Middle School Curriculum Update
5th and 6th Grades
Sixth graders extended a hearty welcome to fifth graders and new students and they took the lead in orienting them to lockers, planners, binders, and schedules. With their help, we had a smooth transition into the complexities of middle school. Our first weeks of activities have included class meetings focused on getting to know more about each other, beginning to learn conflict resolution strategies, discussing expectations for behavior in classes and Quaker meeting, on the playground, and during less structured times such as transitions. Team building activities with the 7th/8th graders has also helped to build community in our middle school.
Caring for ourselves and others is a theme for the year. We are taking the time to check in with each other and to extend a friendly hand to others. Every morning a crowd of students care for and play with the newts. Sir Isaac Newt is our big warty newt and he eats the guppies swimming by in his tank. The family of five fire-belly newts is more of a challenge as they need to eat wriggling bloodworms dangled by tweezers in front of their faces. 5th/6th grade is in charge of the UFS recycling program and they collect commingle and paper recycling from all of the classrooms and offices on Friday mornings.
5th grade math: Our fifth grade math group has been exploring number theory as they have modeled multiplication through arrays, reviewed multiplication and division of whole numbers, applied divisibility rules to determine the factors of whole numbers, and were introduced to prime factorization, exponents, and square roots. Students investigated Goldbach’s Conjecture, which theorizes that every even number greater than 2 can be written as the sum of two prime numbers and played factor games to reinforce factoring skills. We are using the Everyday Mathematics book as our primary resource and will be supplementing it with games, puzzles, and speed sprints. Many math skills are applied to physical science measurements.
6th Grade Math: Students in 6th grade math are finishing the first unit of study. The unit focuses on how to display information using different types of graphs, charts, and plots such as stem and leaf plots, bar graphs, and broken line graphs. The unit also explains how to pick out misleading displays of information and biased surveys, while teaching how to correct the samples and display the information properly. It serves both as a refresher on past concepts as well as an introduction to statistical thinking.
7th and 8th Grades
In the beginning weeks of school, we are getting to know members of our community, settling into routines, reviewing shared rules, and teachers are establishing clear and consistent expectations. We continue to build relationships and a caring community to maintain a positive learning environment. The 7th/8th graders traveled to Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab in the first week of school. There, we created wooden boxes, designed patterns using computer software, and used the laser machine to burn the images on the lids. It was a positive, creative, collaborative community activity. During advisory time, the 7th and 8th graders collaborated to plan and create a video thank you message to the instructors at the Fab Lab. Once all the individual segments are combined, they will adjust the timing, and add transitions and music to the video. In our weekly Partner time with the 5th/6th graders, we held middle school Meeting for Worship and participated in several STEM challenges.
The 7th grade math class has begun an extensive unit on fractions. The goal, as with all of our work, is to achieve concept-procedure integration. This means that when you are performing a mathematical procedure that you understand what you are doing and why it works the way it does. For example: when we delved into into equivalent fractions, we worked on understanding what it is we are really doing when we multiply (or divide) a numerator and denominator by the same number. What are we actually doing to the original fraction, and why does it work the way it does, producing another fraction with the same meaning, just a greater or lesser number of pieces? When students gain this depth of knowledge about a topic, they can own it forever and use it in new contexts, as opposed to remembering a rule for a test.
The 8th grade students have each picked up in their work where they left off last year, continuing on their individual paths with the support of the class. They started by refreshing themselves regarding their work last spring and have now begun moving forward into new material. All students are primarily working in the Algebra book, although both Pre-Algebra and Algebra work are being done at this point.
Both classes continue to spend some time on puzzles each week. Here is an example of a challenging puzzle from a recent class: Suppose that the post office only sold 5 cent and 7 cent stamps. This means that you would be able to pay some amounts of postage, but not others. What postage amounts would be impossible to make with only these two types of stamps? (As a clue, there is a “highest amount” beyond which everything is possible. How can you prove that all higher amounts are possible?) You can see the details of what your student is focusing on by asking them to see their monthly log, which they keep on Google drive. On the log, you can see their brief description of the work they do each day both in class and at home. (Most of the students are still building the habit of consistently recording this, so not everything will appear there yet, but they will get there.)
United Friends School’s year-long science theme is physical science. Middle school studies began on the first day of school with a chilling exploration of the chemical reaction of salt and ice as we churned homemade ice cream, collected temperature readings every 5 minutes, and discovered that salt lowers the melting point of ice. Our science work is guided by the New Generation National Science Standards, including evidence-based learning, which involves student discoveries through the analysis of their collected data and observations. Our work will also involve many opportunities to design, engineer, and construct models and objects. Our trip to the Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab during the first week of school was an inspiring way to start a year of great maker projects.
Seventh and eighth graders have been investigating metric measurement, such as finding the volume of solids and liquids by precisely measuring volume with beakers and graduated cylinders, using liquid displacement to measure the volume of irregular-shaped objects, and calculating the volume of regularly shaped objects with mathematical formulas. They found, through experimentation, the accuracy of digital measurements of mass as compared with measurements from pan balances and triple beam balances. Future density projects include finding the density of particular materials as a means of identifying the substances.
Seventh and eighth graders have been reading and watching videos about atomic structure, the periodic table of elements, and why matter matters. They have made models of basic atom structures and they are exploring the concepts of molecules and chemical bonds. We have been reading parts of the book The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Spoon to further our understanding of the remarkable beauty of the periodic table.