Seventh Grade China Projects & the Waldorf Approach to Studying History: A Conversation with Seventh-Grade Teacher Mia Fioravanti

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: history, Middle School, News, Pedagogy/Educational Methods and Philosophies- Jun 06, 2018 No Comments

The Study of History in Waldorf Middle School

We recently sat down with Bright Water Waldorf School seventh-grade teacher Mia Fioravanti to talk about the class’ China projects, which lined the wall opposite the seventh-grade classroom. The large poster-board presentations covered an array of topics: China’s climate, history, art and more, as you can see from the selection of images below. As we talked, the discussion ventured beyond the borders of China and into aspects of how history is taught in Waldorf elementary and middle school.

“We started our study of China by looking at Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism,” Mia began. “These helped us understand the foundations on which China was structured. Then we went on to study two of the dynasties: the Qin and the Han. The Qin was a relatively short-lived dynasty. The people who are loyal to the Han still make up a large portion of the Chinese population.”

Along the way, students picked topics on which to give oral presentations to the class, in addition to creating the displays. “Subjects ran anywhere from the current trade agreements and tariffs to the Mongol empire and everything in between: population, manufacturing, language, a biography of Bruce Lee along with a study of martial arts, ancient games, pollution and so on. This was a way we could cover more aspects of Chinese culture than I could do on my own. And while they were working on their projects, we also talked about Mao, starting in 1949 and working our way to the Cultural Revolution. It’s really the first revolution we’ve studied. Seventh Grade focuses on the Renaissance. In Eighth Grade we fast forward to the American, French and the Industrial Revolutions, on to the Civil War and then into the 20thcentury. So our study of China is really a segue into next year.”

Around the World in Grades Three through Eight     

The Waldorf curriculum approaches the teaching of history chronologically, especially as students move into middle school. After focusing on local history and geography in grade four, students begin studying ancient civilizations like Egypt, Sumeria, India and Greece in grade five, then move on to Rome and the Middle Ages in grade six. As noted above, grades seven and eight move from the Renaissance through to modern times.

This trajectory helps students develop a cohesive sense of the flow of history. It enables them to see how culture, myth, technology, and other factors influence the rise and fall of civilizations. And it also creates a tapestry that can be woven with ever more complex ideas as students continue studying history in high school and beyond. Finally, it gives students much to ponder regarding the “big” issues, like what it means to be human and how civilizations and cultures have evolved through time.

Mia pointed out another interesting aspect of the Waldorf approach to history. “One thing we try to do in Waldorf education is to get around the world by the Eighth Grade. Some places are harder to touch upon, places like China, Russia, Australia, Southeast Asia, but we try to work them in. We do this through the curriculum that’s already in place. So, for example, when we did the Age of Discovery we had a chance to study Africa and South America. And sometimes you can dig in deeper with reports and presentations. We did it with China, for example, and the Sixth Grade did it this year with their reports on African countries.”

The end result? “After the eighth grade, when students study history it’s not completely foreign to them. They can go deeper into the history and culture regardless of where they go to high school. We have built a sort of scaffolding to which they can add new ideas as they learn them. When they study the history of Greece, Rome, the Renaissance, everything they learned will come back, and they’ll have a foundation that will help them see things from different angles, and in new ways.”

Mia Fioravanti was born to a family who had owned a woolen mill in Illinois for 100 years. She graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art with a degree in Advertising Design. After several years working in that industry, Ms. Fioravanti returned to her love of textiles and apprenticed for a year with a seamstress from Russia and then went on to run her own design business. Ms. Fioravanti has also run a Waldorf inspired preschool in her home, and taught art at Seattle Waldorf High School in Seattle. Both of her children attended Waldorf schools; one is a graduate of Seattle Waldorf School, and one a graduate of Bright Water School. Ms. Fioravanti is herself a graduate of Sound Circle Teacher Training.

 

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