8th Grade Course Descriptions
Language Arts – The language arts are taught and practiced in every lesson of the day. Proper speech is expected in conversation, class discussions and in oral presentations. The development of excellent composition writing and mechanics are integrated into the main lessons, and includes work on note-taking skills, the writing process, using an outline, topic sentences and theses, literature analysis, and writing for research. Students write narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast, cause and effect, persuasive and expository essays. Strategies for concise writing are practiced to support preparation for test essays. Reading for pleasure, research and to develop strong comprehension skills are all important aspects of our integrated curriculum. Literature read in the eighth grade will often complement history lessons and will include epic and dramatic forms of poetry. Examples of books read include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Assignments often put stress on reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Class discussions on particular themes aid understanding of both plot and character development, and help illuminate historical events and geographic details. All concepts from previous years are reviewed and practiced, new work includes modifier usage, word agreement, compound sentences, conjunctions and verb conjugation. Weekly vocabulary and spelling work provides exercises for spelling, definition work, word usage, synonyms and antonyms. Students also enjoy challenges such as creating analogies.
The Eighth Grade Play is a rite of passage that most students look forward to as they advance down the hallway towards the 8th grade classroom. For adolescents, being involved in theater is an opportunity to exercise many different skills from memorization and timing, to painting and building. All this takes place in an intense group dynamic that leads to a profound shared social experience. It is a chance to try on new roles, not just as a character but as a set designer, a costumer, a publicist, a make-up artist, a composer, a stage manager, etc. Theater demands the engagement of the will to see each detail through and meet the unmoving deadline of Opening Night. In this day and age of instant and empty celebrity it is vital for the students to experience honestly earning an audience’s trust and appreciation. The play is chosen by the class teacher with an eye to that responsibility to the audience and ultimately to the students themselves. The words they memorize and hear throughout the play block will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and the text is chosen with a reverence for that inevitable long-term effect. Plays that have been performed in the past include a Shakespearian play, Fiddler on the Roof, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and The Diary of Anne Frank.
Science – Students in the eighth grade have the opportunity to understand how demonstrations in the lab are directly related to the events and devices they use and experience in everyday life.
Students are introduced to hydraulics. Students study mass, volume and density, the relationship between heat and pressure on volume in a gas. Topics for discussion and investigation include where our water comes from, water pressure, pressure and depth, atmospheric pressure, density, the law of Archimedes, Pascal’s principle and hydraulic machines. Additional conversations may focus on the heating of our homes and energy conservation. Optics is deepened by learning about refraction and lenses, leading to a basic understanding of the camera and the human eye. Students are also introduced to aerodynamics and meteorology, the study of the weather. The students study global atmosphere and the effects of wind, ocean currents, geological features, climate, and weather systems on our planet. The remainder of the block is devoted to the study of electricity. Students learn how early humankind experienced electrical forces and follow the history of electrical research and invention up until the 19th century, when electricity could be used to create movement and thus be used in industry. Students work with circuit boards, experience the Oersted experiment, produce a simple electric motor and learn how electromagnets work.
Food chemistry focuses on organic substances and how they are used in the home and in industry. The block is structured around sugars, starch, protein, and fats. Beginning with the plant the process of photosynthesis is described to understand the natural sugar cycle. Students taste various types of sugar, (lactose, glucose, fructose and sucrose) and learn how to test for the presence of sugar in food. Experimentally they separate pure carbon from white sugar. Next students examine starch, its role in our diet, and how to test for it. Students make potato starch in the lab. They examine cellulose and its role in the diet and are shown how wood can be destructively distilled to gain access to various products it contains. Then students investigate plant and animal protein and learn how to test for protein. Lastly, they learn about fats and oils and their role in our diet and in industry, such as cosmetics. Nutrition is addressed, including metabolism and the effects of organic compounds on the human body.
In the physiology block students expand their knowledge of the human body by studying the human skeleton. Students learn the names, shapes and functions of the major bones and muscles. Emphasis is placed on discovering how the design and interworking of the skeleton and muscles take maximum advantage of the laws of mechanics. The foot and lower leg are studied as examples of a lever. The unique qualities of the spinal column, human uprightness and the mystery of walking are discussed. Experiments in balance, weight bearing and movement are tried. Illustration and observation are important learning tools. Students make sketches by observing real human bones and a life-size human skeleton. Discussions about health and injury are also important aspects of the lessons. When time permits the structure and function of the eye and the ear are investigated, especially in relation to their role in human uprightness and movement.
