Monday, December 19, 2011

An Outdoor Classroom

At Raphael House we are fortunate to be surrounded with a large area of wild bush covered hillsides.

This has allowed for the creation of many interesting projects around the school, such as gardens, play areas and even mountain biking tracks.

A recent continuation of this tradition has been an outdoor classroom with a fireplace surrounded by a circle of benches. This area has multiple uses as a fire circle for Lower School story telling, as well as a forge for making pottery and use as a smithy.

In these photos you can see Philip Robinson and Brett Whincup throwing their energy into creating the new outdoor education space in its early stages.

The area is also used for charcoal making, which involves wood collecting, sawing, splitting and stacking. When willow sticks are used, these can become charcoal sticks for use in Upper School art lessons. Its all part of the idea of making educational experiences practical and interconnected.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ex Raphael House student investigates antarctic sea ice

Andrew Martin at work in Antarctica
Andrew Martin was in the first pioneering class 12 that graduated from the Upper School at Raphael House in 1996.

After leaving school he studied animal and plant biology at Victoria University, and subsequently specialised in the microbes that live under the sea ice around Antarctica. These inconspicous little creatures have a huge influence on the Southern Ocean ecosystem because they are at the very base of the food chain upon which all the rest of the animals depend.
Andrew and his team drill through the sea ice for samples
Andrew has been on numerous expeditions to the frozen continent.
His research looks at how climate change will impact on these microbes as the sea ice is affected by warming of the sea water.

Andrew featured on Radio New Zealand's 'Nine to Noon' programme recently, where he explained his research from down on the ice to radio host Kathryn Ryan. Click here to listen to this interesting interview (9 mins 38 sec)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Class Three Building

This term Class Three have been working on their house building main lesson. In it we look into the history of house building and learn about some different types of houses, such as yurts and igloos, noting how they suited the environments they were used in. We also heard about animals that make their own houses, including beavers.

A house provides not only a shelter for us against the elements, but also a place of security and warmth, a place of community and comfort.

Class Three were lucky to have an experience of this on a small scale when they made shelters up in the pine forest. The pine forest is a familiar and beloved place for the children and they found a corner if it to make their own. They spent nearly three weeks (with much disruption from the weather) building, using wood, flax, coffee sacks, flax, bracken and ponga ferns. With parent support the children sawed, nailed and carried, working with focus to create their beautiful ‘homes’.

All the while they were envisaging how their shelter would be set up for the sleepover we were planning. They worked with their groups to create a special space to house them for one night. By creating this vision together there was a lovely sense of community within the groups.
When the sleepover finally arrived, with perfect weather, the children had indeed created a secure, safe space where they could comfortably sleep the night. They had a great time, from setting up their gear to a campfire with damper and marshmallows.

Purdy Biddle, Class Three Teacher.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Find your limits

Cow Creek Swingbridge
Raphael House has a long tradition of appreciating the  educational value of the great outdoors. At our doorstep are vast tracts of forested mountains with deep gorges, wild rivers and narrow, wind buffeted ridges. A perfect playground for the outdoor enthusiast or for the teenager with an overabundant supply of physical energy.

Helping hands in the bush (Photo: Andrew Fisher)
One of the many camps that students of our Class 9 (year 10) will experience is called the "find your limit' camp. The purpose is to offer these young people the opportunity to test their strength and endurance in face of the elements in the rugged surroundings of the Tararua Ranges.

Tararua River Crossing
Over four days the class traverses through dense bush, across rivers and over summits, with overnight accommodation in the tramping huts that are scattered throughout the Forest Park.

Windswept tussock near Jumbo Hut
Through the many outdoor experiences that are included in the curriculum at Raphael House, we hope to widen and enrich the young persons' experience of nature as well as their social interactions in challenging circumstances and their own personal resilience to being at the edge of their comfort zone in a safe and supportive setting.

Towards Mount Holdsworth

The sunrise gets an audience from Jumbo Hut

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Zealand’s Steiner School Certificate – a World First!

