The Curriculum of the Steiner School - Middle School

Notes and Lesson Plans

The Physics Curriculum for Class 6, 7 & 8
updated March 25, 2022

Recorded here is my own personal collection of articles, resources, favorite links, teaching ideas, and lesson plans. It encompasses many years, from the very beginning of my experience studying and learning about Waldorf to the present time. People from all around the world visit my site and recommend it to others. Welcome!

This site records my journey. I hope my honesty is encouraging and helps break down some barriers that may prevent people from trying Waldorf methods. Because this is an ongoing site documenting my curriculum planning and ideas, some materials are more Waldorf-y than others. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

The Physics Curriculum
for Class 6, 7 & 8

Mission Statement - Consulting Services - Lending Library

Physics is Fun!
A Sourcebook for Teachers

by Rudolf Trostli
This is the best and only book you need for Middle School Physics.

Here is an excerpt from one of the introductory sections of the book, explaining how Steiner conceived of the Physics curriculum for these ages:

    The physics curriculum of the upper elementary grades is rich and varied. In the course of these three years, the students are introduced to the basic principles of all the major areas of physics. Rudolf Steiner gave the following curriculum indications regarding the teaching of physics in the Curriculum Lectures of September 6, 1919:

      We start with the teaching of physics in the 6th class in such a way that it is linked with what the child has acquired through the teaching of music. We start our teaching of physics by letting acoustics grow out of the musical. You bring acoustics into relaxation with musical science when you describe the human larynx physically and physiologically. You cannot describe the human eye yet at this cage, but you can the human larynx.

      Then you proceed to optics and the science of heat, taking the most important items. The principles of electricity should be taught in the 6th class as well.

      In the 7th class you extend the teaching of acoustics, heat, optics, electricity, and magnetism, and only from here do you proceed to the most important principles of mechanics, i.e. the lever, the wheel and axle, roller, pulley, inclined plane, cylinder, screw, etc.

      In the 8th class you enlarge again, revise what you have fostered in the 6th class, and then pass on to hydraulics, the theory of power working through water. You take everything belonging to the concept of lateral pressure of the water, buoyancy, the Archimedean principle, etc.... You bring the physics lessons to some sort of a conclusion with aerodynamics whereby everything is discussed concerning climatology, the barometer, and meteorology.

    Such a curriculum sounds formidable. How is it possible to cover all of these subjects in one main lesson block of three or four weeks each year? How can one develop the subjects introduced in the sixth grade in the seventh and eighth grades, and introduce new subjects as well?

    Some teachers have solved this problem by increasing the number of weeks devoted to physics during the year. Others have coped by reducing the number of subjects covered in each year. In sixth grade, for instance, only sound, light, and heat might be introduced; in seventh grade, only mechanics and electricity might be covered, and in eighth grade, only fluid mechanics. This approach seems to have the advantage that the topics can be covered more thoroughly and in greater depth. It is not, however, what Rudolf Steiner suggested, and it is worthwhile to try repeatedly to determine what might have been intended by the curriculum quoted above....

    If we examine the differences among the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, we recognize that each grade requires a different treatment of a subject, and each demands a different approach. The sixth grader [emphasis added] who is studying physics for the first time comes to the subject with tremendous enthusiasm. Every phenomenon makes an impression. Because he is so open to the world, everything is new, exciting, and interesting. Because their sense impressions are so strong and compelling, the students in the sixth grade are content simple to observe the phenomena. The teacher must harness and channel the students' capacity for experiencing the subject deeply and teach them how to school their sense impressions so that the conclusions they draw will be sound and true.

    The seventh grader [emphasis added] approaches the study of physics in a different way. The subject is no longer exciting because of its newness, but it is more interesting and compelling because of the beauty and truth of its laws. Most seventh graders and no longer content simply to experience the material as observers; they want to become more involved and to see how the subject relates to them. The approach to physics in the seventh grade must change to meet this urge for involvement, and the teacher must find ways in which the students can become active not only as observers, but also as participants. Seventh graders are eager to quantify their experience, and the physics work should satisfy this desire by incorporating measurement wherever possible. The task of the seventh grade teacher is to help the students reflect upon and objectify their experience and to form sound judgements.

    By eighth grade [emphasis added], most students consider themselves nearly grown up, and they wish to be treated like young adults. Many an eighth grader balks at a demonstrational approach to physics, considering it babyish. The eighth grader needs to experience the relevance of what he is studying in order to take an interest in it. In the eighth grade the study of physics must incorporate the larger spheres of life and industry. Pure observation is still necessary as the basis for drawing accurate conclusions. Measurement, which has become an integral part of the students' work, creates the basis for sound judgements, but students need to be able to take individual initiative and to be given a certain amount of leeway to experiment and to try things out for themselves. Out of this activity, concepts should grow -- concepts that are rooted in observation and weighed against experience; concepts who application may be seen working in the human being, in society, and in the natural world.

