Last Wednesday, Spring Garden hosted speaker Cate Hunko, M.Ed., as she discussed Waldorf education and her experiences teaching math to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.
Ms. Hunko has been a Waldorf Teacher for over 15 years, is the mother of two daughters, and was previously an artist working as an automotive designer — all experiences that have helped fuel her passion to understand how young teens of both genders approach and process mathematics.
During the algebra block in Grade 7, Ms. Hunko noticed a divergence in her class between the boys and girls. This difference had never presented itself in the younger grades, where all children (for the most part) approached and learned math similarly. She wanted to know why she was seeing this happen in the older grades and began researching the topic.
Her studies led her to information on a developmental split that occurs when children enter puberty. Their physical maturity, it seems, alters their brains and their approach to mathematics.
While she acknowledges that every child is different, she has seen a few trends in differences between boys and girls. In her experience, boys in middle school seem comfortable with numbers and willing to move through the process of math without much questioning. As they gain new skills, they can become competitive about their accomplishments.
Girls have no trouble memorizing formulas, but they often seem more separated from the black-and-white process of mathematics; instead, they display a deep drive to understand the how and why of the calculations. The competition the males bring to the table is not always engaging or encouraging to their female peers. As girls bring memorized formulas to problems, they often hesitate in the application of those formulas, standing outside of the process and analyzing it instead of just jumping in.
According to Hunko, this difference between male and female students often requires teachers to give young women more time at math, both in the short term and long term, while understanding that their careful approach does not indicate a lack of skill.
She says, “They want to be intuitive about it, but sometimes it takes time for them to set that aside in order to accomplish the task.”
What does giving students “time” mean?
and ‘not talented,’ especially considering that more young women may fall into this lesser category during this important time in their physical development.”
Hunko feels adolescent girls are often left behind in STEM learning because adolescent boys, who often have fewer physical challenges and different brain development than girls during puberty, seem quicker at math – a quickness that doesn’t necessarily correspond with innate talent. However, it is a relatively short time before the young women can catch up with their male peers, and a slower and more dedicated teaching style that avoids labeling can ensure female students’ success.
What does effective STEM teaching look like for young women?
Hunko recommends engaging young women in both the history and practicality of math, but also stresses that they cannot stay in that place in their mind as they put what they know into practice. “They must transfer that enthusiasm to the formulas they’ve committed to memory and then they must focus, stay grounded, and commit to the formula.”
Hunko feels that even more than the teaching itself, the home life and support of parents makes the biggest difference in women entering STEM careers. “Many of the women currently in STEM had parents in STEM. Parent support in the sciences is key. First off, don’t give up on your girls, even if they struggle with math during junior high. That doesn’t mean they’re ‘not math people.’ Don’t use labels like that, and don’t discuss your own struggles so they have a chance to be true to themselves. Don’t say you ‘also hated’ math.’ Struggle and hate are not always the same.”
Hunko believes it is women’s different approach to math – careful, focused on the big picture, and less competitive – that makes female career roles in STEM essential.
“When it comes to teaching, the pendulum is swinging to a far side in STEM right now. We need to bring it back to the center. Women have a lot to offer the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math industry. They bring a different and essential perspective.”
by Caty Petersilge
If hand work has one ultimate purpose, it is to build students up in the direction of that knowledge until they no longer second guess their ability to create what they imagine. This takes a great deal of time and many accumulated successes, and confidence in one’s creations is a lifelong human pursuit. Consistently creating useful, beautiful objects with one’s own hands is a tangible and powerful support to this work, and giving those creations to others is fulfilling in even more far-reaching ways.
Here is a breakdown of handwork done, by grade, at Spring Garden Waldorf School.
Class One spends their first few weeks of school making two very important implements for handwork: a finger-knitted drawstring (for their handwork bag) and a pair of knitting needles. This is done in preparation for two days at the end of September when Class Eight comes down to join us for handwork class and teach their first grade buddies how to knit! This is an efficient and magical means of passing on such a nimble handicraft.
Class Two, having honed their knitting skills last year, begins this year by creating a thinner pair of knitting needles. Using these new tools, they knit their flute case, which holds their flute in second grade, and their recorder in third through eighth grade.
In Class Three, students get familiar with a new tool: the crochet hook. The students learn the single crochet stitch and make a ten stitch by ten row bookmark. Once this is completed, they will use the same stitch to make their pencil case. Later in the year, they will learn to crochet in the round and the students will make a pattern to grow a hat for themselves or a loved one.
Class Four, in preparation for their studies of Norse mythology, students do Norse knot work — creating bookmarks or bracelets from wool yarn. Students are also at the beginning of embroidery, learning the four basic stitches required to make a needle case, which will serve as a home for their needles as they work on their elephants in sixth grade.
