“I look into the world,
Wherein shines the sun,
Wherein gleam the stars,
Wherein there lie the stones,
The plants they live and grow,
The beasts they feel and live…”
Today’s lesson begins with an understanding of what Waldorf chemistry is (this part is for Mom) and what you are looking for. I have been pondering the above verse and how it relates to these first lessons. Today we took a step back to botany (gr5) and what it takes to bring forth plant life…
From the text “During the mineralogy main lesson block in grade 6 we studied the earth’s crust, in which “there lie the stones”, suggesting a state of complete rest. It is true that at a closer look this state of rest is sometimes only apparently so: mountains erode, volcanoes erupt, etc…. In grade 7 we first turn to that particular layer around the earth in which “the plants they live and grow” here nothing but action, process, change… Plants form the connection between the darkness of the earth (roots) and the light of the sun (colorful flowers) – via the air (leaves). Being the oldest “chemical factories”, they even manage to develop and grow from these opposite poles: they make new substances for their development from nutrients and water (out of the earth) and air (carbon dioxide), under the influence of light and heat (sun). Here we find the four elements: earth, water, air fire.”
He goes on to say: “Plants form the basic material for the primal phenomenon of fire: only plant matter can be burned, not mineral matter. Burning is one of the oldest chemical processes, during which the substances the plant used as building materials are separated again: white ashes (the nutrients), water (vapor), air (carbon dioxide), light/heat.”
I LOVE how the author brings these terms to ones that are easy to relate to. If he had been my chemistry teacher I would have stuck with it!!
More: “So, on the face of it, we start “chemistry” with fire, but in reality we start with the plant! After the tangibility of the minerals, fire is something intangible: not a concrete object, but a process that takes place between extreme poles: upward (light/heat) – downward (white ashes). Fire is also a process which involves all the surrounding air (oxygen): there is an air current to the fire and one away from it.”
In this experiment we used the little table top grill we bought (Target, $17) there are of course many other options. I suggest a non-windy day, that messed with us just a bit. We covered the grill rack with tin foil as a collection plate for the material we were burning. We also took a few moments to point out (as per the author) a few things:
upward: pole of light and movement (flames, pointed tongues reach upward, fast changing shapes, flames and sparks shooting up, etc. also how it radiates.
downward: pole of rest and heaviness (glow, round forms develop in the material at the bottom, slowly shrinking and collapsing of shapes, black charred matter sinks down, etc.)
We started with a leaf, it was quickly observed that the green went out of the leave very fast, leaving behind ash.
One of the big boys grabbed a big juicy tomato from the vine (we have a few more!) and some bark, also a mushroom from the yard. For a few moments there was conversation and then betting among the two big boys as to what would happen with the tomato, one swore it would wither and the other that it would explode. I just stood there with my mouth shut (yes, that happens occasionally! lol)
The author recommends quickly recapping the experiment but NOT discussing it until the following day. The first day you are looking to “evoke peace and contemplation after the excitement of watching the experiments. But not discussions or explanations yet. The children must take the images with them into their sleep as clearly as possible.” This is just what Steiner suggests in “Teaching in the Upper Grades” – I have to say though… more than EVER this is TOUGH!!! The homeschooling mom in me wanted to interfere so much… this was cool stuff and I wanted to discuss it with them! I made notes for myself to discuss with them tomorrow.
Some other notes I took from this lesson, from the author:
“It seems better to speak of “burning” than of “fire”. By using a verb instead of a noun we emphasize that we are not dealing with an isolated, self-contained object, but with a process in which the whole environment is involved: flames emit light, heat is radiated, crackling is heard and smell is spread. The air takes back what it gave as (sun) light, the earth absorbs what it gave as nutrition (in the ashes) and water (vapor which eventually will become rain again)… The possibility to heat something by means of fire is at the roots of the oldest chemistry and technology: the cooking of food, the extraction of metals from ores. Even now chemistry and technology are unthinkable without the heat processes.” (this will be great discussion material for tomorrow!)
The next obvious question is “what else should we burn?” LOL… maybe it is just the boys asking that question! The author has this to say: “Julius burns natural products of plant origin. Von Mackensen immediately extends this to animal matter and smells the difference:plant matter smells good, animal matter stinks!” He goes on to say that burning plant matter helps the children see the products of burning return to their origin.