—and beyond!”

Boaler and her colleagues are on the forefront of math education research, which shows that with good teachers and self-confidence, all children are capable of achieving in math. According to her research, building a strong foundation in number sense—a feel for numbers and the ability to use them creatively—is key to becoming a successful math thinker, as is an ability to grasp big ideas and make connections between them. 

At Marin Waldorf School, our approach to math is designed to do just that: Through a multidisciplinary, multilayered approach to math, starting at the earliest ages, students learn to see the joy and beauty in numbers, approach math work from many perspectives, and eventually build up to the conceptual ideas that fuel advanced-level math in middle school. Here’s how we do it.

Early Childhood: Encouraged to Explore

“In our preschool and kindergarten classrooms, math education is intentional, but not as directly articulated as you’d find in a traditional classroom,” explains Daniella Baker, MS, early childhood director at Marin Waldorf School. “Math is taught through songs with numbers, counting, jump rope, marching, and other activities.” 

“The approach is layered,” Ms. Daniella continues. “Activities in kindergarten lay the groundwork for math instruction in grades 1, 2, and 3, when students practice multiplication tables by skip counting on jump ropes or in songs, and begin to master math facts.”

They are also given ample time to play, the best way for young children to explore the world and their ability to discover and make connections on their own. In an interview with Ed Source, Gennie Gorback, president of the California Kindergarten Association, explains, “Children learn high-level, intangible concepts such as the laws of gravity, conservation of liquids/mass, mathematical concepts such as more vs. less, all through hands-on, interactive play.”

Elementary School: Building Skills and Enthusiasm

“My task as a second grade teacher is to ignite the fire of enthusiasm for learning. So right now my students are at play in the field of numbers, opening their eyes to the artistic beauty and wonder in math,” says Roland Baril, second grade class teacher, who uses a blend of artistic exercises and math drills to build a foundation for his students. 

At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Baril guided second graders in drawing geometric forms that are created by placing 10 dots equidistant around a circle, numbering them 1-10, then connecting them with straight lines via counting by the various times tables. Building on their first diagram of a decagon, children drew decagrams, pentagons, and pentagrams, finding number patterns in each. 

Later in the semester, students studied the patterns created by magic squares and worked in pairs to create times table charts to hang up at home, a project that requires students to accurately mark along the length of a ruler, connect the dots with a yardstick without slipping, and work together to fill in the chart. “We also do lots of drills around the four processes—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—so the children are very strong in calculations,” Mr. Baril.

“Good mathematics teachers typically use visuals, manipulative and motion to enhance students’ understanding of mathematical concepts, and the US national organizations for mathematics, such as the National Council for the Teaching of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) have long advocated for the use of multiple representations in students’ learning of mathematics,” write the researchers in the Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning.

Mr. Baril’s visual exercises, alongside mental math games, skip counting, and the use of wood manipulatives, help build an awareness of numbers and an enthusiasm for math. With this sense of wonder and play imbued in their math work, second graders are naturally drawn to the more complex problems they encounter in second grade, like regrouping (carrying and borrowing), word problems, and multi-digit operations. In fact, ask our second graders and many will say math is their favorite subject! 

Middle School: Growth Mindset and Big Ideas

By 6th grade, students are ready for more complex and abstract mathematical thinking, and the curriculum meets their growing abilities with big ideas in math. Middle school math teacher Julia McIlroy aims to show students how mathematics is integral to all parts of life by looking at big ideas, patterns, and relationships between mathematical ideas and by grounding all subjects in experiential learning before moving to abstract principles. 

In 7th grade, for example, students measure large circles on campus to discover the relationship between the diameter and circumference (which we know as pi), before looking at it through the lenses of geometry, ratios, and algebra. Group work is also a key component to Ms. McIlroy’s teaching, requiring students to work together to solve unfamiliar problems in both concrete and abstract situations—to find patterns, make conjectures, and test those conjectures, and to understand that mathematical structures are useful as representations of phenomena in the physical world.

“What I’m trying to do is bring more complex tasks, where there are no immediate right or wrong answers. This prepares them for higher education and the workplace and keeps everyone engaged,” explains Ms. McIlroy. “If you have rich tasks, the students who may be behind academically can do something, and the students who are really high-achieving can take it to the highest levels.”

