learning by doing
creative curriculum
9th Grade Curriculum

Humans in the Natural World is a year-long, three credit course for all 9th Graders that integrates English, Science, and History. Pioneered by faculty specializing in these fields, the course explores the evolving relationship between humans and nature through disparate lenses, applying methodologies from multiple disciplines, and equipping students with the tools needed for a future of collaboration and critical thought in their Putney education.

Whether conducting detailed observations of local land plots or researching commodities on the global scale, students unpack our physical, technological, and cultural relationship with nature throughout history. Each section of HNW (10-14 students) spends a trimester with each of the teachers, gaining from this fresh guidance while continuing to forge a productive bond with their section-mates throughout the year.


New Putney students hail from diverse educational backgrounds, from traditional public school to small Waldorf school to homeschool. HNW seeks to establish a shared foundation of research, writing, critical thinking and discussion skills. It reinforces the importance of inter-student learning, individual curiosity and active participation, which are cornerstones of progressive education at Putney. Below you will find these essential skills outlined by trimester, along with specifics of the subject matter, activities, and the diverse sources that students will engage.


Each trimester follows an overarching theme. Below is a summary of these themes and outline of the skills the course aims to establish.

Trimester 1: Observation

The first trimester has an observation focus and students spend a significant amount of time on their own plot of land observing the world around them, looking for evidence of human activity and reflecting on how the landscape affects their own lives. This outdoor time typically complements content in the classroom, whether analyzing the chemistry of soils collected from students’ forest plots as we discuss geology and how it affects human populations, or honing descriptive language skills by “showing” and not “telling” a reader about an observation in a descriptive essay or poem. Another important way students explore observation is through an in-depth study of rhetoric and how it can be used to effectively express a certain perspective about our world, through both written and spoken language.

Main Assignments:
A lab report
A descriptive essay
Reading, discussing and writing reflective responses on a novel
Poetry portfolio and recitation
A thesis driven historical essay about European contact in the Americas
An inquiry-based study of genetics culminating in a paper about selective breeding in Putney’s dairy herd.

Central Skills
Map reading
Discussion skills (SPIDERs)
Interview skills
Thesis development
Library research skills
Creating an annotated bibliography
Paper and citation formatting
Historical Essay writing
Peer review of writing
“Reading” the local landscape
Dichotomous key and field guide use
Greek and Latin roots recognition
Poem analysis
Poetry writing
Analysis of scientific writing
Inquiry-based science
Presentation skills
Writing about connections between concepts in Science, History, and English



Trimester 2: Systems & Society

The second trimester focuses on systems and society. Students begin an in-depth study of human geography as they discuss how people have moved around the planet over time. To better understand some of these concepts as well as the driving forces behind human movement and settlement, we study evolution and climate. An understanding of how regional biomes support the growth and adaptations of specific plants allows us to truly see how we, as humans, benefit from those plants, and how we change their ecosystems over time through our actions. A main focus of the trimester is an investigation of local and global commodities. The local commodity study involves getting students out into our community to interview dairy and sheep farmers, orchardists, sugarmakers, artisan cheese makers, and others, to get a sense of how our region is shaped by the things we make from the land here in Vermont. The global commodity study is thesis-driven and culminates in a documentary style video. Understanding how time and place affect the stories of peoples lives is paramount to the reading of our winter novel, The Samurai’s Garden, where students research the historical, geographical, and cultural context of the characters’ lives.

Main Assignments
Creative non-fiction story
Local commodity presentation
Self designed lab and lab report
Reading & analysis of The Samurai’s Garden
Analytical essay
Biome presentation
Scientific synthesis essay
Thesis-driven documentary video

Central Skills
Interview techniques
Creative non-fiction analysis
Data analysis
Annotation & quote analysis
Discussion skills (SPIDERs)
Analytical essay writing
Library research skills
Video editing

Trimester 3: Globalization & Climate Change

The third trimester culminates with a focus on globalization, climate change, and activism. Students investigate more deeply many of the human geography concepts from the winter trimester by becoming an expert on a particular country. Students explore population and demographic data, climate and geography, history, trade, politics, economics, religion, and culture and try to make connections between some of this information and where their country and its people stand in the global community. During the country study, students participate in regional reading groups, expanding their adaptability as readers as they learn to explore foreign contexts with depth and understanding. Later in the trimester, they use their reading, observation and interpretation skills to study Shakespeare, treating the bard as a representative of the artist as potential social activist. Through Shakespeare, the students consider how art shapes action and wonder to what extent art can be effective in guiding us to achieve ambitions of social justice. We also conduct an in-depth study of climate change, both science and policy, as students prepare to represent their country at a global climate summit. During this meeting, students not only represent their country, but a particular lens (politician, NGO, or corporation) as they work to draft a global treaty that addresses international concerns about climate change. Through this process, students get a true sense of how hard it is to collaborate on global issues in a world where people have a variety of lenses and goals. After the summit, students aim to test the power of their voices as they focus on local and global activism. They develop projects based on their passions and look for local outlets that enable them to take meaningful action. In an attempt to have a global reach, the students produce TED style talks about their projects, finding support and generating dialogue in the recently developed TED-Ed Club community. Throughout the entire spring trimester, students also reconnect with their plots to observe change in nature as the spring trees and shrubs bud and begin to open, allowing them to hone observation and field sketching skills. We also spend time exploring vernal pools and learning more about local animal species.

Main Assignments
Multi-national Summit Prep
Researching and organizing data into country/perspective profiles in Portfolios
Synthesis essays
Debate execution (Global Climate Summit)
Local activism project
Ted-Ed video
Species account
Reading, analysis & performance of Shakespeare scenes
Central Skills
Extrapolating cultural themes from regional literature
Annotation & quote analysis
Discussion skills (SPIDERs)
Analyzing peer-reviewed science journal articles
Library database fluency
Media literacy
Debate preparation
Observation and field sketching
Presentation skills
Video editing
Scientific information visual representation
Field sampling
Performance as research

Launching the Program

HNW is now in its third year. We produced the first video below before the course even began, but it still gives a good overview of the course.


The video below was produced during the third year of HNW and includes the views of our 10th grade teachers, who've taught both pre- and post-HNW students, on how well HNW prepares students for their subsequent high school years.

Seth Landman

B.A. UMass Amherst
M.F.A. Creative Writing UMass Amherst
PhD. Creative Writing and Literature, University of Denver



Hilary Maynard

M.A. UC Berkeley
B.S. Umass Amherst



Noah Hoskins-Forsythe

B.A. Oberlin College
M.A. Union Institute and University


Marie Derouault

Licence d’ Anglais, Bordeaux University, France

Maitrise d’Anglais, Bordeaux University, France



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