Upper School Academics - Grades 8 & 9

Eighth and ninth grade classes prepare boys well for the challenges of public and independent secondary school, college, and life. Our rigorous program stresses the key disciplines of reading, writing, critical thinking, and problem solving, in small classrooms averaging twelve boys. Ninth grade biology students, for example, study infectious diseases and conduct antibody tests on disease slides to determine diagnoses, often employing technological devices such as spectrometers in the lab. All ninth grade boys are issued a tablet to use as an academic tool.

"Fenn’s Upper School program strives to provide students with the appropriate balance of support and challenge to foster skills, habits, and dispositions that will serve them well in their secondary school years. Moreover, Upper School students are recognized for their unique gifts and talents and empowered as community leaders.”
-Dave Irwin, Head of the Upper School

Students also participate in an interscholastic athletic program against other Massachusetts private schools each season. Our arts program allows boys to select their courses by trimester, choosing from fourteen electives. Teachers are also students’ advisors and coaches, enabling them to get to know the full essence of each boy.

Ninth grade students have many opportunities to serve as student leaders, team captains, technical crew members, and play directors. They also serve on school committees, including Youth In Philanthropy and Diversity. Eighth and ninth grade leaders set a positive tone and serve as important role models for younger students.


Seniors have special privileges. They help produce the yearbook, have greater freedom to move about campus, and take high school class trips. Ninth graders serve as President and Vice President of the school. Most of our boys are offered admission to their first or second choice school. This includes some of the best private high schools in Massachusetts, including Middlesex School, Concord Academy, Phillips Academy Andover, and Lawrence Academy.

  Download the Upper School Schedule

Upper School (8 & 9 Grades) Academic Curriculum 


Upper School English

In the Upper School, Fenn builds upon the reading, writing, speaking, and analytical skills developed in Middle School and strives to prepare boys for success at the secondary school level. While students are still exposed to a wide variety of literature, both in class texts and independent books, the literature itself increases in complexity and sophistication. Boys are expected to develop a sense of themselves as readers and writers through metacognitive writing and self-analysis. As writers, boys hone their skills through both the personal narrative and expository analytical pieces. Seminar-format classes allow boys to strengthen their public speaking and listening skills, with the aim of preparing them for the level of independent learning expected of them in secondary school.

Eighth Grade English students are challenged to think critically and to make connections between the texts they read, the compositions they write, and their own lives. The reading program consists of textual analysis of both classic and contemporary texts as well as independent reading of self-selected books. As readers, students are encouraged and mentored through active reading strategies that include text annotation and guided comprehension and discussion questions. Students also explore the techniques of the writer's craft, focusing on how a writer develops a theme and portrays a protagonist's journey; how a writer creates and develops an authentic and memorable main character; the importance of narrative and poetic structure, and the nature of key literary elements.

In their own writing, students spend time learning how to write more varied and complex sentences using correct comma use, semi-colons, active and passive voice and to incorporate the habitual use of vivid verbs, descriptive adjectives, strong nouns, effective transitions, and well-structured paragraphs. The course helps students create fully cycled writing with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and focuses heavily on writing analytical essays, personal narratives, poetry, and fiction. Oral presentations, digital portfolios, rubric-based writing, group work, and class discussions are integral components of this course.

Ninth Grade English is centered on the essential question, “How, therefore, should I live in an imperfect world?” Through close reading and analysis of texts—including novels, memoir, short stories, and poetry—students wrestle with the notion of how one finds meaning and purpose in the face of human moral and social failings, the unjust nature of life, and the unexpected challenges of the physical world, despite its beauty. Readings include traditional, contemporary, and multicultural voices from both in class texts and independent books.

The course focuses on expository and analytical writing, including personal narratives and responses to texts, and emphasizes the writing process: drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading. Informal, reflective writing on the readings is often used as a precursor to crafting more formal essays. Students become familiar with the elements of verse and write their own poetry, which culminates in a ninth grade poetry “slam.” Vocabulary and grammar skills are taught and reinforced within the context of reading and writing instruction. Oral presentations, Socratic seminars, group work, and class discussion are integral components of the course, which is taught around a large conference table in a seminar format.



