Mathematics in Waldorf Education has always been and continues to be Revolutionary

By: Andrew Starzynski

 

The hallmark of Waldorf Education is to educate the whole child “head, heart, and hands” so what does this mean for the math curriculum in a Waldorf School?

Every Waldorf math lesson (as well as every other subject in Waldorf Schools) involves thinking (head), feeling (heart) and willing (limbs). In the feeling realm, students need to be enthusiastic for mathematics and thus math should not be a chore but a delight. They should be inspired by stories of great mathematicians and awesome applications of the mathematics they are learning or will learn in years to come. They should see that their teacher is also passionate for mathematics. This will inspire curiosity and excitement about the concepts they are learning and allow them to engage with math in a genuine way, creating lifelong learners.

The students also need the will to overcome any obstacles that may be in their way and build the resiliency to pick themselves up when they fail and try again. Math is taught through movement whenever possible, activating the limbs and enhancing their memory and understanding through their whole body, part of the realm of the will. The thinking realm is developed not only in math skills classes where practice through repetition takes place, but in main lesson blocks where larger chunks of time are given to introduce new concepts through the imagination, biographies of mathematicians, kinesthetic movement, artistic renderings, so that the context of math and the awe and wonder of number is inspired in the student. Main lessons allow for major concepts to be introduced through different modalities to enhance the true understanding and connection of math concepts rather than the mere conventions of processes.

Arithmetic and geometry are largely kept separate for as long as possible so the child can experience both in their purest form. While other schools introduce calculators and technology early on, Waldorf Schools emphasize mental math and the proficiency of arithmetic, such as the time tables and number facts and wait until Grade Eight before the students are allowed to use calculators which are then used sparingly. Students learn the basics of how the technology they are using works, before they use it. Math scores in every province across Canada, with the exception of Quebec, have continued to drop in recent years. While Waldorf schools don’t put much stock in standardized test scores, Waldorf teachers teach more than arithmetic and the processes of math, they aspire to bring a solid understanding of math and its applications. Many teachers in Ontario believe the basics are being rushed and the sequencing of the concepts in the curriculum does not leave breathing space. These educators are just beginning to acknowledge what Waldorf education has been practicing for almost one-hundred years.

Our curriculum continues to foster curiosity, enthusisam and true understanding at the center of our teaching by educating the whole human being – head, heart and hands. The revolution continues!