Inspired by a book and a flawed criminal justice system, 8th graders turn learning into action.
Eighth grade is a multi-dimensional year. The visual art curriculum focuses on sculpture, culminating in a year-end stone carving project. Music electives include handbells, steel pans and world drumming. English class focuses on literature that challenges students to think about identity—their own as well as others’. Laboratory-based classes introduce students to techniques in physical science and chemistry, often involving distilling substances into components or analyzing the building blocks of materials. The U.S. History class, based on primary source documents, engages students in the words and thoughts of a wide variety of people from the 19th and 20th centuries. A three-day trip to Washington, D.C. brings the history alive; students encounter locations, artifacts and landmarks while strengthening bonds of friendship and community with their teachers and classmates.
During the eighth grade year, students study the events, themes, political trends, influential people, social movements and legislative acts that shaped our country from the Reconstruction era through the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. Our course emphasizes central documents and primary sources in American history, including original texts of Supreme Court decisions, photographs, speeches, laws and declarations, correspondence, political cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles from historical events, and Constitutional amendments. The history comes alive through case studies of central events or people who exemplify the themes of each time period and through a three-day class trip to Washington, D.C. Students also read and analyze the works of accomplished historians, whose writing offers models for linguistic style, organization of topics, presentation of opinions, and use of evidence to support ideas. Research and writing projects throughout the year offer opportunities for students to practice these techniques on their own and in groups. At the end of the year they investigate and prepare their own case study related to rights and responsibilities.
The eighth grade science course, Introductory Physical Science, emphasizes the development of basic laboratory skills, the process of controlled experimentation and an understanding of the principles of physical science, especially matter and its properties. Through a sequence of experiments, students learn appropriate ways to measure, describe and categorize matter. Specifically, the course covers the conservation of mass, characteristic properties (including density, melting and boiling points, solubility, crystal shape and spectra) atomic structure and the periodic chart. While students work on all labs as part of a team, each student keeps a lab notebook and writes lab reports. The analysis of class data is an important element of each investigation; graphing of data is often required and the use of computer software encouraged. Empirical evidence and concepts are then used to build a model of the atom as the basic unit of matter. The course includes a number of laboratory challenge assessments and culminates in the "sludge test," with each lab team devising and executing a multi-step procedure to identify the components of an unknown mixture.
This course introduces students to the vocabulary of literature and sharpens their skills as readers, interpreters, writers, speakers and listeners. The year is loosely divided into units of study that examine the short story, the play, nonfiction (essay and argument), poetry and the novel. In each unit students read and analyze works by a variety of writers to uncover their meanings and to use as models for writing strategies. In written reading responses and through class discussions, students engage in a dialogue with the literature and their classmates. The course subscribes to the beliefs that we develop our best ideas through writing and that writers get feedback before publication; the writing practice focuses on conferencing and revision. Students do exercises in vocabulary and syntax. Through our reading and writing, we ask—and hope to answer—personal and national questions of identity: Who are we? What do we believe? What shapes our lives? What do we hope for? What is the role of writing and art in our world? In past years, literature selections have included The House on Mango Street, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Lord of the Flies, Raisin in the Sun, Maus, Of Mice and Men, Night, selected short stories (Ray Bradbury, Sherman Alexie, Edgar Allen Poe, Gina Berriault, Shirley Jackson, Roald Dahl, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gary Soto), contemporary American poetry, speeches, memoirs, essays and op-ed pieces.
Eighth and ninth grade math classes delve more deeply into algebraic and linear functions, complex operations and applications of mathematical thinking. Our program emphasizes Algebra I in eighth grade, either as the first half of a two-year course, as a one-year Algebra I class, or in combination with geometry for students who began Algebra I in seventh grade. Students at these upper grades also learn and practice higher-level thinking in analytical reasoning and logical deduction, and apply these skills to mathematical proofs. Ninth grade students have the opportunity to engage in more complex and sophisticated mathematical reasoning. Some students complete the two-year Algebra I program; others are enrolled in Geometry. An Algebra II course is also offered when appropriate.
The year is spent exploring the third dimension. A field trip provides a firsthand experience with large contemporary sculpture. Students are provided with an overview of the history of three-dimensional form and an understanding of what goes into the completion of any sculpture piece. Clay, metal, wire, plaster, wood, cardboard, and stone are the primary materials used. Working with guest artist Gar Waterman, students complete the year carving soapstone with hammers and chisels to create an original sculpture. Emphasis is on encouraging students to employ their innermost creative self for each assignment.
