In the eighth grade, much of the year’s advisory curriculum is devoted to three topics: preparing for high school, preparing for the Israel study tour, and preparing for graduation.
The high school preparation program picks up where it left off at the end of seventh grade. Students are helped, in class and in individual sessions with their parents, to finalize their choices of which schools to apply to and then guided in completing applications and the other steps of the application process. In particular, students are coached in their interviewing skills and familiarized with the entrance exams they will be taking. As a group, they also go on school visits. Later in the year, they receive support in coping with waiting to hear, with rejection, and in deciding among schools to which they have been admitted.
Preparation for the Israel trip is a yearlong process that includes orientation to the trip for the students, and for the students and their parents, and a program of study topics on the history and geography of modern Israel.
Preparing for graduation takes the form of a structured reflection on experiences students have had over their school years and beliefs and values they have developed as a result. Working closely with an individual advisor, they produce a reflective paper and a creative project examining who they were, who they are, and who they expect to be in high school and beyond. They then make an oral presentation to members of the wider school community and defend it in response to “warm” and “cool” questions from teachers, peers, parents, and others.
As in previous years, advisory time is devoted to the functioning of the class community, social and academic challenges for individual students and for the class as a whole, current events, community service (playing math and literacy games with second and third graders in a local public school), working on one’s portfolio, and values education. Other emphases during the year include “It’s a Girl Thing!” and a parallel program for boys on media awareness and Jewish values; participation in a roundtable to allocate funds raised in the Penny Harvest; and sessions on self-understanding, self-reflection, and coming of age in connection with the graduation exhibition. The eighth grade health education unit focuses on making good choices as teenagers grow and change.
The eighth grade art curriculum starts with the traditional shoe drawing, this time as a collage. For their last shoe rendering at the school, they use papers and magazine to freely interpret their shoes. Next the students explore perspective, first by learning how to shade objects and forms and then by working on a landscape that moved back in space or sketching an interior room using one point perspective. The students then embark on a series based on an artist of their choice, creating three pieces copied from and inspired by their artist and writing an informational paragraph about their artist’s life and work.
In the spring, eighth grade students work on several simultaneous projects: designing a shirt for their Israel trip and a community art project to give the school in honor of their graduation. Previous projects have included a wall mural, a cover for the school sefer Torah, and a havdalah set. The final project uses pinecones as a subject. Students observe, then draw and paint pinecones in several ways: realistic, interpretive and abstract.
Hebrew is taught on different levels in the Middle School. The beginners’ curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit book 1 is designed for students with no or very little knowledge of Hebrew. In this program, students learn to speak in short dialogues about daily life; write paragraph-length personal narratives, memos, and assertions of opinion; and read stories, folk tales, and descriptive or informational non-fiction texts. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include singular and plural forms; masculine and feminine forms; present tense and infinitives; four of the seven verb patterns (binyanim); the basic possessive forms; prepositions; nominal clauses; and word order in sentences.
The intermediate curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit books 2-3 is a two-year sequence that is typically studied by students entering seventh and eighth grade in Jewish day schools. In this program, students learn to speak in longer dialogues about a wide range of subjects and in interviews; write letters; and read longer short stories, non-fiction texts, essays, and simple songs, poems, and biblical passages. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include the basic future tense; all seven verb patterns (binyanim); declension of several prepositions; noun-adjective agreement in gender and number; nominal, verbal, and object clauses; parts of speech; and word order.
The advanced curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit books 4-5 is a two-year sequence that is typically studied by students entering ninth and tenth grade in Jewish day schools. In this program, students learn to speak freely in conversation on any topic; read news articles in easy Hebrew, full-length short stories partially adapted to easy Hebrew, and poetry, songs, biblical verses, and midrashim; write multi-paragraph narratives, reports, and essays; and understand TV or radio news items. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include the future tense in four binyanim (verb patterns), declension of prepositions, gerunds, past participles, possessives, suffixes, and conditional clauses.
In the eighth grade, the humanities theme is “The American Dream and the American Reality: Political Ideals and Social Realities.” At the outset, students review the foundational documents that they studied in depth the previous year: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These documents are analyzed from a new perspective, with an eye to deriving from them the ideals they set forth. Throughout the year, these ideals are revisited as criteria by which one may assess the social realities of American history and contemporary life: to what extent are the ideals realized? Where are there gaps between the ideals and the realities? What might be needed to achieve a closer fit between realities and ideals?
