The Eighth Grade Projects
One unique rite of passage in a student’s final year at the Waldorf School at Moraine Farm is the completion of a capstone project, which the students begin working on during the summer preceding eighth grade. The independent projects are very special, in that each student has the chance to study and experience something of his/her own choosing over an extended period of time. This stretches the students to plan ahead, follow individual due dates, and sharpen their executive functioning—all skills that are only just beginning to bloom in eighth graders. In fact, many aspects of the project are challenging and call upon the students’ developing faculties. The result of this work is growth and achievement in many areas.
Throughout the projects, students spend several hours working with a mentor who guides them through the process of learning something new, or perhaps building on a skill that the student would like to develop further. The mentor requirement provides a wonderful opportunity for students to begin reaching out to other adults in the world as they prepare for their transition to high school.
While much of the learning takes place throughout the year, after school, weekends and during school breaks, the culmination of the students’ accomplishments are shared with the wider community during a celebratory event, at which each student displays his or her work and does a short formal presentation for a large audience. Therefore, students learn about presentation skills and how to create a display board to showcase the highlights of their project experience. Students are asked to present the project as a learning experience for the audience; this is challenging, because students must see their projects objectively from the audience’s point of view.
While the eighth grade projects are challenging in many ways, the experience allows students to draw upon and further develop many skills and talents, such as aesthetic sense, creativity, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, and public speaking, to name only a few.
In their own unique way, each student fully engaged in his/her project throughout the year. The final presentations on the evening of April 28, 2016, were wonderfully unique, of the highest quality, and were lovely reflections of each student. They are proud of their accomplishments, as are we—the adults and members of the school community surrounding them. These projects are proof of the creativity, skills, enthusiasm, and care that our students bring to their work. Through the process of completing their projects, the students learned much about themselves, gained in confidence, and are now ready to move onto new challenges that await them in high school and beyond.
This year’s students tackled music, theater arts, stained glass, hip–hop dance, break dancing, oil painting, telephone technology, dressmaking, boat building, welding, and computer building and programming.
The History of Rock and Roll
One student sang out most literally, making old songs sound new while sharing what she learned during her presentation of “The History of Rock and Roll, Singing, and Guitar.” She sang and played “Under Pressure,” by David Bowie and Queen—one of her favorite songs from the 1980s—as well as “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac. She spoke on the changing sound of rock and roll over time, and illustrated these changes with some of her favorite examples of the genre. Her history was thorough and engaging, ranging from the 1950s to present day. In the 1960s, for example, “rock and roll became edgier; it became more political,” she said. “This generation was not afraid to speak its mind, and someone who I think really showcased that was Bob Dylan.”
When singing, it was apparent that she has developed more than just a new ability to play the guitar, sing, and understand rock music. Her performances demonstrated a uniquely strong voice. “All your life you never seen a woman take you by the wind,” she sang in her performance of “Rhiannon,” and she sounded powerful, with a mature tone and a confident style of her own.
Her mentor was Charlee Bianchini of the The Music Asylum in Essex, who, the student said is “an amazing mentor and friend, and an inspiration.”
Building a “Hackintoshed” Computer
For his eighth grade project, this student decided to build his own high-powered computer from scratch. After he compiled the parts and put it all together, he then “hackintoshed” the hardware, meaning he installed Apple software on his PC hardware. Putting the hardware together was the easy part, even though installing the central processing unit was “very nerve-wracking” because it made a “loud crunching noise” and the stakes were high since the part cost $200.
It was the next step—installing the Apple system on his hardware—which “is where I really ran into problems,” he said. “I got so many error messages, just so many screens…which I could not figure out.” But he did figure it out, first installing different software on his computer, then doing a practice install on his mentor’s computer, and finally completing the installation of Apple software after six hours straight of troubleshooting. The “hackintosh” was a success.
Asked if the machine was fast, he said that it had a quad core CPU Intel i5 processor, 1,600 megahertz dvr3 RAM and a one terabyte hard drive. “Yeah, it’s pretty fast,” he added.
“I learned so much this year,” he said. In addition to learning how to build a computer and “hackintosh” it, he also “learned how to uninstall mal-functioning kernel extensions through the command line, which was very helpful” when challenges arose.
His mentor was Samuel Collachia, a computer science major at Gordon College.
Check out this brief interview on his project.
Another student expressed herself in the more tactile art of dressmaking. She wore the results of her project proudly and beautifully on stage.
She said she had been wanting to make a dress since she was in fifth grade, when she remembers being outside with classmates pondering future project ideas. In September, she sat down at a sewing machine for the first time under the guidance of mentor Laura Freysinger, the assistant handwork teacher (and professional clothing designer) here at school, and began learning the ins and outs of operating the machine. She started by fabricating a black-and-white tote (see photo), and later, an A-line skirt in gold zig-zag fabric, an important step to learning how to properly sew in a zipper, which would also be used to make the dress, she said.
Next, to ensure the dress would fit properly, she made a practice bodice in muslin, which served as a mock-up of the top half of the dress. And then it was on to the dress itself—first the bodice, then the skirt, then the lining, then sewing it all together…and finishing off with a proper hem.