Latin is at the root of many languages, including English. Through their legacy of cultural achievements, the ancient Romans who spoke Latin have contributed significantly to American life, especially in the areas of art, architecture, political thought, and engineering. Fenn’s Latin program emphasizes the reading of Latin with ease, understanding, and enjoyment. Students pursue with enthusiasm the language written and spoken by the ancient Romans which can be learned more through reading than through speaking; develop good strategies and organizational techniques for mastering the grammar and vocabulary of Latin and other world languages; expand their understanding of English grammar and vocabulary; and appreciate aspects of their cultural background as Americans which they inherit from the ancient Romans (and Greeks).   

In Eighth Grade Latin, students are no longer grouped heterogeneously, but by ability—honors-level or standard-level—as teachers have built an understanding of each boy’s individual strengths as language learners. The honors and standard sections use the same text, but proceed at slightly different paces. Through use of the text and exercises, students continue acquiring both Latin grammar and vocabulary. Students translate a number of readings adapted from the original Latin, developing excellent sight reading skills that will serve them well throughout their Latin careers. The cultural and historical dimensions to the course center on the civil wars that arose after the assassination of Caesar. The students read accounts of alliances, betrayals and battles of this tumultuous time of the Roman world.

Students in the eighth grade are expected to take the National Latin Exam, Level II.

Ninth Grade Latin has a grammatical focus in which students continue acquisition of the basic forms and vocabulary of the Latin language. Students begin to work with more complex grammatical principles and proceed to the uses of the subjunctive mood. The cultural focus is the establishment of the city of Rome and the Roman value system as exemplified in the legends they told about their heroes. Students in the ninth grade also are expected to take the National Latin Exam, Level III. Depending on the secondary school he later attends and on his mastery of the basic principles of the language, a student completing the ninth-grade program qualifies for Latin II or III.

Latin texts include:

  • Eighth grade: Latin for the New Millennium, Books I and II
  • Ninth grade honors: Oxford Latin Course Book III and readings from Horace and Ovid
  • Ninth grade standard: Latin for the New Millennium text and other readings, including readings from Caesar


Spanish is a rich and beautiful language spoken in many parts of the world. Learning Spanish leads to an increased awareness, understanding, and acceptance of other languages and cultures, as well as an increased understanding of one’s own language and culture. The main goals of the Spanish program is to prepare students to speak in sentences and communicate effectively in the language; to read and correctly use Spanish grammar; to develop Spanish listening comprehension skills; to learn about the history, culture, geography, and people of Spanish-speaking countries; and to increase students’ enjoyment and appreciation of the culture, friendships, and travel in Spanish-speaking countries. 

Eighth Grade Spanish is the second part of Spanish level I. Students are divided into an honors section and a standard-level section so that all students can learn in an environment that fosters each boy’s confidence in mastering a new language. At each level, students study the same text, but proceed at slightly different paces. Students in eighth grade have the opportunity to take the National Spanish Exam, Level I.

Ninth Grade Spanish is a secondary school level Spanish IB or Spanish II course. Once again, students are assigned to either an honors or a standard class. At either level, students continue developing their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills through the use of a variety of texts and audio and visual resources. In addition, students continue to become acquainted with the people, civilization, and culture of Spanish-speaking countries. Class assignments include compositions on the topics presented in class, and oral presentations. Students review grammar and vocabulary, focusing on more complex grammatical structures, including subjunctive and compound tenses, and on idiomatic usage of vocabulary and style. Spanish is used almost exclusively in class. By the conclusion of the course of study, intermediate and honors-level students demonstrate a command of the Spanish language and are ready to start a Spanish IIB or Spanish III course at their next school. Ninth grade students have the opportunity to take the National Spanish exam, Level II.

Spanish texts include:

  • Eighth grade: Avancemos Level 2, plus supplemental readings Album: Cuentos Del Mundo Hispánico and Al tanto: catorce cuentos contemporáneos
  • Ninth grade: Descubre 1 or Descubre 2, plus supplemental readings Album: Cuentos Del Mundo Hispánico and Al tanto: catorce cuentos contemporáneos 


Upper School Mathematics

At the close of the seventh grade year, each student is placed by his teacher and the Mathematics Department Chair in a course section that best addresses his individual needs and pace of learning. The honors-level course covers a full year of algebra, delving deeply into discussions on matrices, regression lines, and quadratic equations. The standard-level course covers a full year of high school algebra at a more deliberate pace than the honors level. The two-year program allows students to explore each topic from many different perspectives during their eighth and ninth grade years.

