Eighth grade is the final year at Gordon, full of new beginnings, grand finales, and culminations of conversations that began, in some cases, eleven years before.
Eighth graders take hold of leadership roles throughout the year. The eighth grade student body presidents lead off each school year by opening the first all-school assembly, and the eighth grade's Commencement provides the moving end of the year each June. In between, they compete against the faculty in soccer and basketball games, sing lead in the a cappella group, and mentor younger students in theater tech. These opportunities are intentional; advisors work to ensure that every eighth grader speaks in front of a group during the year, and every student participate in weekly student leadership councils that run the athletics assemblies, the yearbook process, the Middle School open mics and more.
Gordon does not have a high school, and that has a tremendous impact on the social and emotional pressures Gordon eighth graders experience. They are the senior students in the halls, and younger students look to them with an undeniable and earnest admiration. At the same time, the absence of high-school-age peers mean that phenonmena like cell phones, SATs, college applications and driver's ed are simply not present in the building, freeing them from distractions that might prevent them from being their true best selves during their last year at Gordon.
By ending in eighth grade, Gordon can offer each student an extended, thoughtful process around choosing a high school. Some decisions come quickly, others are more involved, but the consensus from alumni parents is that Gordon's high school selection process is an excellent practice run for the college application process.
During the winter, students take the long-running Civil Rights Trip to Georgia and Alabama as the culmination of their study of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Alumni, parents and faculty all recognize this experience as an enduring highlight of the Gordon experience that draws together themes that extend throughout Gordon's curriculum.
After the trip, students embark on extended research papers in topics of their own design, then spend May working full days at local nonprofits and service agencies. Students draw on this immersive service learning experience for the June CJ Buckley Experiential Learning Night, when they give formal presentations on the issues that are addressed by the agencies where they worked.
The eighth grade humanities curriculum integrates topics of history and English, focusing not only on major historical events but also on current events.
Students explore topics in nineteenth and twentieth century immigration, World War II and the Holocaust, the African American experience in the United States from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement, and feminist movements in the United States. Literature, poetry, essays, primary sources, and the textbook Facing History and Ourselves allow students to examine the choices, motives, and responsibilities of individuals throughout history while encouraging critical thinking regarding their responsibility to themselves and to their communities.
The writing curriculum focuses primarily on the expository essay; however, through writing workshop, students will explore a number of forms of writing over the course of the year. Process is equally as important as product, and students are encouraged to view writing as another means of self-expression.
Major assignments include an extended research paper at the end of the year, and students are expected to play a major role in leading the annual day-long Middle School teach-ins that focus on student-driven discussion of themes and topics common to the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade humanities curricula.
In eighth grade, students move beyond the Math in Focus curriculum which had begun in Kindergarten, but the emphasis is still on having students become independent, strategic and persistent mathematical problem solvers.
By the end of eighth grade, students have covered all the major topics taught in a high school Algebra I curriculum such as solving and graphing linear equations, factoring and operations with polynomials, solving and graphing quadratic equations, and operations with rational expressions. Emphasis is on real world application, problem solving, analysis, and logical reason.
Students work individually and collaborate in small groups to work through problems and activities. Students are provided with differentiated material that gives them challenges that are appropriate to their mathematical development, with assessment happening every two or three weeks. Weekly games and activities help to reinforce skills.
Based on the eight practices of the Next Generation Science Standards, the seventh and eighth grade curriculum engages students in more complex science explorations so they can develop their capacity to ask questions and define problems, develop and use models, plan and carry out investigations, analyze and interpret data, use mathematics and computational thinking, construct explanations and design solutions, engage in an argument from evidence, and obtain, evaluate and communicate information.
These transferable skills are essential in science as well as the humanities, and teachers strive to integrate and connect student learning across disciplines when possible. Additionally, connecting scientific learning to real world issues is another important goal, and Gordon faculty use the Science Education for Public Understanding Program to provide opportunities for students to use their science knowledge in the context of societal issues. Students experience the reality of science not only by collecting and processing scientific evidence, but also by using it to make decisions. As a result, they begin to appreciate both the power and limitations of science.
The topics of study in eighth grade include force and motion, heredity, evolution, and the historical and current applications and implications of science in society.
LEGO Mindstorms Robotics is offered as an elective in both seventh and eighth grades.
In Middle School, students build their literacy skills as well as their understanding of cultural and social justice issues that impact Hispanic communities in the United States and globally. Topics include urban community gardens, environmental racism, fair trade, immigration and human rights. Students further develop their cultural and linguistic proficiencies through classroom activities that include literature circles, role-play, debate and writing workshops. Partnerships with nonprofit organizations and leaders in the local Spanish-speaking communities provide authentic ways for students to practice their Spanish and connect with the local community.
Spanish Language Arts Strand
Beginning in fifth grade, Gordon offers a Spanish Language Arts Strand to meet the needs of Spanish speakers who demonstrate advanced Spanish proficiency on the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix assessment.
In this fast-paced program, students read and discuss more complex text and practice using more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary.
The National Wellness Institute explains wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.” This definition of wellness anchors and guides Gordon’s Middle School health curriculum.
Using several visual models including a wellness wheel that highlights six dimensions of personal wellness (social, emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and environmental health) students consider their personal experiences with a wide range of topics such as communication, stress management, nutritional choices, media literacy, digital literacy and citizenship, gender and sexuality diversity, and risk behaviors including drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use.
Classes emphasize student participation and generate conversations around issues that directly impact the lives of middle school students. Reading, journaling, hands-on activities, group games, role-plays, research, and class discussions encourage continuous self-reflection, emphasize a growth mindset, and provide opportunities for students to listen to one another, build skills of empathy, think critically, and practice healthy decision making. By raising awareness, equipping students with tools, and reinforcing self-reflection, health and wellness class helps students get to know themselves better and prepares them to express how they feel and determine how to respond to the crossroads that they inevitably face throughout adolescence.
The Gordon Middle School physical education program gives students opportunities to experience the joys of being physically active in both competitive and noncompetitive settings. The goal of the program is to instill in students a love of exercise, respect of their bodies, and an awareness of the power of the choices they make in their lives.
Throughout the school year students focus on the concept of wellness and explore their personal relationship with sports and physical activity. Physical education classes are a rich environment in which students are empowered to shape their own experience with health and physical activity.
Seventh and eighth grade arts electives are designed to foster curiosity, creativity and joy while meeting the conceptual, creative, intellectual and social needs of each Middle School student. A departure from the foundational music and art classes in earlier grades, students are given the opportunity to choose from a selection of offerings during the course of the year. The courses are a natural outgrowth of the music, art, and theater curricula. Students build on earlier creative discoveries, while challenging and expanding their perceptions and understandings of concepts, materials and skills.
Course offerings make connections between artistic genres, technology, engineering, humanities, mathematics, science, and identity work. Within a safe, supportive environment, students are encouraged to explore new ideas as well as delve deeper into more complex areas of understanding. Multiple modes of learning are addressed in the range of courses offered in the elective program such as drawing, sculpture, ceramics, and two-dimensional design, acting, set design, tap and jazz traditions, choral ensemble, handbell ensemble, percussion ensemble and band.
The social mix of seventh and eighth graders together in classes is unique during the school day and is intentional in the design of the program; this mixture brings fresh ideas and fosters the ability to build relationships across grade levels. Every student in the visual arts electives has their artwork presented in the annual art show.