“I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.”
One of the greatest pleasures of teaching eighth grade in a Waldorf School is the opportunity to tie together curriculum material encountered in previous years.* “Do you remember when we studied…?” is a common refrain in our classroom. These specific connections that link different subjects, arise continually, but in other broader ways, our last year together provides opportunities to look back over a single subject, studied each year, and tie it together as well.
Geography is just such a subject. The curriculum began in 4th grade with the study of local geography. Fifth grade focused on North America, 6th grade on South America, and so on until by 8th we had covered all the major continents. Simultaneously we explored cartography, expanding our understanding of how humanity depicts the earth in two-dimensional and three-dimensional ways. Over the years we had drawn many maps but what about making a globe? What a great way to both review and expand upon our understanding of the world. And what a perfect project for 8th graders – an activity that allows them to both work and talk at the same time (their idea of what school should be like)!
We began with a balloon 16” in diameter that we plastered with papier-mâché. Despite our best efforts, what started as a smooth round sphere did contract slightly into a less than smooth surface, but undaunted we took the ‘big picture’ and used our imaginations to smooth out the rough edges. After painting the spheres white, the job of drawing longitudes and latitudes onto the emerging earth began.
“Do you remember when we studied astronomy?” This review gave us what we needed for latitudes – a mapping problem solved by the Ancient Greeks. Pinpointing longitudes however were trickier. While longitudinal lines as a means of measurement had been conceived of by the Greeks, the practical problem of knowing what longitude you were actually on eluded them. Jump ahead 1700 years…
“Do you remember when we studied the Age of Discovery?” With the discovery of the New World came the dilemma of ownership. Pope Alexander VI solved the problem on paper by drawing the Bull of Demarcation – a north-south line dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal. But where exactly was that line in reality? The race for a precise way of finding longitudinal lines was on, and included a prize offered by the King of Spain for whoever solved the difficulty. All the great minds of the day pondered it – Galileo came up with the theoretical solution but was not even granted an audience with the King to explain.
For over a century Galileo’s idea waited for technology to catch up. And it finally did when John Harrison constructed a marine chronometer (clock) precise enough to be useful. (He even won the coveted prize money, which at this time was offered by England.)
After hearing Harrison’s biography, students were itching to begin drawing these elusive lines on their own globes. What a revelation! Draw the lines yourself and they finally make sense! Now, with our guidelines in place, we could attach cut out copies of the various continents, and draw their outlines. The atlas came in very handy here, and we learned, sometimes the hard way, that 30 degrees longitude could be in two places on the globe – east or west.
With the continents outlined, we could begin the enjoyable task of painting – starting with the oceans. “The Pacific Ocean is enormous!” reverberated through the class. Hearing about its size is one thing, painting its expanse is another! “Where is the arctic?” For the first time, it dawned on many that the arctic was not actually a continent! “This looks strange.” How often do we look at the globe from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere?
How to depict the continents in color was the next decision. A physical representation allowed us to review the major mountain ranges, deserts, deltas and rivers. Finally it was starting to look like something we recognized.
Our very last question was how to display our globe. If time allowed I would have the students sculpt Atlas himself holding up their creation (“Do you remember when we studied Ancient Greece…?”), but we may need to settle for something more practical. Besides, the idea of using their globes for piñatas is very tempting for these 8th graders.