The 8th graders and I have moved on from our long (but super-fun) physics and meteorology block (click here if you want to read my outline for that block) and we’ve jumped into history.
I think I love Waldorf history more than any other aspect of the curriculum. My experience is that every step of the way, the Waldorf history curriculum so perfectly meets the developmental stage of the child, and in fact, we can look to the history curriculum for greater clarity and understanding of the child at each age.
This is certainly true for the 8th grade history curriculum, which is all about Revolutions. The 8th grader is ready to take everything that he or she has learned and completely turn it around and use it to act upon the world. The image that comes to mind is this class of 8th graders forming their inwardly facing circle that they’ve been forming since the first day of first grade, and then turning around. They’re still a circle. They still learn and grow together, but now they are looking out into the world and feeling poised to use everything they have learned to make their mark.
Waldorf 8th Grade History
During this election year, the 8th graders are also feeling quite political and opinionated. We’ve had some pretty good discussions, but I have been a bit disappointed that this year’s election isn’t quite the model of civil discourse that I would like to present them with. One day last week we did a survey of a couple of different debates — we watched Obama-McCain and Obama-Romney, and then we watched Clinton-Trump — and all of the students observed the difference in the level of respect the candidates seemed to have for one another.
This exercise set the stage for an assignment that I gave the students that will allow them to learn about American History by studying different elections. I’m really excited about it!
For this assignment, they’re working with a partner and each group has chosen an election. I gave them some suggestions of interesting elections to choose from, but they were so inspired, they immediately went home and started their own research. There were several students who wanted to study the Bush-Gore election and the Nixon-Kennedy election, but I didn’t allow repeats so that we could get a nice survey of American history via this project. I told the students that if there were several people who wanted a particular election, I would award it to the group that had gathered the most resources and done the most research. Many of them found this extremely motivating and I was astonished to see stacks of books, print-outs and even a binder full of information with a nicely illustrated cover the day after the assignment was given! In the end, we got a nicely diverse group of elections.
The assignment has several components:
- A summary of the election, including a discussion of 3-4 of the major issues and the candidates different stances on those issues.
- A biography of one of the candidates (one partner does one, the other does the other candidate)
- A campaign poster (and other campaign material, if desired)
- A portrait of the candidate
- A map of the United States showing the results of the election in blue and red.
- A scripted debate with at least 5 questions and written responses. We’ll hold the debates at an evening presentation that parents and siblings will attend. Because I have so many students, we’ll divide them up into 2-3 groups and hold the debates in 2-3 classrooms. Audience members will give feedback that I’ll use to evaluate their work on the project.
If you’d like a pdf download of the assignment, I’m happy to share it. Just fill out the email form below and I’ll send it along to you. This form will also get you on my updates list (I update just a couple of times each month.)
8th Grade Election Project Download
I'm super-excited about this great project my students are working on. Enter your email address to download it and feel free to use it with your students.
Other than this project, we are diving right into history and I’m having fun telling stories. I find that history blocks require an enormous amount of preparation! I’ve been spending 30-45 minutes in every lesson delivering content — sometimes it feels like a story, other times it feels like a college lecture. Either way, each evening I spend at least an hour preparing just the new content portion of the lesson.
This is going to be a writing-heavy block and I really want to use it as an opportunity to give the students some more instruction and feedback on their writing. There is a wide range of style and ability in the class when it comes to writing, and they could all use some stronger guidance, which is what they’ll get in this block. Last year I started scoring assignments and I’ll continue to do that this year. In this block the writing assignments will be weighted more heavily.
So, what is the content of this history block?
I struggled a bit in putting together the block outline, recognizing that though I wanted to stay within the theme of Revolutions, I also wanted to keep all of the gaps filled in. History is a continuum, of course. We left off last year at Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation, so I needed to take a little bit of time to elaborate on the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, including the biographies of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
After facing this challenge, I strongly recommend covering these topics (through the Spanish Armada) in 7th grade. So, we took a quick 3 days to cover those things and now have moved on. Here’s a basic outline (of course the first week is more thoroughly mapped out than the rest of the block, perhaps I’ll update as my planning gets more specific.)
- Monday — review Martin Luther, biography of Henry VIII, the Reformation
- Tuesday — biography of Elizabeth I, the Counter-Reformation
- Wednesday — the Spanish Armada, conditions in England that led to colonization, the lost colony of Roanoke
- Thursday — The London Company, Plymouth Company
- Friday — no new content, field trip
The American Revolution
The French Revolution
My primary resource for this block is an ancient set of books I found at our school called American Heritage: New Illustrated History of the United States. I’m a sucker for those old books. Than language in them is sweet and story-like — very different than the sound-bite, short attention span style of more contemporary books. I have also watched some videos to gain a better feeling sense of the time. Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and the John Adams miniseries on HBO are especially great for adult preparation (definitely not for student viewing.)
In our next history block, I plan to cover the Industrial Revolution and American History through the Civil War. Finally, I’ll have a short block at the end of the year to talk about civil rights, the technological revolution and more current events. Some teachers put a strong emphasis on covering history right through modern day in 8th grade, but I find that task pretty monumental. Instead I’m choosing to stay with the theme of Revolutions and bring in some of the other topics (World War I and II, for example) through class readers.
This week my students are working on portraits of Elizabeth I and they’ll receive a composition assignment about Roanoke. I’ll share some photos of their work as it comes in. I’ve been so busy with my prep work, I don’t even have a chalkboard image to share. This weekend a map of the colonies and a Join or Die flag will go up, though.
Some of my 8th graders shared with me that they are reading my blog, enjoying it and even using it as a chance to keep track of what is coming next. Clever students! Hi guys, should I give bonus points for leaving a comment?