Grade Eight Curriculum
Eighth graders are filled with ideals and opinions; they offer unsolicited judgments and are eager for opportunities to test their powers. The inescapable step into adolescence, ushering the end of childhood, is taken with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The teacher’s goal is to hold the promise and potential of the world before the minds of the students, as their hearts encompass its dreams and hopes, and their hands reach out to its needs.
The eighth-grade trip is a culmination of the classes journey through the school and is an opportunity that allows the students to build their relationships to a new level by travel and exploration of the real world together.
All grammar topics are reviewed and practiced. Vocabulary and spelling work is continued in the same format as sixth and seventh grades. Assessments in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades are made and reported as noted in the earlier grades. The teacher may use testing to determine the students’ skill levels.
Independent writing in main lesson books is part of most main lesson blocks. Students write in a range of styles, with an emphasis on revising several drafts. Instruction in note-taking and outlining is also reviewed. Out of each main lesson block come writing assignments related to the curriculum.
The writing in eighth grade focuses on structure; this begins with a review of the parts of speech, capitalization, and punctuation. Word usage is important for how it affects proper pronoun use, altered parts of speech in a sentence, and enlivened writing. However, the purpose of the sentence and paragraph are emphasized. Writing compositions are increasingly evaluated for paragraph integrity and sentence clarity. Rough drafts are corrected and rewritten before final drafts are entered into main lesson books.
Eighth grades have morning recitation where they speak and learn several pieces by heart, in addition to various speech exercises and various tongue twisters. Students are required to read several books as a whole class, as well as given a selection from which to make personal choices for independent reading. Reading selections often augment the history of revolution or geography relating to Africa and Asia.
Mountain Laurel is fortunate to be able to use the SUNY, New Paltz facilities for the performance of the eighth-grade play. A teacher often chooses to perform a William Shakespeare comedy, providing an opportunity to look at the history of the English language in greater depth. On their way to becoming young thespians, students engage in the dramaturgy required of the intense lines they learn, as well as the sets, costumes, music, lighting, and programs. Often a specialist(s) may help the class teacher direct and produce such a production.
Eighth graders undertake a comprehensive review of all mathematical study to date. This includes complex word problems, the order of operations, estimating answers, and significant figures, scientific notation, and ratio and proportion. This ongoing work takes place during three dedicated math lessons each week.
The class explores different number bases, including the binary system, which ties in with the study of the computers and information technology.
In algebra, complex equations are given, including equations with an unknown using fractions, exponents and decimals. Students learn to apply algebraic expressions to situation problems and are introduced to the study of natural numbers, integers, rational numbers, and real numbers as well as number properties such as commutative, associative and distributive.
Polynomials are introduced and some basic operations are performed with them. Students continue to study bases, exponents, and roots and are introduced to the square root algorithm and other roots, which leads to the study of radicals.
The study of geometry moves to the three-dimensional. The class constructs the Platonic solids—the cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedrons, and dodecahedron—and further explores the properties of a circle. The coordinate system may be introduced—depending on the class.
Human biology continues with the study of anatomy, including the skeletal and muscular systems and the sensory organs. Intricate anatomical drawings fill the students’ workbooks and are one way for them to discover how these body parts function.
In physics, the students gain a firm grasp on the workings of the world through the deeper study of current electricity, thermal physics, and visual physics, with an introduction to refraction. Study of technological processes becomes prominent with the introduction of hydraulics, aerodynamics, and Electromagnetism.
The study of organic chemistry examines the relationship of sugars, starches, cellulose, proteins, fats, and alcohol. Students record their detailed observations of all experiments into main lesson books for both the chemistry and physics blocks. The physics curriculum includes aerodynamics, hydraulics, electricity, and magnetism.
The study of meteorology includes clouds and atmosphere, the barometer, weather and moods, diurnal and nocturnal temperatures and their effect on the movements of water and air, weather fronts, winds and storms—and the impact of human activity on the weather.
