Middle School Curriculum Update

October 2017


In our investigation of the universe history, we learned about The Big History Project’s Threshold 2, The Big Bang and the history of our changing beliefs about the universe. The students read articles about the work of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leavitt, and Hubble and wrote their opinions about which individual contributed the most to promote collective learning in society. In material about Threshold 3 , Stars and Elements, the students learned about the life cycle of stars and the creation of complex elements. We were excited about the recent news about the two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra. As stated in a NASA article, “ Astronomers think a kilonova's visible and infrared light primarily arises through heating from the decay of radioactive elements formed in the neutron-rich debris. Crashing neutron stars may be the universe's dominant source for many of the heaviest elements, including platinum and gold.” The students also began a unit study about Threshold 4, Our Solar System, Exoplanets, and the Earth’s formation. At the end of October, twe visited Kutztown University’s Planetarium. KU’s astrophysicist and planetarium director, Dr. Phil Reed, talked about early astronomy and presented a show, The Ninth Plane, about a possible future discovery of another planet beyond the asteroid belt.

To introduce our upcoming short story unit, students participated in a lively literary escape room activity. After reading Ray Bradbury’s short story, All Summer in a Day, the students completed questions about the story, located hidden clues in the room, and worked collaboratively to solve them. Some readers are finishing the novel Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen and are working on an end project that includes researched facts about the ebola virus. The students also reflected about their learning in preparation for student led parent-teacher conferences at the end of October.


Eighth grade math students have continued to learn about Algebra through focusing on the large concepts, with much of our October work focused on the concept of the slope of a line. Students have been experimenting with how to create images using lines of different slopes, learning the concepts in order to complete their designs. (An example of this was to construct a rectangle using equations so that the sides of the figure were not parallel to the axes.) They have also been introduced to the idea of limiting the length of a line by defining a range or domain. We have been using the graphing calculator app Desmos to develop this proficiency.

Students have been working individually to gain expertise with simplifying expressions with the distributive property as well as solving multi-step equations, working at their own pace to master these techniques. We are beginning to work with writing and “reading” equations, becoming familiar with the slope-intercept form of linear equations and devising equations to describe real world situations.


The Helman-Osborn class had a phenomenal field trip to the Kutztown University Planetarium in October, where our eyes were opened to current research into the limits of the solar system. In light of this informative trip, students prepared presentations of the individual planets which they will deliver in upcoming days. Our planetary studies have also made for a great transition to studying the sun and nuclear fusion, the process of generating plasma as a sustainable energy source. Besides the basic technicalities of nuclear processes, recent class discussions have focused on the planetary need for an abundant and sustainable energy and how viable fusion is as an energy option. Science fiction short stories were completed by the end of October and are very entertaining reads; I look forward to putting together a collection of these stories in upcoming weeks. Future topics of study will incorporate our previous unit on climate, especially atmospheric properties, pressure, and temperature, as we examine outer space and the solar system in further detail.
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