“My number one goal is to keep students interested and engaged in math so they will continue on with it in college and beyond,” Ms. McIlroy says. “I want to have as many of our students go into STEM fields as we possibly can. Our students have a complex and ethical view of the world and their contributions to science and technology would be profound.

Learning About Plastic in Environmental Education

By Donni O’Ryan, Environmental Education Instructor

Environmental Ed in the 8th grade classroom has included learning about the manufacture, use, and disposal of plastics and discussing the negative and positive aspects of this material. We have discussed options and how to make the best choices as future consumers. Later we will tour the Recycling Center to see how our single-use plastics are processed. 

During our recent lessons we pondered why developing countries have been the primary destination for all of our plastic recyclables until 2018 and what is happening in the world of recycling now that China and Vietnam no longer take our used plastic.  Recycling is a system that has made us lazy about using single-use items, but is recycling really a good idea? Most did not realize that plastic can not be recycled more than once before being tossed into a landfill.

We also investigated the use of plastics in our clothing and the rise and tremendous popularity of “fast fashion” that is primarily made in developing countries. Shein is the second largest manufacturer of clothing and is based in China. Fast fashion clothing that does not sell immediately is dumped into a desert in Chile where the mountains of clothing blanket miles of the environment.  Because of all the plastic content in the clothing, it will not decompose. 

On behalf of our study, and because winter gift giving is here, these are several websites that the students discovered that offer plastic free and environmentally friendly items:

The Earthling Co. — Shampoo Bars rather than fluid shampoo in a plastic bottle
Well Earth Goods – Plastic free laundry detergent and stain remover
Zero Waste Store
Treading My Own Path
netzerocompany.com
eartheasy.com
By Humankind
Litterless
Seconds Guru
Eco Roots
Package Free
 
For more information about the world of recycling:
Green Matters
Recycling Today
NRDC – On Earth
 
Several more field trips are planned-dates to be determined due to Covid
Marin Recycle Center
MMWD drinking water facility
Waste water facility

Categories MWS

Simplify the Holiday Season

As the days grow colder and shorter, the winter holidays bring a sense of warmth, connection, and community to the season. At the same time, a spate of holiday parties, blasts of sugar, vacation travel, and the frenzy of buying, giving, and receiving gifts can overshadow meaningful family traditions. 

At Marin Waldorf School, we encourage parents to thoughtfully simplify the lives of young children in order to cultivate a more peaceful home life. There are many ways to do this, from developing a dependable daily schedule to simplifying the number of toys and books to choose from in a child’s bedroom.

Simplifying the holidays means less waste, fewer tears, and a renewed focus on what really matters.

Create Homemade Crafts and Traditions
At Marin Waldorf School, we celebrate the winter season thoughtfully and with a focus on the natural world. One of our most beloved traditions in the early childhood classrooms is the annual Lantern Walk, for which kindergartners create handmade lanterns at school, then gather with their families to light their lanterns on a cold evening in late autumn. It is a simple tradition that builds community and warmth.

At home, our teachers suggest making a simple lantern by painting pieces of tissue paper onto a reused glass jar with white glue, then lighting a small tea light inside. Or create a bird feeder by painting nut butter on the leaves of a pinecone, then hang it in your backyard or in a nature spot. Our Sunflower preschool lead teacher Lisa O’Callaghan recommends the book Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children as a source of inspiration.

Clean Up the Play Area
If your child gets a lot of presents anyway, put some away. “Get one toy from storage and then put another toy in storage. Keep five books out and rotate them,” Ms. Marieke explains. “When I clean up the play area and take out the toys that my children don’t play with, they start to play right away. Less is more.”

Remember the Rhythm
Marin Waldorf School’s early childhood teachers emphasize the importance of the family rhythm, or the set of activities that you do with your child every day. Keeping a sense of order and rhythm, even when school is closed and your daily routine is upended, can help maintain a peaceful atmosphere for young children. 

“The more rhythm they have, the more safe young children feel. They feel safe when they know what’s coming next,” says Fernanda Fuga, the Buttercup preschool lead teacher. “At school, after the first few weeks, children are comfortable and can be themselves, because we repeat and repeat and repeat the same thing every day—and young children love that.” 

