Grade 8 is an exciting year that begins the transition for the rigors of High School. The work is precise and filled with many layers, be it the lofty language of Shakespeare or the complex processes of organic chemistry. With faculty and parent support, the students come together to produce their first major theatrical production and take a trip to Washington, D.C. as part of their study of American History.
MAIN LESSON SUBJECTS
ART, HANDWORK, AND SPECIAL PROJECTS
This is the culmination of the eight-year, lower-school journey and as such it serves to close that journey and to open the door to the high school. The work becomes even more challenging in preparation for the independent thinking that will be expected at the upper grades’ level. In some instances, teachers from the high school will teach a few main lessons in their areas of expertise. This year, many of the main lessons will conclude with a formal test of the covered material.
HISTORY and GEOGRAPHY
Studying Asia, the students explore the world through many different media, including literature. They may read The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. The students are expected to know every country in Asia. They examine economic structures and make many maps—some from memory— using a variety of methods, including tracing and freehand drawing. They form the boundaries of Asia, focusing on the bodies of water that surround this continent as well as some of the largest lakes. The study concludes with Northern Asia, the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, and examines the importance of the vast natural resources of this region. They also explore the Australian continent in a similar manner. This is followed by a geography review of the studies of the past four years: U.S., Central America, Canada, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia and Australia
History of the United States of America
Cicero once said, “Those who do not learn what happened before they were born must always remain children.” In eighth grade, the history lessons that began in grade five with the study of ancient history will culminate with modern history. This is necessary and age appropriate for our students, who are growing up in a modern world that has been shaped by recent events. The study of history is meant to conform to the developmental changes taking place in the body and soul of the student.
“Just as the eighth graders are undergoing a re-forming of their bodies with the advent of adolescence and experiencing new forces of soul arising within and without, so it is appropriate for us to focus our history blocks on the Reformation (in grade 7) and the Age of Revolution (in grade 8).”
- Eugene Schwartz
Teaching history in our turbulent times is a grave responsibility. Hopefully, we can teach it in such a way that it illuminates every other subject in the curriculum. Comparing and contrasting two historical novels based on fathers and sons during the American Revolution; discussing current events and how history relates to today and educates us about the world we live in; and learning about the early history of the settlers through studying John Smith’s description of the first Virginia Colony in 1607, form the beginning of the block. This block covers the history and conditions in England and Europe that led to the colonization of America. The Revolutionary War of Independence, the thirteen colonies, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the plight of the Native Americans, slavery, and the beginnings of the Civil War are all taught.
From the French Revolution to Napoleon
The conditions that led to the French Revolution and its aftermath are examined. Comparing King Louis XIV with Frederick the Great provides ample opportunity to study the dynamics at work in the 18th century. The fall of the European monarchies and the fervor and fanaticism of the French Revolution serve as the basis of many class conversations. The rise and fall of Napoleon and the challenges and triumphs of the Industrial Revolution, slave labor, child labor, and horrendous working conditions in mines and mills are all topics covered in this block. Daily lectures are interspersed with reading articles and chapters of history books. The students write essays and short biographies. Finally, the Civil War and the issue of slavery are explored further with the biography of Abraham Lincoln. One of the goals is to awaken the students’ idealism and strong sense for justice.
The students review world history beginning with the 15th and 16th centuries, including an exploration of the increasing knowledge of that time in the fields of geography and astronomy. The study moves on to the transitions from the old social orders leading to the Enlightenment, followed in the 19th century by the increased intermingling of peoples from different cultures and countries through immigration and emigration. The block concludes with an examination of the effects of the two world wars in the 20th century and the ways in which they shaped and fundamentally changed many social and economic structures worldwide. The class studies U.S. immigration, which often includes a visit to Ellis Island. The emergence of mass production, extensive advertising campaigns, and other modern business phenomena are examined. Growing economic tensions in Europe leading up to the wars are examined. Classes often visit one of the Holocaust museums on a class trip. They touch upon the ensuing Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, and the War on Terror. The students deepen their understanding of the various periods studied by learning about the biographies of several literary and/or historical figures who exemplify the values of courage and social change: Gandhi, Jacques Lusseyran, and Pearl S. Buck are examples.