Eighth grade math expands upon prior understanding of number theory and asks more challenging questions about patterns while continuing to move forward in formal algebra. We revisit the properties of numbers and operations in order to apply them when simplifying expressions and solving equations. We recall our understanding of fraction operations in order to work with algebraic fractions. Negative exponents are discovered when applying the laws of exponents to division. We use the distributive property to expand and factor expressions as needed for each given situation. We explore products of binomials as an extension of the distributive property. Graphing becomes a very useful way to understand algebraic patterns visually, especially when working with two-variable equations. We begin using algebra to solve geometric problems involving unknown measurements. Word problems are re-written as algebraic equations and inequalities in order to represent all possible solutions to real-world problems. We also study statistics in a more critical way, as well as probability involving compound events.
Platonic Solids are three-dimensional figures where each face is the same regular polygon and the same number of polygons meet at each vertex. They go back to the time of Pythagoras and they play a prominent role in Plato’s philosophy (Timaeus). There are five Platonic solids: tetrahedron (4 faces of equilateral triangles), cube (6 faces of squares), octahedron (8 faces of equilateral triangles), dodecahedron (12 faces of pentagons), icosahedron (20 faces of equilateral triangles). During this three-week Main Lesson block, students learn about the computational components and “hands on” components of platonic solids. The students also learn to calculate the volume and surface area of spheres, cubes, rectangular solids, cylinders, pyramids, cones. Each student also constructs the five platonic solids.
Eighth graders explore the physical and cultural geography of the globe which often focuses on specific geographic regions such as Asia and Australia. This main lesson presents a broad overview of the geography, culture and history of these continents. Through story, biography, pictures, and art, eighth grade students receive a taste of a world quite unlike their own. When considering their diverse geographic zones, students learn about how people, flora, and fauna adapt to the challenges of landscape and climate. Stories of tribal myths, traditions, and regional histories broaden this study. Ancient Kingdoms and the Medieval Kingdoms of the West are studied as well as the spread of Islam. European colonization, the slave trade and the struggle for independence can also be covered. Particular themes and topics of interest can be brought to the students through carefully chosen guest presenters. Themes presented by various teachers have included the cultural and religious significance of art, current social and economic conditions, music, working with the Peace Corps.,or life in a tribal village. Alone or working in small groups, the students are asked to write compositions or complete a research project on a relevant topic such as topography and geology, a plant or animal, a biography of a leader, a particular country, region or tribal community. They write an expository report or narrative and give an oral presentation to their classmates. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art may also be included. Main Lesson work is complemented through the reading of literature such as Cry, the Beloved Country, We Are All The Same, or A Girl Named Disaster.
The theme of history studies in eighth grade focuses on revolution. This includes the French, American and Industrial revolutions as well as the Civil War. The rejection of the old and creation of the new social orders echoes the eighth grader’s own need for independence as their individuality develops. Students study American history from the revolution through the twentieth century, becoming familiar with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the biographies of leaders who helped to shape our nation.
The Age of Revolutions block focuses on the ideological origins, consequences, and influential personalities of the American, French, and South American Revolutions. Beginning with changes brought about by the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, and the Enlightenment, students follow the birth of a new age in which individuals pursued a new concept of freedom and self-rule. In the founding of the United States, the class can see a predominantly successful application of ideals into practice, while in France they see the brutality that can emerge from outrage and rebellion without a clear vision. Meanwhile, in South America, the class learns that change does not always originate from the oppressed or downtrodden, but can come from charismatic leaders. Filling out the narrative were the stories of John Smith, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, George III, George Washington, Lafayette, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Louis XIV, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and Danton, Napoleon, Simón Bolívar, and José de San Martín.