Providing some predictable moments in the day—whether that’s the same thing for breakfast every morning or a bath before bedtime—will help children feel more relaxed and comfortable. But don’t worry about being rigid, either. “It doesn’t have to be a strict thing, like we always have dinner at 6pm. It should be an A-B-C. B always comes between A and C. For example, we always have dinner, then brush our teeth, then read a book—or whatever it is that you do,” says Marieke Duijneveld, the Morning Glory kindergarten lead teacher. “Maybe one day it’s a little later, one day it’s earlier, but we’re still going to do the same thing.”

Remember to Reset
“If there are days that are really crazy and overstimulating, balance it with a nature day,” suggests Marieke. A visit to the park, a day at home, or a walk outdoors after dinner can keep things peaceful when stimulation is high.

“Make sure they’re moving, they have time to run around and play and be outside. It’s a reset button,” Fernanda adds. 

Categories MWS

Harvest Fest 2021

There were so many beautiful moments at our first community gathering in two years! It was a heartwarming day, filled with bright smiles, uplifting music, and joyous dancing. Our amazing caller kept the crowd on its feet till the end, while little ones bounced around in the hay maze (thanks to Ms. O’Ryan and all the students who helped set it up!).

Please enjoy these gorgeous pictures of the day by parent Michael Weber. Thank you, Michael!

Categories MWS

The Magic of Meaningful Work

(… And a recipe for a no-fuss fall soup to make at home.)

Gathering around a table to share a warm midmorning snack is an essential part of the preschool and kindergarten day at Marin Waldorf School. Each of our five classrooms have their own weekly menus for morning snack, and the children learn to recognize the days of the week by the food they share at school: Wednesday is “rice and beans day,” Thursday is “honey bun day” and so on. Soup day is special among them—a warming, handmade meal that all the children love. In fact, vegetable soup is the one snack that all five classrooms make every week of the year!

“Soup is a class community project, where everyone contributes by bringing a vegetable from home and then together transforms it into something that nourishes us all,” says Ms. Greta, lead teacher in the Manzanita mixed-age kindergarten classroom.

Tuesdays are soup day in the Manzanita room. Which means that every Tuesday children bring a fresh vegetable from home and then, together with teachers Ms. Greta and Mr. Rod, our 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old students use paring knives, crinkle cutters, and wooden cutting boards to help chop the vegetables into bite-size pieces for soup.

Added to a pot of browning celery, onion, and garlic, the vegetables are transformed into a colorful, aromatic, and warming autumn soup, which the children share with their teachers at snack time (and it makes plenty of leftovers for Thursday, too, which Ms. Greta tells us are “even tastier!”).

“It’s real work in the real world,” says Peggy Rock, our early childhood coordinator and a veteran kindergarten teacher. Part of that real work is using real tools, including small paring knives that fit in their hands and are sharpened to cut, a very good way to develop fine motor skills. “Children are more capable than you think,” says Peggy. “They may get a few ‘learning cuts,’ but that teaches them to respect the tool and learn to use it.” 

Plus, she tells us, “Making the soup means you enjoy it more. It smells wonderful and it’s magical.”

Manzanita teacher Ms. Greta agrees. “It is practical work with their hands,” she says. “The children have a vested interest in something they’ve made themselves.” In fact, many parents are amazed that their sometimes picky children will enthusiastically fill up on two or three bowls of vegetable soup at school.

Making soup with a young child is a wonderful way to spend an autumn afternoon at home, and the soup we make is super simple and incredibly versatile. Remember, we make it with whatever combination of vegetables the children bring to school — from mushrooms to eggplant to broccoli. Use whatever you have at home.

And, remember, of course, that the most important ingredient is love! 

Warming Autumn Soup 
(adapted from the Hollyhock kindergarten and Manzanita kindergarten soup recipe)

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery
1 tbsp sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or tamari
10 cups of seasonal vegetables, chopped bite-size* (see note)
2 tsp fresh or dried herbs
16-18 cups filtered water

* At Marin Waldorf School, we make soup with a wide and wholly unplanned selection of vegetables, which are contributed by our parents. Carrot, broccoli, mushroom, potatoes, corn, kale, or spinach are delicious, but we find more atypical soup veggies work just as well. Try beets, parsnip, cauliflower, eggplant, or sweet potato. 

