Middle School Curriculum Update

November/December 2016

Helman-Osborn 5th and 6th Grades

Our morning often begins with a class Meeting in order to have a chance to share and to listen to one another. The past month has been an emotionally charged time, especially after the election. Listening to each other and recognizing the need to respectfully agree to disagree has been very important to our class community. We recognize that we are a diverse group and everyone is valued equally. Students in 5th and 6th grades worked with their 7th and 8th grade partners to collect needed supplies for people in several global communities undergoing resettlement. Through bake sales and soliciting donations, our Middle School was able to make a sizable donation to Bethany Christian Services' resettlement program.

Language Arts

For our descriptive writing study, students read examples in literature and wrote short practice pieces portraying objects, places, and foods. Next, using the writing process, students wrote descriptive pieces selected from a list of given topics. As additional feedback, writers located sensory details and figurative language to help evaluate the descriptive elements in their peers’ writing.

Students continued reading their self- selected novels with Greek myth components. The readers responded to their reading selections through written assignments on Google Classroom. They identified descriptive scenes, made text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connections, and summarized. The How it Came to Be, a pourquoi (origin) story writing assignment that explains a natural phenomenon, required the writers to apply their knowledge about Greek gods and goddess to write their stories. Students then created illustrations for their stories. Using Quizlet, students applied their vocabulary knowledge about Greek gods/goddesses and genre specific words like oracle, prophecy, and satyrs to play vocabulary games. Word studies continued in the Wordly Wise and Words Their Way Spelling programs.


Fifth grade math students recently made much use of protractors, compasses, rulers, and geometry templates as they explored geometry concepts such as the relationship between the number of sides of a polygon and the sum of its interior angles, how to draw matching arcs, angles, and lengths with different tools, and making MC Escher solid tessellations. Pulling out PA road maps, we measured map distance and calculated real distances. During our review of multiplication and division algorithms, students compared the partial-quotient vs column-division methods. Before solving challenging divisibility puzzles, students learned the divisibility rules to determine if a number is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9. Can you write a nine-digit number and determine its factors easily?
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Recently, 5th/6th grade physical science investigations have have included exploring physical properties of matter such as collecting temperature changes and observing the law of the conservation of mass during the phase changes of water and the sublimation of dry ice. During our trip to PDC Machines, we examined a hydrogen fuel cell car and its hydrogen fueling system and were impressed at how quickly it could travel. Inside the production plant, we watched various machines making parts for hydrogen fuel systems. Seeing real life engineering, manufacturing, and technology was an inspiring lead in to our invention unit. Students designed inventions that related in some way to global sustainability, built prototypes of their inventions, and made a 90 second video to “pitch” their invention. Sixth graders submitted their invention videos to the PA Invention Contest, which was organized by the Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit.

Social Studies

Students in 5th and 6th grades have been continuing their exploration of human development by examining the basics of human genetics and investigating the different ways we study ancient civilizations and people. Students examined the strengths and weaknesses of fields such as archaeology, physical anthropology, and primatology. We have also been analyzing why the idea of collective learning is so important to the success of humans.

We discussed the protests that occurred after the presidential election. A teachable moment presented itself in the days after the election when a bulletin board, made by the class while studying the election, was found damaged. This started a discussion of protesting; asking who would be affected by this small act and whether or not it had its intended consequence. We then analyzed different quotes from leaders of protest movements and users of civil disobedience like Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mahatma Gandhi. To culminate, the class created a list of questions to consider before engaging in protest or civil disobedience.

In our ongoing study of current events, we have talked about the North Korean cyber hacking, the lead up to inauguration day, the president-elect’s appointments, and the changing landscape of the crisis in Syria.

Helman-Osborn 7th and 8th Grades

Many of our morning discussions focused on Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline dispute as well as other social justice and environmental issues. We began reading about different ways today’s youth have made positive changes in society.

After several discussions, students came to a consensus about a collaborative idea for Wishes for the World. The students followed a storyboard plan and filmed several video clips illustrating their wishes. To complete the video, one student combined footage, adjusted timing, and added background music.

United Friends School 7th & 8th Grade Wishes for the World 2016

We enjoyed having our cultural exchange student as a valued member of our class this fall. She showed us the importance of learning about culture and the value of friendship. She will be dearly missed.

Head of School, Nancy, regularly meets with the 8th graders for a “Quakerism” class. Although we talk about Quakerism and prepare a query once a month for Meeting for Worship, there is a strong emphasis on social justice and activism in our work together. Currently, we are listening to Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates. A review from the School Library Journal states: In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society.

Language Arts

In this term’s novel studies, students researched background information about the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some of the topics included economic prices, political details, popular toys, major events, sports, and general American culture. We aimed to address several essential questions such as What are stereotypes? What has changed about America since the mid-20th century? What has not changed? Why? 7th graders read The Outsiders by SE Hinton and 8th graders read Travels with Charley by Steinbeck. Literature group members participated in discussions and completed written responses about their reading selections. Students drafted, revised, and edited their persuasive essays about a fifth element. During the peer editing process, students located thesis statements, examined examples of support, and practiced editing conventions. This process helped the writers detect errors and to make corrections to refine their own writing. Students continued their word study in Wordly Wise and Word Trek programs.


After completing many labs and studies regarding atomic structure, the periodic table, and elements, 7th and 8th graders applied these concepts to their study of hydrogen fuel cells and how they work. Arriving at PDC Machines with clipboards and notes, students asked impressive questions about using hydrogen as a source of energy, how it is compressed, and how fuel stations are manufactured. Several students were inspired to try to design their own hydrogen powered inventions as part of our invention project. Students designed, built a prototype, created a 90 second “pitch” video, and submitted their invention ideas to the PA Invention Contest. We hope to hear if any of our inventions make the semi-finals!

Social Studies

7th and 8th grade students have continued their exploration of recent American history; wrapping up our exploration of the reconstruction era and moving into a study of Native Americans and the workers’ rights movement. In our study of Native Americans, we are creating a portfolio project designed to recognize Native Americans; both in the historical role they played in the history of the United States as well as the ethnic and political identities that they represent in the modern world. Each student chose one of the 500 federally recognized tribes and will be providing information to their classmates on the tribes interactions with the American government over time, cultural practices and dress of the past and today, how those tribal groups interact with their neighbors in the modern era, and an analysis of modern newspaper article written by and about the members of their tribe. To study the workers rights movement students have been reading excerpts from Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.

We took time out to discuss the protests that were occurring after the election stemming from an event in our own middle school community. In our ongoing study of current events we have talked about the North Korean cyber hacking, the lead up to inauguration day and the president elects appointments, and the changing landscape of the crisis in Syria.