Curriculum at a Glance

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The Middle School provides a transition from the homeroom atmosphere of the Lower School to the departmental configuration of the Upper School. The curriculum challenges students with a vigorous academic program combined with an emphasis on the whole child. The core of the Middle School academic program includes studies in the arts, English, history, mathematics, modern language, physical education, and science. Frequent field trips, service-learning projects, and interscholastic sports programs enhance the regular classroom experience.

The Arts

Sixth Grade
Sixth-graders rotate through woodshop, drama, studio arts, and music twice during the year. In the woodshop students use hand and power tools to construct and finish wooden boxes with rabbet joints. Along with joinery, students learn shop etiquette and safety. Later in the year, students work in teams to build a wooden go-cart that is decorated in art class, while they create a cheer for the team in music class. Drama class introduces basic acting and theater skills that culminate in a production of a fractured fairytale complete with costumes and props. Students then explore character through puppetry, mask work, and clowning. Students often find that skills learned in drama support their oral presentations for other classes. Studio art for sixth-graders focuses on black and white drawing, using value studies, shading, contour line, and awareness of light source. Color theory and mixing is next, with composition in several media. Later in the year block printing, mask design, and imaginative drawing come into play. Music classes include learning jazz-styled canons, the basics of a computer program called “Garageband,” traditional music notation, and composition using various instruments. Also included is a study of traditional music of Japan. Students create haikus with musical backing using Japanese scales and work together composing Japanese styled pieces for xylophone duets. Go-cart cheers round out the year.

Seventh Grade
In seventh grade students spend one-fifth of the year in woodshop, drama, studio art, music, and media art. In woodshop, students work together in small groups to create a colorful wooden mural, which includes both two- and three- dimensional design elements. Students also make bandsaw boxes that they finish to a fine gloss. Drama students integrate their skills by preparing and performing a full theatrical production. Over a period of five weeks students study basic acting techniques while learning to audition, rehearse, and design a performance. Using a variety of scripts, from science fiction to Shakespeare, students design and put together the sets, costumes, lighting, and props.

Students in the music rotation create the sound score using our music technology laboratory. Students often work with local theater professionals on fight choreography, movement, and special effects. Music students write an original score to accompany the 7th grade dramatic performances during the year. Each play is normally characterized by a style, which is studied in class and students work towards composing pieces that support the production. Students in studio arts concentrate on learning to draw the human head using value, shading, color, and symmetry. They do four drawings: one focused on value, the next on color, a self-portrait, and a final drawing in one of several styles. Media arts class focuses on filmmaking, covering techniques from types of camera shots to stop-motion animation. Students edit their projects on individual laptops, and the finished work is screened at school assemblies and film festivals around the country. Each film is linked to the theme of community connections.

Eighth Grade
Eighth-graders elect three of five arts classes provided during the year. In woodshop students design and carry out their own projects with coaching from the teacher. Sophisticated woodworking and finishing techniques are taught as needed. Designing and building sets for the spring musical is also part of the spring term in woodshop. Drama students have a theatrical year made up of a variety of dramatic work, including the annual main stage Gilbert and Sullivan musical and the mummers play Saint George and the Dragon. In the classroom and on the stage, students learn performance and teamwork skills. In addition to their main stage work, students use theatrical techniques to engage with social issues, collaborating in small groups to create performance pieces. The year culminates with the class traveling to the San Juan Islands, where they perform the Gilbert and Sullivan production for several small communities. Studio art focuses on art history. The rotation has three components: research, creating artwork in the style of an artist or period of art, and solving a mural square design problem. Students research a chosen artist using websites and books from museums. They discover when the artist lived, how he or she worked, and the influences and events that shaped the artist’s life and work. Then the imaginative challenge for students is to create a piece of art in the style of the artist they studied, incorporating a random meandering line. Music focuses on the elements, historical roots, and major influences of rock and roll. Students learn to play a twelve-bar blues pattern on classroom instruments and how to accompany it with a rock beat on the drum kit. Students learn riffs and perform over them using a pentatonic scale. Each music class performs a classic rock and roll piece for the Middle School assembly. The final eighth grade rotation is media arts, where students connect with local professional musicians and artists to produce sophisticated music videos that help support Portland’s artistic community. The filmmakers begin with a one-page concept, which they submit to the band for approval. Bands work with the students to refine the ideas, and the finished productions the students have created become a promotional tool for both parties. Skills involved in pre-production, location shooting, and post-production are covered.