Class Five knits toe-up socks in the round, which are certainly the most complex and difficult handwork the children have yet encountered. When the children finish their first pair of socks, they can choose to make a second pair or to create a pair of mittens.
Class Six sews elephants making use of the needle cases the students made in fourth grade. The elephant will be given as a gift to a younger friend, so special attention to detail is necessary where seams and stitches are concerned. Toys are meant to be loved and played with after all, so we must remind ourselves to make them durable!
Class Seven plunges into felt making, which comes at the perfect time for seventh graders, whose last few years of handwork have featured steadily smaller work and more fine motor skills. Felt making comes in as a breath of fresh air and gross motor skills, with hard work in the arms and shoulders forming a strong, grainless fabric.
Class Eight’s great work is to create a pair of flannel pajama pants using treadle sewing machines (they are studying the industrial revolution, so they are in a unique position to appreciate the difference these machines made in lives of people back then). We also pick up a paper craft skill: making Froebel stars. These sixteen pointed cousins to origami can be seen hanging from the ceiling in the handwork room.
Students in grade 3-5 can bring a friend to school this Monday, October 13th, to experience Waldorf Education first hand. Join us and see the educational philosophy that has caught the attention of the New York Times and CNN.
Children attending bring-a-friend-to-school day, will spend the day with their sponsor friend as a typical Spring Garden Waldorf student. They will shadow their friend in the classroom and experience a regular day, including main lesson and all the day’s subjects.
Students must be registered to attend. Please call 330-666-0574 to register or email Amy Hecky at email@example.com.
Wet felting is a common handwork activity in Waldorf schools. In wet felting, combed sheep’s wool (sometimes called “roving”) is soaked in warm, soapy water, then kneaded so the individual wool strands break down and combine into felt. Wet felting offers unlimited potential for creativity, as the felt can be manipulated and shaped in many different ways – for example, students in the middle and upper grades Handwork classes fashion it into book covers, hats, and three-dimensional sculptures.
Recently, our Early Childhood students helped their teacher with the preparation process of wet felting. Miss Kathy brought out a bowl of warm, soapy water scented with lavender oil and the children took turns stomping the wool in the bowl.
The purpose of wet felting with their feet is to give these young students a grounding sensory experience. On this particular day, the children had high energy levels and were having a hard time settling into creative play. But after this experience, which engaged the children’s senses of touch and smell while satisfying their need for movement, they were able to settle calmly into creative play.
The completed wet felting project will be a piece of scenery for a puppet show and story the children will be hearing during story time.
Right around or within middle school, children are taught the basics of geometry. Geometry runs the risk of being a dry, passive and abstract experience. If a teacher spends too much time writing formulas and drawing shapes on the board for observation or memorization, students can lose interest and believe geometry has “little to do” with their lives and experiences.
But this study of forms, their properties, and their relationships to one another, is far from uninspiring. In fact, geometry is at the heart of every human-made construction and is integrally tied to higher math and physics.
Waldorf does not take a passive approach to such vital and applicable mathematics. Sixth graders are at a time in their development when their complex and creative inner world can be merged with their ability to use tools and be precise.
This makes the study of geometry, at this age, ideal since teachers can help combine the practicality of angle, perimeter, area and volume with the beauty of complex, yet precise, forms that can, when applied creatively, marry math with art.
Each student is given the same task — such as the creation of a six sided polygon — but then allowed to apply color to their constructions, which allows their creativity and personality to enter into this precise mathematical uniformity.
In this way, geometry is brought to life and fully experienced by the students, who, when sixth grade is completed, will be ready to take this very concrete knowledge to a more abstract level.
Here are some examples of geometry forms, made by Spring Garden sixth graders.
Every fall, rain or shine, Spring Garden Waldorf School takes students in Grades 4, 5, and 6 on an overnight camping trip at Camp Y-Noah. Although it’s great fun and inspires camaraderie, there are academic and developmental reasons we take our older students camping.
Children get to go horseback riding, canoeing, and climbing, and they participate in team building games and sports like archery. Camp counselors are professionals in their given outdoor fields and teach students purposefully, exposing our students to adult role models who are worthy of being imitated. This experience of being taught by others who are not teachers by trade is great for older children. And in the broader scope, being out in nature and camping allows us all to connect with the natural order and the world in which we live. Students gain perspective from being outdoors and also learn in new ways about scientific phenomena, sustainable living, and much more.
Students in Grade 4 are undergoing an important developmental shift – they are beginning to see themselves as individuals in the larger world. At around age 9 and 10, children separate more fully from their parents, question all they encounter, and look for “real” experiences so they can test their growing abilities. This is the perfect time to leave home, experience nature, and learn among its challenges. For many students, the Grade 4 trip represents their first time away from home with a group of peers. Outdoor education experiences that occur during the trip help children gain courage, compassion, and cooperation.