Middle School Curriculum Update

September 2017

We began the 2017-18 school year with several community building activities welcoming the sixth, seventh, eighth grades group of students. We learned about the members who make up our community and became acquainted with new individuals, including new teachers. In one fun activity with balloons, students reflected and recorded individual strengths and weaknesses and what each person needs from classmates and teachers to contribute to their success this school year. This month, we continued community building activities during our weekly whole group meeting times, including taking a trip to the Martin Guitar Factory.

Humanities

We began exploring the initial units of the "Big History Project", an interdisciplinary view of the history of the universe. The students examined the first two essential questions, "How and why do individuals change their minds? Why do we look at things from far away and close up?" through reading articles and charts, watching videos, and holding discussions. Some topics and activities included learning about the discovery of the headless Romans, Easter Island, a seven-mile scale model of our solar system, origin stories, and creating a hundred-foot timeline documenting several major thresholds in the 13.8 billion-year-old history of the universe. The students submitted their baseline investigation essay writing samples to Arizona State University. This feedback, additional writing instruction, and practice will enhance their growth as writers.


Our first novel study about Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen has the readers entranced in this strange, sci-fi world of monkey-like creatures, red-colored vegetation, deadly quicksand, and a sulfurous sky. For our "Year I was Born" project, the students researched information about important events and fun facts related to politics, sports, astrology, and moon phases that occurred on their particular birth dates and in their specific years of birth. Each student created a Google Slide presentation of the information.


Our first journalist team produced a newsletter informing Middle School parents about what happened in the first few weeks of school.

Math


The sixth and seventh grade pre-algebra class warmed up with a review of general concepts from last year before building on those with the introduction of algebraic expressions. Central to the beginning of the year was the exploration of the notion of a variable, an essential concept in algebra. Students held a number of classroom discussions regarding the symbolic nature of math and increased their familiarity with working with letters instead of numbers. Beyond the conceptual aspects, a primary skill for the first few weeks was to apply the distributive and commutative properties of numbers to expressions containing variables. As a challenging way of looking for solutions and exploring the inter-relatedness of numbers, students worked within a specific set of guidelines and used standard operations to create numerical expressions that equal other numbers. Most recently, students were introduced to the factorial operation and focused on simplifying expressions with the factorial operation without doing any extended calculations. The Chapter 1 test was completed in September and students recently had a quiz on the commutative and distributive properties. Regular written homework is assigned and web-based math homework will be implemented in upcoming weeks.



The eighth grade math class has begun an exploration of algebra. Rather than working from the specific skills up to the big concepts, we are beginning with the big concepts and working our way back to learn the skills necessary to complete a variety of projects. This approach gives students the opportunity to immediately apply each skill, lending meaning and urgency to the learning. Our first project/puzzle involved seeking to comprehend a complex tile pattern, and to project what the 100th occurrence would look like, and why that would be the case. The work and discussions then led into a comparison of different equations that the students found to represent the pattern, and the discovery that they were all equivalent forms of the same equation. There were many other discoveries along the way, including those shared by one group who chose to graph the pattern and discovered that the graph was a curve. Later in the year, we will come back to this problem to explore some further representations of the pattern, including looking at the “negative one” case, as opposed to the hundredth case, which is a far less intuitive concept.
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Science

This year’s middle school science class began with a unit on climate and weather, the formation of atmospheric phenomena, vortices, tornadoes, and storms. While undeniably tragic, the recent extreme weather disasters throughout the U.S. and Caribbean gave students the opportunity to see the very real and catastrophic impact of what they were studying. In addition to discussions about outreach, students were curious about why extreme weather affects certain geographic areas and were shown how major weather systems in the U.S. work. Because the thermal properties of land and sea are driving forces of weather, students also observed the differences in heat absorption between water and soil as one of several lab experiments.

Students completed one trip to Quakertown Memorial Park for stream monitoring in September. Besides collecting water samples for recording pH and making observations of plant and animal life in and around the stream, students were also asked to devise a way of making reproducible, large-scale measurements as if completing a land survey. They were asked to do this without the use of GPS and to rely on points of reference when creating an accurate area map. Specific points were recorded during our trip and will be used as reference points in the future.

In advance of the field trip to the C.F. Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA, students built model guitars and were given specifications to which their models had to conform. This helped them realize the precision and challenges of mass manufacturing, which they saw in practice at the guitar factory. Since the field trip included a component of acoustics and sound, students were given a demonstration of sound waves and an introduction to the propagation of mechanical waves through various media.

As a transition between meteorology and astronomy, we recently began looking at the layers of the atmosphere, their characteristics, the composition of gases at various altitudes, and other characteristics of each layer.

As a unifying project for the weather and climate unit, students are writing a science fiction short-story that features a climate characterized by extreme weather. While they are welcome to be creative with their choice of characters, a primary objective of this writing assignment is to design an extreme climate using material we have studied. They are expected to develop a scenario in which their characters are challenged by their climate and to incorporate scientific information that supports the design of the setting of their story.