Middle School Main Lesson and Subject Classes
English and Language Arts
Sixth Graders review parts of speech and verb tenses and write detailed reports and compositions. Grammar emphasis is on clauses, phrases and the formulation of good sentences and paragraphs. Oral presentations of reports and research are given with an artistic component. Students practice lengthy recitation of epic poems such as “Horatio at the Bridge” or “Hiawatha.” Class plays usually come from Roman or Medieval history. Biographies are assigned for reports, and readers include: The Bronze Bow, King Arthur legends, and Otto of the Silver Hand.
The seventh grade grammar lessons emphasize different styles of writing, use of an outline, paragraph format, self-editing, organization of compositions, note taking and the development of compound and complex sentences. Creative writing is practiced in the Wish, Wonder and Surprise block. For the first time in an English block, the students are graded on quizzes, tests, essays, artwork, class participation, and timeliness. Poetry continues to be spoken daily, and oral reports are given to the class. The class play is usually placed in the Renaissance or late medieval times. Independent reading with regular book reports gives the students an opportunity to explore different literature. Often choices include The Giver, Education of Little Tree, Midwives Apprentice, Wrinkle in Time and Robin Hood.
Eighth Graders learn to edit their writing, summarize written work, and solidify their grammar skills (passive and active verbs, direct and indirect objects, clauses and phrases, pronouns). The spoken work continues with more oral reports including biographies, modern history and geography. Poetry continues to be a lively part of the main lesson. The class play is often Shakespeare or a modern play with rich use of language. Each individual now begins to understand a point of view and the dramatic themes used in acting. Eighth grade continues with some assigned reading, book reports and short stories such as Dragon Wings, The Master Puppeteer, and Johnny Tremain.
The sixth grade Math curriculum is based on an intense review of previously taught material. This review is done in such a way that there is always something new. A continual theme through the year is the sense of number and the interrelationship between division, fractions, decimals, and percents, with fractions playing the central role. Another theme in sixth grade math is developing good work habits. Weekly homework assignments, organization skills, and keeping a good notebook are emphasized. Percents, business math, and algebraic formulas are introduced in sixth grade as well as drawing geometric figures exactly with Euclidean tools: the compass and the straight edge.
The seventh graders’ introduction to algebra (done in one three-week Main Lesson block) is an important milestone in development of the students’ abstract thinking. This serves as a crucial foundation for studying mathematics in high school. Another central theme for the seventh grade year is ratios, through which p and irrational numbers are introduced. The study of geometry continues with the Euclidean constructions that were introduced in sixth grade, and then moves on to theorems and proofs, culminating in the Pythagorean theorem. The year often ends with the students learning how to calculate the square roots of numbers by hand.
Instead of devoting a large portion of the eighth grade year to algebra in order to get the students “ahead,” the bulk of the material found in a traditional Algebra I course is kept for ninth grade, the year that we feel most students are ripe for algebra. Much of our eighth grade year is dedicated to non-traditional topics, such as number bases, in order to develop abstract thinking, and stereometry (the study of three-dimensional solids) and loci (the study of two-dimensional curves such as the conic sections), in order to develop the capacity of “exact” imagination. The traditional topics covered in eighth grade include volumes, proportions, dimensional analysis, percents and exponential growth.
During Middle School, the study of science turns to the lawfulness that comes from cause-and-effect relationships in the physical world. The focus now shifts to a threefold approach to the phenomena: observation, evaluation, and conceptualization. There is an emphasis on the hands-on and visual approaches in the middle school, by doing experiments that speak to the kinesthetic learners and drawings on the board that serve the visual.
In sixth grade, the threefold approach is now applied to electricity, magnetism, optics, acoustics, and heat in physics. Geography expands again, spiraling out to include either Europe (paralleling the study of Rome in history) or South America (as an extension of the North American studies in fifth grade). The polarity between the heights and the depths is explored in the complementary studies of Astronomy and Mineralogy.
In seventh grade, a mathematical approach is applied for the first time to physics content in mechanics, acoustics, electricity, heat and optics. In mechanics, for example, fulcrums are studied by first approaching the phenomena with seesaws and weights, and by identifying levers all around them in their homes and lives, then developing a rule or law. The students then use the rule to predict leverage and mechanical advantage for new arrangements. In chemistry, combustion, the lime cycle, and acids and bases form the content. The transformation of a substance through burning is an important highlight in this course. Nutrition, as well as Physiology, is taught in Main Lesson. In Geography, Africa is studied, continuing the expansion outward from the local to the farther extents of the world.
