Middle School Curriculum Update

September 2016

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.

Language Arts

In Language Arts class, the 5th and 6th grade students are learning how to use their MacBooks by logging on to their student accounts, emails, and Google Drive. They’ve completed several assignments using Google apps like docs and slides to personalize their e-journals with text and images. The 5th and 6th grade students select books that appeal to personal interests, read independently, determine reading rates to set reading goals, maintain an electronic log, and record titles of books to read later in the year. They continue to explore the class library and the UFS library for great books. The 5th/6th grades are listening to our read aloud selection, The Red Sun, by Alane Adams. This selection is a fantasy novel with elements of Norse mythology. The read aloud serves as a way to practice reading strategies like visualizing, inferring, thinking aloud, and summarizing. We will soon begin a Greek and Roman mythology study. As part of our narrative study, students practice writing using sensory descriptive words. By recalling our work using reading visualization strategies and descriptive writing traits, students will begin working on leads, writing effective dialogue, and powerful endings in their own personal narratives. The 5th and 6th graders will begin their word study through Words Their Way or Wordly Wise programs.

Math

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.

Science

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 work.

Social Studies

In Social Studies this year, the 5th and 6th graders are discussing human development and ancient civilization. To begin the year, students created a classroom contract. With classroom routines firmly established, we began an explanation of “what makes us human” defining the things that students feel make humans different from other species. Students then broke into groups comparing those behaviors to our closest primate relatives: bonobos, chimpanzees (who both share about 99% of the human genome), and gorillas (who share about 98%); looking for areas they defined that might not be as unique as they thought. Students in the middle school closely monitor current events through the BBC one minute world news. So far this year students have focused on the war in Syria, the causes of terrorism, the war in the Ukraine, the US presidential election, and the causes and effects of protests in Tulsa and Charlotte.

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.

Language Arts

In Language Arts class, students select books that appeal to personal interests, read independently, determine reading rates to set reading goals, maintain an electronic log, and record titles of books to read later in the year. Several students already held book commercials about their completed reading selections. The 7th and 8th graders continue to listen to our read aloud, Marking Time by April White. It is a fantasy novel with elements of dangerous time travel to the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The read aloud serves as a way to practice reading strategies like visualizing, inferring, thinking aloud, and summarizing. The students submit work on their electronic reading and writing notebooks through Google Classroom. They continue practicing descriptive writing as they begin drafting memoir/personal narrative pieces. For our memoir/narrative study, the students read and discussed the mentor texts An American Childhood by Ann Dillard, and the poem, The Century Quilt, by Marilyn Nelson Waniek. The students continue their vocabulary studies in either the Wordly Wise or Word Trek programs.

Math

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.)

Science

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.

Social Studies

In Social Studies this year, our 7th and 8th graders will be learning about modern American history. We started our year by creating a classroom contract. With our contract made and our routines firmly established, we began exploring the ideas and events of the American Civil War with a focus on the reasons for multiple narratives of the war's cause. As always, students in the middle school closely monitor current events through the BBC one minute world news. So far this year students have focused on the war in Syria, the causes of terrorism, the war in the Ukraine, the US presidential election, and the causes and effects of protests in Tulsa and Charlotte.