Students carefully illustrate the subjects of every main lesson. Creating colored geometric constructions in two and three dimensions generates beautiful results. Eighth graders use calligraphy and indigenous designs and cultural motifs as decoration to enhance the appeal of their main lesson books. A specialist may be brought in to teach painting, drama, drawing in anatomy or to teach music if the teacher needs the support. Recorder music and poetry recitation remain a part of daily morning work. Examining art history up to the present may involve a trip to DIA Beacon, Storm King, the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City and the like.
In the spring, Mountain Laurel’s eighth graders begin to prepare for their Artistic Presentations, usually performed in May at the Parker Theatre, SUNY New Paltz. Each student chooses something to perform, and performances range from solos to ensembles. Some may ask other students or teachers to be a part of their presentations. There may be vocal performances, violin solos, string quartets, rock bands, dance routines, poetry readings, or powerpoint presentations of instrument building, shoemaking, tennis playing, etc. The students put many hours of work into these presentations. The evening is a celebration of their talents and is also a gift from the 8th grade to the entire Mountain Laurel community. Teachers, families, parents, students, and friends are encouraged to attend.
Geography measures the entire earth in eighth grade, touching on the northern and southern hemispheres and their climates. Students look primarily at the continents of Asia, Australia, and the Oceana Region, drawing maps, creating research reports and travel diaries.
By the conclusion of eighth grade, it is expected that students have a strong sense of the location of the continents and the people that inhabit them and that they have developed a generous caring for different peoples and their lands.
Revolution marches through much of this year’s history. Through the Reformation, French, American, and Industrial Revolutions, the class is led toward an understanding of our present time. American history is emphasized, from the founding of our nation, through the Civil War. The year concludes with American and Modern History covering topics such as suffrage, civil rights, the World Wars, and the Cold War, which bring the journey up to the present era.
Much of this study is through biographies that offer contrasting views of the same event; for example, looking at the U.S. Civil War from both a slave’s and a plantation owner’s perspectives. Another approach is to look at the impact of the Industrial Revolution from the benefits to robber barons and the rise of workers unions.
In the eighth grade, students review all of the grammar learned up to this point. In the first blocks of the year, they review vocabulary and the basics of grammar learned in the seventh grade, including noun agreement (gender and number), definite and indefinite articles (el, la, los, las, un, una, unos, unas), regular verbs ending in ar, er, and ir, and the use of the irregular verbs ser and estar.
In the blocks that follow, new vocabulary, prepositions, possessive pronouns and the past tense of regular and irregular verbs, including gustar (to like), querer (to want or wish for), tener (to have), and poder (to be able to), are introduced. The students practice conversation to apply the new material.
For the study of literature, students read poems and biographies about such figures as José Martí, Ruben Dario, Alfonsina Storni, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Federico García Lorca. For this assignment, the students research and write a report in Spanish and present it to the class. In addition, they choose and share a poem by their assigned author.
The eighth-grade student becomes particularly conscious of rivalry and difference and the anxiety and excitement of change before moving later in the year into the realm of collective and joyful reminiscing. While the skills and emotional fuel are there for deeper artistic work, it is important for the first half of the year to focus on group geometric forms as a vital vehicle for collective movement. But the use of negative space or unfilled positions to garner greater independence from the students is new to this activity. As the year progresses, the listening space of the class is hopefully rekindled and the study of the intervals, supported by the work of the sculpture teacher and biology teacher through the observation of the skeleton, provides a precious opportunity for the eurythmist. Ironically, the Apollonian principle of form is more natural at this age and the structure of the grammar of the language is embraced and studied as a chorographical principle.
After the focus on “personal best” that is the mainstay of the fifth-grade Olympic preparations, the middle school students are encouraged to expand their striving for individual excellence to encompass a sense of team identity. It is hoped that the foundations of teamwork, camaraderie, and sportsmanship laid down in the early grades will allow for a healthy progression into mainstream sports without falling prey to the shadow-side of organized sports in our culture; cheating, showing off, violent conflicts and low self-esteem among the less naturally gifted. Above all, the central goal for the students is to have fun with their classmates while getting exercise.
The school’s relationship with SUNY New Paltz allows the student access to first-rate sports facilities and the opportunity to be taught by a variety of teachers. This aspect of the curriculum meets the adolescents where they are at developmentally and provides them with variety, state-of-the-art facilities and the opportunity to be taught by specialists in their fields.