    The process of thinking -- drawing conclusions, forming judgements, and arriving at concepts -- is developed in every lesson throughout the upper elementary grades and the high school. The study of physics in each of the three upper grades has a certain flavor and concentrates on one aspect of the process of thought. The sixth grader needs mostly to draw conclusions from his sense perceptions. The teaching of physics in the sixth grade is therefore almost entirely based on observation. The seventh grader needs mostly to be shown how to form sound judgements. The teaching of physics in this grade therefore incorporates opportunities for quantification and measurement. Because the eighth grader is ready to develop clear concepts, he needs to be challenged to derive concepts and laws from his experiences and from the world around him.

    Some teachers who have tried to work with the forces of sound, light, heat, magnetism, electricity, and mechanics each year have found the work to be too superficial. They have therefore decided to focus on a limited number of subjects each year and to develop the content in greater depth. This approach seems to have the advantage of thoroughness, but no matter how long one spends on the study of heat in the sixth grade, the sixth grader cannot develop the depth of conceptual thought of the eighth grader. If one studies subjects like sound, light, or heat only in the sixth grade, there is a great deal that cannot be treated because it is inappropriate to that grade level. If these subjects are treated throughout the three grades, however, there can be a gradual development of the subject so that by eighth grade one or two key experiences or phenomena embody the wealth of concepts gained over the years....

    From my experience, I have concluded that it is not only possible, but advisable, to cover the subjects that Rudolf Steiner suggested each year. If one keeps a view of the whole, chooses the subjects carefully, and varies the approach for each year, it is possible to cover a wealth of material, thereby helping the students arrive at a meaningful synthesis of all that they have learned by the end of eighth grade.

    With the previous considerations in mind, how might one arrange the study of physics in grades 6, 7, and 8? Integral to Waldorf education is the freedom of the teacher to research, develop, and present the subjects of the curriculum out of his own understanding of the needs of the children and the circumstances of their continuing education. It would be ideal if every teacher would develop his own subject outline. Teachers who are about to introduce physics for the first time in the sixth grade often feel at a loss and are eager for guidance. The following syllabus is therefore given to indicate how the subjects in the physics curriculum might be presented during the three upper elementary years. While this syllabus has proved manageable, balanced, and effective, it is not intended to be definitive or prescriptive in any way.

    [my note: Static Electricity experiments work best in the Winter, so consider doing Physics at that time of year]

    Grade 6
    one main lesson block of four or five weeks

  • Sound - five lessons
  • Light - five lessons
  • Heat - five lessons
  • Magnetism - five lessons *
  • Electricity - five lessons *

  • * OR if combining Magnetism and Electricity into one week, three lessons on Magnetism and two on Electricity

    Grade 7
    one main lesson block of four weeks

  • Sound - four lessons
  • Light - four lessons
  • Heat - two lessons **
  • Electromagnetism - five lessons
  • Mechanics - five lessons

  • ** more can be studied in conjunction with the properties of water in the Chemistry block

    Grade 8
    one main lesson block of four weeks

  • Sound - two lessons
  • Light - two lessons
  • Heat - one lesson
  • Electromagnetism - five lessons
  • Fluid Mechanics - five lessons
  • Aeromechanics - five lessons

We had to do a "Quick & Dirty" Physics block in 8th grade because my daughter had never taken it. Here are my notes:

    Grade 6 Sound

    #1 Determining the Different Sources of Sound - pencils, paper

    #2 Mystery Sounds - ten objects that make different kinds of sounds, pencils, paper

    #3 Grouping Sounds into Categories - any objects that students can find with which they can make sounds

    #4 Sounds Can Be Created by Blowing - a few different types of wood instruments, a few other objects that can be used to create blown sounds

    #5 Sounds Can Be Created by Plucking, Bowing, or Striking a String - a few different types of string instruments

    #6 Sounds Can Be Created by Striking - a few different types of percussion instruments, a few other objects that make sounds by striking

    #7 Sounds Can Be Created by Rubbing - a set of maracas or other rhythm instruments that use friction, sandpaper and wood chalk and blackboard, a gut string and powdered violin or cello rosin

    #8 The Singing Glass - crystal wine glasses, water, vinegar

    #9 The Pitch of Blown Sounds - a series of bottles of various sizes

    #10 The Pitch of Blown Sounds #2 - a series of bottles of the same size (beer bottles or milk bottles work well), water

