STEM to STEAM
STEM to STEAM While other schools return to the arts, Waldorf schools continue a long tradition of arts education. Art and science were linked through much of history. Why, then, have these subjects become so detached in American schools? After the Renaissance, the schism between art and science cracked open and rapidly began to widen. With the rise of industrialization and accelerated technological developments, the Western world began to think of art and science as not just distinct, but as polar opposites. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, as the division became starker, American students began falling behind in science, technology, and math. The renewed emphasis on STEM subjects, which began in the late 20th century, was largely pragmatic. Schools weren’t, and still aren’t, producing students capable of filling the ever-increasing demand for jobs in science, technology, and engineering, so schools turned their attention to these subjects. Yet our dichotomous thinking about science vs. art meant that when STEM became the focus, the scale tipped away from the arts and humanities. In recent years, there has been a movement to add an “A” to STEM, putting the arts back into the frame. The reasoning is that the study of art and design fosters the kind of creative thinking necessary in a 21st century innovation economy.
The Waldorf tradition: art has always been here. Art, music, movement, and handiwork have been integral to the Waldorf curriculum since the start. The Waldorf approach understands that arts provide new and different windows to the world. They allow us to see different depths, make us keen to nuance, encourage us to think critically, and foster empathy. This allows us to ask questions outside the realm of scientific inquiry and imagine solutions to problems that have human impact. The arts also help sharpen other skills that are critical to academic success. They encourage problem solving, promote focus, demand collaboration, and inspire confidence. This spring, in Cindy Weinberg’s third grade class, students put these skills to work by building smallscale replicas of structures from around the world. The structures project provides a clear reminder of how art and handiwork intersect with other subjects. Students delved into different world cultures, gaining an understanding of history, geography, and anthropology. They connected with the natural world by understanding what natural materials are used to build various structures. They gained an understanding of geometry and measurement through construction, providing insight into architecture. And they learned to solve problems—how, for example, could they keep a heavy roof from caving in on the structure itself. A project such as this promotes engagement in many different disciplines. Ms. Weinberg notes that in the past, she had students build their structures at home but this year, she wanted them to build in class. “Each day, before they started building, I would
May 2014 have discussion time.” She would ask students what questions they needed to answer before beginning work, for example, “How will I keep the roof from caving in?” Each student then sets out on a quest to answer the questions, often turning to each other to help solve problems. In this way, the project fosters inquiry and promotes collaboration. Ms. Weinberg notes that arts and handiwork, “get us to pay attention in ways we might not otherwise.” Bridging the divide: art for art’s sake. Curriculum that integrates art broadly and deeply opens up new possibilities for students. At Bright Water School, we’re not trying to create a school full of fine artists any more than we are trying to create a school full of technicians. The point is, we shouldn’t be thinking of these things as distinct and unrelated in the first place. We want students who think creatively—asking questions and seeking out innovative solutions—regardless of the career path they ultimately choose. One final thought. The modern world is a noisy place. Every day, literally thousands of messages battle for our attention. We don’t often sit quietly and just listen or observe. The creation and the consumption of art promote quiet and reflection. When we provide young people opportunities to listen, to practice being quiet, we empower them. Reflection and focus—learning a song, or studying a geometric form—allow things to take root. When children see live music or go to a museum, when we promote that kind of discovery, something floods them, takes ahold of them. They open themselves to something new. This, in and of itself, seems like reason enough to study and practice the arts.
The Bookshelf Weigh some of the emerging strategies from educators, artists, engineers, and authors that consider the importance of creative learning for children of all scholastic stages, as well as adults. • From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts David A. Sousa & Tom Pilecki • Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Ph.D. • 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World Melanie Walsh
Student Profile: Audrey, 9 years old What structure did you make for Ms. Weinberg’s structures project?
Did this project help with other subjects in school?
Audrey: I made a log cabin in the mountains. There were two log cabins and mine was the smaller one. I didn’t make the roof out of logs.
