Thank you to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia for this thoughtful post.
Art brings a much needed depth and beauty to the world of STEM.
Which is why Waldorf Education presents its students with STEAM — not to soften or bring “fun” to an unfun topic — but to bring realism and soul to our growing world of bits, dynamic loads and relativity. Artistic and Scientific creativity are not very different. If one were to describe an upcoming class topic by mentioning the words — space, time, dimension, perspective and consciousness — it is unclear if the context of class will be physics or art. This reality is what shapes the Waldorf Math and Science curriculum.
In Waldorf Education, everyday life and beautyare brought into science, engineering, and math.
Science: The methodology for science instruction in Waldorf Education is based on observation andSocratic Inquiry. Students of all ages are immersed in observation and manipulatives, experienced during regular nature walks, gardening, cooking, form drawing and experimentation, to name only a few. Waldorf teachers begin not by lecturing on rules and formulas, but by showing those rules in action through experiments, the natural world, art and music. These real world examples and applications are used to then guide students to use socratic inquiry and observation to connect logical parts to the whole, which helps them deeply understand the science within our world.
Technology: While some believe Waldorf schools are anti-technology, that is actually not the case. We simply believe Technology Can Wait until High School, at which point it can be used as a tool — for research, creation and construction. We also follow the science on the topic. While initial results for tech in the classroom were hopeful, full implementation and scientific study of these efforts are not positive or downright dismal. However, science does indicate that movement, art, music, and note taking by hand, are proven to better support thinking.
Engineering: Waldorf students build and create, every day, using engineering concepts. Our third grade class, for example, spends main lesson time on the drawing and configuration, measuring and implementing a structural creation for the school. Labeled the “building project,” it is just one example of how engineering is placed into the curriculum. Older students also design and build their own chairs, by hand, in woodworking. Younger children sew and knit forms which require many engineering and geometrical concepts. And, of course, geometric and other forms of drawing and art all support the logic needed to make engineering concepts reality.
Art: As you can see, the “A” exists everywhere within the STEM narrative at Waldorf schools. It can be taught separately and achieve positive results, but its incorporation within each of these other STEM disciplines helps tie meaning, beauty and practicality into all the other subjects. Music brings soul to math, art brings life to geometry, woodwork brings purpose to engineering, and cooking what you grow in the garden brings applicable relevance to science.
Math: When the students are young, math curriculum is introduced through story, movement, recitation, and rhythm. Manipulatives make concepts like division (dividing gems among classmate) and fractions (slicing pizza for all) concrete realities — forever silencing the “when will I use this?” mantra of the bored student. All age students, from very young to adolescence, experience daily musical training, which studies show aids the learning of abstract mathematical concepts. Older students, move from storytelling in math to story problems, using practical applications in mathematics for things like cooking, music, geometric drawing, and mathematics in art.
Does this methodology work?
A California State University Study asks this very question and takes an honest look at all facets of Waldorf and Public School science curriculum. The results?
“Waldorf students scientific reasoning and problem solving skills appear to be at or slightly above those of their counterparts in mainstream educational settings.”
How do our students fare internationally on assessments? During the TIMSS assessment, “Waldorf 8th grade students outperformed U.S. students and international students in the category of correct answers (98% vs. 90% and 92%) and in providing a correct description and interpretation of the solution (98% vs. 81% and 88%).”
Follow the science, follow the soul, and one will quickly conclude the STEM needs to be STEAM in order to effectively reach our students and inspire them to create and problem solve in our modern world.
In this short film Waldorf teacher Susan Stevenson discusses how Waldorf Education prepares students to enter the world with confidence and awareness, lessons that resonate into adult life and even old age.