    #11 The Pitch of Plucked Sounds - we used a dulcimer for this

    #12 The Pitch of Percussive Sounds - we used the bottles from demonstration #10 without moving them

    #15 The Pitch of Friction Sounds #2 - a set of wine glasses of equal size, water, vinegar

    #16 Loud and Soft - a group of instruments that represents the four categories of sound: blown, plucked/bowed, percussive, friction

    (Torin Finser has a nice discussion of timbre blocks and I would like to have gotten a set)

    (We also did pp.14-15 from 175 More Science Experiments - Sound Waves, Seeing Vibrations, Vocal Vibrations, and Make a Sound Cannon)

    #19 The Propagation of Sound through Solids - classroom desks, yardstick

    #20 Making Cutlery String Chimes - pieces of string about 2 ft long, spoons, knives, or other pieces of metal

    #22 Underwater Sounds - bathtub

    (I really wish I had invested in a Chladni Plate and would get one if doing this block again)

    Grade 6 Light

    #1 The Experience of Darkness - heavy cloth, cardboard, or heavy paper, pushpins, tape, six odorless beeswax candles, matches, a large sheet of paper

    #3 The Unrevealed Revealer - a dust-free room (we used a bathroom), a strong flashlight, a tube of black construction paper, 2 chalkboard erasers or incense and a match

    #5 How Light Travels - a candle, matches, 8 pieces of stiff white paper cut to 8 1/2 x 11", a yardstick, a thumbtack, masking tape, a card table or student desk

    #6 The Intensity of Light - twelve pieces of stiff white paper about 2 ft square, a candle, matches

    #8 Transparent, Translucent, Opaque - a piece of wax paper, a piece of colored construction paper, a piece of heavy cardboard

    #9 The Generation of Color - a jar, water, milk, a candle

    #11 Mixing Liquid Pigments - an aquarium or very large glass bowl, three large jars, Stockmar watercolor paints, three small jars or cups, a light source
    (Make sure the water is STILL. Then do not disturb; let stand for hours.)

    Grade 6 Heat

    #2 Warm and Cool Sounds - two metal rods, two plastic rods, two wooden rods

    #3 The Warmth of Materials

    (Torin Finser, p.142)

    #5 The Sources of Heat - Combustion #2 - candles, matches

    #6 The Sources of Heat - Light - a magnifying glass, a piece of thin paper, an aluminum pan, a sunny day

    #8 The Sources of Heat - Friction - sandpaper, wood

    #9 The Sources of Heat - Friction #2 - a saw, a piece of wood, a hammer, a large short fat nail, a stump

    #10 The Sources of Heat - Stress - pieces of metal coat hanger about 8-12" long

    #13 Warming and Cooling - wax, a pan, a gentle heat source, a metal tray, a small container

    #14 Cold Hands - needles, matches, a shallow pan or the bathroom sink, water, ice cubes, three strands of yarn, a clipboard

    #21 A Good Conductor - hot water, spoons of different materials such as wood, sterling silver, steel, and plastic

    (NEED Greek Mythology experiments Heat 1, Heat 3)

    (I wanted to do #30 Cracking Marbles but Natalie was too afraid to)

    Grade 6 Magnetism

    (I wish I had bought a piece of lodestone/magnetite and some iron filings)

    #3 What Types of Metals do Magnets Attract? - a magnet, an assortment of natural and man-made objects including objects made of various metals, some smaller magnets

    #5 The Powerful Poles - a bar magnet, a number of brads, tacks, or pins

    #6 Polar Power - a bar magnet, a horseshoe magnet, a number of paperclips, nail polish (it helps to mark one end with nail polish)

    #7 Finding the North #2 - a bar magnet, a large paper clip, string, a compass, stove (the stove in your kitchen will throw it off -- try it!)

    #8 Making a Hanging Compass - a strong magnet, a large sewing needle or a wool felting needle, a 12" length of thread, a candle, matches, a pencil

    #9 Making a Floating Compass - a soda straw, modeling beeswax, a strong magnet, a large sewing needle or a wool felting needle, a large bowl, water

    #10 Like and Unlike - two bar magnets, a paper clip, string, shower curtain rod

    (orienteering could be a fun follow-up)

    #14 Magnetism Travels through Solids - flat pieces of various materials, a strong magnet, a small steel object such as a ball bearing

    #15 Without Wetting Your Hands? - a magnet, a paper clip, a clear glass bowl, water

    (again, I really wish I had purchased iron filings... this is a must-have item for this block)

    Grade 6 Electricity

    #1 The Attraction Power of Amber - a piece of amber, a woolen cloth, small pieces of paper, wood shavings, small feathers, small pieces of thread

