The Waldorf Curriculum: Grade Eight

Block Rotations and Course Descriptions



As he or she progresses through Grades One through Eight, the Waldorf class teacher must determine not only what will be taught, but also how and when. The “block rotation” presented here, as well as the descriptions of the subjects to be taught and the week-by-week approach to this teaching, will hopefully inspire class teachers to develop their own modus operandi for this challenging task.

Eugene Schwartz leads Online Conferences for teachers and parents of children in grades 1 through 8. For more information visit

Note: Elements of Grade Eight, a CD-ROM with many images of student work from this grade, as well as verses and a class play, may be purchased at

Eighth Grade Main Lesson Block Rotation Eugene Schwartz, class teacher

September 8 – October 1 Geometry October 4 – October 22 History, Part 1 October 25 – November 10 Mathematics November 15 – December 3 Human Anatomy December 6 – December 17 Meteorology January 3 – January 21 Organic Chemistry January 24 – February 18 History, Part 2 February 28 – March 24 Physics April 4 – April 22 Class Play Preparation April 25 – May 27 World Geography May 31 – June 3 Class Trip June 6 – June 10 Finale • Our Class Play school performances will be on the evenings of April 22nd & 23rd • We will go on curriculum-related day trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, a Shakespeare performance in New York City, and possibly to Philadelphia



The study of “Geometry in Art and Nature” will be our first block this year. We will explore the spiral and the Golden Proportion to understand the geometrical principles that underlie natural forms as diverse as the chambered nautilus and the galaxy, as well as some of the greatest paintings and works of architecture that have been developed through the ages. Our work will include the drawing of spirals with instruments and freehand, and the study of some of the basic mathematical principles, such as the Fibonacci Series of numbers, that generate spiral forms.

This block will also include the study of the elements of Euclidean Geometry. Basic axioms, theorems and proofs will be learned, to provide a basis for logical thinking. A portfolio of geometrical drawings and a section of a main lesson book devoted to geometrical theorems will be produced during this block.

Week One: Construction of the Logarithmic Spiral as the mediator between the circle and the straight line. Spirals in art and nature. Week Two: The Golden Rectangle and the Golden Proportion. 1.618 or φ (phi), a ratio which underlies organic growth in plants, animals and the human being. The Logarithmic Spiral as it develops within the Golden Rectangle. Sketching of natural objects out of the spiral. Week Three: Construction of the Pentagon based on both the circle and the Golden Rectangle. The Fibonacci Series (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34…); it’s relationship to phi, to the spiral and to the pentagon and the pentagram. Natural forms based on the pentagon. Week Four: Euclidean Geometry. Axioms, Theorems and Proofs. Practical application of geometrical relationships.

Later in the year, we will use Extra Main Lesson periods to study Solid forms in clay and sketching them, students will extend their geometrical understanding into three dimensions. Dr. David Booth of the High School Mathematics Department hopes to join us and introduce the class to solid geometrical construction using the “Zome Construction System” that he has invented.


A basic tenet underlying the teaching of History in the Waldorf curriculum is that the period studied should serve as an “objective correlative” to the developmental changes occurring in the body and the soul of the student. With the advent of adolescence, eighth graders are undergoing a re-formation of the bodies and a transformation of their souls. As they experience the sometimes tumultuous clash of forces within and without, it is appropriate for us to study the periods of European history demarcated as “the Reformation” and the “Age of Revolution.” Although the periods of time we will study are much shorter than the broad spans measured by Ancient History or the Middle Ages, the complexity of issues that are raised and the intensity of the lives of those who made that history will make for a very rich experience. As in other years, students will write compositions based on classroom discussions and recreate paintings and other art works of the respective periods in order to penetrate the essence of the times that we will study.

Part One: The Reformation We ended our seventh grade study of the Renaissance by noting that the remarkable transmutation of crumbling Rome into the most artistically crafted city in Europe was due to the vision and largesse of Pope Julius and his successor, the “Humanist Pope”, Leo X. Yet where did they get the wealth to patronize such artists as Raphael and Michelangelo? This year we will encounter the use of Indulgences as a source of income for the sixteenth-century Catholic Church and the chain of events that led to the rise of Martin Luther, the “Father of the Reformation.” We will see that the Reformation was not only played out in the domain of religion, but had its equivalence in the arts and sciences as well. We will look back at the lives of Albrecht Durer, Nikolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo to understand the profound changes occurring in human thought at this time.