The Industrial Revolution block covers the period from the mid-eighteenth Century to the mid-nineteenth Century, following the theme of industrialization and its effects. Lessons begin with England’s Industrial Revolution, which originated from advances in textile manufacturing. The first factories began in this time, closely followed by the steam engine, which rapidly advanced the Industrial Age. The students debate the pros and cons of industrialization in terms of its impact on society and the environment, and they also learn of the new economic theories promoted by Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Following this theme to the U.S., where geography created an agricultural South and an industrial North, students learn that the basis for the Civil War because the South depended upon cheap slave labor. Meanwhile, the new locomotive led to a rapid expansion westward under the banner of Manifest Destiny, at the expense of the Native Americans. The block can end with the Civil War, and Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction. Students engage in daily discussion of provoking questions on the topics of slavery, economics, human rights, technology, warfare, leadership, and more.
America is first studied from the point of view of six different indigenous cultures, ending with the creation of the Iroquois Confederacy in what would become Upstate New York. The students learn how the different groups adapted their lives to the various geographic areas in which they lived, and students ponder why Indians did not “advance” in the same way as Europeans. They study the early settlements of the Europeans, interactions with the native people, separation from their home country, and economic trends that promoted the eventual spread of immigrants south and west. As an American consciousness evolved, the eighth graders see how seeds of revolution are planted and learn about the war that would win them an independent country.
In the second American History block, students continues from the creation of the Constitution through the turbulent Sixties. Biographies draw the students through important events and periods of our history, and they are frequently asked to write compositions that examine both the intended and unintended causes and effects of the actions of these men and women. An appreciation of the presidents is fostered through mini-biographies, while the students develop a broader picture of ordinary life from selected historical fiction.
The Modern History: Rights for All block covers the period from Reconstruction to the present time, following the theme of civil rights. Beginning with the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War, with its numerous challenges, particularly those pertaining to the rights of former slaves the students can see an initially successful Reconstruction fall away as Jim Crow laws plagued the South for a century. Students investigate immigration, the Women’s Suffrage movement, the Great Depression, Prohibition, FDR’s New Deal, and the competitive political climate in Europe that led to World War I. The climate after WWI resembled the Reconstruction era, and similar mistakes were made that led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Contrasting the power of dictators like Hitler and Stalin, students also studied the power of such leaders as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. whose civil disobedience toppled oppressive powers. Studies conclude with discussions of recent and current events, such as the 9/11 attacks, and our wars in the Middle East. Each student may be asked to write a biography report and draw a portrait of an important 20th Century figure.
Complementing American history studies are extra lessons on the structure of the U.S. government, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Constitutional amendments. Students have the opportunity to discuss important topics such as civil rights and responsibilities, national and state powers, the creation and enforcement of laws, and national symbols. In election years, classes follow the debates, discuss topics of relevance, and participate in a mock election. Some classes may culminate their studies in a class trip to Washington, D.C.
The Eighth Grade Project is an optional project that can be integrated into the last month of the eighth grade year. It provides an opportunity for each student to use the skills, capacities and talents they have developed during their years of Waldorf education. Each student is asked to explore a topic of personal interest. They are asked to choose a theme that expands their horizons, deepens their understanding of the world they live in, inspires them or helps them to learn something that would facilitate inner
growth or change in the community they live in. There are three components to the project: a written proposal and personal conversation with the class teacher, the appointment of a mentor (not the class teacher), a written report, a two or three dimensional artistic, dramatic or mechanical creation, and a summary from the student’s mentor. The project is done entirely outside of school. Several extra main lessons are used for presentations.
In eighth grade, students practice reading, writing, speaking and listening in Spanish (in some cases, practicing and reviewing these skills from the past seven years). They also learn nearly two hundred verbs and learn about the present tense, the present continuous, reflexive verbs, ser vs. estar, gustar, key question words, and more. Depending on abilities, the class may also study the two main past tenses (El Imperfecto y el Pretérito). Students study and master useful vocabulary related to the topic(s) being studied. All class content is delivered and processed through a creative cultural lens. Students are introduced to specific aspects of Latin American and Spanish culture through music, film, stories and biographies. Some examples include studying a Peruvian comedy film called ¡Asu Mare!, learning about the religions of South America and studying the biographies of San Martín de Porres and Santa Rosa de Lima.
Drawing is treated as a communicative language and incorporated into every academic class and several specialty classes, rather than existing as a separate subject or as a stand alone class. Artistic drawings will often compliment, accentuate and demonstrate comprehension of other subjects. Several new artistic mediums are introduced in the eighth grade to complement topics that are studied in other classes. Eighth grade students have a firm foundation in pencil, charcoal and pastel drawing as well as watercolor painting.