English

Sixth Grade
In 6th grade English, students read at least six major texts in various genres of literature including short story, poetry, essay (descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive), and novel. Most of the major texts are read in the literature circle format, meaning that students choose their own reading materials, set their own reading calendars, engage in small group discussion about their books, and present a group oral book project after finishing the book. All reading selections are chosen with an eye on issues of gender, ethnicity, and cultural diversity, as they exist in our contemporary world. While reading, students strengthen literal comprehension of texts as well as an ability to draw inferences from implied meanings. They also analyze how a text is structured and how an author employs story elements. Students do journaling on their reading in a Moodle Wiki format on the InsideCatlin site. As writers, students produce poems, stories, and essays for class, taking all major pieces through the writing workshop process: prewriting, drafting, peer responding, revising, proofreading, and publishing. Students use the laptop writing-lab in class to work on keyboarding and other technology skills, saving their work to the InsideCatlin Moodle and Google Docs domains. They also have many grammar, spelling, and vocabulary lessons over the course of the year in order to enrich their own writing and make it more sophisticated and polished. At the end of the year, each student produces a personal Heroic Journey Anthology of her 6th grade academic year. Last, an overarching theme of the 6th grade is harvesting, and to this end students are given many opportunities to go outside and work in the organic garden, greenhouse, and apple orchard. The sixth grade team is in charge of two major Catlin Gabel concerns: the apple orchard and the Spring Festival plant sale fundraiser. Sixth grade teachers work together to teach a variety of interdisciplinary lessons on such topics as seed collection, photosynthesis, pollination, the foundations of human civilization, wheat harvesting in Mesopotamia, pizza baking in the garden cob oven, and sweetness in apples. Students grow food for the lunch salad bar in the Barn, and they learn how to compost back into the garden to complete the circle. Throughout these interdisciplinary lessons, students are reading and writing across the curriculum—writing for history lessons and reading for science lessons while in English.

Seventh Grade
Seventh grade English is designed to support students in their enjoyment of reading and writing, while teaching and fostering the analytical skills necessary for literary analysis. Students read two class novels, three independent reading books, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, and a play. All reading selections are chosen with an eye on issues of justice as they relate to our contemporary world. In addition, the Genre Wheel Independent Reading Project provides a vehicle for students to explore a variety of genres, while practicing time management, and experimenting with ways to demonstrate understanding that move well beyond the traditional book report. Students continue to learn and practice multiple reading strategies and to expand their vocabularies within the context of their reading and writing. They continue to learn and identify literary and poetic devices and expand upon their knowledge of grammar and spelling. Seventh grade English uses the writing workshop approach (periods of concentrated daily writing, with guided movement through all steps of the writing process, including self and peer editing, and individual writing conferences with the teacher) to generate literary essays, a persuasive letter, creative non-fiction, poetry, and narrative prose. Students use the laptop mobile lab in class for research and word processing. Throughout the year, students systematically make their way through a review of 21 basic writing rules (conventions) to help them solidify the mechanics of their writing. Independent reading project presentations and poetry recitations provide students with opportunities to practice their public speaking, both formally and informally.

Eighth Grade
In eighth grade English, students are encouraged to discover the existing links among literature, history, and humanity. Texts used in this course are provocative, and call upon readers to consider individual and group identity, as well as social exclusion. As students investigate the human condition, they train their minds’ eyes to both notice and communicate the simple aesthetic experiences that create joy and hope, passion, frustration, fear, and intrigue. English 8 students read, interpret, and write nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. While doing so, they develop a lens for analyzing their own writing and that of published writers. As the year progresses, students move from literal comprehension to a deeper understanding and appreciation of literary technique. Reading and writing are inextricably tied, so writing assignments are often in response to, or in emulation of published writers who represent a variety of stylistic devices and voices. Drafting, editing, and revision are central to the curriculum of English 8, and a clearly structured self, peer, and teacher review process (via writing workshop) encourages students to enrich their writing, as well as discover their own writing voice. Discussion is also central to English 8, as it requires students to reason, to marshal evidence for their arguments, and to defend their ideas orally. It is through discussion that students recognize important issues, develop intellectual interests, and engage in problem solving. Periodically, students have “Philosophy Fridays”, during which they consider controversial topics and learn to debate respectfully. Student ownership of discussion grows progressively from participating in small group discussions to conducting whole class inquiries. In addition to reading, writing, and discussion, students in English 8 conduct research during a multi-genre project entitled “Curiosity Quest”. Curiosity Quest encourages students to construct knowledge focused on a personal interest. After learning about the taxonomy and validity of questions, students design their own essential question and methodology for research. They then collect, store, and classify data, all while considering their question from multiple perspectives. In addition to honing their critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, students learn academic citation methods and refine their presentation skills to share their findings with the larger community. This project is the culmination of eighth grade English.

