Change Your Mind – Observe! Science Kits and New Ideas June 02 2016

Change Your Mind – Observe! Science Kits and New Ideas

At Waldorf Publications we’ve been busy building science kits for use in classrooms and for home experiments. These kits were originally invented by David Mitchell years ago to recreate the physics demonstrations delineated in the excellent book, Sensible Physics Teaching by Michael D’Aleo and Stephen Edelglass. It’s one of the earlier books published in the United States on teaching physics in Waldorf schools.

With these science kits one can build an electric motor, use a monochord to demonstrate the mathematical connection between tone and string length, demonstrate hydraulic power, show the poles in magnets, use a water prism to demonstrate the distortion water makes in viewing things, watch a plant grow roots below ground, demonstrate optical illusions, and create beautiful forms on a Chladni plate of brass with a violin bow. These are but a few of the science kits we assemble.

It takes a certain willingness to abandon reason to make these kits. We sit chopping tissue paper into confetti for the static electricity kit, and winding long lengths of coated copper wire for the electric motor kits, and labeling little envelopes with the names of the optics cards to help make sure there is no confusion with which is which. The question, “Are you crazy?” comes to mind now and then. The answer is—perhaps.

We are certainly crazy about science and the power of the way it is taught in Waldorf classrooms. To witness an isolated phenomenon of the physical world is to experience the world in a new and startling way. Thoughts come that all begin with, “Wait a minute. I never thought. . .” and end with something very different from the ideas we all have in our heads about what science is. Watching phenomena changes your mind about things.

In Waldorf education we work very hard to help students develop into thinking individuals. To think creative thoughts a person has to be free of pre-existing patterns of thought that clutter the mind. After attending a science conference long ago at the Green Meadow Waldorf School, we realized we should abandon all pre-conceived ideas about science. We wished to start over with a whole new approach to science. These thoughts and feelings were exhilarating and daunting. Pre-conceived thoughts are really much easier!

The science kits are themselves a lot like the science teaching done in Waldorf schools—or really like all teaching in Waldorf schools: filled with endless potential for opening minds to new ways to see things, think things, discover things. Our hope is that parents might also try these kits and experiment at home with their children and experience some of the fun of figuring things out from observations. Minds can change by simply trying an experiment and observing the results. Our motivation is that these science kits might be catalysts for insight.

While testing out the new Chladni plates in the office, the bow made a high pitched tone and the form the tone generated in the dancing grains of salt made a pattern no one in the office had seen before in Chladni plate experiments. This, in turn, generated a period of real excitement and a sense of wonder. “How does it DO that?” a colleague wondered. We took a picture (left) of that form on the brass plate for the instruction sheet and are very pleased to have such a rare form be the representative for the Chladni apparatus.

After a time of considering the action of the plate and contemplating the pattern made by the salt moving on the plate by the action of the bow making a tone against the edge of the brass plate, one might come to realize that sound is formative, that our voices, the music we hear, the sounds of life in villages and cities, make a difference in who we are, how we are formed.

Someone who experiments with a Chladni plate and plays with it according to the instructions might just experience the same sense of wonder as we did and think about the tone of voice they use or the filtering of some sounds to diminish harshness or loudness. Different ideas might come, new ideas, from watching this remarkable event of making visible the richly formative energy of a single tone.

This is why we are a little bit crazy about carrying on the madness of making science kits. We hope they help Waldorf teachers in preparing for their science blocks. We also trust that these will generate new thinking, new ideas, new wonder at the way the world really is, and how things really work.