Earth and sky meet at the dawn of adolescence
The grade six curriculum grows out into the world, as it answers the opening perspective of the maturing student. Math, language arts, Spanish and German, music and art continue and develop in complexity and depth. Form drawing transforms itself into a study of geometry, and shaded drawing explores the play of light and shadows. The curriculum draws the eleven- and twelve-year-old students to examine the appearances of the world. Look! What actually happens there before your eyes? The study of physics brings an investigation into sound, light, heat, magnetism, and static electricity. Astronomy and mineralogy engage the students in the reaches of space and the depths of the earth. With this expanded curriculum our young students embark upon adolescence.
Our middle school curriculum provides outer pictures of the worlds of science, history, and art that correspond to the students’ inner growth and seek to prompt as well as answer the life questions that are coming into focus in the minds and hearts of the students. All is accompanied by the increasing skills of our students in movement, and in the musical and graphic arts, both in the daily main lesson, and in scheduled art, instrumental, and choral lessons each week.
Biographies illustrate times and traits
Grade six delves into the span of time marked by the rise of Rome, its fall and aftermath. As they mature, sixth graders wish to throw off the ‘childish’ restraints on their behavior, yet they have a need for order, self discipline, clear rules, and seriousness. Increasingly objective, they crave facts. Like the Romans they will study, they appreciate practical solutions to problems.
The dawn of adolescence also brings idealism (and its shadow, cynicism). These traits are nurtured or assuaged, respectively, as our historical studies advance from Rome to the European Middle Ages. Our larger span of history is rife with historical figures who illustrate impulses, good and bad, that are living in the children at this age. Hannibal, Caesar, Augustus, Jesus of Nazareth, Nero, Constantine, Alaric, and Attila march across our stage. Then come Charlemagne, Mohammed, Harun al-Rashid, William the Conqueror, and the Crusader knights. We pause in the Middle Ages to celebrate the ideals of knighthood, and the students are encouraged to explore the ideals of chivalry and to seek for themselves their own goals and ideals. A spring Medieval Festival with games and challenges celebrates the students’ achievements over the course of the year.
The art of observation and scientific inquiry
No scientific theory arrives like a bolt out of the blue without having been prompted by questions born of careful observation and inquiry. The study of geology arose because people wondered what made different areas of the earth look so very different. Lessons in geology contribute to the children’s growing understanding of their earth home. At the other end of the spectrum, astronomical lessons encourage careful observation of the sun and moon. What is the basis for the moon’s phases? How does the sun move across the sky throughout the year? Why are there different climate zones? How do the planets differ in their movements from the stars? Children learn the major constellations and hear the legends associated with them, and learn to identify the brighter stars in the night sky.
Across a broad range of phenomena in physics — sound, heat, light, magnetism, static electricity — we conduct demonstrations and charge the students to observe carefully for themselves. Then we discuss what each of us has seen, heard, and sensed. The students learn to ignore preconceived ideas of what will happen, to observe first, and then to develop their ideas based upon their observation and thinking. It’s a subtle difference in approach, but it’s one that builds on the powers of observation we’ve been cultivating from our early childhood program. A truly scientific method, it develops trust for the individual in both her own senses and her thinking.
The practical aspects of life
Our studies of mathematics speak to the students’ increasing interest in the world around them. The sixth grade curriculum covers business math: percentages, interest, sales taxes, discounts, commissions, profits and losses, simple accounting, and balancing a check book. Each student in the class is then given an occupation with a specific income. They comb the classifieds for a place to live, a car they can afford, bring in receipts from the grocery store, electric bills, and the like from home, and calculate their monthly expenses, creating a practical budget on which their math work will be based. How much shall I give to charity? Can I really afford that apartment? Taxes?? I have to pay taxes? A banker is selected to whom “Waldorf checks” are paid or from whom loans might be obtained. This life lesson brings the concepts of principle and interest and their relationship, the formula I=PRT, right into the classroom.
The second math block covers topics in geometry, including use of rulers, compasses, and protractors. As they listen to the history of the science of geometry, students find that the whole world of geometry exists within the circle. Out of this simple form, which can be created with a string and a pin, students learn to construct the divisions of the circle with the compass, bisect lines and angles, and create the pentagon and the pentagram, which is the foundation for the Golden Mean. They learn and understand basic Euclidean proofs, including the theorem of Pythagoras. The calculation of area is introduced.
In all of their classes, practicality and precision mark the sixth graders’ studies, a balance to the time they have spent gazing to the heavens.
- History of Rome and the Middle Ages
- Business English
- Geometric drawing
- Business math, beginning work with formulae and percentages
- Geography of the hemisphere and poles
- South American geography
- Instrumental ensemble
- Foreign languages – German and Spanish
- Physical education