The focus shifts next to African American history. By reading and responding to primary documents, historical fiction, and investigative journalism, students reconstruct the events that have shaped the experiences of African Americans, with special emphasis on slavery, emancipation, and the Civil Rights Movement. In connection with their study, they write poetry and research papers. This exploration culminates in an exhibition project in which they compare and contrast the African American experience with that of a different cultural group of their choice. In addition to readings on these topics, the students interview representatives of each group to gain an in-depth appreciation of their personal histories and their self-understandings of the relationship between their experiences and the ideals of the American Dream. Students produce a written paper, a creative product, an oral presentation, and responses to “warm” and “cool” questions; these reflect their growing ability to relate the realities of American society to the ideals enshrined in America’s foundational documents.
The eighth grade Holocaust unit focuses on the extermination of the Jews in concentration camps and death camps; this unit of study incorporates non-fiction reading, including survivor accounts such as excerpts from Night by Elie Wiesel and Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman , historical literature, and analytical written responses.
As the students approach graduation, they work in committees to produce a school yearbook, with tasks including fundraising, writing copy, design and computer layout, organization, and printing of a full-color publication that reflects their years at Schechter Manhattan.
As the final unit of the year, students study the concept of utopia, read dystopian literature, and choose their own social issues for which to propose solutions. Students write proposals and create three-dimensional models to present their ideas of a utopian society.
Other experiences with literature complement the thematic organization of the curriculum: an extended poetry unit, non-fiction, an American novel, biography and autobiography, each student’s own independent reading, literature circles, newspaper and magazine articles, and book projects. The students’ writing experiences, both in connection with the theme and independent of it, take the form of a writing workshop, in which students approach writing as a recursive process, sharing their writing and completing multiple drafts of each assignment, blending paper-based writing techniques with web-based, collaborative writing techniques. Grammar, spelling, conciseness, transitions, and active verb and varied word choice are taught directly and reinforced continuously in the writing workshop. Among the research skills that students refine throughout the year are notetaking, paraphrasing, and MLA citation.
In eighth grade, the Tanach program completes the narrative sequence of the Torah that students began studying in second grade, concluding with the death of Moshe in the final chapter of D’varim (Deuteronomy). The students then embark on an interdisciplinary survey of two themes that encompass the entire range of biblical literature: Torah, Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings); narratives, legal codes, and poetry. The topics explored in these extended studies are “The Nature of Man” and “The Land of Israel.” In addition to the skills learned in previous years, eighth graders learn to analyze characteristics of biblical poetry, to situate biblical law within the scope of the Jewish (rabbinic) legal tradition, to use and interpret biblical maps and a biblical atlas, and to follow the threads of biblical thought through a variety of texts, genres, and styles.
In the third year of Talmud study, eighth graders explore some classic sugyot in N’zikin (the Order of Civil and Criminal Law). The passages range up to a full side of a page; students continue to develop their familiarity with Aramaic vocabulary and language patterns, their ability to follow increasingly complex logical arguments and sugyah structures, and their skill in thinking along with the text, posing relevant questions, and suggesting novel solutions.
Beginning in January, students study Zionist thought and history intensively in preparation for their Israel study tour after Pesach. This extended study incorporates three emphases: rabbinic perspectives on the land of Israel; nineteenth century Zionist thinkers; and a first-person documentary history of the Yishuv from 1882 through 1948.
The eighth grade t’filah program represents a culmination of nine years of study and practice. The survey of prayer services throughout the calendar concludes with the study of the shacharit prayer for shalosh r’galim (the festivals), and shirat hayam is added to the weekday prayer service. Two additional features become more prominent this year than in the past. First, students are active in leadership roles in the service, not only as chazanim and ba’alei k’riah (Torah readers), but also as members of a student Va’ad T’filah and as gabaim. In these capacities, they ensure not only the smooth running of the services and the fair distribution of responsibilities and honors, but also work to enhance the spiritual dimension of the group prayer experience. Second, in an attempt to help students enrich their own approach and style as pray-ers, much of the time and emphasis on iyun t’filah (prayer inquiry) focuses on the prayer experience in its totality, exploring a variety of ways to enrich one’s personal spiritual experience and empowering students to give voice to their theological dilemmas and to work through them in a supportive setting.
In eighth grade, the focus of study prior to the chagim (Jewish holidays) shifts to the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Joseph Karo’s classic Code of Jewish Law, and the Mishnah B’rurah commentary on it. In some cases, the focus of the inquiry is primarily to resolve a practical dilemma, such as the characteristics of the candles to be used on Chanukah to prevent their being extinguished; and the laws of reading the m’gilah at night and during the day. Other selections reveal theoretical or philosophical implications of certain practices, such as the reasons for sounding the shofar 100 times; the laws of s’chach (the covering of the sukkah); and different aspects of guarding the matzah from fermentation.
