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Curriculum, Grade 7-8

English

Grades 7 and 8The English teachers help each student develop a lifelong appreciation of reading, writing and effective communication. They are mindful of the demands in the Upper School for well-organized exposition, correct sentence structure and punctuation, a large working vocabulary, and analysis. Students learn practical skills in public speaking through demonstrations and practice. While building skills, we work to ensure those efforts don’t swamp the students’ developing pleasure in reading. The daily independent reading in Grade 7 and the regular in-class writing in Grade 8 emphasize student initiative and self-direction rather than teacher centered analysis.

Literature selections for Middle School emphasize two age-appropriate themes: Works in Grade 7 focus on “growing up” and Grade 8 students study “the journey.” To create environments where students can speak without concern about how their words will play to the opposite sex, we section Grade 7 by gender and choose some of the literature with the same goal.

Writing at both levels involves a mix of expository and creative pieces. In both genres, students seek out and invent details that are pertinent, vivid and engaging to an audience, and develop a sense of how to structure language in these different forms and to achieve a variety of effects. Grade 7 includes systematic work in vocabulary building and a thorough introduction to English grammar. Grade 8 extends these threads as students confront more challenging literature and longer writing assignments.

Mathematics

Grade 7 students take Math A (Elementary Algebra - Part I), which is designed to help the students bridge the gap between arithmetic and algebra. This course includes, as necessary, a brief review of the operations of elementary arithmetic, but its primary emphases are two: the development of strategies (and patience) to solve complex problems and the introduction of algebraic concepts and techniques. Concepts students study include: area, perimeter, three-dimensional geometry, number theory, probability, exponents, volume, surface area, ratio, proportions, equations, and graphing.

Grade 8 students take Math B (Elementary Algebra - Part II). This course extends the skills and concepts acquired in Math A through its focus upon the power of mathematical abstraction. Our emphasis is upon the process of abstraction as well as upon operations on abstract symbols. To that end, we ground all our work in concrete, real-world situations, and we attempt to represent these situations in as many ways as possible, most importantly using graphs, symbols, tables, diagrams, and the English language. Topics include a variety of functions, including linear, quadratic, exponential, rational, square root and absolute value. We use the graphing calculator extensively.

Modern Languages

The department of modern languages develops proficiency in foreign language among Middle School students, and fosters understanding and appreciation of various cultures. We balance instruction in the four basic skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing with a strong focus on grammar. We make every effort to immerse students in the language and culture through interactive and communicative activities both in the classroom and in the language laboratory. We expect students to become involved in the learning process. We speak foreign language exclusively in the classroom.

The study of modern languages enables students to gain a better understanding of their own native language and traditions. At the same time, we hope that in-depth study will instill in them an appreciation of others different from themselves.

Classics

The study of classical authors in the original affords students the means to appreciate more fully the foundation and development of English and European literature. Similarly, the study of the Latin language is an excellent and perhaps essential basis for understanding English and the modern romance languages. Equally important, the intellectual discipline of classical studies is an aim and reward in its own right. The study teaches precision and flexibility of mind as well as regular and thorough study habits. Because students develop the skills of close textual analysis with works that have been hotly debated for centuries, they begin to understand both the scholarly value of their own interpretations and how the lenses of different eras affect the way a work is viewed. At the introductory levels, the focus is the acquisition of the language. We devote considerable time to examining the way English works, because students enter Grade 7 with different backgrounds in English grammar. We introduce students to the concept that structure, whether order or inflection, gives meaning and that language can be a precise tool. While students learn fundamental Latin vocabulary and forms, they acquire the tools for analyzing more complex syntax and reading Latin literature at the upper levels. We also devote time to history and culture, introducing such topics as mythology, slavery, the status of women and public entertainment.

History and Social Studies

We introduce Middle School students to world societies beyond their own experiences. Grade 7 students learn about the cultures of South Asia, East Asia, and Southwest Asia. Relying upon the textbook, the library and the Internet for data, the students also learn to relate to children their own ages through reading novels set in the regions we study. In Grade 8, first semester completes this survey of cultures in the Americas and Africa. Students contemplate various human responses to the physical world and the global issues those societies and cultures encounter. Second semester shifts to a focus on the structure of American government. After mastering the civics component, they look to its historical application with themes of justice and the role of the individual in society.