In eighth grade, Geography either focuses on a study of Asia, or of world religions. In physics, students learn how certain concepts are applied to technology or natural systems. The content areas (heat, light, electricity, acoustics, and mechanics) manifest as convection systems, refraction and lenses, the electric motor, musical instruments, and fluid mechanics and hydraulics. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are studied in chemistry both in terms of what is happening in their own metabolisms and what can be achieved externally, such as by making personal care products (lip balm, soap, lotion, etc.). In biology, the human anatomy is studied, for example the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, to complement and complete the work done in seventh grade. Eight Graders also study Meteorology.
Social Studies and History
Sixth grade history often begins with the life and conquests of Alexander the Great. In two three-week blocks, important highlights of life in the Roman Empire are studied, including the rise of the Empire, the emperors, the Republic, conquests, government, building and construction, barbarian incursions and the fall of the empire. Also included, are the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the influence of Christianity on the Empire. The Sixth Grader is left with a strong impression of all we have inherited from ancient Rome.
Later in the year, a three-week block delves into the life of medieval Europe. This includes, but is not limited to feudalism, peasant life, knighthood and the life of the monasteries. The life of Mohammed and the rise of Islam as a counterforce to Christianity are studied. This naturally brings in the Crusades. Parallels to modern life become evident in this block. The geography of Latin America is the focus this year. Each country is handled much like the states in our study of the U.S., but in one three-week block. Each student will write a report on one of the countries in this region.
Some of the books that may be read during this year to further support these studies may include, The Sword and the Circle, by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Spear, Otto of the Silver Hand, by Howard Pyle, and Secret of the Andes, by Ann Nolan Clark.
In seventh grade the students study European history from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. There are usually three, three or four week Main Lesson blocks. Key biographies of either people who were forerunners of the times or individuals who particularly exemplified a character type from that time are studied in depth. In the Late Middle Ages, Marco Polo, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Joan of Arc are typical biographies. As the curriculum moves towards the Reformation, the role of the Roman Catholic Church is explored with emphasis on the developments that took place within the church that contributed to the turbulence of the times. Martin Luther is typical of a key biography for this time period. Not only are the changes that took place in the religious/political life studied, but also the explorers in science, art, and world travel. Copernicus, Galileo, Columbus, Magellan, de Vinci, and Michelangelo are some of the fascinating biographies that tell the story of the times. The students deeply immerse themselves in the art of the times through their own reproductions of the work of “the renaissance masters.” The geography of Africa and Europe are covered in seventh grade. Typically, students write a report related to some aspect of a particular country. Some of the books related to history that are read in seventh grade include: Robin Hood, Adam of the Road, and Young Joan.
The eighth grade History curriculum spans the time from Elizabethan England through the modern times, with particular emphasis on the founding of America. First, the social, political, and economic climates in Europe set a stage for the mass migration to the American continent. The Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the U.S. are studied in depth through biographies, art, literature, and pertinent readings. The settling of America, including the interaction of the settlers with the Native American people, is explored. Biographies of great Americans, such as, Abraham Lincoln lead the students into the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Rockefeller and Carnegie are two major biographies juxtaposed to the life of the common factory worker or miner. Through student presentations on the inventions of the 1900’s, the class is introduced to the genius of the modern world. The students are led through history to the two World Wars as well as the Civil Rights Movement and the biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Geography focuses on the Asian continent. Students continue to write reports on a country or on some aspect of world geography related to commerce. A wide variety of readers can be used in eighth grade depending on the focus of the teacher. Some examples related to history and geography may include: Johnny Tremain, Dragonwings, The Master Puppeteer, and My Brother Sam is Dead.
Studying music gives children an inspiring aesthetic experience while it develops focus, discipline, and social skills. Both singing and playing in ensembles strengthens students’ ability to work as individuals within a group. Middle school students become aware of their individual responsibility to the group as they work together to create a meaningful musical experience. They have many opportunities to perform in concerts, assemblies, and festivals throughout the school year.
Sixth grade students continue to develop their musical skills in choir, band and orchestra. They begin to explore how music developed throughout history by studying and performing music of different styles and eras.