Audrey: We did a lot of math. There was lots of measuring when figuring out how to make the door. I had to cut the logs to make the door. We had to figure out how many wood dowels we needed, so I had to divide those by 2, to cut exactly in half.
What drew you to that structure? Audrey: I had read some pioneer stories, which might have been why. I didn’t use notches; we glued it together instead. I did that because some log cabins are nailed together and I wasn’t actually going to nail it.
The wood glue ended up drying yellow, which looked weird. It didn’t look good for the logs. I painted the plates used for the roof, and they bent. So I put them under a dictionary to straighten them out. It still ended up pretty bendy.
Parent Profile: Susie, Audrey’s mother Why is it important to have art and music integrated in the curriculum? Susie: When we were first looking for a school, we felt that our son (also a student here) needed a program where he’d use his hands to make stuff. Having looked at lots of other schools, this is one of the best art programs that I’ve seen. Art isn’t the focus of the curriculum. But art, touching, and making stuff with their hands is integral to everything they learn. It’s really authentic. You get the sense that they not only see what’s beautiful about the work and can copy it, but they have a feel for the
piece. They’re not trying to make it look perfect. Having watched kids grow up through the program, I feel like it comes out authentically. What about Waldorf has made a diﬀerence in your children’s education? Susie: How it comes out in their home life. Audrey has knitting or crocheting. Her entertainment is drawing and making comic strips. She can create things and have the vision and skills to make it happen. For my son, it’s music. He picked a cello and that instrument itself was
very grounding for him. It created a whole new thing for him to do with his time and gave him an interest in classical music. Being able to make music seemed really satisfying. It’s great for him in a holistic kind of way.
West African Inspiration for Grade Two Skye Chamberlain—Grade Two’s main lesson teacher—always takes advantage of opportunities to introduce new world cultures into the curriculum. When the time came to choose a class play, she saw it as a chance to present her students with a character well known in African and Caribbean cultures, straying away from traditional Western European standards. She wanted a story that had opportunity for many diverse roles, one that could easily incorporate musical instruments, rhythms, and beats. And when she told the story of Anansi the Spider to her class, she knew she had found just that. Anansi the Spider is a popular character in West African folklore— a “trickster” with roots to the Ashanti people of Ghana. In telling the story to her class, the impression it made on the children was obvious. The next day when students retold the story—a standard Waldorf practice that helps build strong memory skills —they did so in a beautiful way.
The story was relatable. It had scope for many different parts so all students could participate. Skye added music as a gesture to the rich West African culture. The characters included spritely fairies, nosy snakes, and sneaky leopards, which correlated to how children can act or feel throughout the course of a day. These roles taught them that feelings are fleeting, not permanent. It gave them the opportunity to experience struggles by acting as a character in a safe setting. The class worked on the project not with specific roles in mind, but as a recitation piece. They used rain sticks and rhythm sticks, and sang original music from Ghana. Soon, the children began to find their niches. Skye noticed that some children were naturally drawn to musical instruments, and others were drawn to certain characters. The practice of beats and rhythms translated to other areas of the curriculum, too. In a matter of
weeks, many students’ growth in multiplication tables was exploding. It was clear that the musical patterns learned for the class play helped inspire the connection between music and math. Overall, the story of Anansi helped students understand that feelings are okay, and more importantly, they are normal. They are human. And everyone—even in cultures on the opposite side of the world—can relate.
Our Diversity Statement Bright Water School welcomes, values, and supports racial, religious, economic, and cultural diversity. Our school seeks a diverse faculty and student body and is committed to having our school reflect the abundant and changing diversity of the United States. We welcome, value, and support single, dual, or multiple parent households, and LGBT parents, faculty, and/or students.
