Physics in the Middle Years
When I was 12 my brothers and I were kicking a football out the front of our house. My last kick of the day, on a tight angle from the pocket towards the goal, slammed into the power lines above. One of the lines came down. It hissed and snaked around on the ground, for the other end was still attached to the mains. It was a thing of awe and fear. We all knew instinctively to get out of the way. That was my first real introduction to electricity. We were told about safety with household appliances and power points but there it was in its raw, angry state.
The middle years, classes 6, 7 and 8, provide the perfect opportunity for children to get a “feel” for physics, maybe not with the live end of a dangerous, snaking cable but certainly through seeing and doing. In our school we present Physics at this stage as an observation based activity. Students are asked to carefully perform and closely watch an experiment and consider its implications, without reference to scientific theory in the first instance. Pre- formed ideas can get in the way of their appreciation. We want them to develop their power to think openly, rather than expecting an explanation to be given to them. In this way they can better appreciate the wonder and mystery of the experience unfolding itself before them. It is the difference between saying to them, “This is what is happening here” and asking the question,“ What do you think is happening here?”
This freshness of seeing allows for their imaginations to come into play and enriches their understanding of science. When they come to the more abstract concepts and theories later on they will have within them a store of strong sensory and imaginative responses to support them. That is the beauty of teaching ideas at the right time and in the right way for the children. The subject can stay alive for them.
Dr Steiner was keen for students to keep a sense for the mystery of the world, as well as trying to understand it. Mystery is all around us. We look but we don’t see so much. We find a neat definition for something and can see no further. An apple, that is what it is, all that has been coded into that name. As an artist I find I am constantly trying to challenge myself about what I am seeing, because I know the mind plays tricks on me. I slip into the familiar way of regarding something and lose the ability to appreciate the extraordinary qualities of what is before me.
Likewise in science; we can’t truly see what is there in front of us until we look without filters. And we begin with the qualities of what is there. The word for this kind of scientific approach is “Phenomenology” and it is what we do at Sophia Mundi between the ages of 12 and 14. It is the base that the more conceptual work of later classes is built on.