No less important than the ideas and information they study are the skills that the students develop in these courses. In particular, the students learn to read both for information and ideas, to formulate questions and to speak effectively in class discussions. They develop their skills in expository writing, developing paragraphs and essays in which they support a thesis statement with evidence. We include essential information from maps, graphs and charts in their work. Students learn to be responsible for completing their own assignments, and to work with other students to make class presentations and to complete projects.

Science

Grade 7 Life Science focuses on human biology. A significant portion of the course is devoted to the study of selected body systems, both their normal healthy functioning and considering the impact of various lifestyle decisions such as smoking, drug use and diet. In addition, the course addresses interrelatedness of our species with the others on earth. Time in the lab to investigate and experiment and structured discussions allow the students to begin to build a genuine understanding of the fundamental scientific concept. In Grade 7 Life Science, the lab activities are a mix of qualitative and quantitative activities. They tend to be open-ended, with students responsible for the design of many of the experiments. The operation of some of the latest data collecting hardware and software is introduced to students as well. Activities are designed to allow students to rely mostly on concrete thinking although numerous opportunities for creativity and abstract reasoning are also provided.

The Grade 8 Introductory Physical Science course introduces the students to basic concepts, theories and practices of physical science. The students will lead themselves through experiments that are designed to encourage inquiry and ultimately leave the student with a strong foundation and understanding of substances and their physical and chemical properties. The students will also be exposed to some current scientific research and development through reading and research assignments. The class will culminate with discussions and projects concerning energy and the environment.

Music

In the Middle School years, students select among three musical choices. Students may sing in the Grade 7 and Grade 8 Chorus, play in the Upper School orchestra or take classroom music. The music department believes that a performance-based curriculum presents a stronger focus in music instruction. Students who perform music retain a better understanding of musical materials and concepts. Regardless of a student’s choice, he or she plays a part in creating and/or performing music. Whether the student plays an instrument in the orchestra, sings in the chorus, or simply listens to great composers, Grade 7 and 8 students have a creative and personal music experience.

Visual Arts

The department believes that the study of art not only encourages artistic expression, but also strengthens our students’ ability to solve problems creatively in areas beyond the arts. We design projects to help students develop skills, to enhance their perception, and to encourage imagination.

Grade 7 Art
Students do a series of drawing, design, and invention projects which interpret popular culture. The course often begins with a collage project, “cultural creatures,” which uses design principles of decorative and repeated form. In the second project, students combine drawing and design (arranging elements in a systematic way) and draw surrealistic “family” trees. Another project challenges students to make an artistic statement of conscience about a social issue of their choosing. After doing online research, they combine text and image on a metaphoric object of some kind. Finally, the students make fun of consumer mentality by constructing a nonsense invention from found objects and composing a digital advertisement to go with it.

Grade 8 Art
A series of drawings, design and sculpture projects implement the theme of the course: making personal connections. The course begins with design concepts of positive and negative space/form. Students create camera-less photograms in the darkroom using found objects and personal symbols. In a design project, students create imaginative “reversing” images with black and white shapes. Block printing challenges students to make an image about family, a past experience, or a special place. The annual book project involves painting a ceramic tile, which interprets a scene from a favorite book to be installed in Ware Hall. The final project, a clay sculpture, is called “cup for a friend/cup for an enemy” and challenges students to express social attitudes in artistic terms.

Drama/Performing Arts

The Grade 7 and 8 students represent a unique period in the aesthetic and social development of young people. Identity and group acceptance issues, along with the beginning of rapid physical and emotional growth, can make it difficult for some students to take risks in self-expression. On the other hand, most Middle School students have unlimited reservoirs of energy and still have ready access to their childhood playfulness.

The Drama/Movement sequence is designed to nurture the continuation of childhood creativity and self-expression while revisiting the skills of collaboration and mutual respect. Through a series of performance-oriented games and projects, students take creative risks and foster imagination, both in themselves and their peers. Though we emphasize group work, students also learn to perform solo, primarily in game or exercise settings, which lower anxiety and gradually build confidence, , The Grade 7 curriculum emphasizes physical expression, often combined with music or text, along with a wide variety of theatre games which require concentration, focus and risk taking. In Grade 8 we introduce students to a sequence of creative dramatics projects which include improvisational characterization and creative problem solving.

Physical Education and Athletics

The physical education curriculum helps students learn to trust one another and themselves while learning athletic skills. These goals are developed through the acquisition of skills in life-long and popular sports and the enhancement of trust, communication, collaboration and confidence engendered in our project adventure sequence.