Investigation of energy, electricity, and computer technology forms this lesson. The students learn about biomass, coal, geothermal, hydropower, propane, solar, uranium, and wind. Special emphasis is given to the study and occurrence of hydroelectricity. The physics lessons conclude with a section on computer science.
Sexual health is taught in this class, and the study is enhanced by bringing in outside educators to provide thorough information. The students learn important factual information, and at the same time, questions surrounding sexual health and intimacy are considered in a socio-cultural context, allowing for conversations on the topic that include the perspectives and concerns of both genders.
We also study the human senses, especially the nervous system, the eye, and the ear, and explore the difference between the functions of the various parts of the system with an emphasis on the brain. The class may visit the Perkins School for the Blind, thus offering insight into the importance of our senses.
The complex interworking of the muscles with tendons, ligaments, and jointed bones is another aspect of the physiology studies. Through daily observation of the human skeleton, the students learn how to identify the major bones in the body and to appreciate the ever-changing morphological qualities of the bones as they reflect their various functions. The main-lesson books contain scientific drawings, descriptive, accurate essays, and the lessons are reinforced through sculpting exercises in which bones, hands, and feet are formed in clay.
We extrapolate from the extension of simple chemical concepts to explore how industrial chemical processes are related. The chemical processes studied also help to develop an understanding of the substances that build up the human organism. The main-lesson books include illustrations of the experiments conducted in class and scientific write-ups of observations and conclusions. Careful, objective observation and verbal descriptions are especially emphasized. The students are encouraged to formulate questions for their own scientific inquiry.
The study of weather involves careful observations of cloud types and movements. Students discuss the cooling and warming trends in the atmosphere and hydrosphere that precipitate such phenomena as “fronts,” sea and land breezes, and the spiraling “thermals” sought by hawks and glider pilots. They review convection and condensation, and study the development and movement of air masses. To facilitate learning about air pressure and the barometer, students keep careful records in a daily Harlemville weather chart. They conclude the block with every student learning how to create and read a weather map. In small groups, students research and give reports on the causes of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storms.
In the eighth-grade English curriculum, the focus is on a thorough review of basic grammar, expanding vocabulary with spelling and definitions, improving writing skills and techniques, paragraph structure and purpose, and gaining an understanding of different literary styles. The students write several essays a week based on main-lesson presentations. They discuss, compare, and practice the format of essays and reports. We discuss the purpose of paragraphs, an introduction, and a conclusion. Students learn about and practice peer review, always with an emphasis on commendation and constructive criticism. Vocabulary study is a regular weekly activity. We review the parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, consistent use of tense, and direct and indirect objects. The students are given opportunities for expository as well as for creative writing. The creative writing block gives opportunities to write in various descriptive styles and to draft a short story. In this context, the plot, tension and climax, as well as resolution and character description are discussed.
German and Spanish
In eighth-grade foreign language classes, students may be asked to take responsibility for preparing the opening of the lessons with various topics such as: weather, current events, riddles, or tongue twisters. In grammar, they focus on the verb tenses and their various complexities. Most lessons contain a written component. This includes grammar exercises, free writing (i.e., about their day) and copying a poem or story. Students often use drama work in the foreign language study at this level. Toward the end of the year, we study short stories. A notebook is maintained for each language, and students are quizzed frequently in vocabulary and grammar.
Math classes review and regularly practice percentages, ratios, the Pythagorean theorem, unit conversions (metric and U.S.), area, volume, and algebra. They also briefly look at number bases, the square-root algorithm, the growth rate formula, and loci (ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola).
Geometry: Platonic Solids
The underlying goal of this block is to give students the opportunity to imaginatively move from two to three dimensional spaces and back again. Drawing the five geometric solids focuses concentration and strengthens the ability to follow precise instructions. Creation of the solids out of paper requires dexterity and precision, and provides the challenge of artistically relating the purely mathematical to an aesthetic representation of the natural elements. Each solid must first be drawn in perspective, and various properties are recorded. Mathematical work includes a review of basic geometric constructions, the Pythagorean theorem, and solving quadratic equations, as well as working with square roots. Essay work includes writing about the historical background of ancient Greek teachings regarding the solids.
