Students left Grade Five with confidence and an interest in their world and those they share it with. In sixth grade, they are drawn back into themselves once again, yet this time with the capacity to wonder about and observe what lies within and beyond this new depth of feeling.
As with the Botany and Zoology blocks in previous years, the Geology block of Grade Six takes them to yet another kingdom - that of the minerals. Students learn about the minerals that shape our world, and even how minerals shape us. Astronomy opposes this by asking the students to look far beyond themselves to the celestial realm; but yet again, also how it relates to their own place in the universe and their life here on Earth. Physics ties this all together as we experience and experiment with various phenomena such as acoustics, optics, heat, and electricity.
History moves now from studies of ancient civilization to our modern world through the rise and fall of the Roman empire and on through Islamic history and the Middle Ages. Geography heads across the Atlantic to add depth to our history studies. The Romans had a very strong sense of will and individuality, and had rigid rules which dictated everything they did. Sixth graders, too, find themselves more disillusioned with the perceived simplicity of their early years and begin to create their individuality in the context of others. In the Middle Ages, we find a European people who are the antithesis of that expression, where life is lived in service and bound by the feudal system. Students juxtapose the life of a monk and the life of a knight, and ultimately bring this together with a ceremony to honor the inner work through this challenging year.
Continuing with the theme of learning to live in society and as individuals, math has a practical focus this year. A Business Math block compliments ongoing topics such as percentages and algebra. Geometry introduces the use of tools, whereas it was free-hand the previous year, and this allows students to see that form and precision can result in intricate and beautiful forms.
Drive and Precision
This year marks a change in what was previously an emerging intellect to something much stronger - it can be felt in their actions and the pushing of boundaries (lots of band-aids are used this year!), seen in the exactness of their work and pointed classroom discussions, and heard in the way they interact with peers and challenge the authority of adults. Students at this age want more of the world, and yet are still navigating their own capacities for right judgement and perspective. They fluctuate between wanting to take over the world, and not wanting to get out of bed, and we meet this duality with biographies in every subject, introspection and reflection, and artistic challenges which demand patience and persistence.
In history, we move to The Age of Discovery and the Renaissance, where artists, scientists and religious figures were also questioning authority and motivation. Geography covers the southern continents of Africa and South America, and may offer a brief introduction to Asia as we look at explorers and traders, to be continued in Grade Eight.
Science builds on the basic concepts of physics (electricity, magnetism, optics, mechanics) studied previously and discovers new depth within each. Other science blocks this year include the first of two years of chemistry, and human physiology (health and nutrition, circulation, respiration, reproduction, digestion).
Continued themes in mathematics include algebra and geometry, where again, balance and exactness are demanded in order to achieve rewarding results. Skills include the introduction of negative numbers and working with roots, as well as a focus on solidifying all that has been learned up to this point.
Revolution and Synthesis
Eighth grade is an exciting year where, much like fifth grade, we start to see a bit of balance coming out of the more turbulent years of middle school. Students are able to look back on their entire journey and make many connections, reminisce about joys and struggles, and look ahead to their high school years.
Just as this class has traveled from the beginning of their education to this pivotal point, so too does the history curriculum of eighth grade bring them up to our modern world. We look at the context of our whole world and our place within it through the theme of revolution - be it industrial, social, or political. Geography looks at Asia and the Pacific region, and then circles back to take one final look at the totality of our world.
Science goes yet another level deeper into topics studied in the previous two years. Physics looks at hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, and other applications related to our year (i.e., electricity's role in the industrial revolution). Chemistry moves to organic processes, and last year's Physiology is now shifted to Anatomy to look at bones and muscles and other structural components that allow us to experience our world. Finally, Meteorology provides another perspective for looking at the Earth, and also brings conversation around conservation and ecological revolution.
Math brings together the skills of algebra to explore them in a practical sense, and geometry does the same in applying area and perimeter to three-dimensional shapes. More advanced algebra and mathematics are introduced for those who are ready for a bigger challenge. A highlight of this year is a study of the Platonic solids, which is a hands-on block in which students not only learn about this forms, but create them out of many different mediums.
The capstone of this year is the Eighth Grade Project, in which students take up a topic of interest - something they already know about, something they want to learn, a service project, a social justice topic, an invention, etc. and go through the steps to create a final presentation. This includes developing a mentor relationship, writing a research paper, creating a presentation display and often a physical project, and finally a speech delivered to the school community. While there can be some anxiety and worry about this last step, students often describe this as one of their greatest achievements of their school experience.