Eighth Grade Mathematics focuses primarily on algebra. The standard offering is an Algebra I course, which prepares students to represent information in tables, graphs, and equations. Boys develop the algorithms to solve problems algebraically. Students who have successfully completed Algebra I in the seventh grade will either be placed in Honors Algebra or Honors Geometry/Trigonometry in the eighth grade. All students in the eighth grade will learn how to apply their algebraic knowledge to solve real-life problems. Students use their graphing calculators on a daily basis to explore topics such as data analysis, graphing, and patterns involved in algebraic concepts.

Resources and texts used in eighth grade mathematics:

  • Algebra One, Kennedy, Schultz, Ellis, and Hollowell
  • Algebra I: Expressions, Equations, and Applications, Foerster
  • Algebra and Trigonometry, Foerster
  • Geometry, Brown and Jurgensen
  • Advanced Mathematics, Brown
  • Trigonometry, Functions and Applications, Foerster
  • Data-Driven Mathematics: Exploring Regression, Dale Seymour Publications
  • Exploring Systems of Inequalities, Dale Seymour Publications
  • Algebra Experiments, Carlson and Winter
  • Larson Math Software            

In Ninth Grade, students who have completed either Honors Algebra I or Algebra I in eighth grade may take a full, year-long course of geometry. Topics include the development of geometric proofs, congruent and similar polygons, circles, coordinate geometry, and transformations. The course emphasizes the connection between geometry and the physical world and works to maintain and extend the student’s algebra skills, as these skills are integrated in the explorations of the geometric concepts. Students explore and discover geometric principles through the use of a variety of approaches.

Students who began the Two-Year Algebra class in eighth grade continue their study in grade nine. The two-year course provides additional time for practice, assimilation, and mastery of the critical algebraic skills, which form the foundation for future mathematical studies.

Academically-qualified ninth graders will enroll in an Honors Algebra II or an Honors Pre-Calculus course. These students will use a standard honors curriculum for the course that is topically equivalent to a rigorous high school Honors Algebra II or Pre-Calculus program. Students who have successfully mastered this course will be ready to take the SAT II Level IC or IIC Achievement Test at the end of their spring term.

Resources and texts used in ninth grade mathematics:

  • Geometry for Enjoyment and Challenge, Rhuad, Milauskes, and Whipple
  • Algebra One, Kennedy, Schultz, and Ellis
  • Pre-calculus with Limits, Larson, Hostetler, and Edwards, Third Edition
  • Exploring Centers, Dale Seymour Publications
  • Trigonometry, Functions and Applications, Foerster
  • Discovering Geometry, Serra and Michael
  • Geometry from Multiple Perspectives, Addenda Series by Coxford
  • The Geometers Sketchpad
  • “Platonic Solids” video series
  • Geometer’s Sketchpad
  • FluidMath
  • Larson Math Software


Upper School Science

Upper School science at Fenn is a rigorous laboratory program that prepares students for secondary school science and beyond. Students are expected to demonstrate mastery of laboratory, critical thinking, and expression skills. The program emphasizes designing and conducting controlled experiments and accurately identifying variables. Students summarize lab activities and controlled experiments through formal lab reports. In addition to formal assessments such as tests, quizzes, and lab reports, students are assessed on their lab performance, the quality of their lab notebook, and lab practical exams—students sit for two formal comprehensive exams during the course of the academic year. Students work in cooperative groups within heterogeneous class sections to complete the course of study.

The Eighth Grade Lab Science Course builds upon the skills and content of the Middle School Program. The content of the coursework is based on the guiding themes of matter and energy in our world and in living things and integrates the domains of physical science, life science, and earth science. Throughout the academic year, students apply the scientific method by designing and conducting experiments and analyzing data to draw valid conclusions. Significant class time is dedicated to hands-on lab investigations, at lab stations and in the field. Emphasis is placed on reporting lab findings in a structured lab format.