All eighth graders study basic guitar. Eighth graders can also elect to play in a steel pan band or an English handbell ensemble. Classes provide an introduction to the history of English Morris dancing, the viewing of filmed examples of teams of these dancers from all around the world, and discussion about the way some of the dances have changed over the centuries. The role of live musicians and particular folk instruments is also explained.
Much of the eighth grade year involves theater games that isolate and highlight specific skills. Students focus on the “believability” of a character or a scene, the reasoning and motivation for actions, the significance of entrances and exits, and the subtle interactions of various elements on stage. Students examine backstories, ethical dilemmas, and character development through the course of dramatic productions. The major eighth grade project is a scene study unit including literary analysis, blocking (charting movement), memorization, designing a set and costumes, performance and criticism. In seventh and eighth grades, students have the opportunity to participate as actors or members of the stage crew for a major production that is performed in our black box theater in December.
Physical education provides rigorous physical activities and athletic skills development. Activities may include badminton, floor hockey, soccer, volleyball, flag football, field hockey, Frisbee, basketball, softball, baseball and lacrosse. An outdoor education course provides students with team building activities and a high- and low-ropes course. Students practice leadership skills and work on problem solving as a group. All students are taught the proper way to belay a teammate. They finish the course by climbing our two high ropes elements. Interscholastic team sports offered are field hockey, cross country and soccer in the fall; basketball, squash and swimming in the winter; and lacrosse, softball, baseball and tennis in the spring. The sports program enables students to compete with students their own age from a broad range of regional schools.
In eighth grade, students continue to explore Chinese language and culture through the theme-based program. They learn to interact within the context of shopping, telephoning, visiting friends and eating out, and they interpret weather reports and present about weather. Highlights of the year include singing karaoke songs, following basic Chinese recipes and enjoying a hotpot meal together. Students learn one or more poems from both traditional and modern genres to complement the thematic units. Students may be grouped by ability.
Students continue their formal study of French with a thorough review of all the grammar introduced in seventh grade. New grammar concepts include: relative and object pronouns; negation; adverbs and the comparison of adjectives; reflexive verbs; and verb tenses such as passé composé. Regular and irregular verbs and future proche are taught within the specific context of French daily life and culture. Reading skills are improved, vocabulary expanded and a greater emphasis is placed on writing. Viewing of several original French films is an important component of the program. Students are required to memorize several poems during the year, participate in the COLT Poetry Contest and read an elementary reader in French. Additional special projects may include the creation of a short, videotaped play. Students are grouped by ability.
The program builds on students' established foundation, introducing more complex grammatical structures and expanding cultural themes. New material may include irregular verbs in the preterite tense; the imperfect tense; a comparison of the preterite vs. imperfect tenses; and more. Grammar and vocabulary are introduced and practiced with native speakers on DVDs, audio CDs and online support. For any given grammar concept, activities begin with guided practice and move progressively toward freer self-expression, with numerous opportunities for both written and oral expression. Special projects may include writing and illustrating a children’s story; an oral presentation using photographs to describe one’s childhood; a researched cooking project; the creation of a filmed short play; a fashion show; creation of a marketplace; and participation in the COLT Poetry Contest. Students may read and analyze various literary selections in Spanish. They may also take a trip off campus to eat at an authentic Hispanic restaurant. Students may be grouped by ability.
Students expand their knowledge of the Latin language and the world in which it was spoken, completing the Ecce Romani IB textbook by the end of the year. In addition to studying more uses of cases and vocabulary, the students practice noun-adjective agreement, the future, perfect, pluperfect and future perfect tenses, the fourth and fifth declensions, the dative case, demonstrative adjectives and pronouns, and personal and reflexive pronouns. Upon completion of the standard curriculum, the students often proceed to learn the relative pronouns and the passive voice of verbs using the Ecce Romani II textbook. Historical and cultural topics explored include the Roman Republic, travel, the city of Rome, chariot racing, and Roman elections. The study of English derivatives, Latin sayings and our inheritance from the Roman world continues. Special projects may include poetry recitation, creative presentations of the story of a mythological monster, topography and monuments of the city of Rome, and the use of calligraphy in the transmission of manuscripts. A unit on rhetoric includes the study of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, as well as composition of their own speeches complete with use of rhetorical devices for a mock Roman trial.
The sixth grade Festival of the World caps a yearlong study of global cultures, religions and geography. Each student studies a different country, creating a range of informational and artistic projects, including a model of a famous landmark.