It’s okay to love middle school. (And yourself during it.)
“The commitment to academic excellence, a track record of well-matched secondary school placement, and an impressive alumni body were all important reasons for my choice of Glen Urquhart School. Even more so, I was overwhelmed by the kindness, integrity, and joyful spark of the community. What Glen Urquhart has always believed about teaching and learning is being embraced by schools around the country: that children learn best in the context of the world around them, that children learn with both their heads and their hands, that learning becomes deep when children have room to explore and high expectations to guide them.”–Head of Glen Urquhart School David Liebmann
The seventh grade theme is “The Individual: Who Am I?” As an example of the spiraling flow of Glen Urquhart’s curriculum, seventh graders revisit in much greater depth many of the topics they first explored in first grade, when the theme is also “Who Am I?” Developmentally, students are ready to be more reflective and to consider abstract concepts as they tackle readings, writings, class discussions, and projects in the integrated curriculum. They learn to take notes, use multiple resources, and wrestle with conflicting questions and answers.
In English class, our greatest goal continues to be to foster a love of reading, while developing ever-stronger writing skills. Seventh grade readings relate directly to the year’s theme and to studies in other classes. For example, when they study human rights in social studies, seventh graders read Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which focuses on themes of freedom, individuality, and choice. In their month-long study of The Giver, students create a portfolio of essays, artwork, and poetry. Their class time is devoted to essay outlines, drafts, conferences, and revisions. They learn to cite relevant passages from the novel as important evidence for their ideas. Critical thinking skills, editing for clarity and proper mechanics, and time management and planning are all goals of this long-term project. The themes of The Giver are timeless and integrate well with the seventh grade theme, “Who Am I?” Another novel, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, motivates thoughtful work around the themes of identity, conformity, and how individuals can seek positive influences to bolster their lives.
Students engage in several independent reading projects. They instruct their classmates about an important event, theme, or character from their reading selections, using creative 2-D and 3-D artwork. Our poetry project provides an opportunity for seventh graders to develop their public presentation skills. Students select a poem, prepare a formal reading, and lead a class discussion on background information, poem analysis, and points of interest.
We emphasize the writing process in seventh grade. Students use Academic Approach tutorials to continue to expand their vocabulary and the IXL website to practice mechanics. As middle schoolers start to think more deeply about their world, they struggle to capture complex ideas on paper. Writing exercises include vignettes, poems, essays, book reviews, letters, and short stories, all tied to class readings and to the year’s theme. Each project and exercise requires planning, organization of ideas, careful consideration of grammar and syntax, and revisions. By the end of the year, students have a portfolio of work that reflects their thoughts, growth, and abilities. They choose one polished piece for their Black Books from each trimester.
In social studies, students consider what makes them human. They ask: “How am I unique?” “What events in the world have helped to shape me as an individual?” “Which is more important, nature or nurture?” “What do people everywhere have in common?” Their readings in anthropology, psychology, and sociology inform these considerations. They also study fundamental human rights. As an example, each student chooses a champion of human rights and prepares a research paper in which they must defend their thesis about what allowed their subject to become a champion. Was it persistence? Support of family? A chance meeting with Malcolm X? In addition to the paper, students create a found object sculpture that represents, in a literal or abstract way, the three influences they included in their thesis. For inspiration, we take a trip to the Boulevard in Gloucester to study the sculptures and memorials there and think about what qualities they represent. This project coincides with the students’ reading of The Giver, a classic work of literature that celebrates freedom of thought, expression, and individuality by depicting a world where it does not exist.
The study of gender, race, and class is an integral part of the seventh grade curriculum. In a family life simulation project, we assign students unique marital, socioeconomic, racial, and housing scenarios. As various life events occur, they realize that consequences can vary significantly depending on one’s status. They record and consider the relevant statistics, using their math skills to uncover a new perspective on social and civic issues.
We employ several technology tools in seventh grade social studies. We use Google Classroom to assign and collect work; with PlayPosit, we “flip” the classroom, creating videos for students to view outside of class; students play vocabulary enrichment games with Zondle; they create research notecards and bibliographies with EasyBib; they use BrainPop for interactive learning; and they create Google docs, sheets, slides, and forms for various classroom activities.
Seventh graders revisit the plant, animal, and human body systems they first learned about in first grade, but this time students are ready for a much deeper exploration of biology. For example, they learn again about the structure and function of the digestive system, and they also learn about where the nutrients in food travel after digestion, how they are transported through the body’s circulatory system, metabolized by cells, and used as building blocks for the body’s growth and repair.
Seventh graders begin with the question “Who Am I In Our Ecosystem?” and learn, with the aid of a microscope, about the structure and function of plant and animal cells. They learn about the brain and the nervous system and perform experiments to answer their hypotheses about brain function. They learn about how the respiratory and circulatory systems deliver oxygen to the cells. They create their own working models of the respiratory system and, as red blood cells, travel through a simulated circulatory system. They learn about pathogens, viruses, and bacteria and why the body gets sick. They explore the human skeleton and plant and animal reproduction.
The mathematics curriculum for seventh grade is pre-algebra. Students prepare for eighth grade Algebra I by applying the concepts of algebra, probability, statistics, transformational geometry, solid geometry, coordinate geometry, and plane geometry. Students use Lab Gear, which is a comprehensive manipulative environment that helps them develop a concrete model for variables. They connect the concrete, visual model of algebra concepts to their abstract representation as they learn to solve linear equations. Then, they record their work with numbers and operation signs independently of the Lab Gear. We ensure that students remain mindful of the properties of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division because solid understanding of these properties is crucial to success in algebra and other advanced mathematics studies.