Optional: cooked rice, beans, garbanzo beans
Required: love

Steps

  1. Work with your child to chop small pieces of carrot, potato, and other veggies you have at home. An adult should chop the onions, garlic, and celery.
  2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. 
  3. Add the onion, celery, and carrots (if using) to the soup pot and stir until golden, about 15 minutes
  4. Add remaining vegetables and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes
  5. Add water then turn the heat to high and let the soup come to a slow boil
  6. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat off. Let the soup rest until serving.
  7. Serve a ladleful of soup in each bowl, topped with Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast. Serve with bread or crackers.

Warm homemade snacks are a part of daily rhythm in our preschool and kindergarten programs, one of the many details that make our classrooms feel like home. With homemade vegetable soup, you make home feel a bit more like school too!

Categories MWS

Fourth Grade Spends Four Days on a Working Farm

The fourth graders enjoyed their trip to Live Power farm in Covelo, a beautiful valley near Willits.   Live Power farm is a biodynamic farm (based on principles put forth by Rudolf Steiner) and is run by Steve and Gloria Decater.  Passionate and dedicated, they commit to using power from the sun to produce food for 70 families that participate in their CSA program. 

Sheep shearing, potato harvesting, building a biodynamic compost pile, removing brambles, chopping overgrown broccoli and shoveling cow and horse manure were just some of the chores the children completed during their visit.

Waking in the dark, layering up and donning their rubber boots, the children rolled out of their warm sleeping bags when the last stars faded in the dawn light.  They gathered in front of the farm house to begin their morning tasks which included wood splitting,  milking the cow and feeding the horses, steers, chickens, dairy cows and sows. 

Once morning chores were completed, the breakfast bell rang for the children, who then enjoyed a warm breakfast complete with hot chocolate made with milk from the cows. Once nourished themselves, the children went to put the sheep and cows out to pasture for the day. Throughout the day, farm chores continued at a slow easy pace, which allowed children time to be on the land without feeling rushed and to watch the cows chew their hay and to be at peace with the beautiful still work horses.  

For over 40 years, Gloria and Steven have generously hosted thousands of Waldorf students for a three night/ four day farm trip. Children leave the farm with an understanding that humans have been cultivating land for 10,000 years, and only in the past 100 years have they depended on fossil fuel.  The children learned that everything on the farm is connected- the land, plants, animals and humans, and that without one the others would fail to thrive or even exist.   

One of the many gifts we received at the farm was the benefit of sleeping in a new building that has been a dream of the Decaters for a long time. We arrived in the rain, and felt blessed to have an option to have a roof over our heads to protect us from wetness and the chill of morning frost.  They are still fundraising for this beautiful conference room which will one day have a kitchen, bathrooms and a shower.  Watch this video to meet Steven, Gloria and their work horses!

More farms we love:

Botany, gardening, and learning to cultivate and care for plants are all part of the Waldorf curriculum, with even our kindergarten classrooms caring for their own garden patches. Here are a few other community farms we love.

Bramble Tail Herdshare Program, Sebastapol, CaliforniaBramble Tail Homestead is one part of the Green Valley Farm + Mill land project, located in Sebastopol. Their herdshare program is an opportunity to co-own their herd of Jersey cows and become part of their mission to promote an ecological food web. Members of the herdshare get a portion of their raw milk. Learn more on their website or email brambletailhomestead@gmail.com if you are interested in becoming a member of the herdshare!


Three Springs Community Farm, Bodega, CaliforniaLast year’s third grade class visited this beautiful 80-acre educational farm in Bodega, California, goats, pigs, chickens and biodynamically grown produce. The children were assigned tasks like digging and sifting compost, harvesting radishes, garlic scapes, and peas, planting potatoes, and using hand scythes for cutting grass and then getting to feed the pigs, chickens, and goats.

Categories MWS

Firmly on the Earth I Stand: Michaelmas Pageant 2021

The early fall is often gloriously beautiful in Northern California, and last Friday afternoon the deep blue skies, brilliant sunshine, and leafy green canopy of Grandmother Oak were backdrop to our annual Michaelmas pageant—a festival that reflects the mood of the season itself. Through song and verse we celebrate the arrival of the autumn season and kindle our inner light as winter approaches. Below, we’d like to share some clips of the children’s performances at the pageant.