Our scene will then shift to England. After examining the multifarious early history of the British Isles, we will turn to the sixteenth century, and examine the colorful reign of King Henry VIII. The conflict of northern, Catholic England and southern, Protestant England will be played out in the rivalry of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, as well as in the skirmishes and conflicts of England and Spain. In the midst of this dramatic age stands William Shakespeare, whom we shall study and whose Comedy of Errors we shall perform in the Spring.

Week One: The life and times of Martin Luther Week Two: Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler; the conflict of science and religion Week Three: Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth. England and Spain; the Armada. William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre. The Sonnets and the Plays.

Part Two: The Age of Revolution

Our study of the life of France’s King Louis XIV will introduce us to a man who single-handedly recreated the idea of “kingliness” and turned the French Court into a theatrical event. We will begin with the uncertainties and dangers of Louis’ boyhood, and trace the manner in which he centralized his power and neutralized his enemies, even as he invested himself with glory as the “Sun King..” Within a century, Louis XVII was to forfeit all to the fires of the French Revolution. We will examine the fateful decisions made by the Assembly, the “Tennis Court Oath”: and the Declaration of the Rights of Man as the French Revolution shook Europe to its very foundations. As the Reign of Terror turns the Revolution against itself, we will trace the career of the humble Corsican officer who was to gain even greater glory than Louis XIV — Napoleon Bonaparte. Along the way, we will encounter some of the personalities who left their mark on those stormy times, among them Mozart and Goethe, Marat and Danton, Marie Antoinette and the Count of St. Germain. In their Reading class with Mrs. Turk, the Eighth graders will read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which will be a perfect accompaniment for this period in history.

We will return to England to witness another revolution which, though achieved without warfare, has been no less determinative for the modern world than the French Revolution. Our study of the industrial revolution will begin with James Watt’s invention of an improved steam engine. We will examine how much was to follow this pivotal invention; the urbanization of British society, the rise of slums and childhood mortality, and the spiritual battle of many Romantic artists with what William Blake called “the dark Satanic mills” that were to define the English landscape. We will try to understand how such modern problems as pollution, homelessness and occupational hazards – as well as the technological and political solutions proposed today — have their roots in the industrial revolution.

Week One: The life of Louis XIV of France. The Court at Versailles. The life of the French nobility; the peasantry and the people of Paris. Louis XVII and the French Revolution. The storming of the Bastille. Week Two: The Reign of Terror. Danton and Robespierre. The rise of Napoleon. Napoleon’s strategies and triumphs. The French Empire. Napoleon’s decline and death. Week Three: The Industrial Revolution: James Watt and the steam engine. Inventions and their effects on human life. The factory system; city life and child labor in the late eighteenth century. The Luddites and labor laws. The Romantic poets and painters.

Part Three: American History

A number of Extra Main Lessons will be dedicated to the study of American History from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. While the lives of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln will form the foundation of our work, we will also examine the economic forces and philosophical movements that led to both the break with England and the secession of the Southern states. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will be studied as documents which are no less relevant today than at the time of their creation.


We will begin with an intensive review of arithmetic, fractions, decimals, percentages and business math. We will learn the metric system, which was developed at the time of the French Revolution, another subject of study this year. Working with both the metric and the American system of measurement we will review problems in linear measurement and learn new formulas for measuring volume. In Algebra we will learn factoring, which will lead us into the study of quadratic equations, also known as “Second degree equations”, because they involve an unknown quantity that is squared. Two examples of the type of problems that we will encounter are: x2 + 4x – 10 = 35

x2 – 7x + 10 = 41 We will also learn the formula which is an alternative way of solving quadratic equations: ______ b ±√b2 – 4ac 2a which is not as difficult as it appears! (Your eighth grader will be able to explain it to you towards the end of the school year.) Word problems requiring both linear and quadratic equations for their solution will be an important focus during our block. We will work with math on a regular basis throughout the school year. To assist you in helping your child with his or her homework, you will receive a “review” of all that you may have once learned about the solution of quadratic equations. Please feel free to call me on the “Homework Hotline” if you have questions!

Math and arithmetic review will also take place throughout the school year.

Week One: Review of algebra. Linear equations. Using graphs to solve equations. Word problems with algebraic solutions. Week Two: Review of exponents. Factoring algebraic statements. Solving quadratic equations through factoring. Week Three: Solving quadratic equations using the quadratic formula. Word problems with solutions involving quadratic equations.

Human Anatomy

In this four week-long block we will study the human muscular system, the human skeletal system and tow sensory organs, the eye and the ear. At this age, many eighth graders are growing through a period of intense growth and hardening of the long bones, so it is a good time to become awake to the complexity and efficiency of the skeletal system. The skeleton will be studied as an “art work” in which form and function are united in a remarkable way; the interplay of the straight line and the curve, which occupied so much in our geometry block, will now appear again as the underlying dynamic in the form of the bones. Some “comparative osteology” may help us to recognize the uniqueness of human uprightness.

