- History of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration
- Reading, grammar, composition
- Perspective drawing
- Mathematics, Algebra
- Geography and cultural anthropology of Europe and Africa
- Physiology, health and nutrition
- Inorganic chemistry
- Instrumental ensemble
- Foreign languages
- Physical education
- Circus skills
Question, explore, and discover
The process begun in grade six of observing the world continues, but now students begin to question the authenticity of everything around them. Is this teacher or parent or friend and their information and experience real, true, right? The implications of events and developments within themselves, and in the outer events of history becomes apparent to them.
They are, in short, at the perfect stage for lessons about the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, algebra, and scientific inquiry. The old order based on faith and authority is giving way, with much tumult and change, to a new order based on objectivity, daring, and personal responsibility. The students study the lives of those thinkers and explorers who dared to think "out of the box," and through their experiences, the lessons of seventh grade come alive. The stories of explorers show people defying conventional understanding to step into the unknown. During the Christian Reformation, the idea that there can be an individual spiritual life for which one is personally responsible was born. Biographies of Kepler, Galileo, and Copernicus and Martin Luther, Columbus, and Pizarro highlight the conflict that can occur when new ideas come up against entrenched world-views. In one year, we examine the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the solar system and the chaotic meshing of previously isolated social cultures.
A new view of the world and a new way of thinking
Renaissance art presents a new way of representing the world that is objective, natural, and geometric and sacrifices nothing of its artistic beauty. The students learn perspective drawing, with its vanishing point, an artificial construct that suddenly enables them to create more realistic drawings. They discover the proportion of the Golden Mean from their geometry lessons appearing in the composition of Renaissance paintings and buildings, and use it in their own drawings of the human figure.
We’ve worked to make the children feel at home in their bodies and on the earth, and our students spend the Nutrition block learning specifically about their own bodies and organs. But in grade seven, a new energy begins to manifest: the ability to think abstractly. How do we nurture that ability? With the introduction of algebra, the students are led into abstract mathematical thinking. They work with unknown quantities as if they are numbers, learn to balance equations and solve for the variable. They enter the realm of positive and negative integers, formulae, binomials and inverse operations, coefficients and irrational numbers. Pythagoras was shaken when he contemplated a quantity such as the square root of a negative number. What are we to think of a number that cannot physically exist?
A look "behind the scenes" of the world
Physics gives practical lessons in the six simple machines and the work they do in the world. The students look around them and see levers at work everywhere and learn to calculate the advantages of the inclined plane, a pulley system. They embark on the science of putting the laws of the physical world to work for them. The challenge of creating a simple, elegant machine to feed the dog or to open the door by remote action appeals to them.
In chemistry, the students get a glimpse right into the substances around and within them. What is happening in the transformations we call combustion, which apply as much to our physiologies as to a flame on a candle? Beginning with an apparently simple observation, the students explore the characteristics of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. In simple demonstrations, students learn that combustion isolates acid from alkali. After building a lime kiln and driving carbon dioxide out of a piece of marble or limestone, the class explores the making of cement and the formation of mineral salts when they are persuaded to reunite. What does the process have to do with, say, the pH balance of the ocean? Ask a seventh grader!
The students discover the processes at work within their own bodies. In biology, the class draws and discusses the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and reproductive systems in detail. We examine the importance of proper nutrition. We come to understand the developmental and physical changes of puberty. The class studies some physical organs, such as the eye and its relationship to light, and the ear with its incredible affinity to music.
An ever-widening view of the world, within and without
By eighth grade, the class will have studied both Asia and the continent of Africa. Usually, this is the year our geography classes explore the animals and peoples of the Rift Valley, the habitats and climates of the Kalahari Desert, how humans have adapted, culturally, socially, and politically to the particular surroundings in which they live.
With the students’ growing independence and originality, it’s time to introduce creative writing as a formal enquiry into our English studies. The class has the opportunity to write narrative stories and explores the elements that make a great short story. In poetry we employ meter, simile, and metaphor in formal structures. Writing assignments stress the subjunctive mood, direct speech, and the use of tense to describe complex series of events. The power of the students' own expression is developed through concentration on poetry and imagery and clear accurate writing in exposition.
Clowning and coordination
Collaboration, creativity, and self-expression at Pine Hill is developed as the middle school prepares each year for the Hilltop Circus. Apart from the obvious skills in coordination, juggling, and riding a unicycle, which are taught in our circus program, working together on the annual production of a circus provides vital and unique lessons and opportunities for our middle school students as they explore the inner and outer mechanics of putting a great show together, from blending the story lines of each act into the narrative story of the circus, to working together to rehearse and perform group gymnastic formations that involve the whole middle school cast.
Grade seven is an exciting year, full of discovery and transformation. With new skills, both physical and mental, with confidence born of a growing and well-founded knowledge of the world, with a new appreciation for beauty and harmony, with projects in community service and a growing sense of the community to which they belong, our students finish their penultimate year of elementary school at Pine Hill with a real sense of achievement.