by Melanie Ingler | Communications Coordinator
16 local schools competed in a FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament at our beautiful campus in Mountain View earlier this month. For many teams, this was one of the first in-person competitions since the start of COVID.
FIRST Tech Challenge teams are composed of students from grades 7 – 12. They are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Each team is guided by adult coaches and mentors from their school or community as they develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and working as a team.
The winning alliance from Saturday’s event was captained by team 12635, “Kuriosity Robotics” a community affiliate team, with their alliance partner from team 13216 “Deja Vu” from Santa Clara High School & 49ers STEM Leadership Institute (SLI). A full list of the award recipients can be found online.
As a host team, our robotics team, the Walbots, did not compete. They joined forces with 78 other volunteers who gave up their Saturday to make the event possible. Parents, students, alumni, faculty, staff, of the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, along with other community members served as judges, inspectors, scorekeepers, referees and more!
FIRST’s ethos of “Gracious Professionalism and Collaboration” was evident throughout the event. Participants from the 16 teams enjoyed the school’s campus, especially the massive garden. They took breaks from working on their robots to hold chickens, jump on tree stumps, play football, tetherball, or ping pong, and enjoy the rope swings hanging from a nearby tree. One participant said, “The whole event had a fun, chill, vibe and was so much fun.”
Due to covid, there have been a reduced number of in-person tournaments, and a limited number of teams permitted at the events. While teams are able to compete up to three times to attempt to earn a spot at the NorCal Regional Championships, this year many teams have been limited to just one in-person event, if at all. This inspired Walbots Team Captain Lysander Schmidt and Team Sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson to approach WSP with the idea of the school hosting, not just the school’s first robotics tournament but, their first tournament of any kind on their Mountain View campus. At the end of the day, the joy of this major accomplishment was emanating from all of the parent, teacher, student, and administrative volunteers; and of course the Walbots!
by Rich Armstrong | WSP Music Teacher and HS Dance DJ
The High School Courtyard was magically transformed into a red-carpeted, paparazzi-infused tunnel that opened into an art gallery and dance hall. Much effort was made to give the students an amazing experience, complete with a snack bar and a “chill” room that featured table and dance video games. I was the DJ pumping tunes in the beautifully-lit dance club area, featuring literally thousands of lights, a welcoming dance floor, and four thousand watts of well-tempered sound.
I was immediately wowed by the amazing effort put forth by the dance committee. Students had helped set up throughout the day, and when I arrived after school to set up the DJ equipment, I saw a diligent team of parents, admin, and teachers working full-steam to get things ready for the dance. Final touches were being put on the “paparazzi” area, such as lighting and even stanchions to rope the paparazzi away from the future stars as they arrived. The red carpet was being double-taped to the floor, and you could tell a magical night was ahead, with all the lights that were carefully placed all around the fully tented outdoor area. At the 7 pm start of the dance, it seemed all of the finishing touches were just completed.
Everything looked amazing, and I noticed a really cool touch: an art area complete with framed paintings that were done by the students. It helped complete the vision of an art gala. Students started trickling in, dressed to the nines in ballgowns, suits, and even some costumes that were artfully fashioned with much imagination, echoing the amazing outfits you’d see at the actual Met Gala. Slicked-back hair, and bow ties were prevalent throughout the growing crowd. It was fun to see these young adults so dressed up and energized after taking tons of arrival pics with the “paparazzi,” expertly staffed by parents and teachers of the school.
It usually takes a while to get the students dancing, so I played some of my favorite chill music and then started in with some songs to warm them up. I knew the students had learned all styles of dance from Dr. Lea Fredrickson, so I asked her for a few requests to get the ball rolling. I played a few line dances to tempt them in, and some Bee Gee’s disco got them on the floor with the hustle. It was a joy to see them do the hustle and even swing dance. Having dance in their curriculum is really unique to this school (starting in middle school) and it really shows on the dance floor in shared joy and fun dance moves.