Our studies in myology will lead us to the complex interworking of the muscles with tendons, ligaments and jointed bones. The sprains and bruises, tears and occasional breaks suffered by many an adolescent athlete may be better understood through our study of this system, which also looks back to the various classes of levers that we studied in seventh grade Mechanics.

The eye and the ear will be studied as organs whose opposite structures and roles are nonetheless harmonized within the human being. We will examine the short, but eventful journey that must be taken by light and darkness and sound and silence before they are recognized as “sense impressions.” We will come to understand the delicacy and refinement of these sense organs and the effect that movies, television, the Walkman, and other electronic devices may have on our sensory perception.

Week One: The human skeleton. The curve and straight line, the “sphere” and the “column” as basic principles of form in our bones. Bone growth, damage and healing. The functions of the bones and their interplay. Comparisons between some animal and human bones. Week Two: The human muscular system. Muscles and blood; different types of muscles. Tendons and ligaments. Joints and different types of “levers” in human movement. Week Three: The human eye, its form and function. The human ear and the nature of sound. Blindness and deafness; Helen Keller and Jacques Lusseyran. Week Four: Coordination of the skeleton, muscles, and sensory organs. Students will develop “self portraits” of themselves as skeletons.

Grammar and Composition

Grammar will be taught once a week during an Extra Main Lesson period. Besides an on-going review of all aspects of grammar, we will work with subordinate (dependent) and independent clauses, which will bring greater texture and variety into the class’s writing. We will also hone our skills with pronouns, with a special stress on pronouns as subjects and objects and the proper use of indefinite pronouns. Another area that we will emphasize will be that of verbals – infinitives, participles and gerunds.

My experience has taught me that once eighth graders have learned about the human skeleton, their interest in grammar, i.e. the “skeletal system of language” is greatly enhanced. Since every main lesson block includes writing assignments, the students have many opportunities to practice what they have learned in grammar, and which grammatical issues arise is that of conversations. English major that I am, I am upset at the sloppy speech, monosyllabic slang and primitive grammar that has such a hold on teenagers’ speech. I am grateful that almost everyone in our class can turn their slang off and speak properly in class – though they feel compelled to revert to Teenspeak when addressing their friends. The error I still must correct most often is the use of “me” instead of “I’ as in “Me and him went to a cool store…” Your support in also correcting your youngster’s spoken grammatical errors is greatly appreciated!

Organic Chemistry

Through laboratory demonstrations and classroom discussions we will study the role of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), oils, fats and proteins in outer nature and in human nourishment. We will learn how to use reagents to test for the presence of various substances in foods, and learn something about artificial sweeteners, synthetic flavors, preservatives, hardened oils and processed foods. We will learn about the distillation of alcohol, and study its relationship to plant sugars and to human blood. We will try to understand something about the relationship of plant alkaloids to protein, and the role that these chemicals play in contemporary substance abuse.

Week One: Carbohydrates. The relationship of cellulose, starch and sugar to the root, leaf and flower of the plant. Sugars and starches in the human being. The history of sweeteners, from honey to NutraSweet. Week Two: Sugar and the production of alcohol; the effect of alcohol on the human being. Plant oils and fat in the animal and human being. The melting points of various fats and their relationship to animal warmth. Week Three: Protein in the animal world. The Egg. Mile and its relationship to carbohydrates, fats and proteins. “The Land of Milk and Honey.” Plant alkaloids and animal protein. Alkaloids and drugs.

World Geography

The way in which maps influence our perceptions of the world will be our starting point in this block. We will look at maps from the purely “qualitative” Cross of the World map of medieval times to the recent “quantitative” Peters Projection, which presents continents according to their area. We will then focus on the continents of Africa and Asia. Africa will be explored through journeys on three great rivers – the Niger, the Nile and the Congo, to come to know the people s clustered around these waterways. The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert and the great social challenges facing the Republic of South Africa will complete our African studies.

Our study of Asia will concentrate on China and Japan. The remarkable stability and dynastic continuity of these lands will be contrasted with the ceaseless changes that exemplifies European history. After tracing the major geographic features of the Chinese land mass and the Japanese archipelago, we will examine the great religious and philosophical streams of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism.

We will conclude this Geography block with the study of Russia. The powerful polarities that are evident throughout the Russian landscape will also be brought to the fore as we study the biographies of Czar Peter the Great and Leo Tolstoy.