In her message to the community last fall, our school director Megan Neale wrote, “In many Waldorf schools in the northern hemisphere, Michalemas is the festival that celebrates and honors this transition and inner preparation. Many of the native people in California also celebrate this time, honoring the harvesting of the acorn that brings life and sustenance throughout the winter months. For the farmers, it is a time to begin to put the land to rest after an active growing season through the summer. There is preparation required for this transition to take place.”

Second graders play an important role in the pageant as the knights who tame the dragon. “In the Michaelmas pageant, the second grade plays the role of the knights. The seventh grade comes in as the dragon, and the second graders tame the dragon and save the people of the community,” explains second grade teacher Mr. Baril. In preparation for the pageant, second graders make their own swords, which, Mr. Baril explains, “are raised upwards to the heavens for strength, not downward, toward the earth, as a weapon.”

On a deeper level, we can each think of the dragon as those things that prevent our awakening to our own humanity. Michael’s qualities of courage, compassion and steadfastness are the qualities second graders are learning to live into as part of the larger second grade curriculum, through which they study the lives of inspiring people from around the world.

Here are some more snapshots from the pageant.

It was a beautiful day!

Categories MWS

2021 Alumni Panel: Meet Our Alums!

The alumni panel is always a highlight of our admissions Open House, concluding the day… and often running way over time as the audience jumps to ask questions! This year, we hosted our alumni panel on Zoom, featuring four amazing Waldorf alumni. (Scroll down for their bios.)

Listening to the experiences and reflections of a diverse group of graduates reminds us why Waldorf education is unique, and how it builds a foundation of creativity, independent thinking, and confidence that lasts a lifetime.

Huge gratitude to our student musicians Angelo, Carter, and Emma, as well as to our four panelists for a wonderful morning. Here’s a little background on our four speakers.

Alberta (MWS Class of 2012)

Alberta (she/hers) attended Marin Waldorf School from Kindergarten until graduating in Kristine Deason’s class of 2012. She attended high school at Marin Academy. Alberta also spent one semester at the Mountain School in Vermont, a rigorous program in which high school juniors from across the country spend a semester farming, studying in the old barn, and even camping out for three nights alone in the mountains.

Alberta was then awarded the national Questbridge Scholarship for low-income high-achieving students, with a placement at Wellesley College. During her time there, she worked as a Research Assistant for a Sociology Professor, a tutor for the Economics Department, a farm hand at an off-campus Coop, an Admission Office interviewer, and a restaurant hostess. Alberta also designed her own major in the inter-departmental Peace and Justice Studies program—her Waldorf upbringing had taught her the inevitable inextricability of diverse disciplines when seriously studying any topic.

After studying abroad for 6 months in Buenos Aires and conducting 5 months of internships in Havana, Cuba (with a local artist collective and with Oxfam), Alberta decided to dedicate herself to immigration advocacy here in the United States. After graduating (virtually) from Wellesley in Spring of 2020, she moved down to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to work as an Unaccompanied Child Legal Specialist with the American Bar Association’s pro-bono project. She eventually plans on attending law school to continue advocating for immigrant justice.


Max (Waldorf School of Atlanta)

Max’s journey through Waldorf education began as a three-year-old in Morning Garden at the Waldorf School of Atlanta. And while it technically came to an end upon 8th grade graduation from the same school, the Waldorfian experience has proven life-long thanks to Max’s extremely good fortune in having Dena Malon, Grades Director for the Marin Waldorf School, as his mother. 

Max’s post-Waldorf experience thus far has unfolded in precisely the unexpected manner one would expect from an anthroposophically-minded anthropomorph. Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence College—where, as a theater student, he developed an interest in the (un)constitutionality of life imprisonment sentences for minors after doing research for a role in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole—Max moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as deputy manager for SCOTUSblog, a publication covering the United States Supreme Court.

After a well-timed tour of duty in legal journalism during which the Supreme Court enjoyed some of its highest-profile terms in decades and SCOTUSblog won a Peabody, Max decided to take his eurythmy-derived talents over to the wide world of consulting, joining public-policy consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies. There, he helped clients like GE, the Bezos Foundation, FedEx, and the One Campaign advocate for policy outcomes on issues related to early childhood education, technology, innovation, economic development, and everything in between.