Students begin the year grounding themselves in the scientific method and basic physical science concepts. They explore the characteristic properties of matter, such as boiling points, freezing points, and density. As basic chemistry principles are introduced, students solve problems using the Periodic Table of Elements. As students are introduced to new science skills, technology, and equipment, they are challenged to solve a specific problem using those skills by designing and conducting experiments. Students analyze their results by creating graphs and data tables and calculating statistics using Vernier data collection software and probes and Excel spreadsheets. As the year progresses, students are introduced to the concept of energy, with particular attention given to electromagnetic energy and chemical energy. Students apply Laws of Thermodynamics and Conservation of Energy to trace energy flows and to measure energy content of fuels and foods and light energy from the sun that explains seasonal variations. Applying these skills, students work in the field to measure the energy stored in the School’s surrounding ecosystem and compare it with other ecosystems in the world. Teams of students select ten-meter by ten-meter plots on campus and analyze their plot using the skills and concepts learned during the year. Teams map their plots and analyze the soils for various elements and compounds. They calculate the total energy being absorbed by the vegetation in the plot, along with the energy flow through the system. This culminating ecology project prepares and transitions students effectively for the ninth grade science program.

Ninth Grade Science is a secondary school-level biology course that focuses almost entirely on the domain of life science, and the lab and classroom space used is exclusively dedicated to the ninth grade program. All major areas of biology are covered: cell and molecular biology; DNA and Mendelian genetics, classification and biodiversity, human anatomy, disease and immunity. Throughout all units, the principles of evolution are applied as a consistent theme. Students in the ninth grade biology course participate in a weekly, dedicated double-block lab session in which they attain proficiency using digital microscopes and Vernier data collection software and probes. Major labs engage students in measuring carbon dioxide released through respiration and photosynthesis, culturing fruit flies to determine inheritance of traits, transforming the DNA of E. Coli bacteria, and diagnosing heart disease and infectious disease. In this capstone course of Fenn’s science program, students demonstrate mastery of the lab, critical thinking, and expression skills that are emphasized throughout the science program. Upon graduation, students receive biology and lab science credit by the secondary schools in which they enroll.

Resources and texts used in Upper School Science include:

  • Eighth grade: Prentice Hall Physical Science - Concepts in Action; and Chemistry with Vernier
  • Ninth grade: Miller Levine Biology; and Biology with Vernier

Social Studies

Upper School Social Studies

In Upper School social studies, Fenn challenges students to grapple with multiple sources of information in order to analyze, interpret, and make reasoned historical arguments. A key goal is to develop students’ ability to contribute substantively to class discussions while remaining rooted in the text(s) they are working with for a given unit of study. As writers, students begin to compose extended, thesis-driven analytical and persuasive writing in which they must use evidence to unfold a logical argument. Finally, a major emphasis of both eighth and ninth grade social studies is the idea of citizenship. From local, to state, to national, to global, the question of what it means to be an active, informed, responsible, and participating citizen remains on the forefront of Upper School students’ minds during their work in social studies. 

Grade 8:

The eighth grade social studies course, Justice Without Borders, seeks to explore global justice and human rights, the origins and meanings of justice across cultures, and how justice and human rights are tied to governments and international systems. The course will cover the history of human rights, the creation of the United Nations, human behavior and genocide, the Holocaust, South Africa and Apartheid, and contemporary refugee crises around the globe.

Readings and other sources will be drawn from the Brown University Choices curriculum, Model United Nations, Facing History and Ourselves, and supplementary materials. 

Essential Questions for the Course:

?      What does justice look like across religions and societies throughout history?

?       Why does seeking justice cause conflict?

?       How do individuals, groups and legal systems work toward justice?

?       How can a just society be created, sustained or repaired?

Grade 9:

Ninth grade social studies, called Global Studies, is a year-long, high-school level course devoted to historical inquiries of three significant regions in our world today: the Middle East, India, and China. Our increasing global community requires citizens to be able to think, speak, and write about world issues and problems with intelligence and confidence. Students have the opportunity to pursue these goals while gaining historical perspective about how the past, with all of its complexities, has shaped the world we live in today. Because these regions are heavily influenced by economic factors, the year begins with an overview of economics in the light of limited resources and sustainability: economic systems, global economics, and the pros and cons of globalization. Within each region they study, students gain a better understanding of geography and of some of the issues and tensions that exist in the region today, and will then attempt to better understand how religion plays a role in the shaping of a people. Moreover, the course examines how social, economic, and political history can be analyzed to provide a lens by which to comprehend the present.  The course is deeply interested in building student capacities as global citizens and students of history. 

Resources for ninth grade social studies include:
I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
The World's Religions, Huston Smith, 50th Anniversary Edition




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An Independent Day School
for Boys Grades 4-9

516 Monument Street, Concord, MA 01742

Tel: (978) 369-5800 Email:  info@fenn.org

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