History

Sixth Grade
Using Habits of Mind, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and other materials, in sixth grade history students tease out and reflect on their own best learning strategies, experiment with them, and refine them. In conjunction with English, students develop several techniques for reading textbooks and other texts containing increasingly challenging vocabulary. Multiple styles of note taking are practiced and each student eventually selects the formats that work best for him or her. Expository writing is also threaded together with language arts instruction. Students also receive guided practice in paragraph and essay writing, summarizing, and paraphrasing. Sixth grade history focuses on Ancient Civilizations. Students explore the variety of ways social scientists – historians, geographers, archaeologists, and anthropologists study the past and present. They learn to view historical events from multiple perspectives. Current events figure regularly in the curriculum. Course work includes examining the five themes of geography: Location, Places, Regions, Human/Environment Interaction, and Movement. Reading and making maps is an additional focus.

Seventh Grade
Three major units make up the seventh grade world cultures curriculum: an oral history project, geography & the human experience, and cultures from medieval to modern times. The oral history project involves conducting interviews and writing a mini-biography. In geography and the human experience students encounter mapping software, cartographic tools, and explore contemporary problems such as overpopulation and boundary disputes. In cultures, students explore, medieval, and modern cultures and civilizations. They study and compare medieval and Renaissance Europe, the rise of Islam, medieval China and feudal Japan; explore the revolutionary times of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries; and research and plan a trip to a modern-day country in the eastern hemisphere. Students hone skills in reading, vocabulary building, public speaking, writing, researching, and critical thinking

Eighth Grade
The eighth grade year in history has three large units. For civics, students study the roots of U.S. democracy and the founding documents. After agreeing that republican government as practiced in the United States is a good form of government, students relate founding principles to contemporary events and issues. Students write formal 5-paragraph essays and then have debates on a variety of topics. After winter break, students examine how when good government can go bad, it can lead to terrible results. Students examine the Weimar Republic in 1920s Germany and how its failure led to the rise of Nazism and World War II. Studying the Holocaust from the perspective of human behavior allows the class to examine labeling, stereotyping, and targeting. The focus on human rights at the founding of our own country is revisited as a distinct contrast to the fascism in 20th century Europe. During the spring term, students look at how the post World War II world led to modern times. Using graphic novels as springboards, the class studies the Cold War, End of Colonialism, and the Rise of Political Islam. Each student chooses an area of interest and does independent research in preparation for a class presentation.  

Mathematics

“In this changing world, those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. … All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding.” From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Sixth Grade
Sixth grade is a time when all of the basic math skills will be solidified, strengthened and deepened. In tandem with this basic skills development will be an emphasis on creative problem-solving strategies and generalizing patterns to push the growth of each child's abstract thinking and logical reasoning ability. The beginning of algebraic thinking will be woven throughout the curriculum. Through a variety of assignments, activities, and projects, students will have numerous opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of mathematics, their ability to apply their knowledge, and their ability to communicate effectively. In addition to using textbooks, we supplement with a variety of materials and a variety of approaches since no single method is effective for every child. To balance the direct instructional style of textbooks, Connected Math's student-directed curriculum is integrated into the overall sixth grade math program. In addition, the students are introduced to some computer programming during our gender-based grouping in the spring.

Seventh Grade
Students in the 7th grade will be introduced to many of the foundational concepts and skills of higher-level mathematics in specific areas: data collection and statistical analysis; geometry and trigonometry; rate, ratio, proportion, percent, and probability; numeration, number theory, and history; and the algebra of expressions and linear equations. Through the extensive use of cooperative problem-solving and individual projects, we will hone and expand basic and intermediate calculation skills, develop logical thinking skills, explore the constructive use of technology, continue to add each student’s conceptual knowledge, and put skills and concepts into context through application and analysis.

Eighth Grade
Students in the eighth grade are currently in Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, or in the first year of an integrated Geometry/Algebra 2 course. It is important to understand that as 8th graders, not all students are developmentally ready for a rigorous Algebra I course. For this reason, our Algebra classes differ in depth and breath. Our goal for creating and offering this program is to meet the individual child's needs as best we can. Scientific calculators, graphing calculators, and the Geometer's Sketchpad are used to different degrees in each course. Homework is assigned daily with few exceptions and come from the text as well as from supplemental resources.

