“How can I be the person who potentially takes this field forward?” That is the question that DWS high school physics and mathematics teacher, Adam Newman, wants his students to ponder.

This question arises from years of thoughtful scientific study, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through elementary school, middle school, and high school. A developmentally appropriate scientific curriculum — interwoven with history, arts, and mathematics — empowers our students to think critically, observe carefully, and find their place in a dynamic world.

The Scientific Journey from Kindergarten Through High School

Our education in science begins with our youngest in kindergarten. Quite simply, the children observe and experience the world in a way that develops foundational scientific skills.

In the early years, nature walks allow young children to hone their skills of observation. In the springtime, they may see tulips pushing through the soil and opening their beautiful colors to the sky. They may hear a mother robin chirping to her babies in the bough of a spruce tree. They may feel the soil, warm and soft underneath their little toes.

In addition to nature walks, kindergartners come to intuitively understand mechanical processes by simply playing on a teeter totter or kicking their legs out on a swing. During story time, they become engrossed in stories of nature, all the while building a foundation on which later scientific training will rest.

This foundation continues into the early grades. By third grade, students learn ecology by studying how people work in the world — in this case, how farmers serve as stewards of the earth. The youthful eagerness to work and to learn about the world spark an interest in natural processes.

In fourth grade, students directly study the living world through explorations of the human and animal kingdom. The students employ the arts to further their study of morphology. As long time DWS teacher Tom Clark says, “The arts are the good friends of science. Together, they help us understand reality.” The study of morphology encourages students to perceive reality through truth and observation.

In the last year of elementary school, fifth graders study the living world through botany. They carefully draw plants, further training their powers of observation. To truly understand a natural system, one must first be able to observe and reproduce its critical elements.

In middle school, the science curriculum is tailored to the students’ awakening intellects through the study of chemistry, physics, and physiology. They learn experientially through their senses. The principle theme, as Mr. Clark explains, is: “without jumping to a conclusion, what exactly did you see?” From experiment to concept, students learn through hands-on experience and carefully record their observations.

In seventh grade, the students explore mechanics, learning how simple machines work. They work with levers to grasp how a relatively small amount of force can be applied to lift, for example, the back end of a teacher’s car!

With this solid understanding of basic machinery, eighth graders are challenged to understand the technology that impacts our lives. From stereo headphones to motors to internal combustion and jet engines, our Waldorf students gain a working knowledge of the forces at work in our modern world.

By the time a Waldorf student enters high school, they have already developed keen powers of observation. The focus in high school centers around the capacity to think scientifically across various disciplines — including chemistry, biology, and physics.

Unlike some high schools that may teach biology one year and chemistry the next, DWS integrates the major scientific disciplines into each of the four years through their block system. Consequently, our graduates will have taken chemistry, for example, in all four years—not just one.

In ninth grade, students are “very much into the what” of the world, as explained by Nancy Taylor, DWS high school science teacher for the Life Sciences (biology and chemistry). The study of anatomy taps into this natural curiosity during the ninth grade year.

In tenth grade, students crave a more dynamic type of thinking. DWS challenges its students to move from a static to dynamic view of the world through the study of physiology — focusing on the flow of how bodily systems work.

Eleventh grade marks a continued shift to the powers of abstract thinking. In chemistry, that means a study of the atom as a unit of matter. In biology, the focus moves to the cellular level.

From atomic chemistry to embryology to immunology, the students engage their intellect in abstract ways. This intellectual shift to the abstract is made possible by all of the foundational capacities developed in prior years, including attention to detail and acute observational skills.

The big question for twelfth grade is: “how do I fit into the world?” This question naturally lends itself to a study of zoology, the human being, and biochemistry. And to think it all began with those simple nature walks in kindergarten!

Teaching Science to Prepare Productive Citizens of the World

Science is a dynamic universal language that develops the capacity to observe, to think, to be open, to learn from history, to be flexible, and to problem-solve thoughtfully. These skills are crucial as DWS graduates enter a world marked by challenges and opportunities.

Consequently, science in our Waldorf curriculum is not just a specialty subject reserved for a few; rather, all students undergo rigorous scientific development during their time here. Dr. Taylor’s biochemistry course in twelfth grade is the culmination of a four-year journey in chemistry with each and every high school student.

In the words of Mr. Newman, each student must give science a “proper go” and cannot “tap out” when the scientific rigor intensifies. He believes in giving each student the chance to fall in love with science. Dr. Taylor fully agrees that “they can all do it,” and that each student is capable of developing an “intuitive sense of how the world works.”

To achieve this foundation, DWS teachers encourage their students to think of themselves as part of an ongoing scientific mission to understand the world. In the study of electromagnetism in high school, for example, the class begins its study with the history of the thinking about electromagnetism.

While it may be tempting to just jump to the current model of electromagnetism, Mr. Newman pushes his students to follow and replicate the early experiments that led to our modern day understanding of the subject. The students live the scientific method, setting up experiments, observing the results, and understanding how our collective thinking in a subject evolves with each developmental step.

Our students are not just told what’s going to happen. They must conduct the experiments in electromagnetism and observe the results themselves. By embracing this process, the students understand the historical trajectory of a particular field of study and, importantly, its future direction.

DWS graduates enter the broader world with a well-developed ability to observe, to be flexible, to problem-solve, to predict and test, and to think critically with an open mind. Whether a graduate continues with the study of science in college and beyond, or pursues another field entirely, these skills will serve them and humanity well.


To listen to our teachers share about the curriculum, take a listen to our podcast covering this topic here.