Students continue to participate in choir, band and orchestra classes, bringing musical concepts and skill acquisition together in rehearsing and performing. Seventh graders are introduced to music related to the historical and geographical eras they study—such as the Renaissance and Africa.
In their ongoing musical education, eighth grade students benefit from the opportunity to experience more intense and varied emotions through the music they create together. Study and performance of good music of various styles enhances their aesthetic development and helps them begin to develop musical judgment and an understanding of the profound effects music can have on human beings.
SMWS offers German and Spanish in Grades 1-12. Grades 1-7 have three lessons each week in blocks. At the end of a block, students switch to the alternate language. In Grade 8 students choose between Spanish and German and continue with this selection in the High School. Beginning in Grade 9 each student has four World Language classes per week. The World Language teachers strive to integrate Morning Lesson topics into the World Language lessons in support of our interdisciplinary approach to teaching.
By Grade 6, writing and reading has become a focal point. Beginning elements of grammar are taught. The language teacher uses dialogues, storytelling, verses, songs, tongue twisters, and small plays during instruction. Throughout these years, the students’ vocabulary comprehension increases,and they are able to say simple descriptive sentences, perform dialogues, and retell simple stories. In Grade 6 German, students use Zusammen Lesen by Roswitha Garff. In Spanish, they use an easy reader called Piratas del Caribe.
In Grades 7 and 8 teachers emphasize the languages’ phonetic structure so that students can read and write correctly. Teachers also place emphasis on listening comprehension and oral competence.
The sixth grader has changed physically from the well-proportioned fifth grader into the developing adolescent, often with limbs akimbo. The eurythmy curriculum for this grade is designed to meet the physical and emotional changes that accompany this challenging developmental time. One way to work with these changes is to introduce the orderly forms of geometry, with their accompanying laws such as: the five-pointed star, hexagon, square, and figure eight.. The students use a capacity they are just beginning to develop, cause and effect thinking.
Students learn to listen to and identify the major intervals. They then learned to form the eurythmy gestures for these intervals, forming the gestures for the tonic to the octave, where they must reach upwards, out of the narrow confines of themselves.
Some of the eurythmy elements include the vowel and consonant forms, and mirroring. Copper rod exercises continue, including: the seven-fold, waterfall, spiral, spinning, and tossing. Copper rod exercises help improve the students’ posture, as well as enhance their spatial orientation.
The seventh grade eurythmy curriculum is full of the dark and light aspects in movement that reflect the turbulent emotional climate of the developing adolescent. Humor and drama are key elements in expressing this range. Head and foot gestures are learned as a kind of punctuation to enhance the understanding of poetry and music. The work with the copper rods becomes more challenging. Forms learned in years past become more complicated in their execution, e.g., the figure-eight form and the seven-pointed star.
The 8th grade year reviews forms learned in previous years, but now taken up in new ways, with the students beginning to apply their own understanding in the creation of the forms. They learn the deeper meaning of the gestures for the sounds of the alphabet and create their own poetry to move to. They often perform a story set to eurythmy for the younger students.
Handwork and Practical Arts
Following the lower school years, in Middle School students expand on their skills with increasingly sophisticated and complex projects. Sixth grade brings the opportunity to design and hand-sew an animal. Seventh grade progresses to hand-sewn dolls and doll clothing. In the eighth grade, while students are studying the Industrial Age, the Handwork curriculum involves sewing clothes on a treadle sewing machine.
Middle school students are combined weekly for a double period of Practical Arts. During these classes, mixed-age groups of students rotate through a variety of project-based classes. This provides an opportunity for our middle school students to learn and work together, and encourages greater familiarity among the grades. Through performing, fine and practical arts students deepen and transform experience. Every creation bears the stamp of individuality and expresses the student’s response to the world. The student uses imagination, cognition, and skill to bring each artistic or practical task to fruition. Experiencing this process repeatedly builds confidence for setting and implementing goals later in adult life.
Middle School Practical Arts activities include: watercolor painting in both veil and wet-on-wet technique, needle and wet felting, baking/cooking, batik, pastel drawing, charcoal drawing, figure drawing, mosaics, stained glass, folk dancing, basketry, bead work, metal work, printmaking, pottery, gymnastics, geometric string art, clay work, mountain biking, figure drawing and print making, and Outdoor education skills (gardening, earth-based skills and Winter skills).