The hardest part? Sewing the garment’s gathered skirt, “because there’s a ton of fabric and you have to space it out properly,” she said.
She turned around slowly on stage to show us all the blue, retro-style dress with a tiny floral pattern (photo).
In addition to working with Mrs. Freysinger, she took classes at Gather Here in Cambridge. “I really love sewing,” she said, adding that she is already at work on a second dress.
Technology of the Telephone
Another student wanted to learn all that he could about how phones work and how they have evolved over time. This student was fortunate to work with Charlie Dunne, president of The Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, Maine. He studied the technology and history of the telephone, rigged and programmed a wallet-sized computer (photo) to intercept and reroute calls from his family’s Vermont home to the student’s cell phone via the internet.
During his presentation, he took the audience through the history of telephones—from a liquid transmitter to a candlestick telephone with switch operators who would plug in the cables connecting calls (and could “hear the whole conversation if they left their ‘talk’ key turned on”) to rotary and pushbutton phones and beyond. These latter phones used a big switching machine without an operator, “and I got to see one when I went to a museum with my mentor,” he said.
He explained how it works: A home phone (in this case his family’s phone in Vermont) is answered by the telephone exchange and forwarded to a Raspberry Pi computer. It then “goes into the internet router, then through the Cloud and out another internet router, which the soft phone is connected to.” (The soft phone is a smart phone with an app installed on it). Configuring all of the software files so that all this would work was the most difficult aspect of his project, he said. But his diligence paid off, and he demonstrated his successful completion of a technically difficult project.
One student who loves art, knew that the study of oil painting (a medium that was new to her), would help her to appreciate all art more fully. She studied oil painting with Charlotte Guldemond of the Monserrat College of Art in Beverly.
It was clear from her presentation and two finished paintings that she embraced the struggles that come from taking up a new art form and that she was rewarded for her perseverance. A first draft of one painting (a girl in the foreground and a house in the background) was discarded after she realized that it just was not meeting her expectations. “I knew I could do much better.” Standing beside the new final work, she said that she was “very glad that I restarted it.”
Both paintings on display began with a process of thumbnail sketches (photo). She then wrote notes on the sketches, and as she got closer to painting, assembled useful photographs for reference. The actual paintings began with a base layer of thin paint on the canvas, then followed by a lightly painted outline of the composition using several more layers of paint. “Then I continued layering the paint, adding more detail and texture as I went,” she said. Later she would finish the edges of each picture, adding to or adjusting shadows and highlights, “and adding more texture in places that needed it.”
Hands and feet were the most difficult aspect of each composition and could be very frustrating to achieve, she said. But both paintings showed realistic features, and the second one in particular showcased delicate, detailed hands and feet. As a second grader said the next day when seeing the pictures for the first time, “They’re really, really good.”
Building a Grand Lake Stream Canoe
It took this student about 150 hours of work to complete his sleek and sturdy nineteen-foot Grand Lake Stream Canoe, not including the long, snow storm–plagued drives with his mom to Grand Lake Stream, in northern Maine.
He worked for days at a time in the workshop of his mentor, canoe maker and certified fishing and hunting guide Dale Tobey. They laid ribs over a canoe mold by cutting and planing cedar planks, running them through a steamer machine, and bending them into place.
After a mahogany stern was added, planks were fastened over the ribs with brass tacks—3,520 tacks, “give or take a few,” he said. Each tack required three careful whacks. “You do the math,” he added. “It was a lot of pounding!”
In between layers of varnish and epoxy, he sanded the boat a total of eight times, and finished it off by painting it “Grand Lake Stream Green,” he said. His mentor has built twenty canoes over the last fifteen years. The student’s boat was number nineteen to come out of the workshop, he said, and when he puts the boat in the water, he said he looks forward to trying it out in some of the good fishing spots pointed out by his mentor.
Before demonstrating a solid breakdancing routine, this student explained some history of the dance, starting with an acknowledgement of James Brown’s influence. Some people think of James Brown as the inventor of break dancing, “because he liked to do this kind of high energy dance during his performances,” he said. “When he danced to his big  hit, ‘Get on the Good Foot,’ he made break dancing very popular among inner city kids in New York.”
Originally, breakdancing moves were all groundwork, he said, and were much different from the “new style” that developed later, when more acrobatic moves such as “head spins” and “windmills” were incorporated. You’ll often see performers put down cardboard to dance, because they need a slippery surface, he explained. That’s also one of the reasons that sweatshirts and sweatpants are the preferred clothing.
He was drawn to breakdancing after seeing street performers in Boston while there on school trips to the Big Apple Circus. “I thought this was really cool, and it inspired me” to take it up as an eighth grade project, he said. His mentor is Courtney Corey, from the Cape Ann Center for Dance in Gloucester, the same dance studio where two of his classmates take classes.
His own performance was excellent. While his feet were walking around his body, his arms seemed to be moving in the opposite direction, and just when his whole body was up off the stage and bouncing to the music, in the next moment he was on the ground spinning. Then the pace changed, with him pausing just long enough to look out at the audience coolly while his feet glided back and forth underneath him.