 New Zealand Steiner School Certificate
The Steiner School Certificate achieves a Milestone in Education in New Zealand

After two years of concentrated work the Steiner School Certificate has now achieved full approval from the New Zealand Qualification Authority. This is a major breakthrough in the recognition of Waldorf Steiner education in New Zealand for not only serving as an alternative education model but of also having academic equivalency with state and international certificates, such as the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and the International Baccalaureate.
The courses covered by the Certificate have now been registered as providing quality assurance with regard to course structure, assessment rigour and national consistency. 
Portrait by Class 11 Raphael House student
The certificates are awarded at Achieved, Highly Commended, and Distinction levels and have equivalent status across a
 range of state school subjects such as English, the Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts, as well as validating the significant extra effort required of Steiner students to publish independent research projects, be involved in school and community events such as drama and outdoor activities and so on.
Periodic Table Science Folder, Raphael House student

As a result, and in addition to this, the representative body for New Zealand’s eight universities – Te Pokai Tara, has also approved the certificate, which means that students who have achieved a Steiner School Certificate in Class 12 at Level 3 may be admitted Ad Eundem Statum (with equivalent status) to any of those universities.The certificate will provide a protective framework around the Waldorf curriculum and provide a state recognised pathway for Steiner School pupils through to tertiary education. This is an enormous achievement for our Steiner/Waldorf movement and one that cannot be underestimated, especially in the light of the current ideological trends in our education system.

Masks by Class 10 students at Raphael House
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and sincerely thank Donna Skoropada for her work in developing this qualification and to the qualifications committee members, Mark McGavock, David Stephenson and Des Pemerika for their work and contribution in this endeavour.

Karen Brice-Geard

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Farewell Amanda

We Remember Amanda
Always loving
Always caring 
Always giving
Forever becoming.

from all your friends in the community

San Francisco Youth Eurythmy Troupe

Eurythmy is an art form taught uniquely in Steiner schools around the world. It  brings music and poetry to expression through movements, gestures and colours.

In order to do this the choreographer has to have a sensitivity for the archetypal qualities standing behind the flow of sounds or words and bring them to life in each performance.

In Steiner education, eurythmy is seen as having value as an integrating experience for students, and it has also been developed as a therapeutic method that is applied by specialist practitioners.

Stars Once Spoke – Eurythmy Performance

In 2012 San Francisco Youth Eurythmy Theatre are touring New Zealand.  They will bring with them a programme devised by Astrid Theirsch and performed by 26 Upper School students who do Eurythmy as an elective.  In past years the troupe has toured India, China, New York and Europe.  

In this performance by the Troupe, eurythmy blossoms into a breathtaking art – pure poetry in motion! The new program will be premiered in February 2012 by the students who are 15 to 18 years old.

It features choreography to music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Paul Winter. A special fairy tale, The Dream Eater by Michael Ende, shows the magic side of sleep. Poems in several languages and humoresques round out the program. Delight in an experience of light, color, movement and music! The program is appropriate for all ages.

Raphael House will host them Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th February.  They will do two school performances in the Little Theatre on Friday and a performance for the wider community on Friday evening.  They are not to be missed!

Here are a couple of videos of the Troupe for you to enjoy:

Farming Experience for Class 9 2011

Raphael House has always been keen to offer a curriculum that is as much as possible practical and connected with the wider world. Included in this vision are all the camps, work experiences, craft lessons and other 'Education Outside the Classroom activities.

These experiences are a wonderful balance to the classroom work, and help enliven the head, hand and heart of each student.

This year Class 9 were sent to 14 farm placements from Taipa Bay (Northland) to Pleasant Point, (South Canterbury), and from Waitara (Taranaki) to Gisborne.

The experiences included  potato planting and grading, composting, possuming, lots of calves for calfetarias, macadamias and avocados, milking at dawn, and evening, planting of trees, collecting eggs and feeding chickens.

