Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Perfect Curriculum

Adam brought me three bunches of drop-dead gorgeous beets with lush dark green tops on them still... so we are adding Beet Greens with Bacon to the menu this week! He also surprised me with two bunches of asparagus, thus Roasted Asparagus with Shallots. Personally, I'm currently obsessed with baking whole sweet potatoes in the microwave and then cutting them open and topping them with shredded cheddar cheese. I can't get enough!

Last night while we were waiting for the Iowa caucus results to come in (homeschooling has made the presidential election so much more interesting, because I'm taking the time to get to know candidates I would never normally consider), the two older girls and I watched the musical 1776and it has more language and sex than I remembered! But I wanted to get them all fired up about the birth of our country and, since Natalie is working on her family tree and researching her famous ancestors as part of The Reproductive System in Human Physiology, I wanted them to see something about John Adams. I also want her to research and complete her Daughters of the American Revolution application. Anyway, when the movie was over, and we were busy looking at our Declaration of Independence page in the Encyclopedia Brittanica so they could read all the signatures (online encyclopedias are NOT THE SAME as holding a beautiful revered old fashioned leather-bound volume in your hands), and I was passing around Poor Richard's Almanackand reading them a chapter from King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolutionso that we could find out what happened in that battle in New York...

... Leah said to me, I never knew that John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin all lived at the same time.

Whoa. How is that possible? She knew they were called the Founding Fathers but she didn't realize they were contemporaries???

And then I started feeling guilty that she had never realized this. What went askew in her history instruction that she saw these as separate threads instead of knowing how they were interwoven? Curriculum design has always interested me and I did my Masters thesis on exactly this subject: creating a chronological story-based U.S. History curriculum and conducting research in my classroom on the results of its implementation.

My mind started to race as I tried to plan the perfect history and geography curriculum for upper elementary and middle school, where everything would be historically accurate and contain a blend of viewpoints and biographies of key players, sophisticated, nuanced, perfectly integrated, seamlessly chronological, and logically developed. No part of the world or major historical event would be omitted and it would all be done so engagingly that a child would remember every detail! Then I stopped. You CAN'T CREATE a perfect curriculum. There will always be gaps and holes. For one thing, new discoveries about history are constantly being made. For another, every part of the world has its own history and therefore the jumping off point would be different for every child. Our entry would be through our local history and that would affect what logically should lead up to it and would follow from it.

Third, children can be exposed to things and still not learn them. Even as an adult, I make new realizations and learn again things I learned before but they didn't stick until I was interested in them and had a context for them. If I can connect them to things I already know, I remember. Look, for example, at the rules for a board game. You can tell me when you first read the directions to me that I can't have more than three traits on a species in Evolution. But when I'm playing the game, and I'm deciding what trait cards to give to my little animals, and you tell me again that I am limited to three, then I will remember. Because I care and I can fit it in with what I'm already learning about the game.

Lastly, in order to learn optimally you need to feel safe. It is crucial that you have your physical and emotional needs met. If you are in your primitive reptilian brain, you won't learn. You need blood flow to that frontal cortex. The key is this: Affective drives cognitive.

For all of these reasons, learning isn't going to be perfect. We aren't robots! You can tell me a fact as many times as you want but it won't always go in.

So here's the fatal flaw in the logic. Designing a "perfect" curriculum would mean that you think that presenting a series of facts in order is teaching and that hearing something once and memorizing it forever is learning. Neither of those premises are true. Learning is individual and haphazard and messing and requires personal engagement. So it's unique to each one of us.

That doesn't keep me from constantly striving to find the best possible learning experiences to present to my children, and buying books constantly, and trying to understand and apply the Waldorf method so that they can have the highest quality education possible. Yesterday I was reading School as a Journey: The Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class(I finally figured out that if I put my teacher books in the bathroom I have the best chance of actually reading them all the way to the end) and I loved his introduction to Algebra discussion in 7th grade. He includes a word problem which I have adapted. My changes are in blue.