Max has since returned to Hamilton Place Strategies as the firm’s Creative Director, after spending two years living and working on the road in both the US and abroad with his brother—the two siblings having started a consulting firm from inside their Volkswagen Vanagon. Three weeks into their roadtrip, the firm was acquired by a policy-focused creative agency founded by President Obama’s White House Art Director, and the itinerary was extended indefinitely.

Max is currently pandemic-ing in Bend, Oregon, where he spends his time fly fishing, rock climbing, wood working, cello playing, and planning trips to Montana in the van.


Jarrett Cherner (MWS Class of 1995)

Jarrett Cherner is a pianist, composer and bandleader based in Brooklyn, New York. His first instrument was the violin, which he began playing at age 7, followed by the piano and drums at age 12. After graduating from high school, Jarrett earned concurrent degrees at Tufts (B.S., Mathematics) and New England Conservatory (Jazz Piano Performance).

Jarrett’s debut album, Burgeoning, was released in 2006, and earned recognition from the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards. In 2008, Jarrett moved to New York to pursue graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music. He was a semifinalist at the 2011 Montreux Jazz Piano Competition and had the honor of performing solo piano at the Whitney Museum as part of Jason Moran’s 2012 BLEED residency.

Jarrett has toured throughout the U.S. as well as South America, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, as both a leader and sideman. Today, he is an adjunct professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he teaches through the New York Jazz Academy, both privately and via Skype from his Brooklyn studio. His most recent album, Tone, with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, was released in 2020 on BaldHill Records.

Categories MWS

Remembering Martin Luther King

Before and following the holiday weekend, students at MWS learned about, remembered, and discussed the life and work of Martin Luther King in meaningful age-appropriate ways, from preschool to 8th grade. As our faculty dives more deeply into the important work of creating an anti-racist and inclusive curriculum, we are exploring deeper and richer ways to discuss history, activism, and social justice.

In first grade, students learned about Marin Luther King’s life and legacy with the award-winning illustrated book Martin’s Big Words.

First grade teacher Mr. Baril shares, “It prompted some wonderful discussion among the children about the beauty of different skin colors. We then went to our desks and I gave them new sets of special crayons that have about six different skin tones of various peoples of our world. They were then able to take home with them on Friday their drawings of people holding hands under a rainbow.”

Before Martin Luther King Day, 4th graders had been working on a long-term project of mapping the world around them—mapping their bedrooms, their homes, their neighborhoods. Here are the maps of their neighborhoods in their main lesson books.

As Marin Luther King Jr Day approached, class teacher Ms. Stroud shared a map of the route she bikes to the Marin Luther King memorial in San Francisco from her house.

The MLK Memorial in San Francisco.
Ms. Stroud shows the map of her neighborhood.

Drawing on the image of the memorial’s flowing waterfalls, fourth graders illustrated the words from Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.

Ms. Deason’s 8th grade students had been studying the speeches of Martin Luther King for many years. For a different take on his work, the class dove into the lengthy piece “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which Dr. King addressed to his fellow clergymen. The 8th graders explored King’s arguments and ideas, and discussed the ways they relate to activism today. As part of that study, they watched Anderson Cooper’s recent interview with youth poet laureate and inauguration speaker Amanda Gorman.

They also drew portraits of King, each choosing a different palette. The effect is striking.

Categories MWS

Meet Adam Stopeck: Philosopher, Singer, Skier, Sixth-Grade Teacher

A native East Coaster, Adam Stopeck met his life’s calling as a Waldorf teacher (and his future wife!) on a chair lift in Colorado. He joined MWS last year after decades as a class teacher in Carbondale, Colorado, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, taking the lead in our now-6th-grade class. Read about his early days as a basketball aficionado, ski bum, and would-be Socrates, and what he loves about teaching the grades in the interview below.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Oceanside, Long Island. My mom was a piano teacher for five decades, and I’m sure that’s where the teaching gene came from. 

Did you play the piano?
I did play the piano, but I was more drawn to playing basketball. In a very un-Waldorf way,  I didn’t think I could do both. It was a very traumatic day for my mom the day I gave up the piano.  

