Middle School Curriculum Update

September 2019

We welcomed the 2019-2020 school year with several community-building activities. The 6th, 7th, and 8th Graders learned about the members who make up our community and became acquainted with new individuals. One of our exciting community-building activities took place at Lake Nockamixon with a paddleboarding adventure and sensory activities. This year there are two Special Interest parent-led classes on Fridays; Robotics and Model UN. We greatly appreciate their passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm.


We started the year reviewing and refining map reading skills, learning about different types of maps and how to read the specific elements on maps like lines of longitude and latitude coordinates on maps. The students applied their map skills knowledge when they designed their autobiographical maps. Each map contained symbols of landforms, bodies of water, roads, as well as a legend, scale, and compass rose. The maps included at least eight symbols that represented their personal interests. The final products were both personal and beautiful representations of each individual student.

In Reading and Writing workshops, the students read and discussed several vignettes from Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. We used the vignette’s topics and themes as a springboard for our on-going discussions about identity and who we are as individuals. The writers composed vignettes about their family traits and followed the writing process of drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. We began reading sample narratives such as Ann Dillard’s, The Chase from An American Childhood and Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan. The writing activities focused on interesting leads, identifying a single event, proper use of dialogue, descriptive word choice, and effective endings. The students will continue their study of narrative writing next month. The Middle Schoolers also selected independent novels and completed reading responses. For our vocabulary study, the students completed a lesson in the Wordly Wise program.

Math and Science

In the first month of Math 6, students began with an overview of different ways of displaying data including histograms, bar graphs, pie charts, and Venn diagrams. They studied the features, advantages, and disadvantages of various forms and applied them to different types of data problems. There was also an emphasis on the following topics: perimeter and area, visualizing and displaying information, patterns, data analysis, multiple representations of quantity, comparing quantities, factors, prime and composite numbers, remainders, and measures of central tendency. Several quizzes, graded in-class assignments, and a chapter 1 assessment were administered throughout the month.

Students were also introduced to the 8 Practices of the Common Core State Standards. These major themes will recur throughout the course, and are as follows:

Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Practice 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Practice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Practice 6: Attend to precision.

Practice 7: Look for and make use of structure.

Practice 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

In the CPM math program, the introduction in Section 1.1 is preliminary work for many of the themes that recur during Math 6, as many topics will be revisited in upcoming months. For example, the number sense work in Section 1.2 is revisited in Section 2.2 when students use factors to find the dimensions of generic rectangles and use the greatest common factor to find multiple possible rectangles. Work and fluency with products and factors are very important when writing equivalent fractions and simplifying rational numbers as well, so this work provides an important foundation for work that occurs throughout this course and beyond.

In addition to getting familiar with the CPM Math Program, students also participated in a state-wide Stock Market Challenge presented by the Pennsylvania Council on Financial Literacy and various math games such as math jeopardy. When studying the history of mathematics, students built Archimedean Solids and realized the connection between their unfolded, two-dimensional forms and their final three-dimensional shape.

Physical Science

This month in Physical Science, students learned about various essential concepts that will recur throughout the year - energy and force. They learned how to identify the forces acting on an object, how to create a force diagram for an object in equilibrium, and experimented with applying forces to an object. They studied the Law of Conservation of Energy and began to analyze physical phenomena in which energy changes form. Various scientists from history were studied including Archimedes, Galileo, and Newton. This dovetailed with the introduction of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. In an early investigation, students built and tested an Archimedes’ Screw, and in another, they verified Galileo’s assertion about the speed of falling objects being independent of mass.

In the Amplify Science program, students looked at new ways to harness human energy. Energy-harvesting backpacks, bikes, rocking chairs, and knee braces are just a few of the innovative devices that have been created to capture human energy and use it to power electrical devices. In this first unit, students assumed the role of student energy scientists in order to help a team of rescue workers with an energy problem. First, students were motivated to explore relationships between different types of energy—with an emphasis on kinetic energy and potential energy—and the ways energy is transferred and converted. To solve the rescue team’s energy problem, students research various ways to capture and store energy. Then, students applied their knowledge about energy to design an energy system that can use human kinetic energy to power an electrical device. In addition to using computer simulation to test various inventions, students also built circuits including batteries, solar cells, and LED’s.

Finally, in conjunction with the Climate Summit in Manhattan, NY in September, students began an environmental science unit and research presentation on environmentally-related topics including climate change, green energy, and energy use. As part of the Monarch Watch program in effect at United Friends School, students learned about the migration, life cycle, and health of Monarch Butterflies.