students playing drums and watching demonstration

In Studio Art students are introduced to art history and are exposed to a wide variety of artistic mediums including watercolors and pencil sketches. In Woodshop they learn about furniture composition and design, and gain experience in carving, wood turning, and joining.

In Drama students are exposed to dramatic improvisation, the creation of dance, and the structure of stories and performance. Music introduces students to composition and the use of classroom/percussive instruments. Media Arts enables the act of storytelling through photography and film.

Across the various artistic mediums available to students, they learn to express themselves creatively, both individually and collaboratively. Students gain confidence in presenting themselves and their work, and develop a framework for making informed creative choices. They come to understand how the arts integrates and makes connections throughout all disciplines. Students learn to think critically, problem solve, reflect, and observe, and appreciate the world around them. Essential questions and topics addressed include:

  • How do the arts connect artist and audience?
  • How does artistic communication and craft relate to the audience or end user?
  • An environment of trust and respect enables creation and performance
  • Theater invites and challenges communities to engage with the human experience
  • Theater undoes the single story, offering broader perspective and inviting empathy
  • The relationship between audience and performer is immediate, dynamic, and reciprocal
  • Success of an ensemble relies on individual responsibility

By the end of eighth grade, students have developed proficiency in the following:

  • Using the elements of design including line, direction, shape, size, texture, value, and color
  • Experience with the concepts, skills, tools, and vocabulary across a variety of artistic media
  • Experience with creative improvisation, interpretation of published works, and composition of original works
  • Conceiving original creative works and executing them with confidence and competence
  • Critically responding to pieces of artwork using a critique protocol
  • Making informed, critical evaluations of art works from both an audience member and a participant point of view
  • Considering an audience during the creative process
sewing class detail student hands

Catlin Gabel Arts

From preschool through the senior year, the arts build on each other and are taught in an environment of trust and respect that enables creation and performance, integrating and make connections throughout all disciplines.

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Sixth graders rotate through woodshop, drama, studio art, and music two times during the year. The developmental theme is Laying Foundations and the curricular feature is Practice Makes Progress.  Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions that include:

  • How can I manipulate sound, vibration, and silence?
  • How does my body respond to music, sound, and silence?
  • Why do people tell and listen to stories?
  • How do we use physicality (bodies and facial expressions) to communicate a character?
  • How do art/artists make artifacts that best reflect cultural values?

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, they may work in teams to build a useful and/or decorative project to place somewhere on campus.

Drama class introduces basic acting and theater skills that culminate in a production of a “teeny tiny play” written by students and performed for the Middle School. Students then explore character through puppetry, mask work, and clowning.

Studio art focuses on black and white drawing using value studies, shading, contour line, and awareness of light source. Color theory and mixing are next, with composition in several media. Later in the year, block printing, painting and watercolor come into play.

Music class includes learning jazz-styled canons, the basics of a computer composition program called “Garage Band,” 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.


Seventh graders spend one-fifth of the year in each of five art courses: Woodshop, Drama, Studio Art, Music, and Media Arts. The developmental theme is Collaboration and the curricular feature is Making Makes Artists. Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions, including:

  • How do we make music together?
  • How does performance benefit performers?
  • Can I engage with my class as a unique community of people within the school?
  • Can I help someone and be helped by someone?
  • How do the Elements of Design reveal how we make imagery and ideas that we value?
  • How do I consider my audience?

Throughout the year in Woodshop, students make band-saw boxes. This challenging project involves an intricate sequence of cuts, utilizes beautiful and otherwise unusable pieces of wood, and gets the students comfortable on the most essential power tools. Students also work together in small groups to create a colorful wooden mural.

Drama students integrate their skills by preparing and performing a full theatrical production. They study basic acting techniques while learning to audition, rehearse, and create the design elements of a performance. Using a variety of scripts, students design and put together the sets, costumes, lighting, and props. Students often work with local theater professionals on fight choreography, movement, and special effects.

In Music, students write an original score and accompany the seventh-grade dramatic performances throughout the year. Each play is characterized by a style, which is studied in class and students work towards composing pieces that support the production style. Music students work with the drama class a week prior to the performance to add the music cues, and lighting, and if needed, become additional actors.

Students in studio art learn to draw the human head using value, shading, color, and symmetry. They do four drawings focused on value, color, self-portrait, and a final, larger-than-life drawing.

Media arts class focuses on filmmaking, covering techniques from Photoshop to types of camera shots, as well as stop-motion animation. Students edit their projects on individual laptops, and the finished work is screened at school assemblies and even film festivals around the country. Film assignments range from poetry adaptations to biopics to seasonal themes such as Halloween Horror.


Eighth graders elect three of five arts classes for the year. The developmental theme is Connection. The curricular feature is Risk Taking is Essential to Growth. Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions that include:

  • How do the arts express and share a diversity of cultures?
  • How does music impact culture or vice versa?
  • How does performance benefit a community and a culture?
  • How can theater inspire individuals and communities to action?
  • What does the artwork tell us about a culture?
  • How do stories shape my identity? How does my identity shape the stories I tell?

In Woodshop, students design and carry out their own projects, within given design parameters. 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 class project of producing the mummers play, (Not) Saint George and the Dragon. Students create original works by using a variety of theatrical techniques to collaboratively engage with social issues.

Studio Art focuses on art history and has the following components: introduction to a variety of media, creating artwork in the style of an artist or period of art, solving a design problem while creating a self-directed series of art works. Students research a chosen artist using websites and books. They then take on the imaginative challenge of creating a piece of art in the style of the artist they studied, while 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. The class selects a piece to perform together as a band and each student learns the keyboard and any number of accompanying parts (drums, bass, vocals, etc.), culminating with a performance at a Middle School assembly.

The final eighth grade rotation is story. Story operates as a media lab, offering filmmaking, photography, image editing, 3D printing, and video game design. Students identify target audiences for their autobiographical artwork.