Two math courses are taught in the eighth grade, Eighth Grade Mathematics and Honors Algebra I. Students are placed into either course based on a number of assessments: a cumulative test at the end of seventh grade, based on our math curriculum and designed to assess proficiency with the math concepts and skills from grades 6 and 7; performance on the math sections of the CTP4 standardized test given in the spring of 7th grade; and teacher recommendation.
The eighth grade math course hones pre-algebra skills and introduces concepts in algebra to prepare students for high school math. Students work within four main components of mathematics that address focal points set forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. First, students practice operations on all rational numbers and solve linear equations. They simplify expressions using order of operations, place rational and irrational numbers on a number line and justify the placement of the numbers, and use the arithmetic of rational numbers as they formulate and solve linear equations with one variable.
Second, students explore the Pythagorean Theorem and its practical applications. They use the theorem to find the height of a tree in Central Park and other real-life objects. Irrational numbers and square roots are also introduced in this connection, moving the students into the realm of theoretical math.
Third, students investigate exponential growth and apply growth factors to solve classic puzzles. They then delve into quadratic expressions and equations. Identifying and solving quadratic equations in word problems helps to add some real-world experience. Students explore a practical application of Galileo’s vertical motion formula, where students drop objects and calculate various variables. Finally, students investigate clever ways of counting combinations and permutations.
The Honors Algebra I course moves at the fast pace required to master the material required for placement into higher level high school math classes. Algebra builds upon the fundamentals of linear algebraic relationships that were studied in seventh grade. Exponential relationships are introduced and the differences between them and linear relationships are explored. Students learn to write, graph, and solve inverse, exponential, quadratic and rational equations. They apply their understanding of nonlinear relationships to patterns of exponential growth and decay in a variety of scientific contexts, representing them in equations, in graphs, and in tables, and solving problems. They also develop their symbolic reasoning by finding equivalent forms of many kinds of equations, including factoring simple quadratic equations; solving equations for variables and using the solution to find specific values of functions; and solving systems of equations by graphing, substitution, and combining equations. The geometry strand of the algebra program equips students to understand and apply the Pythagorean Theorem; and represent geometric relationships algebraically, and vice versa. In combinatorics, students investigate clever ways of counting combinations and permutations and apply algebra skills and pattern recognition to formalize their methods symbolically.
Key focal points for the year include: Analyzing and representing linear functions and solving linear equations and systems of linear equations; Analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures and performing operations with radicals; Writing, interpreting, and using mathematical expressions and equations.
The following topics are studied in Honors Algebra I:
The eighth grade science program incorporates four units, each drawn from one of the major areas of scientific study.
The physical sciences curriculum focuses on chemical reactions, specifically the structure of the atom and simple chemical reactions. The atom is explored through the use of the Periodic Table. The table becomes a focal point of information as various elements are explored. Exothermic/endothermic and acid/base reactions are explored through investigative experiments.
The biological sciences are represented by a unit on cellular heredity,genetics, and mitosis, during which the students use the our laboratory to study cell division as a means of understanding reproduction.
In an earth science unit on plate tectonics, the students conduct simulated research at key geological sites around the world, recording their observations, calculations, and conclusions in a geological field notebook.
The culmination of the science program is an independent project in which students choose a topic of interest and design a complete experiment from scratch. This leads to a deep understanding of the scientific process, as well as new discoveries.
In the eighth grade, the balanced emphases of the music program continue, with units on keyboard, music theory, music appreciation, and singing. Highlights of the year include playing the keyboard with two hands, individualized to each student’s own level, exercising ear training with the use of the keyboard, the study of chords in music theory, understanding the role of instrumentation and timeline in various musical styles, and training in conducting in connection with the singing program. The students also share and present to their classmates their personal musical tastes. Finally, eighth graders have four major performance opportunities: in addition to the Zimriyah, the keyboard recital, and the school concert, they sing at their own graduation ceremony.
The eighth grade students continue to play soccer, basketball, softball, and volleyball, though their skill practice is at a higher level. Lessons begin with 7-10 minutes of warm-ups, including stretching, jumping jacks, and a distance jog.
In soccer, the students review and practice throw-ins, trapping the ball, heading, passing, and goalkeeping. Games often involve the use of two balls to increase students’ focus and involve more students in the action. The extension of this unit in the winter entails games of indoor mini-soccer in a round-robin format, as well as dome-ball and end-line kickball. Following skill-building exercises in basketball, the students play full-court games. During softball season, in addition to the basic skills and techniques in throwing, catching, and batting, the students work on rules, strategy, teamwork, and sportsmanship. In addition, the students continue to develop their skills in Capture the Flag and soccer knock-out.