SENIORS – Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade


Our three-year program in Humanities seeks to help students discover the myriad ways in which all people are similar and to celebrate the ways in which we are different. We do this by examining each major area of the world through six lenses: geographic, historic, religious, cultural, social, and economic.

Our primary avenues are a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction readings—by native authors, if possible; guest lectures and slide shows by natives or knowledgeable outsiders; video and film presentations, magazines, and newspapers. Students study foods from each culture and prepare them for each other, and enjoy relevant music, dance, and the arts by attending to public performances. Each year we mount a significant dramatic ensemble production that draws on our studies and serves as a vehicle for collaborative and creative growth.

Year 1: South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa & China

We study Hinduism in India and mount a Diwali performance with Tagore poetry, rangoli designs and huge portraits of Hindu gods, Indian ragas and Bollywood-inspired group dances. We hold African craft workshops and perform joyful dance, drumming, and storytelling for the whole Arbor community. In the spring we study the technological innovations of ancient China and write independent research papers.

Science: Pattern & Diversity

The Seniors explore pattern and diversity in nature as well as in human civilization; the Science and Humanities curricula are closely linked. As we study plate tectonics, we might also study early Chinese seismographs and build devices of our own that can record data about a quake. The origins and evolution of our ancestors are topics to explore both through scientific and anthropological lenses. Throughout we ask questions such as "What causes change?" "Why do things sometimes stay the same?" "Can creatures, cultures, and landscapes be said to be making progress?" 

  • The rock cycle
  • Plate tectonics
  • Paleontology and the fossil record
  • Evolution
  • Genetics

Year 2: The Americas

Our focus this year is on the western hemisphere, with special attention to U.S. history, the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast, and the contributions and experience of Latin American immigrants in the modern United States. We hold Constitution Day, with Seniors debating some of the linchpin ideas of our democracy before an invited audience of legal professionals and politicians. We ask when revolution is justified. Performances have ranged from "Our Town" to "The Wizard of Oz" to a student-authored adaptation of Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks.

Science: Energy & Motion

While immersed in themes of energy and motion in American society, we study these ideas literally in a physics-heavy Science year. We test our understanding of gravity, inertia, and friction by racing cars down an inclined plane. We construct electrical circuits. Throughout, we ask questions such as, "How has energy been a catalyst for change?"

  • Newtonian Mechanics
  • Electricity
  • Waves (light, sound, water)
  • Renewable energy

Year 3: Eurasia

We study the world's first cities and modern nation states and consider what makes cities "work;" examine the content and consequences of the world's three great monotheistic religions; and use metal, clay, and other media to explore writing and architecture. We collaborate on a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," often with the participation of younger students and sometimes mounted outdoors.

Science: Systems & Structures

Along with the systems and structures of human civilization we consider those in the natural world. Using our campus woods as a laboratory, Seniors learn to trap and identify tiny creatures that creep, scuttle, and fly and to study the systems invertebrates have evolved for survival. Students build models of invertebrate anatomy and atomic structures and compete in a toothpick bridge design challenge. Throughout, we ask questions such as, "Why do humans divide, classify, and sort?" 

  • Invertebrate biology
  • States of matter
  • Atomic structures & molecular bonds
  • Chemical interactions
  • Human body systems
  • Engineering & strength of materials


Arbor's Senior Math program is designed to help students recognize the power and the beauty of mathematics in a broad sense. As they gain skills, students also think about the essential questions that underlie their mathematical practice and to apply their emerging expertise in new and open-ended problems. This type of thinking requires a high degree of independent exploration. Teachers and textbooks will always be critical resources, but the habits that students build and connections they create for themselves are the most enduring.

To this end, we place an early emphasis on algebraic thinking. Algebra gives students a language to universalize the principles that they uncover, helping them to understand new material more deeply and to draw sophisticated connections. Algebra also helps students develop the critical thinking skills that they will need to solve complex problems and generate their own ideas—both in and beyond the realm of mathematics.

These fundamental goals also shape the day-to-day practice of Senior Math. Students are asked to think, write, and speak explicitly about the core concepts they encounter. We want them to engage with mathematical ideas in their own words and at their own pace. We balance a high degree of independence with the collective energy of group discussion and teamwork, as Arbor students tend to bring out the best in one another.  

Arbor Seniors work from an algebra curriculum written by two of our Senior teachers, Linus Rollman and Greg Neps. The trilogy is a writing-based, common sense, whimsical, and engaging introduction to algebra written directly to the middle-grade student. The content takes Arbor students through the equivalent of a high school Algebra I course by the end of eighth grade, preparing them to enter Algebra II, Geometry, or sometimes higher math classes.

Jousting Armadillos & Other Equations:
An Introduction to Algebra

Inductive and deductive reasoning; the language of algebra; negative numbers; algebraic functions; single-variable equations

Crocodiles & Coconuts:
Equations in Two Variables

The Cartesian coordinate plane; graphing two-variable equations; functions and formulas; solving simultaneous equations; graphing circles, ellipses, parabolas, and hyperbolas

Chuckles the Rocket Dog:
Polynomials & Quadratics

Negative exponents; scientific notation; exponential functions; manipulating polynomials; factoring polynomials; solving quadratic equations; solving and graphing higher-degree equations

Some students master the algebra trajectory before the end of their eighth-grade year and proceed to study geometry. This small cohort studies logic and proofs; coordinate geometry and transformations; theorems and postulates for triangles; trigonometry; and properties and theorems for other polygons, circles, and solids.


Our ultimate goal is to help each student become a thoroughly independent reader, one who reads across genres, discovers a sense of personal literary taste, reads to make meaning, and connects her reading across domains. We want her to write with clarity and organization, to pose and answer questions, to develop theses and gather supporting evidence. Seniors read independently at school for three hours each week and participate in Seminar groups of 10-12 students and a teacher, reading aloud and discussing a book that is common to all groups. The book is chosen for its literary merit, connection to the culture under study in Humanities, and for the universality of its themes. Teachers can impart important lessons on how to think about text, and all members of the Seminar become seekers of essential human truths. Seniors have a writing lab each week to pursue writing for their own purposes and use peers as critical listeners and readers. They also publish an annual literary magazine with contributions by all who wish to submit their finest work.


The three-year Senior Spanish program introduces students to both the grammatical structure of the language and to the cultures and concerns of the Spanish-speaking world. The approach is threefold. First, it seeks to bridge the linguistic and cultural divide between “English speakers” and “Spanish speakers” as Spanish, the second most widely spoken language in the world, and the first in the Americas, becomes a de facto second language in the U.S. Second, it helps students build awareness of progress achieved via persistence, gain facility in attention to detail and pattern recognition, and experiment with techniques for learning according to individual needs. Third, it combines both communicative and grammatical methods. To quote an Arbor student, “It’s not how much you know, it’s how you use what you know.” Thus, when students practice conversation in the classroom, they rely on their circumlocution skills rather than running to a dictionary when they find themselves stuck. This fosters creative linguistic problem solving and self-reliance. “Grammar” is studied as a puzzle to be investigated and understood rather than as a set of rules to be memorized. The language is appreciated as a living entity that is daily spoken by hundreds of millions of people with their own histories and experiences.