Astronomy is studied in seventh grade in connection with its importance to the Renaissance. The arcs and circles described by the stars, the sun’s daily course, and the phases of the moon are observed and explained. The class considers the history of astronomy, especially its development from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the universe, and studies the biographies of astronomers such as Copernicus and Kepler. A mid-winter class trip to the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Vermont allows for splendid naked-eye observation of the heavens.
Seventh grade students also study human physiology, a vital discipline for Renaissance artists. Looking at the living body from the vantage point of health and human hygiene, the class covers such topics as the metabolic system, the organs of digestion, excretion, and reproduction, the respiratory and circulatory systems, the heart and lungs, the composition and circulation of the blood, and the immune system. Study includes the dynamic interplay of organs and functions throughout the body. The work with digestion focuses on rhythms of digestion, nourishment, and nutrition as well as stimulants and poisons. Drugs, sex, addictions, and eating disorders are also addressed. The main lesson book includes detailed compositions and diagrams.
Seventh grade physics begins with a continuation of the themes from sixth grade. The topics in acoustics include mathematical aspects of the overtone series, frequency, vibrations, and the generation of the diatonic scale. Optics lessons focus on the laws of reflection and refraction, and concave and convex mirrors. Electricity and circuitry are studied. In addition, students work with the mechanics of the “simple machines” that underlie all labor-saving devices – the lever, the pulley, the inclined plane, and the wheel and axle. They also learn to apply algebraic equations to the laws that underlie the science of mechanics.
Chemistry is introduced in seventh grade. Topics include combustion, oxidation, acids and bases, salt formation, the lime cycle, and the environmental importance of water. Chemistry is taught, not only as a laboratory science, but also as a means of extending the students’ vision of the earth and humanity. Students may read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” to deepen their understanding of fire’s life-giving power. Students are required to take lab notes, write detailed reports, and complete carefully written and diagrammed main lesson books.
Human physiology is taken up again in eighth grade with a focus on the skeletal system. Students see how form and function unite in the creation of a uniquely efficient structure, the human skeleton. The role of the muscles, the senses, the nervous system, and the brain are also examined. Main lesson books include detailed drawings of bones, including the human skull.
Eighth graders also study meteorology. In this class they are introduced to local weather systems, fronts, cloud formations, and storms. They observe daily weather patterns and attempt weather predictions based on changes in barometric pressure and cloud formations. The study of planetary movement, wind patterns, ocean currents, and biomes enables students to look at present-day ecological concerns with a more informed eye.
Eighth grade physics concentrates first on the study of fluid mechanics. Concepts of water pressure, buoyancy, flotation and displacement, density, and surface tension are explored with the aid of appropriate demonstrations. Students learn Archimedes’ Principle and Pascal’s Principle, as well as the laws of hydrodynamics as they apply to machines and systems with which the students are familiar. Atmospheric pressure and the vacuum are the essential concepts explored in the study of the mechanics of gases. The final topic is electricity. The development of the wet cell and the basic principles of the electro-magnet are studied. Each student is required to build an electric motor constructed from simple materials.
The eighth grade study of chemistry focuses on organic compounds –- carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. The role of these compounds in nature, nourishment, and commercial products is examined. Emphasis is placed on the study of carbohydrates – sugars, starches, and cellulose – and students learn the history of sugar as well. Photosynthesis and respiration are presented as complementary processes. Nutritional chemistry is also addressed, including metabolism and the effects of organic compounds on the human body and health. Students often make rock candy, bread, milk, glue, cheese, paper, or soap as demonstration projects.