Grade Eight’s Service-Learning Projects Since September, the Grade Eight class has been involved in a year-long service-learning project, volunteering at nonprofits around the city like the Puget Sound Blood Bank, Animal Talk, and Team Read. Waldorf education places a strong emphasis on social skills, and this project tests students’ social skills in a real way. The service-learning project is a new mode of learning, an opportunity for students to put the knowledge, skills, and experience gained in the classroom to use in their community. Students are introduced to new situations that may be uncomfortable and uncommon, but they are equipped to handle them. They may even develop a lasting appreciation for giving back to their community.
Our Mission The mission of Bright Water School is to provide a dynamic education for an ever-changing and complex world. We provide students with a classic education and the significant social tools needed for them to navigate their future. Students at Bright Water School are immersed in an environment that supports the whole child, educates by example, and uses physical movement and the arts to teach concepts. Our students develop comprehensive academic skills and learn to apply them creatively.
Charlotte, a Grade Eight student, volunteered her time at the Rainier Valley Food Bank and described an important realization. “Whether or not you are in a position of need, the fact that food banks and other nonproﬁt organizations exist means that others are. By ‘giving back,’ you’re showing the community and yourself that you care enough about the world that you chose to support the people in it.”
Students discover qualities within themselves they may not have known existed. Dealing with unruly people or awkward situations drives selfconfidence and prepares them for challenging situations for the future.
In the process of helping others, students often find that they learn more about themselves.
For the majority of students, servicelearning is also fun. Connecting with people of different cultural backgrounds is inspiring. Feeling part of a team is rewarding. It’s easy to see why this service-learning project has been a core component of Grade Eight for the past few years. No matter where students choose to spend their time, the impact it makes in their lives is obvious.
They practice patience and sympathy. They learn responsibility and understanding. And most commonly, they develop confidence.
Charlie, who donated his time at The Center for Wooden Boats, explains it best, saying, “I enjoy feeling part of the community.”
Letter from the Head of School Spring is a leafy juggernaut that accelerates us into the end of the school year before we feel entirely ready, and this year is no different. At the end of our annual journey is the graduation ceremony for our eighth grade class, a celebration that each year causes me to marvel at the change in the students and their achievements. I look forward to watching the students—some of whom I have known since their kindergarten years—take a step into adulthood in June. This year, I will be moving on as well. I announced my intent to move into public service in early spring; the board, faculty, and I are engaged in a search for an Interim Head of School at the time of this writing. My time here has been challenging and fulfilling,
with highlights too numerous to list. Without a doubt the greatest enjoyment has come from watching children grow. Being a part of children’s lives has inspired me to move into public service, where I hope to continue to make a positive contribution to the experience of children and families. This will certainly not be the last graduation ceremony I attend at Bright Water School. I intend to return each year to celebrate students as they move into their next phase of development. I know that I see my own development as a continuum that is never complete. I, too, will move on to my next stage of personal and professional growth this summer. It has been a great pleasure to serve Bright Water School.
Laura Crandall, Head of School
News and Updates Bon Voyage: The end of the school year is often bittersweet, as students graduate and faculty and staff members pursue new professional and personal adventures. We want to thank the following individuals for all they’ve given to Bright Water School and wish them the best.
Cindy Weinberg Cindy started teaching at Bright Water School in 2006. She led one class from first through fifth grade before beginning with her present class (Grade Three) in 2011. She is retiring from teaching this year and will be missed dearly. Laura Crandall Laura originally joined the Bright Water School staff in 2003. Since 2008 she has served as Head of School with commitment and passion. She is currently enrolled in Seattle University’s Masters in Public Administration program and looks forward to the new opportunities ahead of her.
Vivian Syme Vivian, a K-12 Waldorf graduate, joined Bright Water School in 2008. As the Admissions Director for the last five years, she has helped introduce many great families to the community. She is following her love for nature by getting involved in outdoor education for children. Carolyn McRae Carolyn began her teaching stint with Bright Water School in 2010 as a preschool teacher and is currently the Woodlands Kindergarten teacher. All along, she has guided the learning and play of young children with tremendous joy.
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Artwork by Lyra D’Souza, Grade 7
Published on May 19, 2014