The requests started coming in and there’s no better way to get the students dancing than to play them. The dance floor grew to a frenzied singing mass and it was a joy to behold. At moments, the students were singing together, arm in arm, and at other times they were jumping up and down, making the tented outdoor area seem almost warm. Even though you could see your breath, it somehow got hot in there! Sometimes there were squeals of anticipation at a song, something that makes a DJ happy, and it was a joy to see the well-dressed crowd so engaged in each requested song drop.
10 pm came too fast and ‘Forever Young’ was the final song, an appropriate slow dance to sum up the night. At the end, the students helped clean up, and the many participants made short work of this Herculean task. The 2022 WSP Met Gala was a total success and an amazing time was had by all.
by Phil Dwyer | HS Teacher
Most of what we use in our modern world can be traced back to the fires of a blacksmith’s forge. Most crafts and trades either began or evolved with the forming of hot iron under the blacksmith’s hammer. The most fundamental impact, of course, was on food production. With the introduction of iron farm implements crop yields increased, which enabled the dense population clusters of cities, which in turn gave birth to urban trades. The flip side also included ever increasing capacities of weapons production and usage. Thus the twin threads of our heritage have come down through the ages: progressive creative collaboration along with destructive conflict and confrontation.
Just a handful of generations ago our entire modern world was crafted, created, and maintained within the fire-breathing realms of smithies (blacksmith shops). As recently as the American Civil War, steel products were still manufactured at the ends of blacksmiths’ hammers. Not long ago our hometowns, villages, and city blocks were populated with the industrious and critically important smithies. It is mind boggling that what was so incredibly prevalent not many life spans ago became nearly extinct almost overnight.
In recent years there has been a renewal of blacksmithing, especially in the artistic and architectural realms. Waldorf high schools have long known about the many wonders of the craft. When students take up the hammer and thrust iron into the flame, they do more than just make a metal gadget. They step onto the primal path of our very being as modern humans. Every time high school students move heavy steel anvils, forges, and tool racks, they do more than just set up the shop. When they approach the fury of the forge to place their cold iron in it, stand beside it to monitor its heating progress and remove the iron glowing bright orange, they do more than just simply heat iron. When they pick up the cross peen hammer, lift it high over their heads, and forcibly swing it down to strike the searing steel, they do more than just pound metal. When they reheat the iron as hot as they can without letting it burn, they do more than just watch for the right color. When they take blazing metal and clamp it into the solid upright post vise to twist and bend it, they do more than just shape it. When they render these activities, blacksmith students join the ranks of ancient alchemists and crafters as well as modern technicians and artists.
High school blacksmith classes are considered practical and applied arts courses. Students apply their academic studies in practical ways in the smithy. The sciences are obviously at home there, such as thermal dynamics, mechanics, and chemistry. So too, are the arts and the aesthetics of function and form. The humanities with their cultural and historical context are equally at home in the smithy. Perhaps even more so, but a bit less obvious, the physical, psychological, and inner lives of blacksmith students are well exercised at the forge and anvil. Blacksmithing supports and strengthens physical body growth, coordination, and agility. Students gain a practical understanding of and appreciation for metal, as well as develop skills and confidence with tools and basic machinery. To craft a piece of raw steel with one’s labor into a functional item of beauty is a nourishing activity in other ways, too.
To work directly with the four most basic of “elements,” earth, fire, air, and water, not only has drama and excitement, it has power and danger! To transform one’s fear of danger into respect and confidence through one’s own disciplined efforts is a noble and worthwhile deed. The firsthand knowledge and experience of having made such a transformation—from the daunting to the capable—lives on in the students. The ability to develop capacities gives students navigational ballast throughout life. Additionally, awareness and mindfulness are two more capacities that are imperative for students to develop in the smithy. Sharing a workspace safely while swinging hammers and wielding hot steel compels students to be awake to self and others at all times. This is undertaken as a social deed with one’s classmates.