The sewing machine is introduced in eighth grade and is the most complex tool that students will use in the handwork curriculum. As the students learn about the industrial revolution in history class; a practical demonstration of this machine highlights the incredible changes technology can bring to society. Our first project of the year is a small, quilted toiletries bag. The bag has a fairly simple construction, allowing students who are new to the sewing machine to learn how to sew straight lines, maintain an even 5/8” seam allowance, and how to pivot. With the completion of the bag, students have a basic familiarity with the sewing machine and with sewing seams to begin visualizing their second project of the year – a garment construction.
The Middle School Chorus is a hands-on class designed to teach the basics of choral singing and musical literacy through the study of diverse repertoire, music theory and music history. All students in grades 6, 7 and 8 combine to form one singing ensemble, which meets twice a week. Recently, the Middle School Chorus has worked on and performed some challenging choral pieces; including “Psallite” by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), “Bonse Aba,” a traditional Zambian song arranged by Andrew Fischer, and “Da Pacem Domine,” a traditional Latin hymn. Students will perform at various school day assemblies throughout the year as well as special out-of-school performances in and around Brooklyn and New York City. Students must also complete two independent written projects during the year – one during the first semester and one during the second semester – on a variety of topics.
Music is an important element of the Waldorf curriculum and making music is an essential experience at the Brooklyn Waldorf School. All students in grades 6, 7 and 8 continue (or if they just joined the school, start to learn) to play a string or woodwind instrument, participating in orchestra and performing in ensemble and solo concerts throughout the year. Grades 6, 7 and 8 combine to form one orchestra called the Claver Castle Orchestra, which meets twice a week. The Claver Castle Orchestra works on and performs challenging music such as Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso and Karl Jenkins’s Palladio. During rehearsal time, students learn about musical phrasing, articulation, and dynamics, note-reading, ensemble playing and listening to each other, as well as discipline, focus and determination. In addition to orchestra class, students take private instrument lessons after school where they can focus on the intricate technical elements of playing an instrument. The one-on-one attention—with focus on details of playing, note reading, and musicianship—enables the student to experience the school’s orchestra program on a deeper level, making it a life-forming experience. Students are required to practice their instrument at home for a minimum of 20 minutes five times a week. In addition to performing in the Claver Castle Orchestra, each student performs two solo pieces with piano accompaniment a year, during a lunchtime concert or solo recital. Solo pieces provide an opportunity for the student to enhance his/her individual music skills; focusing on intonation, accuracy and steady rhythm. It also gives the student an opportunity to explore his or her own interests in musical styles which might be different from the styles played in the orchestra.
The eighth grade physical education curriculum is made up of various fitness activities, with an introduction to team sports (volleyball, basketball, handball, badminton, fencing, floor hockey, running, ultimate football, soccer, softball, etc.), games, dance activities, Circus Arts and Bothmer gymnastics. Different activities for these sports are taught at different grade levels. These activities have the goal to both enhance fitness of the participant and to inspire a lifelong enjoyment of joyful and graceful movement. Assessment includes a threefold view of demonstrated behavior in class: (1) self direction, (2) responsibility for self and others, and (3) collaboration and quality of work. Students should demonstrate perseverance in learning, using appropriate resources for problem solving, and readiness for class instruction. They must also demonstrate a stewardship of school resources and facilities, responsibility for personal actions, positive contributions to class and ethical and respectful behavior towards others. Lastly, students must be able to work within groups to achieve group goals and to show effective and responsible use of time.
The eighth grade eurythmy class is an opportunity for students to demonstrate individual effort and initiative and is the summit of their experience studying and experiencing this art form. Students experience the impulse of movement from within; understanding that movement belongs to them alone and that movement can provide a feeling of freedom. Students are asked to express poetry or music through their gestures or movements and to put as much of their individual character into their gestures and movement. As a way to understand human consciousness, students review some basic movements and gestures in eurythmy with then aim to develop this understanding into an artistic process. Then, as a culmination of their work, the eighth grade prepares a performance piece (for example, a Fairytale) for the entire school community.