Seventh graders advance their oral and writing skills in Spanish and also explore issues of social and environmental justice in Latin America as they gain confidence as citizens of the world. In keeping with the year’s theme, they consider who they are in relation to their own family and community, and thus discover links between their lives and the lives of people in Spanish-speaking cultures. Our teaching methods continue to focus on developing the skills of listening, reading, writing, and communicating. We conduct classes in Spanish and ask students to initiate conversation in Spanish. Students write paragraphs in Spanish using correct spelling and grammar, different verb tenses, and vocabulary pertaining to a particular theme. They sharpen their listening skills and expand their vocabulary by continuing to watch the video series Destinos, which allows them to hear native Spanish speakers.
Latin is an important core subject in the upper school because it develops logical thinking, reinforces grammar and syntax, deepens vocabulary, and provides a bridge to the history studied in other classes. Seventh graders continue to use the reading-based curriculum Ecce Romani, with an emphasis on parts of speech, vocabulary memorization, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement in Latin and English, and simple composition in Latin. Reading is divided between comprehension and translation skills. We anticipate that seventh grade Latin students pursue their projects with higher expectations for creativity and self-expression than in sixth grade to bring the year’s theme of “Who am I?” into their work. As their first major project, students build their own version of an ancient Roman villa, choosing between a highly opulent villa urbana, a rustic and self-sufficient villa rustica, and a relaxing seaside villa maritima. The villas must include all the rooms required in any Roman house, as well as a store, or taberna, that sells the goods that keep their villas financially afloat. The next project requires that students create a more complex derivative timeline than the one they completed in sixth grade, this time including all Romance and Proto Indo-European languages. Students end the year by creating their own ideal ancient city, using features of actual Roman cities for inspiration.
We introduce seventh grade art students to 2-D concepts and processes. They explore the pastel medium by working with expressionistic techniques and create luscious landscapes and endearing animal portraits on pastel paper. Using a variety of mixed media drawing tools, such as charcoal, pens, and paint markers, they explore mixed media painting, drawing, and collage and experiment with unusual surfaces, such as birch veneer panel. They cull advertising logos from popular culture that are designed with textural elements and use these to form the basis for a mixed media drawing. They also work with text, inspired by artists Lesley Dill and Jenny Holzer. Other artists we use for springboards are Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Both are associated with the Pop art movement because of their interest in objects of mass culture. Warhol’s work explores the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture, and advertisement that flourished in the 1960s. His work also illustrates how artists use enlargement and selective cropping strategies as compositional tools. Lichtenstein produced hard-edged, precise compositions that documented, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner, everyday life. The class creates bold and graphic, colorful works on paper, with a nod to these two artists.
Seventh graders finish their year with a project centered on a centuries old mosaic folk art technique called “pique assiette” (French for stolen from plates). We consider the examples of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, and Antonio Gaudi’s magical Spanish architecture. Inspired by these unconventional visionaries, students create their own relics, embedding vases and plates with glistening bits of colorful china and treasures. Arranged into patterns full of intrigue, these embellished utensils symbolize connections to our personal history and daily life.
Seventh graders spend their year exploring the American musical and their own dramatic abilities; they study and perform songs and scenes from Broadway and the American dramatic repertoire. As a chorus, they perform at Grand Friends’ Day and the Winter Solstice celebration. In the winter, they work in small groups on one-act plays, and in the spring, we build an ensemble performance of Broadway scenes and songs. Seventh graders learn about the functions of the muscles involved in making sound (the larynx, pharynx, and diaphragm), and how these muscles work together. They learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques. They also learn how to take proper care of their voices and the consequences when the voice is used improperly.
As with music, the seventh grade musical theater class links the elements of music and drama. Students realize the commonality between these two art forms and use what they have learned in dance to develop their dramatic skills, which include characterization, projection, and diction. Developing confidence, keeping the imagination alive, and helping students to take risks in a safe, nonperformance-oriented environment are our goals for the curriculum. Collaborating with the language arts teacher, we select works of poetry and Shakespeare for dramatic reading. The students enhance their comprehension, presentation, and collaborative skills by directing their own performances.
In sports, seventh graders play interscholastic games, choosing the sport they want to play each season. In the fall, they choose between soccer and cross country running; in the winter, they can play basketball or take a fitness class; and in the spring, it’s lacrosse and track. All the teams are made up of both seventh and eighth graders, with the exception of basketball, for which there are grade-level teams, and the teams play a schedule of games each season with other independent schools. After assessing the level of play of each of our teams, our director of athletics works with other schools to schedule games that are good and fair matches. Some years, this means playing other schools’ varsity teams; other years, their junior varsity teams. In upper school sports, everybody plays. There are no tryouts for teams, and no one is cut from a team. We do not give out awards or name team captains; instead, we rotate through game captains.
Social/Emotional Curriculum and Life Skills
In Life Skills class, seventh graders learn strategies that can help them feel more confident and successful in their academic and social lives. They learn about goal setting and strategies to reduce or avoid stress and to improve study habits. They try out some mindfulness practices, including guided meditation, and controlled breathing.
For their community service work, seventh graders volunteer with The Food Project, an organization that delivers more than 60,000 pounds of locally grown produce to community-supported agriculture (CSA) share members, hunger relief organizations, and area farmers’ markets. Specifically, the students help Food Project staff propagate seedlings in the Glen Urquhart’s 7,000-square-foot greenhouse. Students also volunteer for on-site farm workdays and educational workshops that explore issues related to local and global food systems.