Making hard steel malleable with jets of air and fierce fire, shaping searing steel with anvil, hammer, and hand, quenching forged steel in water, sizzling and hissing, students become smiths of iron in parallel with the forging of their very selves! It is quite moving to behold their progress from hesitant, tentative work to bold, eager, and skilled execution. After all, it is no small feat to stand steady in the midst of the mighty forces of intense forge fires in tandem with hormonal surges and blooming neural networks. Our high school blacksmith students do it with aplomb and merit our applause!
…Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
— from The Village Smithy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
by Lea Fredrickson | HS Faculty & Walbots Sponsor
On Sunday December 5th, just one day after hosting the Fairebot at the Winter Faire, the Walbots participated in their first qualifying tournament of the season. The team and their robot did very well, making it to the semifinals!
The robot performed particularly well during the endgame portion of the matches, where it reliably turned a wheel to bring many rubber duckies into the field of play.
The Walbots participate in FIRST Tech Challenge tournaments. Each year the parameters and challenges are set by the league and announced just as the school year begins. Here is a video describing this year’s game.
We have some exciting news: for the first time in Walbots’ history, on February 5th the team will host a Qualifying Tournament at the Mountain View campus! We will be looking for many volunteers to help us with this event. We will need people who can help the event run smoothly as well as people with technical knowledge who can evaluate robotic team performances. 🙂
by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Nursery – Grade 8
On Tuesday, October 12th, along with many parents in Silicon Valley, I joined the Common Ground Event ‘The Essentials of Executive Functioning – Building the Skills to Flourish’ with Dr. Adele Diamond. Dr. Diamond is a leading expert in the field of executive functioning, a host of cognitive skills children need to develop not only so they can thrive at school, but also later in life.
Studies consistently show that strong executive functioning skills are a better predictor of successful careers and happy relationships than IQ scores. In part, this is because IQ tests measure something called “crystallized intelligence”- which is mostly how well you recall what you have already learned. Executive functioning, on the other hand, is related to your ability to use that information – to be creative and problem-solve with it. In other words, executive functioning relates directly to fluid intelligence
As Dr. Diamond says, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition —actually predict success better than IQ tests.”
Executive functions begin to emerge in early childhood, and, like the developing brain, do not fully mature until early adulthood. In order to develop, they need constant work and reinforcement.
Given how important these skills are, you may wonder how WSP and Waldorf Education support the development of the four categories of executive function skills. The four categories are:
- Focus – In order to learn or carry out a task, we need to be able to control our attention – ignoring some things while zeroing in on the activity, skill, or lesson we wish to fulfill. This is true whether we are a young child struggling to tie a shoelace or a manager crunching numbers for a mid-year report. Nothing gets done without focus and attention.
- Working Memory – Working memory is the ability to hold pieces of information in our minds while adding to it, updating it, or working with it to create something new. Dr. Diamond highlighted oral storytelling as a way of challenging working memory. When a student is listening to a story, they have to keep track of the actions, words, and interactions of the various characters in order to understand the whole story.
- Cognitive Flexibility – This is the ability to think creatively and problem solve. Without cognitive flexibility, it is easy to get stuck. Cognitive flexibility is also the ability to see someone else’s perspective; the ability to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity or admit to a mistake.
- Inhibitory Control – We do not often think of the ability NOT to do something as an important skill, but anyone who has taken a few deep breaths to control an impulse has practiced such control.
So, how does the teaching of executive functioning show up in Waldorf education, particularly here at Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley? I see it throughout the curriculum. In fact, every recommended activity that Dr. Diamond identified as supporting the robust development of executive functioning takes place at a Waldorf School. From Early Childhood through high school, our core curriculum attends to each of the four categories of executive functioning skills. Executive management skills are also directly addressed through the high school years, often as a focused topic of study for incoming high school students. Here are a few of many examples across the curriculum:
Dr. Diamond talked about a study of First Graders that found that the children who heard a story, rather than having it read to them with pictures, had improved vocabulary and an ability to recall (working memory) the details of the story. Every day in Early Childhood, teachers tell stories to their children. These stories feature advanced vocabulary (with words such as “precipice” and “horrendous”) and challenge children to remember the actions and interactions of various characters. Verbal storytelling features in the early grades as well, but the teacher now adds a review, challenging students to recall details of the story the following day.
