Teaching Grade 8: Awakening to Adolescence in a Rapidly Changing World

With Sarah Nelson

As eighth graders cross over the threshold of adolescence, leaving childhood firmly behind, they open up to the complexities of human society.  With idealism in their hearts, they long to understand the world around them, and they strive to “be the change they wish to see”.  Simultaneously we find our eighth graders filled with nostalgia for the journey now behind them, and happy to slow down and relive the many happy moments they have shared on this educational voyage. 

In this course we will explore how we can bring our students the truth and inspiration they long for, especially in a year filled with economic, social, racial, and governmental turbulence. Many of our young people will have spent the last year isolated from their peers, inundated by technology, and facing an unknown future. We will see how history and geography can illuminate their understanding of how humanity and world social forms have evolved during the last 300 years. With biographies from times of revolution to an era when the world came together to combat genocide and fascism, our students can experience the lives of heroes and moments of inspiration that can ignite in seemingly hopeless situations. To bring more diverse experiences to these topics, we will look for stories from the non-dominant voices in history, and reflect how our perceptions of diversity exist today. 

In contrast to the  uncertainty of our present world and the complexity of human relationships in society, we can also bring a sense of certainty with the studies of geometry and physiology. The beauty and infinite wisdom of nature can be seen in both of these blocks, and we will look at how we can use them to instill a sense of belonging to the natural world and the cosmos. 

Mathematics and language arts will, of course, be woven into Main Lesson blocks, and we will have time to share how these skills continue to unfold and prepare the students for the more advanced learning they will encounter in high school. 

Lastly, we will explore how the varying mediums of Zoom, hybrid learning, asynchronous learning, and various internet platforms have now changed our approach to teaching during the upper elementary school years. How do we stay true to the essence of our work as Waldorf pedagogues, while being present in a world that is changing at such a rapid pace? I will share with you how I have adjusted the classic eighth grade curriculum to meet the needs of this new educational milieu, and how we can all stay flexible and current in these difficult times. 

Sarah Nelson graduated from the Center for Anthroposophy and Antioch New England Graduate School twenty years ago. Since that time she has taught at Haleakala Waldorf School in Maui, Hawaii, where she worked with students  from pre-K to Grade 8. She also made a brief move up to Vancouver, BC where she took a class through the first six grades while her daughters attended the high school at the Vancouver Waldorf School. For the last five years, in addition to class teaching, she has served as a Leadership Council member for the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, representing the Southern California/Hawaii region. This year she completed an eight-year journey with her class in Maui, and has returned to British Columbia for a sabbatical, and to see what the future will bring.

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