Joseph Lacap graduated from SFWHS in 2010 already knowing that he wanted to major in physics in college. Learning how the universe works has always been enjoyable for him and he loves knowing how and why things he uses in his daily life operate. He is currently studying at Beloit College in Wisconsin and is in his senior year. One of his main reasons for choosing Beloit was the excellent staff in the physics department. Last summer he did research at Bucknell University under the NSF’s REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) on the effect of biogenic atmospheric aerosols (not the stuff in cans) on cold formation with the goal of improving data used in climate models. After graduating from Beloit, he is continuing on to graduate school to focus on mechanical or electrical engineering.
The following is a letter that he wrote in response to the September 2013 newsletter article about teaching physics in a Waldorf high school by Dr. Paolo Carini.
Dear Dr. Carini,
It's been a long time, and after reading your article in the school newsletter I thought I'd send you an update. It's not often I read the newsletter, usually being too preoccupied to bother. This time, a few hours after I out of hand deleted the email, my mother sent it to me again, telling me that I really should read it this time because you had written an article about physics (what else?). So I went back and read it, and I'm glad I did.
The first thing I saw was a picture almost identical to one I had taken in optics with you of a laser beam reflecting off the surface of the water in a fish tank, an experiment that I recently replicated in an optics class (without a fish tank though). As I read through your article, I was reminded of how useful your method of teaching has been for me. The basic understanding of mechanics, E&M, relativity and optics I learned in your classes has made physics in college much easier and more pleasant. When I hear Waldorf being accused of not preparing students for science in college, I'm bewildered why people think this is so. That understanding was by far more valuable than throwing equations and numbers at us. This was especially evident in my intro physics classes in college, where many students were swimming in 'alphabet soup' and unable to distil problems to their core, then search for a relevant equation.
While this is not as pronounced in advanced classes, probably because by then the class is self-selected to those who are good at/interested in physics, I can still see a difference in my level of understanding the concepts. It is not uncommon for me to be called upon to make sense of an expression or translate it into "what's actually happening?" The biggest advantages of Waldorf's approach to science for me have been that it I can step back, look at the problem, and determine if what I'm doing makes sense, and when I get to an answer, estimate if it's reasonable. For example, a group of us were recently doing a problem calculating the number of microstates of a system with 5 particles and 7 units of energy. The student writing on the board made a simple mistake of swapping the 5 and 7, resulting in us getting several thousand ways to organize the particles in a particular configuration. Everyone went along with this for a while, until I pointed out that there couldn't possibly be that many microstates, so then we looked back and saw the error.
I've stuck with physics, and anticipate graduating in the spring as a physics major, and hopefully going on to mechanical or electrical engineering school afterwards. Without your method of teaching science, I don't think I would have been inspired enough to take physics in college, especially when I compare my high school experience to my friends who went to public schools. So not only does Waldorf prepare students to do science in college, it does it in a much better, maybe the best way, through experiment and retracing the steps of the founders of the discipline.
Thanks for being a great teacher.