Subjects of Study - Upper School (6-12)

The study of the humanities is one way in which we take part in the conversation that humankind has been having with itself for centuries in an attempt to understand itself and the world in which it lives. In these courses, the students, along with the faculty, study the accomplishments of humanity (history) and its own ideas about itself and the world (philosophy, literature). Finally, students and faculty take part in the conversation in an active way through written and oral expression of ideas as they attempt to grapple with, understand and explain them.

Humanities in grades six, seven and eight:

  • History: Students in the sixth grade study ancient history, including the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent, EgyptGreece and Rome. They learn about the rise and fall of empires and the human achievements in those civilizations that continue to affect modern society. Students in the seventh grade study medieval history, from the rise of Christianity to the Renaissance, focusing on such topics as the agricultural revolution, the growth of cities and the development of nations. Eighth grade students study geography with an emphasis on how land and water formations shape political, economic and cultural life.
  • Literature and Composition: These courses lay the foundation for the writing program that continues through high school, including its connection to the literature that the students are reading and discussing. The years include a full review of grammar, including parts of speech, parts of a sentence, phrases, clauses, compound and complex sentences and mechanics. By the end of the eighth grade, the students have been introduced, at the level of the paragraph, to the basic five-part structure of the ninth and tenth grade essays. They are also familiar with the requirements for precise introduction and thorough development of their ideas, a vocabulary and set of skills they will use throughout the Thomas MacLaren School program. In addition, through the reading and discussing of great literature, they will have developed the skills necessary to offer substantial participation in the high-school Humane Letters courses.

Humanities in grades nine through twelve:

  • Humane Letters Seminar: The course is an integrated approach to the humanities, with the understanding that the various fields of the humanities – literature, history, philosophy – while distinct disciplines, ultimately are not separate. They form a cohesive whole in understanding humanity. The heart of the program is the seminar. 

During the ninth and tenth grades, students learn American and Western European history, respectively. The literature and philosophy they study parallels the historical time periods and the geographic regions they study. This literature and philosophy, however, are not simply meant to be a historical supplement, but are studied as works that contribute to an understanding of the human condition. At this level, the seminar teacher plays a very active part in the discussion—guiding, probing, questioning and instructing—helping the students learn how to learn in the seminar setting.

In the eleventh and twelfth grades, historical narrative moves to the background and the courses focus on the ideas and issues, which are articulated in the readings. Works are taken from the Greek classics, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (eleventh grade) and medieval to modern authors (twelfth grade). The skills necessary for careful reading, effective analytical writing and discussion which have been developed through the work of the previous four years are now employed as the means of learning in these last two years of the program. The students begin to deal seriously with questions of the human condition: What is reality? How do we know what we know? Where is it all headed? How, then, ought we to live?

As the students read these texts, their skills of analysis are further sharpened. They learn to comprehend and analyze dense, complicated material. Students begin to refine their writing style while continuing to execute clear, substantial analysis of the texts. Even more, however, the students begin to grapple with the perennial human questions, attempting to understand themselves and the world around them. In this regard, their reading of great fiction and poetry is essential.

At this level, the seminar teachers begin to be a less active part of the discussion, as the students step forward to take leadership of the conversation. Their own inquiry and analytical abilities drive the discussion and the teacher is able to act as a moderator and active participant in the discussion.

Science is a method designed to reveal the way that nature works. Nature is traditionally divided into two broad categories, the first being purely physical and the other including living systems.

Our goals are to elicit wonder for the natural world by fostering appreciation for both the remarkable predictability of physical systems and the remarkable adaptability of living systems, and to impart a basic ordered knowledge of that world and an understanding of the roles of theory and experiment.

Students are able to design experiments to gather evidence for hypotheses, and are able to weigh carefully the strength of evidence for claims. Courses include life and earth sciences, biology, chemistry and physics.

The Thomas MacLaren Computing Initiative is an innovative program within eleventh and twelfth grade physics. Students are taught useful computer programs in a powerful easy-entry programming language, MATLAB ® , and to create tools with a modern graphical user interface. Each tool solves a particular class of problems in science or mathematics.

The mathematics program includes the study of quantities, of figures and of relationships between quantities and figures. This study is marked by intuition, analysis, logical rigor, elegance and simplicity. Mathematics has a dual nature that is reflected in our program. As a symbolic system, it has elegance, reflected most clearly in the study of patterns. It is also used to express quantitative relations in other disciplines, which demands proficiency in mathematical skills and problem solving.

Fundamental concepts and skills in graphs, symbols and numbers are developed in the sixth, seventh, eighth and first semester of ninth grade through the study of prealgebra, algebra and geometry. In these courses one viewpoint is studied at a time. Beginning with the second semester of the ninth grade through the end of the first semester of grade twelve, the viewpoints are integrated. In these courses – precalculus and calculus – the dynamic concepts of “function” and “transformation” form a type of backbone for the study of trigonometry, vectors, matrices, probability, derivatives and integrals. Many of these concepts are also used in our science courses. Advanced topics are offered in the final semester of grade twelve, introducing students to structural mathematics.

Foreign Language
MacLaren students study both Latin and a modern language. Latin enables students to understand the structure of any language and to develop and practice analytical skills that can be transferred to other areas of study. All students are required to take Latin in grades six through nine, in order to gain the mastery needed to appreciate the power and beauty of original Latin texts. A classics track is offered for students who would like to continue their study of classical languages; students who opt into the track would take ancient Greek in lieu of a modern language. 

Fine Arts
The training of the aesthetic sensibilities is essential to the full development of the human person. The arts are a legacy of the human spirit. They are not mere cleverness or the raw expression of emotion. They are serious endeavors, aimed at clarifying our experiences of ourselves and of the world around us. They have their own language of discovery and expression, every bit as profound as ordinary spoken language and the languages of mathematics and science. Through the arts, reality is re-created and expressed anew, enabling us to see, feel and understand things in new and deeper ways. The arts also provide beauty and refresh our souls.

Our fine arts program allows students to create as well as to appreciate beautiful things. This development of the aesthetic dimension of the whole person has three expressions: art (including art history), music and drama. A study of theory and technique undergirds all performances.

The music curriculum spans the sixth through twelfth grades. All students participate in a string orchestra and receive instruction for an hour each day; in grades eleven and twelve orchestra is three times a week to allow for art. The goal is to provide and promote a chamber culture for the entire school. Orchestras perform regularly for the entire student body at Morning Assembly. A highlight of the year are the Winter and Spring Fine Arts Nights, an opportunity for both orchestras to perform for family and friends. 

Project Week
The first week of the second semester is set aside for each student to pursue a major project. In the sixth, seventh and eighth grades this project involves reading, writing and construction. In high school it involves writing a research paper in biography, science or the humanities.

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