The students were back to the land. Not always getting the highlights anticipated, but
engaging, and having a great time in the spring.

Many former students of the school have commented on the value of these camps and experiences, even when (sometimes especially when!) they have been quite challenging.

We are very fortunate to have these opportunities at our school, thanks to the farm hosts and also to the dedication of our teachers who put in an extraordinary amount of extra after hours time to make such occasions possible.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blackboards and the Imagination

Traditional farming
The advent of data projectors, electronic whiteboards and powerpoint presentations are regarded widely as advancing the cause of education. This is of course correct in that it enables the access to, and flow of,
information within the classroom.

On a recent visit to the Lower School classrooms at Raphael House it was interesting to see the use made of good old fashioned blackboards. Teachers go to great lengths to create works of art simply with a set of coloured chalks, their own artistic skill,  and their imagination.

Fairy Tale blackboard drawing

These images set the theme for the main lessons. As the blackboards are designed to fold out, they can still be used in the conventional way to demonstrate details of the lesson content without removing the artwork.


Blackboard chalk drawing
What it must mean for the young child to gaze into these images, so lovingly and magically created by their teachers, is a question that you can ask yourself as you see the examples posted here. My guess is that they will help to foster a deep reverence for the subject, a delight in the world of colour, form and imagination, the enjoyment of  unfolding narratives, and also a deep respect towards the teacher.

Legend in Chalk
Blackboard drawing - Tuis

Teacher Jen Lyons creating magic with coloured chalk

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Toy, Craft and Food Festival 2011

Raphael House Welcome
A major highlight of the calendar at Raphael House is the annual Toy, Craft and Food Festival. This community event is a time where families, present and past staff and students and interested visitors  gather together for a taste of the school culture.

Toys, Crafts and Food in the sun
As well as a wide selection of food and refreshment, there are lots of fun activities for kids, gift and craft sales, displays, musical and other performances.  A new activity this year was the climbing tower, supervised by ex pupil and climbing expert Frank Foster of Top Adventures.

Events Sign
This hand drawn events board shows the artistic skill and care of presentation that is a hallmark of the festival.

sponge a teacher
It is the lot of a teacher to make sacrifices for the greater good.  Here Ken Isaac and Robin Hinkley volunteered to be targets for a free facewash to the delight of the gathered crowd...

Craft market
The Raphael House Toy, Food and Craft Festival is the place to come for wholesome,  environmentally friendly and ethically considerate gifts and other products. A great opportunity to stock up whilst preparing for Christmas...

special calendars
These calendars were created by the special needs students in the Raphael Class...

pocket lady
Cassy was a star performer as the ever popular 'pocket lady'. Take a lucky dip in one of those pockets for a surprise gift.

These images can only give a small impression. We haven't shown the little peoples' room, cookie garden, live music, students' work exhibition, candle dipping and many other hands-on activities that gave the day its characteristic flavour. We hope to see you there next year!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Standing up for different standards

The introduction of National Standards assessments at primary school level is a hotly debated issue around New Zealand, not least for the Steiner schools with our child centred holistic approach to the curriculum. This article was published in the Dominion Post today:



Steiner pupils set to fail standards

IMPOSSIBLE EXPECTATIONS: Monica Brice with parents and pupils of the Rudolf Steiner School in Lower Hutt. They are annoyed that they are having national standards forced on their school.