    #2 Generating Static Electricity - rubber, woolen cloth, a piece of glass, a piece of silk, styrofoam packing peanuts, a piece of string, a balloon

    #4 Sensing Static Electricity - Sound - a balloon, a piece of woolen cloth

    #6 Sensing Static Electricity - Touch - a balloon, a piece of woolen cloth

    #11 The Attraction Power of Static Electricity #4 - a piece of glass, a piece of silk, several thick books, puffed rice or little pieces of styrofoam

    #14 Repulsion between Like Charges - two brand new balloons blown up fully, string, masking tape, a piece of woolen cloth

    Grade 7 Mechanics

    The Lever

    #1 The Beam Balance - a pan balance, several kinds of weights, some with known weights and some without

    (teacher background on the classes of levers:

    #5 The First-Class Lever - 10 ft piece of 2" x 8" or 2" x 10" lumber, an 18" piece of a 6" - 8" diameter round log

    #6 A First-Class Broomstick - a broomstick

    #8 A Second-Class Broomstick - a broomstick

    #9 The Third-Class Lever - a long piece of wood or metal pipe 8 - 10 ft long

    #10 A Third-Class Broomstick - a broomstick

    The Pulley

    #11 The Pulley - a pulley of any size, string or rope, two equal weights

    #12 Using Pulleys - a 4" or 6" clothesline pulley, clothesline, a heavy weight such as a box of books

    #14 A Broomstick Pulley - two broomsticks, about 25 ft of smooth rope or plastic clothesline

    (I wanted to do #15 Calculating the Mechanical Advantages of Pulleys but never got organized enough to set up the various pulley rigs)

    The Wheel and Axle

    #16 The Wheel and Axle - a small wagon, a heavy weight

    #18 Going the Distance - a pencil compass, several pieces of stiff paper (cardboard would be better, like the backing from a pad of paper), scissors, a pencil, meter stick, plastic yarn needle
    (table and two leaves will still not be long enough for the biggest wheel, so you'll need to be prepared to use a large section of your floor)

    #19 The Crank - a large screw eye, a piece of wood, a screwdriver

    #20 A Broomstick Crank - a floor broom

    The Inclined Plane

    #21 The Inclined Plane - an 8 ft long piece of wood, a chair, a heavy weight with a smooth bottom

    The Wedge

    #23 The Wedge - large nails, a file (I just put the tip of the nail in a large vise and snapped it off), a hammer, a few thick pieces of wood

    The Screw

    #25 The Screw - several screws of equal length and thickness but with different numbers of threads, a screwdriver, a pine board, soap

    #26 A Model of the Screw - paper, scissors, pencils or dowels

I strongly strongly recommend using Trostli as your main text for the Physics blocks! Here are some other possible supplemental resources:

  • School as a Journey: The Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class (EXCELLENT)
      Sound, pages 138-141
      Light, page 144
      Heat, pages 142, 176-177
      Magnetism & Electricity, pages 143-144, 171-174
      Simple Machines, pages 170-171, 196-200 (Industrial Revolution)

  • 175 More Science Experiments to Amuse and Amaze Your Friends
      Sound chapter starts on page 10
      Electricity & Magnets chapter starts on page 50
      Weather chapter starts on page 129

  • Spy Science: 40 Secret-Sleuthing, Code-Cracking, Spy-Catching Activities for Kids
      Listening In - page 56
      Testing 1, 2, 3 - page 61

      Mock Compass - page 30
      Key Posters - page 33
      Seeing Around Corners - page 46
      Seeing It All - page 51

      Opening Letters - page 22
      Small Secrets - page 79
      Lemony Message - page 82
      (lots of the invisible ink techniques would also be helpful for the Nutrition/Chemistry block)

      Spy Science Alarm - page 64
      Morse Code - page 111

      Mechanics (Simple Machines)
      Gotcha! - page 39
      Rubber Bands - page 77

      Fluid Mechanics
      Tricycle Tracker - page 67 (water pressure)
      Seeing It Bigger - page 54 (surface tension)

  • Adventures With a Cardboard Tube: First Science Experiments by Harry Milgrom
  • Balancing a Meter Stick experiment
  • Paul Harvey - "The Rest of the Story" - 250 Years (Benjamin Franklin - electricity)
  • Electric Vocabulary

  • Some additional (traditional) FREE downloads of Physics resources which we have enjoyed:

    ALSO, please note that it is really important to take the time to understand your students' misconceptions. An experiment, even a phenomenological one, will not automatically override a deeply-entrenched prior belief. The experiment and the conversation around it must be done with great care. Students' Misunderstanding of Galileo's Experiment on the Leaning Tower of Pisa (PDF)

    Blog posts from teaching this as a Science Club topic in 2020:

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