Week One: Cartography. African Geography and Culture. Week Two: Asian Geography and Culture. Week Three: Asian Geography and Culture. Geography and culture of Russia. Week Four: Peter the Great and Leo Tolstoy.

Class Play We will perform William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. By the time we begin rehearsing the play in March, we will have read through its complete text twice, familiarizing ourselves with Shakespeare’s language and his highly allusive and complex imagery.


We will begin this block with the careful observation of clouds over a number of days (and hope that our area doesn’t go through one of its uniformly gray-sky periods at this time) and work with Luke Howard’s approach to the classification of clouds. We will then learn about the development of the barometer, and Goethe’s ideas about barometric pressure as the foundation for understanding weather. We will look at cooling and warming trends in the earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere that lead to such phenomena as “fronts”, sea breezes and land breezes, and the spiraling thermals utilized by hawks and gliders. We will study the phenomena of such major storms as hurricanes, tornadoes and waterspouts, and their role as “pressure regulators” in the world’s weather system. We will also look at how phenomena such as air and water pollution may affect future weather patterns.

Week One: Clouds an the layers of the atmosphere. The barometer. Weather and moods. Diurnal and nocturnal temperatures; their effect on the movement of air and water. Week Two: “Fronts” and air currents across the earth; reading a weather map. Winds and storms. The effect of human activity on the weather.


We will begin with physics demonstrations connected with hydraulics and pneumatics, which readily lead over from our preceding study of Meteorology. We will have some direct experience of a “Cartesian diver”, a pump and the creation of a vacuum through the boiling and cooling of water in a closed container.

The next two weeks – the final classroom experiences of the eighth graders in the Lower School – will be spent in the study of electricity and magnetism. Although isolated individuals had described electrical and magnetic phenomena over the ages, it was only in the last two hundred years — beginning at the dawn of the Age of Revolution — that such researchers as Franklin , Galvani, Oersted, Faraday and Edison systematically discovered and utilized these powerful and often enigmatic forces.

We will study various kinds of electrical phenomena, making the transition from “static” to “current” electricity as we examine the “electric cell” and the battery. We will witness the creation of a magnetic field through the manipulation of an electrical current, and the creation of electrical currents through magnetic movement — a pair of effects that led inexorably to the electric motor and the electrical generator — the foundations of the highly technical and high-energy world in which we live today. The study of such applications as an electric bell and a thermostat will lead to an appreciation of the ingenuity of thought and complexity of phenomena that go into even the “simplest” technical device.

Through our demonstrations and our study of the lives of some of the pioneers in this field we will learn of the powerful transformation of society that has been wrought through the application of electricity and magnetism to human life. We may the be led to ask: Have the powers of electricity and magnetism proven to be greater than their discoverers envisioned? Has technology improved the world or do its “side-effects” outweigh its benefits? Will future generations — including our own — find ways to balance the dangers posed by a purely technological approach to our world?

It is appropriate that the eighth grade’s last main lesson block concludes with challenges, not complacency, and ends with questions rather than answers.

Week One: The behavior of gasses and fluids in relation to heat and pressure. The Cartesian diver. A simple pump and simple barometer. How a vacuum is created in a canning jar. The steam engine. Week Two: The Leyden Jar. From the “electric cell” to the battery. Phenomena discovered by von Guericke and Franklin. “Current electricity” and electromagnetism; the work of Oersted and Galvani. Mary Shelley’s novel. Week Three: The electric motor and the electromagnet. The electric bell and the incandescent light. Direct and alternating current. Marconi and the crystal radio. The cathode ray tube; electronics, televisions and computers. The future of technology . . . .

Practical and Social Matters

The weekly Bake Sale and Pizza Sale, the dances and car washes and other events that are traditionally part of eighth grade in Green Meadow have more than financial value. On a daily basis they call upon the youngsters to be responsible to one another and to the school at large. Pizza that is picked up ten minutes late will mean two hundred hungry and very unhappy students, while the Wednesday Bake Sale is so intensely anticipated that one fourth grade girl puts her bake sale money under her pillow at night so that she won’t forget it in the morning! Serving at the cash register requires rapid mental arithmetic, while working on the clean-up crew of each sale is no less essential than baking. Not only do the eighth graders stand at the apex of the Lower School, through their sales and daily trash collection, they are also expected to provide a model of service to all of the younger grades.

“Life is short,” said Goethe, “And Art is long.” Every Waldorf teacher would echo these words — so much to teach, and so little time! Eighth grade is an intense and rich year, and I look forward to sharing its wealth with your youngsters. Thank you in advance for your support.