When parents and teachers are asked to think back to the most difficult year of school often they sight 7th Grade. Social issues, uncaring teachers and parents, and the quest to be authentic to oneself while “fitting in” to a group are all valid, difficult experiences of this age. How does Waldorf Education strive to meet this often unfriendly territory? With open heart, great courage, and an appreciation for all the good qualities that come with it as well.
The seventh grade year in our school is very full and rich. As 12 and 13 year olds, the students have crossed a threshold of sorts, entering into a new phase of development. They are filled with paradoxes and contradictions – inflated egos and self righteousness is balanced with great doubt and insecurities. They are, in one minute, laughing hysterically at a private joke, and the next moment they are struck silent and sullen by a thought or word. The students have a growing consciousness for social issues and require balance of sympathy and antipathy from adults to stay the course.
The seventh grade chemistry studies focused on three major areas: combustion, relationship of acids and bases, and salts. As this was the first explicit study of chemistry, some time was spent reviewing the three states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and finding differences between chemical and physical changes. The combustion studies included understanding how different substances burn, kindling temperatures, and the relationship of fire to oxygen and fuel. With our study of salts, this combined chemistry and physics as we investigated salt’s relationship to water and understanding the act of dissolving, saturation, and crystallization. We also used various salts and found that the mineral content in them produced different colored flames. Finally, our studies of acids and bases gave the students a deeper understanding of household items and their relationship to acidity and basic. Using a cabbage juice indicator, we discovered a rainbow of colors indicating the pH levels in lemon juice, grape juice, vinegar, Drain-o, laundry detergent, and baking soda. Understanding that an acid and a base makes a neutral and a salt (and gives off carbon dioxide) was an experience all students ended the block understanding.
This study truly reflects the inner life of the seventh grader. Instantly combustible at times, the students are often flamed into fiery responses to adults. The students have strong options and often are unwavering with their view of the world – and when they interact with those with opposing views it can be like the reaction of an acid and a base. Through all of this the students are striving to see the world clearly, forming their sense of self and the universe, much like the salt crystallizing in a pan of cooling water.