Building on the interdisciplinary study of American history and literature begun in Grade 7, the humanities program in Grade 8 examines the twentieth century and the creation of modern America. Continuing an emphasis on the importance of multiple perspectives, the special focus in Grade 8 is on the core values of the American republic as presented in the Constitution (justice, freedom, peace, common defense, and the common good) and their support for social progress and justice. From an even larger perspective, the course addresses the following questions: What is the role of the individual in social systems? How do individuals stand up and take responsibility for changing an unjust system? How do the struggles and triumphs of life shape us as individuals and as a society?
Historical studies compare the noble ideals and sometimes competing realities of American life throughout the century, focusing in particular on immigration, the Great Migration, World War I and America’s emergence as a world power, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. The study of civil rights throughout the year culminates in a trip to Atlanta, Montgomery, and Birmingham in May.
Teachers supplement the textbook History Alive!, which students began in Grade 7, with more in-depth readings as well as internet research, primary sources, and exposure to the art and music of each era Grade 8 students study. Trips to local museums broaden the students’ understanding of our rich culture. The curriculum requires students to build their skills in reading and writing, historical analysis and interpretation, and decision-making.
Selected literature explores individual voices in society and complements each historic period. Some texts include Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, and March 3 by John Lewis. In addition, our study of American short stories reviews the essential elements of fiction— setting, point of view, conflict, character, and theme—and a scattering of poetry throughout the year looks at the power of rhythm, sound, and figurative language to intensify meaning. Students also do independent reading or viewing and prepare individually tailored reflections. Regular writing assignments, starting with the review of simple paragraphs and working up to a five-paragraph essay, address the history and literature studied and continue the practice of various forms of writing, emphasizing, in particular, the development of a persuasive argument. Students also enrich their vocabulary through study rooted in their reading and work regularly on grammar, writing mechanics, and style in a regular writer’s workshop. Individual and group assignments develop oral presentation skills. Targeted use of Google Docs and a class website allow more collaboration and continued conversation outside of the classroom.
Finally, as part of a growing push for students to have more ownership over their learning, Grade 8 students embark on the Capstone project that is focused on a specific humanities theme involving policy reform. In addition to teaching real-world skills—such as research, writing, presentation skills, time management, and organization—the project enables students to become experts in their chosen topics. This project is aptly titled “Capstone” because it is the culminating academic achievement of their St. Patrick’s career.
MATH: ALGEBRA I
Using materials from Illustrative Mathematics as well as more traditional Algebra I texts, students begin Grade 8 by revisiting transformational geometry. They study dilations and similarity, providing background for understanding the slope of a line in the coordinate plane. Next, students explore linear relationships and express them using equations, tables, and graphs. Students solve linear equations and systems of equations in one or more variables. They also study quadratic equations. Exponents and irrational numbers are used to learn about real numbers. Throughout the course, students use the TI-83 or TI-84 calculator. The curriculum is problem-based, geared toward developing students’ conceptual understanding of the material. Emphasis is also placed on problem-solving, using resources such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Palette of Problems and YouCubed Mathematical Mindset materials. The course is a complete Algebra I sequence.
As in Grade 7, the content for Grade 8 science is divided into three major units. During the Fall Trimester, students study physical science with a primary focus on kinematics. Through inquiry-based lab activities and small- and whole-group discussions, students study motion. Using sonic rangers, students collect data on the motion of different objects and describe the motion of the object using scalar and vector quantities. Students graphically represent motion, using distance-time graphs and speed-time graphs, and quantify distance, displacement, speed, velocity, and acceleration.
The Winter Trimester consists of a study of physical science through a chemistry unit focused on the properties of matter. The chemistry unit focuses on five big ideas:
- elements are fundamental substances;
- ordinary matter is made up of atoms, and each element has its unique atom;
- atoms combine to form complexes of associated atoms, which are the basic particles of substances;
- ordinary matter exists in one of three states—solid, liquid, gas—depending on the energy characteristics of the particles of the matter; and
- abstract concepts of chemical structure, composition, and interaction can be communicated using a variety of representations, symbols, and conventions.
In the Spring Trimester, students continue to expand their knowledge of cells, genetics, and DNA. Thanks to our affiliation with the Carnegie Institution for Science, Grade 8 science students study live zebrafish in order to learn about genetics and the life cycle of vertebrate animals through direct observation and experimentation. The goal of the experiment is to have the students crossbreed wild type and nacre zebrafish in order to determine what the offspring will look like.
Grade 8 students also have a dedicated robotics/ engineering class once a rotation. The SeaPerch program is sponsored through the National Naval Responsibility for Naval Engineering (NNRNE) with the goal of helping to inspire the next generation of naval architects and marine, ocean, and naval engineers. A SeaPerch is an underwater robot known as a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV. Students cut and drill PCV piping; build, solder, and waterproof motors; and solder circuit boards during the engineering process. Students then test their ROV on a pool obstacle course. From the classroom activities during SeaPerch construction through in-water application of the ROV, they have opportunities to learn about and apply various subjects including mathematics, robotics, and physics, as well as valuable problem-solving and teamwork skills.
Finally, as part of a growing push for students to have more control and ownership over their learning, Grade 8 students complete an independent Science Fair project on a topic of their choice. The project involves writing a three-page research component, investigating and building models to test their hypotheses, recording information and data in a logbook, creating a tri-fold poster displaying their findings using the scientific method, and making a 10-minute presentation. Besides teaching real-world skills—such as research, writing, presentation skills, time management, and organization—the project enables students to follow their curiosity, choose a topic, and become experts.