Modern Languages

Sixth Grade
Sixth grade students choose one of three languages to study for their three Middle School years: Spanish, French, or Chinese. These introductory courses are designed to help students gain proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing in the target language. Students begin to lay a strong foundation for further language study and sharpening their language learning strategies. In the sixth grade year, the focus is on learning the structure of the language and practical vocabulary words that are relevant and meaningful to their daily personal and school life. Students learn short, discreet sentences and question formats. Students also research and study the cultures where the language is spoken. As much of the instruction as possible is in the target language. Teachers partner with students best learning strategies, experiment, and then refine them.

Seventh Grade
Seventh grade students continue studying the language they selected in sixth grade. In Spanish and French, students expand their vocabularies, understanding of grammar, verb conjugations, and plurals and tenses, and learn to write longer pieces. Spanish students study Mexican and Central American holidays and cultural practices, and view and respond to two films that highlight prejudice and illegal immigration issues. French students conduct oral interviews, research art and music in francophone countries, and perform skits. Chinese students continue to add to their repertoire of characters, vocabulary words, and grammatical structures, and learn to read and write longer messages. A strong focus this year has been placed on helping students to create with the language and to use interrogative sentences so that they can take a more active role in their conversations.   

Eighth Grade
All language classes build upon the skills and vocabulary of previous years and include cultural studies, geography, and history of places where the language is spoken. Language learning skills and strategies are also emphasized while students expand their listening, speaking, writing and reading skills. By eighth grade, most instruction is in the target language, and students are expected to communicate as much as possible in their chosen language during language class. Along with increasing their grammatical understanding, their banks of words, and their knowledge of verb conjugations, French and Spanish students take national language exams. They also focus on functioning in a native speaking town or country, including asking and giving directions, shopping at various stores, ordering food, finding medical help, discussing sports and interests, and planning events with family and friends. Many students participate in language-based trips to Taiwan, Costa Rica and Martinique that provide experience in another culture. Through homestays, language instruction and involvement in global service opportunities, these students gain a valuable linguistic boost.

Physical Education

Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade
At Catlin Gabel Middle School, we see physical activity as a critical component to the development and maintenance of good health. The students take part daily for 50 minutes in a wide array of activities that help work towards creating life-long fitness habits. The goal of our program is to develop physically educated individuals who have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.

A physically educated person:
Demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities.
Demonstrates understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to the learning and performance of physical activities.
Participates regularly in physical activity.
Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings.
Values physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction.

Science

Sixth Grade
Sixth grade science focuses on the biology of marine life and the human body. In this life science class students gain experience observing, dissecting, writing and organizing notes, drawing, problem solving, thinking critically, making oral presentations and creating a life-size paper model of their own skeleton and organs. Our investigation of the human body includes the study of the skeletal, nervous, circulatory, endocrine and digestive systems, as well as the effects of alcohol, tobacco and drugs on mental and physical health. These studies culminate in Surgery Day, when hospital personnel bring authentic surgical equipment and materials to the classroom to give students hands-on practice with various medical and surgical techniques. Our study of marine life includes a survey of the major kingdoms of life, with a focus on the natural history, distribution and abundance of dominant marine invertebrate and vertebrate animals. This unit culminates with a week of camping on the southern Oregon coast where students explore the labs at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, the fishing docks at Charleston Harbor, and the rocky seashore and the sandy beach of Cape Arago. Students observe marine habitats and biota first-hand to gain appreciation and experience identifying marine algae, plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals in the field.

Seventh Grade
Seventh grade science aims to introduce students to basic lab and computer skills, expose them to different fields of physical science, and make explicit the ways that math is integrated into science and science is integrated into everyday life. Throughout the year, students study and apply the scientific method. The space science unit, with its study of the solar system, also includes robotics and computer programming. The environmental science unit includes studies of watersheds, water pollution, and stream restoration. The unit involves data collection and analyses from local streams. The geology unit examines plate tectonics, the Ring of Fire, earthquakes, volcanoes, and how these earth processes affect us in the Pacific Northwest. The unit culminates in a four-day class trip to Mt. St. Helens to study a volcano up close.

Eighth Grade
Eighth grade science is an introduction to physical science. Topics include volume and mass, mass changes in a closed system, characteristic properties, and solubility. In this laboratory-based class, students further refine their application of the scientific method and improve their ability to observe and record; to make and refine hypotheses; and to design, run, and write up lab-based inquiries. In an eagerly anticipated final project students use the skills, theories, and techniques learned throughout the year to separate “sludge,” a mixture of numerous solids, liquids, and gases. The year ends with the formulation of the atomic theory of matter. It is a smooth transition to the high school science program as ninth grade picks up where eighth grade left off on the atom and the nature of bonding.