What’s Oceanside like?
Classic, uninteresting suburbia but it was only ten miles from the beach. Those were some of my fondest memories as a young child, endless days playing at the beach. Much of my early adolescence was filled with playing sports with the neighborhood kids. When I was 14, I went skiing for the first time in upstate New York and I was hooked. After a family ski trip to Colorado, I  knew I wanted to go to college in Colorado and I eventually wound up at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

What was your experience like in university?
I really thought I was going to ski a lot but it was expensive, crowded, and difficult to get to the mountains. What I really became enamored with was philosophy. I really thought I was a young Socrates, going around most of the day asking people, “Let me ask you a question?” My great quest for knowledge and wisdom eventually landed me on a ski lift in Aspen, Colorado, where my life took a dramatic turn. After ten year of “ski bumming” in Aspen as a ski instructor, ski patroller, bike guide and, of course, dishwasher, I met my future wife. Where else but on a chairlift!

By some strange happenstance, she was the first grade teacher and one of the founding teachers at the Aspen Waldorf School. We began dating and she started inviting me to lectures at the school. Eventually I listened to a lecture by Eugene Schwartz and he said that “Waldorf education is a revolution in education.” 

The word revolution sparked something laying dormant in me from my “angry young radical” college days. A week later, after ten years of living in the mountains, I suddenly found myself in Sacramento, doing Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner College. That was a shock! I eventually wound up doing a three-year, full-time teacher training. My now-wife came out and joined me and we supported our Rudolf Steiner college habit by running the food program there. 

Did you begin teaching right after that?
By that time, the Aspen Waldorf School had moved down the valley to Carbondale. Now it’s the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, and that was the first place I taught. We were there for close to a decade.

Later, when I had three young children—they were 4, 3, and 2—we had this crazy idea, “Maybe we should move to a foreign country and teach at a Waldorf school ?” After pipe-dreaming about Switzerland and Germany, we moved to British Columbia,  Canada and settled on Vancouver Island.  My wife and I were both Waldorf class teachers at the Sunrise Waldorf School in Duncan, British Columbia. It was an amazing place for the kids to grow up. They spent countless hours romping around the woods, climbing trees and swimming in the endless lakes and rivers.  

In B. C., I took a class from 1 to 8, which was something I had always wanted to do. It was an incredible journey. Taking a class 1 to 8 is not for the feint of heart. I really believe that for it to happen in a meaningful way, the stars need to align for the teacher and the students. Maybe even more so for the teacher and the parents!

How did you end up in the Bay Area?
After I graduated my 8th grade class, I took a first and second grade. But we really wanted a Waldorf high school for the kids, so we moved here. They all went to Credo. That brought us back to the U.S. after a decade in Canada.

Are all your kids still in the area?
My youngest son is a senior at Credo. My oldest son and middle child,  is a sophomore at La Verne University in LA and my daughter is a sophomore at Quest University in Canada. My wife still teaches part time, as a painting teacher to high school students and adults at Credo, as well as her full time job, as a Chocolatier.  

When you graduate your 8th graders in a couple of years, and your son graduates from Credo, what’s next? Are you off to a new adventure? 
“I’ve been everywhere” like Johnny Cash says. But I am really enjoying my time at MWS and absolutely adore my class. I also love teaching the younger grades, so I can really see myself teaching grade one again. After I graduated my 8th grade class, I went immediately back into the first grade. At first, I wondered how was I going to go from the heights of grade eight back to class on. In grade eight you feel like you’re at the top of the mountain—you just performed a Shakespeare play after all! 

Mr. Stopeck leads the 6th Grade class in a pre-Halloween.

At first it was really hard. But then I realized the incredible amount of freedom you have during a first grade morning lesson. With Shakespeare you’re limited by the script. In a first grade circle, you have this incredible opportunity to create the entire script. It really showed me the joy of this whole process. You can get excited about every grade. It doesn’t matter what you’re teaching, whether it’s math or grammar, you have to somehow enliven it. How do you bring grammar in a lively way in grade 1 and grade 8?

You have to totally transform yourself from the young ones to the older grades but the impulse of creativity is the same. It is this element of creativity that runs through the whole education, that brings so much vitality to the experience. As a teacher, your truly creative moments are what the students respond to. For me, it is in these moments that teaching becomes a joy.

Interview by Julie Meade. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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