Gordon's curriculum, from the earliest years, demands that students learn to express their ideas in words, and view themselves not just as readers of literature and history, but also as authors. In seventh grade, students reap the rewards of that preparation in a year that continually challenges them to document - and share - their thoughts and passions.
The most visible seventh grade writing assignment is the original novel that each student completes over the course of the year. The stories, characters and settings are the student's own creations, and there is no minimum word count. The requirements, then, are based on the class's own study of the essential elements of this form of literature: characterization, conflict, and the roller coaster rhythms of an effective story arc.
As the books go from initial outline to professionally bound volumes, each author gets careful feedback from their peers, their teachers, and volunteer readers drawn from faculty and staff throughout the school. In the process, students get a master class in how to receive, and use, feedback.
Their work on their novels is paralleled with dozens of smaller humanities assignments that incorporate a dazzling variety of styles and formats. At the end of the year, students have compiled an impressive portfolio of essays, poems and reflection. They draw from that portfolio for the Night of Words, where each student performs a piece of their own work for classmates, family, faculty and friends.
The verbal assignments are not limited to humanities class, either. In science, students learn how to write a concise and script videos and presentations as they study a variety of engaging topics including biomedical engineering and the chemistry of elephant toothpaste. In math, they talk through calculations in class every day, and produce written reflections after every test and quiz. In theater electives, they're writing their first plays, then performing their work for one another. It's a long way from Kindergarten writer's workshop, but the work is essentially the same: students are continually challenged to reflect on their own ideas and passions and find the words that will bring them to life.
As seventh graders are encouraged to develop their own voices, they also have new autonomy in their school days. Visual and performing arts are taught as electives, four mornings a week, and the weekly innovation block allows students to choose from a selection of topics in design, technology and engineering: the robotics team, a math filmmaking challenge, and classes in coding sustainability, and theater set design.
Seventh grade humanities focuses on themes related to beliefs, influences, action, power, independence, oppression, and coming of age through the study of United States history, literature, and current events. Students build upon their capacity to recognize and analyze multiple perspectives, develop their own arguments, and consider historical and personal context. Students practice these skills each day through writing, reading, oral discussion, and presentation. Students do extensive creative, expository, and academic writing. They are challenged to think critically and make connections among topics and themes.
The syllabus covers key moments in United States history, beginning with European colonization of North America and ending with the US Civil War. Students develop an understanding of the current structure of the United States government and how it came to be. Through the study of events and trends, students learn to explore the “whys” of history from multiple perspectives. Students immerse themselves in the time period through role-playing, historical fiction and engaging nonfiction texts, primary sources, creative writing, and individual and group projects. Students share their findings and thinking in essays, creative projects, and an independent research project that culminate in an oral and visual presentation.
The writing load is demanding throughout the year, with major units of writing including letter writing, poetry, personal and literary essays, novels (as part of National Novel Writing Month in November), fiction, interviews, and research writing. Most writing assignments are informed by the literature and history being discussed in class.
Seventh grade continues the Math in Focus curriculum which emphasizes concept mastery, a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract approach, metacognitive reasoning, and the use of model drawing to solve and justify problems. Emphasis is on students becoming independent, strategic and persistent mathematical problem solvers. Students learn the “why” and the “how” through instruction, hands-on or technology activities, and problem solving. Mathematical topics are consistently introduced in a concrete-visual-symbolic progression that allows students to focus and better understand abstract concepts.
During seventh grade, students build on all the skills learned in sixth grade, and lay the foundation to prepare for algebra next year. Students develop the study skills necessary to be independent learners, as well as their communication and cooperation skills, while writing and working in small groups. Topics include the real number system, rational numbers, algebraic expressions, algebraic linear equations and inequalities, direct proportion, lines and linear equations (slope), lines and angle measures, surface area and volume.
Students are provided with differentiated material that gives them challenges that are appropriate to their mathematical development, with assessment happening every four or five 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 seventh grade include the human body and health, cells and levels of organization, using microscopes, and chemistry.
LEGO Mindstorms Robotics is offered as an elective in 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.