Middle School Curriculum Update

November/December 2017


In our investigation of the universe history, we studied Big History Project’s Threshold 4, Our Solar System, Exoplanets, and the Earth, and Threshold 5, Life. These units contained several nonfiction articles and informational videos, which require the students to use strategies like questioning, inferring, and determining importance. In Unit 4, students learned how elements combined to form new kinds of matter, creating the conditions required for the emergence of more complex things including the Sun and planets. They also learned about Earth’s formation, plate tectonics, and the important role that geologists play in understanding the history of the Earth. The informational writing assignments required the students to convey specific information about star formation to create a comic page and a flip book that contained information about the solar system. The students read several articles to learn about the different eons and conditions within the geologic timeline and wrote their findings for ten major eons. In mid-November, students revised their initial essays, How and why individuals change their minds. Their revision process focused on locating and including text as evidence to support their claims and strengthening thesis statements. The students examined Unit 5’s driving question, How and why do theories evolve? by reading articles and viewing videos about Darwin’s evolution theory and DNA discoveries completed by Crick, Watson, and Franklin. Following the completion of the lessons, each person completed our Invent a Species project. In this project, students researched life forms and noted information about the species, physical attributes and habitats to create a mock Wikipedia page. They applied this information and used evidence to support key features and descriptions about a new species. Most students used a photo editing program, Pixlr, to manipulate images while some preferred to hand draw an image of the new species.

We enjoyed our trips to Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and to Princeton University Art Museum. We learned about fusion energy and how it could be an energy source for the future. At the Princeton University Art Museum we viewed their wonderful world art collection and the Making History Visible exhibition. The 8th graders led Meeting for Worship and offered the community the query, How can communities, including our own, make an environment that is accepting of all cultures? During Advisory time, students decided on their Wishes for the World and wrote action plans. They presented their wishes on December 13 during Meeting for Worship
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6th-7th Grade Math

The primary focus in pre-algebra this fall has been to develop students' ability to isolate a variable in a single-variable equation. Last month, students completed a chapter on inequalities and used previously learned properties of addition and multiplication to solve those types of equations. This set the stage for the current chapter, which focuses on solving for a single variable in more complicated equations with decimals and word problems using multiplication and division. There has been some crossover to the science curriculum, for example, by using temperature conversion formulas to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius when studying phase changes. Various advanced topics have been introduced for enrichment and to show students what lies beyond their current pre-algebra material. These include Fibonacci and recursive sequences, slope, plotting points in two-dimensions, rate of change, and various two-dimensional shapes. Math vocabulary is a valuable component of student learning and is implemented in various formats including two-column matching and math crossword-puzzles. We will finish our present chapter on decimals and equations by the December break and resume with factors, fractions, and exponents in January.

8th Grade Math

As we have moved through November and December, the class has continued to focus on understanding lines, slope, and rate of change. We did some experimenting with a motion detector that graphed movements for us, demonstrating the speed (positive or negative) of students moving towards or away from the device, or just staying still. This piece helped to give a frame of reference for constructing meaning as we moved into more formal “book work” to practice skills in working with slope-intercept form, direct variation, and the beginnings of exploring other forms of linear functions. Students have been working both in class and for homework at their own pace to develop a sense of mastery of the material. We also continue to spend some time each week working with puzzles that encourage mathematical thinking and problem solving.


Science studies in November continued our earlier focus on the solar system and we transitioned to nuclear energy processes - fission and fusion. Students are able to distinguish between those two reactions, explain the basic atomic physics underlying them, and describe the pros and cons of different types of energy. In conjunction with the high-energy studies, we looked at the basic properties of matter and related topics including density, the phases of matter, the nomenclature of phase transitions, and temperature conversions using Celsius and Fahrenheit scales. We conducted a number of investigations and experiments that illustrate these fundamentals of matter including the creation of magnesium-sulfate crystals and a column of colored liquids of varying densities. After all of our studies of matter and energy, our trip to the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab was especially enjoyable as students learned about the history of fusion energy and explored numerous colorful hands-on demonstrations of light and plasma.

Students are currently creating their entries for the PETE&C Student Inventors’ Competition, in which they build a prototype of an invention, make a short video describing it, and electronically submit their entry. This project will be completed before the December break. Last year, UFS students had several finalists, including two honorable mentions and a first-prize winner at this competition and we are optimistic about a similarly successful experience this year. More information can be found at: https://sites.google.com/berksiu.org/invent2018/home