The benefits of continuity: confidence, poise, intellectual agility
As Middle School is a time of profound intellectual growth where children transform into adolescents asking what the world means and what their role in the world is, literature and history are used as vehicles of exploring these concerns. By integrating the themes of literature and history, and by creating an environment where discourse, questioning, gathering and analyzing data, and writing are the norms, the teacher facilitates such questioning, expressing, and reflecting. Reading and writing truly are the centers of the curriculum, and our instructor draws on his training as an English major in college and a graduate student in creative writing to scaffold assignments in such a way that children grow significantly as writers. Within the curriculum the arts are used as vehicles of deepening comprehension and expression. The Eighth Grade classrooms tend to be vital with energy and discussion where children learn to speak, listen, read and write with increasing degrees of complexity.
Four 40-minute and one 90-minute classes per week.
The Eighth Grade curriculum is organized into six mathematical content strands that cover a number of skills and concepts. Although the curriculum consists of a full year of algebra, including such topics as graphing formulas and functions, working with domains and ranges, operations with sets, factoring and expanding polynomials, solving and graphing quadratic equations and solving systems of equations using various methods, Geometry probability and data analysis are not ignored. Students work with factorials, permutations and combinations as well as geometric expansions, contractions and applying the Pythagorean Theorem. Students end the year with an introduction to fractal geometry that uses many of their skills while instilling the pre-calculus ideas of recursion and limits.
The Eighth Grade Math curriculum is guided by the University of Chicago Mathematics Project Algebra text. Information is disseminated through teacher lecture, class discussion, mini discovery labs and peer mentoring. Information is further reinforced using arts integrated projects, cross curricular projects, games and individual exploration reports and journaling. The curriculum is organized around five process strands: Problem solving, reasoning and proof, connections, representations and communication, which work to ensure deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Furthermore, the program is set up to spiral, enabling lessons to build on and extend concepts and understandings so that children approach each new challenge from a firmly established foundation. This mathematics program is aligned with the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) standards.
Eighth Graders participate in co-curricular classes. They have French, art, music, science, computers, library, and P.E.
In his book, "Teaching for Thoughtfulness – Classroom Strategies to Enhance Intellectual Development", John Barell discusses what it means to help children learn to how to think critically.
Thinking, then, as I define it involves responding to problems and perplexities, some of which will be thrust upon us unexpectedly and others which we will consciously seek out for the fun or adventure of it. Either way, we begin to think when we recognize such an uncertainty and decide to do something about it.
By challenging students to take on not only scientific problems but social issues too we help them to learn to take personal control of their own lives now and in the future. Learning to create their own pathways is inherently a self-directed experience, not one where a student follows blindly and/or willingly someone else’s direction. In a our science classroom students are challenged daily to figure out how to solve problems, work together and reflect on their work and its implications outside of the classroom.
Our Middle School Science curriculum is built around the following throughlines:
- What tools do scientists and artists use to make sense of their world?
- How does reflecting on my actions help be further my understanding?
- What does it mean to be a good steward?
- How are all things connected?
With the above in mind our Eight Graders begin the year with an insect collection. Along with the collection is the production of a newspaper written from the perspective of an insect order. The Coleoptera Gazette may discuss the use of chemicals to wipe out one of their species or the latest crop available to damage. This creative approach finds the students deeply engaged in the world of insects. The Human Body and all of its systems are studied. Students not only look at the functions of the various systems as they relate to the body but also learn about disease and prevention thereof. Physics becomes the focus for the rest of the year studying forces and motion, density, Archimedes, Bernoulli and Newton’s Laws. Astronomy evolves at the end of the year with the creation of a giant Planetarium. Constellations and navigation are explored.
The arts are integrated into the curriculum by the classroom teachers, with enrichment projects through cooperative ventures with the art teacher, such as creating art from a given country from a social studies unit. Students meet twice a week with their art teacher in the art studio. They are given the opportunity to become more proficient with the variety of media available. They work with clay, markers, tempera paint and watercolors, collage, printmaking (using linoleum blocks and water based inks, plus plastic engraving plates with oil based inks), colored pencils, and constructions. Students begin looking at the Art History timeline, covering artwork from Prehistoric through Modern times. They create works of art using natural found materials, clay and construction materials. Students look at and interpret the work of artists from the Impressionist through Modern Periods. They also draw self-portraits and learn perspective techniques. Eighth Graders may elect to take the Design and Production class, which offers projects in vehicle, home and furniture design as well, as the opportunity to work on the sets for the drama production. MIADs available to them in the visual arts domain are drawing and painting, clay and studio art.
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
Red Scarf Girl, by Ji Li Jiang
The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D Randle
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee
Out of the Dust, by Karen Hess
The Keeper, by Mal Peet
The Forty-Third War, by Louise Moeri
When the Legends Die, Hal Borland
Sometimes: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Hienlein
Shakespeare “The Tempest” or “Romeo and Juliet”
Poems and short stories: Many and multiple from various source…reading at least three poems a week by major artists, at least three short stories by major authors