This block is often taught by a high-school math specialist, and includes basic algebraic addition, multiplication, and distribution. It includes an introduction to binomial multiplication as well as English-to-algebra translations and consecutive number problems.
The eighth-grade shop year begins with clay work. The students design a lidded pot that incorporates the slab method of construction. They make patterns and cut pieces for their geometrical pots from slabs of rolled out clay. Assembling the pieces with slip completes the pre-fire portion of this project. Once bisque-fired, the ware is painted with glaze and re-fired to finish the process. In woodwork, the students design footstools, carve the tops, and make the legs from local woods harvested at the beginning of the year. Knowledge of wood and the tools to work it is required in order to complete this project, and these skills are taught. The stools are taken home at the end of the year.
In eighth grade, students learn to use the sewing machine. The students follow oral instructions to make pajamas. The steps include: buying the fabric, laying out the pattern, cutting, pinning, basting, zigzagging, and stitching the different pieces. Making buttonholes and sewing the buttons on completes the project.
The middle school chorus (grades seven and eight) meets twice a week, usually with the boys and girls singing separately. This makes it possible to tailor the repertoire to suit the different quality of middle school boys' and girls' voices. Sometimes the whole chorus rehearses together to prepare for performance. The students sing at the spring concert and learn two movements from Handel’s Messiah at Christmas. The main focus in this chorus is to develop a choral sound and the skills to sing choral repertoire.
Together, the seventh and eighth grades comprise a small symphony orchestra. They learn and master the conductor’s arrangements of pieces like Bach’s Chaconne; Soweto Sunrise; and Belle Que Tiens Ma Vie. Work progresses in tuning, watching the conductor, and playing together.
The eighth-grade play is an important part of the year and is usually presented in March. It is a culmination of the students’ drama work in the lower school and is taught as a main-lesson block. The choice of play varies widely – sometimes a work by Shakespeare is chosen, sometimes a more modern work that takes up a topic from the curriculum, such as Les Miserable or, The Diary of Anne Frank, among others. The plays almost always incorporate extensive musical elements, including singing and orchestral work, thus allowing the students to shine in areas besides acting. Students take responsibility along with teacher mentors for the set, props, and many other details of the production. Casting is done by the class teacher along with a director who is brought in to support the play production. This is an opportunity for the class to come together in an ensemble project of remarkable strength and complexity. The plays are performed for the community.
The eighth graders begin each lesson with the classic “I think” speech exercise. Through the piece “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll, the students learn how to create and move together in complicated group forms, and how to use the archetypal sound gestures in varied ways to portray different characteristics. Eighth graders offer a eurythmy performance at some point during the year.
In eighth-grade physical education classes, the students increase their skills at team sports and in fair play. In the twice-weekly meetings, the students continue to practice the rules and successful strategies as they play games in monthly blocks. These include ultimate Frisbee, basketball, softball, floor hockey, spaceball, capture-the-flag, and volleyball.
In the Human Biology Main Lesson, students focus on the study of human senses, particularly the nervous system. A class trip to the Perkins School for the Blind offers insight into the importance of our senses while learning with compassion about the world of the blind. Eighth graders study the challenges of loss of vision and hearing with blindfolded exercises and through Helen Keller's autobiography.
The class also studies the complex inter-working of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and jointed bones. Through daily observation of the human skeleton, students learn how to identify the major bones in the body and to appreciate the ever-changing morphological qualities of the bones as they reflect their various functions throughout the human form. It is a profound and reverent moment, when the prostrate human skeleton is revealed. Students experience the feats of engineering and architecture and the laws of physics at work in our complex human skeletal and muscular system. The Main Lesson books included scientific drawings, descriptive, accurate essays, and insights gained from sculpting bones with clay.