Her kids are set to fail at school every year until they're about 11 years old – but mum Monica Brice couldn't care less.
Along with 151 other Wellington families, Mrs Brice is imploring Education Minister Anne Tolley not to judge her children against national standards which she says will be impossible for them to meet.
The parents of children at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School in Lower Hutt are upset their school has to implement national standards, when the holistic philosophy of Steiner education means children do not start learning to read until they are seven.
The focus in New Zealand's eight Steiner schools is on growing the child's mind, soul and body. Judged against state education standards, pupils would fail until they are about 11, when their reading and writing levels will typically match an average child's.
"It's completely against the philosophy of our curriculum," Ms Brice said. "We would have to tell our children that they're not doing well, which would be terrible for their self-esteem and it doesn't help the parents. It's putting them in a box, when we're all individuals."
Learning should not just be about intellectual development, but about meeting physical and spiritual needs, parent Catharina Fisher said.
"Yes, you need to be able to read and write and do maths, but there's a tremendous amount more that you have to do to get by in life."
However, the state-integrated schools have their operational costs met by the taxpayer, which means they must comply. Nationwide 55 schools are still breaking the law by not including national standards targets in their charters.
The controversial policy benchmarks children academically against standards in years 1 to 8.
Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School principal Karen Brice-Geard, who is on the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Schools in New Zealand, confirmed she was negotiating with the Education Ministry. "We are trying to find a way that we can be compliant and retain our special character."
Mrs Tolley said the schools chose to receive government funding rather than be private.
National standards were not optional, and the school could explain to parents not to expect children to meet the standards straight away.
"Children don't pass or fail national standards – they are benchmarks for continuous assessment throughout the year, so we can identify those students who need extra help."
The Education Review Office has started to publish percentages of pupils achieving national standards as part of school reviews, a move labelled misleading by the New Zealand Educational Institute this week because of the differences in the way that schools have implemented the standards.

- The Dominion Post

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute

This recent article by Matt Ritchel in the New York Times gives a good introduction to the way of thinking about computers in a US Waldorf school:

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.
But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.
Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.
This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.
“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”
Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)
Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”
While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.
On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.
Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.
In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.
Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.
“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”
Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.
Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.
When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.
Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.
Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.
Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.
Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”
“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.
“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.
And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?
“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.
California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.
The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.
The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.
The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”
Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.
“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”

NYT, October 23rd  2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Class 12 Project Presentations 2011

A major event in the Raphael House annual calendar is the Class 12 Project Presentations.

The wonderful diversity of these year long projects reflects the fact that they are self chosen and self directed by the students. The outcome of each one is totally dependent on each student's own effort and motivation, and therefore speaks strongly about the emerging capacities of each individual.

John Paul Denford built a computer and learnt digital animation

The pictures here show a selection of some of the displays that the students set up in the foyer  of the Little Theatre in Lower Hutt this last weekend, prior to giving the actual presentations themselves.

As part of the project, each student produces a book, outlining their goals, and the process they went through to attain them.

 You can see something of the variety of subject matter in the photos here. Many of the projects had multiple outcomes, including the learning of new skills, along with tangible products, such as the writing of a novel, making a guitar, paintings or short films.

Jenny Craig filmed and produced her own movies

And yet these tangible achievements, impressive as they are, are somehow not the main experience one has to take away from this event.
It is the confidence and lively interest of the students themselves which comes over in their speeches. Their enthusiasm, their capacity for self reflection, for mature social engagement and respect, as well as the love of learning..

These are the deeper gifts that they have to take with them into life and which we are privileged to glimpse at the Class 12 presentations.

Laurel Andrews
Laurel Andrews chose to widen her perspective on life and explore fundamental questions about "why we are here" and her underlying values.

Danielle Campbell
Danielle Campbell organised a talent show for primary and secondary students in Taita, Lower Hutt

Tim Koelman
Timothy Koelman bought a house and also published a novel for his Class 12 project...
Valeria Protassova

Valeria Protassova discovered the therapeutic possibilities of working with horses.

Billie Lloyd-Bain

Billie Lloyd-Bain taught nutrition and cooking skills to a school group from Taita.

CIrcus Skills Training with Miriam

Miriam Randall developed her own circus skills and gave classes to an enthusiastic group of Raphael House students. (you can read the Hutt News article of her project here )

Ruby Harrison Nature Photograph
 Ruby Harrison's project was to develop her photography skills. Here is an example of one of her shots:

These images and brief words cannot of course do justice to the self actualisation that each student has gained from their project. To have a real feeling for that, we recommend that you come to see next year's project presentations 'in the flesh'. You won't be disappointed!