A farmer has 465 sheep, 3 goats, 2 horses, and 17 pigs. The sheep are divided into three flocks. The second flock has twice as many sheep as the first, and the third flock has fifteen more than three times as many as the first. How many sheep are in each flock. Oh, and the farmer has blue eyes and hates carrots.

I loved his problem (x + 2x + 3x + 15 = 465) but I wanted to add in another fact. Children need a reminder that sometimes in word problems, and in real life math problems, there will be extra and unneeded information. I wanted the girls to underline the numbers first, figure out what the problem is asking second, and discard any unnecessary information before beginning. This was just a quick thought because I remember having some students get tripped up over this in the past. So, is this curriculum wiring? Finding a word problem in a book in my bathroom and adding a twist because of a thought that occurred to me? I think so. And you can do a pre-packaged curriculum and/or you can write it yourself, but it won't ever ever ever be perfect. Therefore, trying to make it perfect is not a good use of your time.

Natalie is starting public high school next year and all the 8th graders take the ACT EXPLORE test for placement purposes. There are four sample tests online:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • We will be doing practice tests this weekend. But I know in my heart that what Natalie struggles with is being compassionate, as well as having organization and self-discipline. I am working on those things with her and bringing subjects to her this year that I think will help with those things...

    I need to remember what learning is (to me). And I need to not freak out that there will be gaps. There were gaps in my education! For me, having my children be intellectually curious, actively engaged with the world, organized, healthy, hard-working, and kind trumps all else.

    I have a good friend who has decided to homeschool and her husband was originally going to be the teacher. He is very project-learning driven and doesn't need to have written results to prove a learning experience was worthwhile. She is very skill-based and prefers worksheets and other types of easily quantifiable learning experiences. It has caused a lot of tension between them! Finally they decided to split the week. Dad teaches two days, Mom teaches two days, and Wednesday is a field trip. So I said to her, the key thing that you need to figure out is this answer to this question: What does learning look like???? To me that is the most fundamental question. And it is why we look askance at other methods that aren't the ones we are using. They don't match what we think learning should look like.

    I've put together a super-quick one question survey because I am very curious about my audience for this blog, the waldorfcurriculum.com website, and the Waldorf Curriculum Yahoo group. I want to know how many people are trying to achieve pure Waldorf and how many are blending it with other methods because that has turned out to work best for them. If you want to participate (and see real-time results from other participants), here is the link:

    Create your own user feedback survey


    Rhoda said...

    After we went over how to solve the problem from Torin Finser (x = 75), I had the girls each write me a story containing an algebra problem. They absolutely loved the idea of obscuring the problem with extra unneeded information. Here is what they came up with:

    Leah (grade 6)

    Leah was doing dishes. She did 4 sinkfulls. She washed 31 platters; 5,000 cups; 10,000 plates; two bowls; sixty skillets; 1,526,000 candelabras; 450 saucers; and 6,000,000 spoons. The second sink has five times as many platters as the first one. The third sink has 10 times as many platters as the first. The fourth sink has 15 times as many platters as the first, and it took Leah 1 hour to wash all of them. The sinks were 5 feet across. How many platters are in the first sink?

    (x = 1)

    Rhoda said...

    Natalie (grade 8)

    A hairdresser has 492 strips of bacon in her freezer, 39 paper cups in her pantry, 3 plastic pillows on her bed, and 263 tomatoes in 7 crates. The second crate has two times the amount of tomatoes as the first crate. The third crate has four times the amount of tomatoes as the first crate, or two times the amount in the second crate. The sixth crate has the same amount of tomatoes as the third crate. In the fourth crate there are two times the amount of tomatoes as there are in the first crate plus 36, or 36 more tomatoes than the amount of tomatoes in the second crate. The fifth crate has three times the amount of tomatoes as the first crate, plus five tomatoes. The seventh crate has the same amount of tomatoes as are in the first crate plus one. How many tomatoes are in each of the 7 crates? Use the back of this page to solve this problem.

    (She really really enjoyed giving this one to me! x = 13)