Starting at around four years old, children transition from something called parallel play into the richer world of role play. Here they work with friends to create worlds together and populate them with characters and actions. When a child is role-playing, they need to inhibit the desire to go “out of character”; they need to keep their character and other character’s words and actions in working memory; they need to respond flexibly when their friend does something unexpected, and they need to remain focused on the story and all its moving parts. Dr. Diamond described role-playing as hugely important for developing executive functioning skills. Fortunately, the Waldorf school day provides lots of time and space for children to pursue such play and not only in the Early Childhood. In the first and second grades, formal instruction ends at 2:05 pm so students can have an open class period, which allows for role-playing and social interaction.
Traditional games and toys
WSP’s Early Childhood program abounds in open-ended toys such as blocks and play cloths. A block is simply a piece of wood – a child needs to think flexibly in order to make it into a chair, table, part of a slide, or a cave. In the grades, teachers frequently play games with children that require them to keep a sequence of movements in working memory. Properly executing the sequence of movements requires focus as well as inhibiting the impulse to move when they are not supposed to move.
Eurythmy also involves keeping a sequence of movements in working memory while focusing and inhibiting impulses. In fact, Dr. Diamond specifically cited storytelling, dance, art, music, and play as being healthy and powerful drives in developing executive functioning skills. She described the distinction between “academic” and “enrichment” activities as arbitrary and wrong. In addition to developing vital executive functions, these activities also address social, emotional, and physical needs.
Avoiding the negative impacts of stress and “teaching to the test”
Dr. Diamond opened her talk on executive functions with a discussion about stress. She cited studies that show that, while some people perform well under mild stress, many people perform markedly worse. She was clear that even those who performed well under mild stress did not perform better – they were just less negatively impacted by the mild stress.
For this reason, Dr. Diamond dislikes the emphasis on tests and grades, and especially “teaching to the test.” Research shows that this emphasis leads to lower executive function, less critical thinking, and much higher rates of stress among students.
At WSP, we foster a healthy rhythm of learning that’s free of unproductive stress or competition. Faculty ensure that students are evaluated on articulated, visible and relevant learning goals, and encourage students to strive for excellence in order to reach their highest potential rather than do merely enough to arrive at an arbitrary end.
Student crafted lesson books
Opportunities for developing and strengthening the capacities to organize and synthesize are inherent in Waldorf students’ lesson book work, which goes considerably deeper than simply recording data. Students capture not only information but also their impressions and feelings. From learning how to form letters to composing thoughts via well crafted sentences and paragraphs with neat handwriting along with artistic elements such as drawings, paintings, and well-balanced colored backgrounds deftly support executive functions. Even creating page borders helps with framing content, context, and contemplation.
Students take on more initiative and self-direction as they progress through the grades with the creation of their lesson books across a vast scope of studies. Many WSP alumni have reported that they use the “Waldorf lesson book method” to help with organizing and synthesizing their college studies.
All you need is love
Dr. Diamond emphasized that the single most important thing parents can provide for their children is love – that our caring is more important than our knowledge, skills, or resources. In the journey through the grades at WSP, the teacher generally stays with the class for grades one through eight. This enables students, teachers, and their families to learn and grow together over time. The security from these long-term relationships supports learning, confidence, and healthy development of social and emotional skills. At the high school, our small, supportive and close-knit community helps ensure that each student is known, respected, valued, and challenged.
From early childhood all the way through their senior year, students build the capacities to organize, manage and synthesize, step by step, so that they may function productively and with purpose as individuals–and in the communities in which they choose to participate.