The student thanked his mentor for being a great teacher as well as “just really cool and nice in general.”
This student learned to weld this year and he did not have to travel far to meet with his mentor, Joe McDonald. “He was my neighbor, and that was really convenient,” he said. But this was not the only way in which his project was close to home. “Half way through the year, I learned that I have a family history with welding,” he told us. “My great grandfather was a welder in the navy, and my great-great grandfather and great-great uncle were also welders and black smiths.”
He said he has long been interested in welding, and he later mentioned that it was his father who suggested it as a project.
As with most eighth grade projects, he started at the most basic, drawing beads on a piece of metal. “It’s supposed to look like dominoes that have fallen over in a neat row,” but his first attempts did not measure up, he said. He persevered, however, “and I got better.” He moved on to welding his initials—and also made two stick-figure bookends by welding pieces of rebar together (photo).
His larger project was a table that was made by welding together the links in a chain. The welding came with a lot of hot sparks, and he got burned just about everywhere—head, back, arms, and some “even managed to go down … into my boot, which really burned!” he said. But the table with the curved, chain link legs reached completion, and he stood next to his piece on stage as he spoke.
This student made many drawings and water color paintings as part of her independent study, but the final project was not on paper but in glass—two curved, stained glass windows to filter the light in her bedroom. The drawings and paintings first helped her to find the perfect design—a sailboat on a moonlit night—and later helped her to decide on the perfect colors for her glass. The glass itself had to be refit and reshaped over and over again, but it was “really cool over time to see my window come from glass and lead, built up to a beautiful window,” she said.
After settling on the design, a full-sized watercolor painting was executed and then cut out with special three-bladed scissors (the third blade cuts out a strip of paper that is used to help place the lead). Once the design pieces are cut out, each is glued to the correct color of glass, and the glass is then cut using the paintings as guide. She learned that precision and care are very important here, because the pieces will soon have to fit carefully within the overall design. After sanding each cut piece of glass, lead was molded to the glass and then cut at the proper angle. Proceeding this way, the window was built like a puzzle, but with the added element of pieces having to be shaved and re-fitted repeatedly.
The glasswork sounded surprisingly hazardous. “I don’t remember a day working with glass that I wasn’t cut,” with blood having to be cleaned off the glass, she said. One cut sent her to the emergency room for six stitches, but it was clearly worth it. Not just for the rewarding work, but also for the inspiring work of others she got to experience while completing her own project. As she worked, her mentor Pablo Eduardo was producing beautiful stained glass windows for a chapel at Boston College, and boxes of clay were being “transformed into huge, beautiful statues” right before her eyes, she said.
Another student studied theater, developing and demonstrating a confident, wide-ranging “voice.” She adeptly delivered a monologue from “A Bad Friend,” the 2003 play about a girl growing up in the 1950s with fervently political parents. Through her acting, the audience could see a girl standing by a bench on a bridge in 1953, working to come to terms with life. “I wish I were an American girl of great potential,” her character says to a friend. “Even sometimes in the middle of my arguing with my parents, I think everything they say sounds more convincing than anything I say!”
She studied both acting and musical theater with our own second grade teacher and former professional actress and acting teacher, Ana Reiselman. She also thanked Julia Elliott for her musical help with the song “Heaven Help My Heart” from the show Chess, the 1980s musical also set in the Cold War era.
Her acting was engaging, and followed months of study based on the method acting technique, which “involves a lot of visualization for strong emotions,” she explained. To play embarrassment, for example, “I would think back to a time when I was truly embarrassed and bring a sensory experience from that incident—the smell of the grass, the sound of the rain—to mind.”
In response to questions asked by the audience, she shared that the current Broadway hit, Hamilton, is her favorite show, and its lead actor and show creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is her favorite actor.
Another student was drawn to the West Coast style hip–hop dancing. He explained that in the 1970s, as breakdancing was developing in the Bronx, hip–hop was emerging in urban neighborhoods in California. For his project, he found this West Coast style particularly appealing. And like his breakdancing classmate, he demonstrated it with confidence and style.
He took his first class in the fall, joining a group of young boys at Phunk Phenomenon in Peabody. Much to his surprise, his first grade buddy was in this first class, he said. In a month or two, he advanced out of the class and into the Junior Allstars, in time to learn the moves and choreography for their December show. He has continued to study throughout the year, and with his eighth grade project complete, he continues to take hip–hop classes at Phunk Phenomenon.
Early hip–hop included styles such as popping and locking, hitting, “and something called electric boogaloo” he said. The dance style was popularized in TV shows and movies, and by popular stars such as Michael Jackson. For him, the hardest part was trying to learn to freestyle, or dance, in front of other people without choreography, he said. “This is how you truly express yourself and develop your own style,” but it is also a place where a novice dancer second guesses himself and maybe even gets red-faced on the dance floor, he said. But you have to overcome it, he added, because dancing with confidence is essential to the art form.
In his performance, he demonstrated great confidence. It showed not just in the dance moves, but also in his facial expressions and the fun he seemed to be having on stage.
By James Kennedy and Dianne McGaunn
Edited by Miriam Silva Preas and Megan Hogan