Middle School Curriculum
Our Middle School provides an environment where education is individualized, collaborative and designed to help students think deeply and critically about individual subjects and the relationships between them. Academic rigor is actively implemented in ways that align with our progressive philosophy. Students work in an environment where they are comfortable and safe to explore their own identities and experiment with ideas in a small class setting. Through independent and group project work and ever-expanding experiences with the world around them, students grow in their academic and social abilities, as their confidence and self-awareness increase. Classroom experiences are designed to foster a sense of passion and a spirit of discovery in our students, so that they can develop into confidently curious, creatively productive and ethically rooted world citizens. As a result, students experience cross-curricular integration and a diverse range of learning opportunities.
The middle school language arts program includes core studies in writing, reading, listening, speaking and vocabulary development. We choose reading selections to coordinate with our social studies and history programs so that they are meaningful beyond the language arts classroom. The English program incorporates project based learning with individual reading and writing assignments.
The pedagogy employed in the middle school includes, but is not limited to, teacher and student-created lessons and assessments; individual, small and whole class cooperative learning groups; directed instruction, lecturing and open learning opportunities. Significantly, the English program draws upon key attributes of explaining, demonstrating and collaborating.
The writing program includes experiences in narrative, expository, persuasive and descriptive forms. There is also weekly instruction in writing mechanics. Additionally, students learn and practice writing skills using an online program which provides immediate feedback on six dimensions of writing. Students are then given practice opportunities and information for improvement before re-writing to increase their scores. This program is used in the classroom and at home.
The middle school reading program includes experiences in novel studies, anthologies, poetry, read-alouds, classic and contemporary literature, magazines, newspapers and online literature.
Instruction in the middle school is a continuation of the philosophy in our elementary classrooms, where the identification of individual learning styles and experiences with the understanding that each child is unique is the cornerstone of a TCS education.
The Country School has implemented the Holt Math program for the middle school. Our mathematics program for sixth grade, pre-algebra for seventh grade and algebra 1 for eighth grade provide the instruction and resources students need to succeed.
A key strength to the program is extensive differentiation. Our balanced mathematics curriculum acknowledges that every student is unique with individual strengths and areas for improvement. The Country School curriculum emphasizes conceptual understanding of computational and procedural skills. Teaching of problem solving and reasoning is comprehensively differentiated to ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed. Tailored strategies reach students of all learning styles and skill levels.
Through careful diagnosis of prerequisite skills, the teacher is able to create a program for the class which addresses each student’s ability level. Student weaknesses and strengths can then be addressed with direct instruction, conceptual models and scaffolding practice, as well as enrichment with critical-thinking activities. Mathematical concepts are related to real-life situations. Problem solving plays a pivotal role in mathematics learning and is an integral part of our program. This strengthens and stretches students’ thinking and builds confidence in their abilities to solve challenging problems. Students are given ample practice exercising the use of problem-solving skills and acquired strategies. Our program also exposes students to interdisciplinary links with other middle school subjects.
Students receive informal and formal assessment at every stage within each unit of study. Intervention resources allow students to review before they take a test and students are prepared for and exposed to standards-based test preparation embedded into daily lessons. Section quizzes, leveled chapter assessments and leveled cumulative tests assess understanding. Performance assessments are differentiated to accommodate students’ learning levels and styles.
The middle school science curriculum goes beyond textbooks to explore LEGO robotic vehicles, the iPhone accelerometer, potato cannons, musical instruments such as the class theater organ and student-initiated explorations. These kinds of apparatus convey the excitement of science – and our program respects the natural desire of middle school students to explore, take things apart and “see what’s inside.”
We take excellent advantage of technology resources, including our SmartBoards, while at the same time, ten feet from the classroom door is a circulating brook and pond, with small wetlands creatures and the excitement of sometimes getting wet!
6th Grade: Earth Science
We explore the science behind these and related issues in Issues and Earth Science, part of our three-year comprehensive SEPUP science series for the middle grades. Like its companion courses, this program uses societal issues and problems as themes for the study of earth science. Standards-based and rich with activities, it features a nationally acclaimed assessment program and an embedded approach for supporting literacy in the science classroom.
How do earth features influence where people live?
What policies should guide our use of earth’s resources?
How should we dispose of nuclear wastes?
What kind of space exploration should we undertake in the future?
Description of Units
Studying Soils Scientifically: Students study the properties of different types of soils in the context of preparing a school garden. They investigate soil profiles, organic and inorganic components, use of fertilizers and soil mapping.
Rocks and Minerals: Students investigate properties of rocks and minerals as they consider questions related to use of our natural resources. Physical properties of individual specimens, such as luster, hardness, and color are investigated, as are main rock types — sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic—and how rocks change from one form to another in the rock cycle.
Erosion and Deposition: Students investigate the destructive forces of wind, wave and water on landforms as they decide where to build homes. Stream table models and topographic maps are used to study river action and deposition of sediments, and landform contours.
Plate Tectonics: Students explore the structure of the earth—the core, mantle and crust, and learn how the slow movements of large plates of the earth’s surface help shape its features, including continents and oceans. They investigate earthquakes and volcanoes as they examine plans to deposit radioactive wastes in areas of relative seismic stability.
Weather and Atmosphere: Students investigate local and extreme weather conditions, climate and rainfall patterns, wind, the water cycle and examine the root cause of weather and climate, namely the distribution of solar energy over the earth. Wind and the atmosphere are studied in depth.
The Earth in Space: Students study the earth’s rotation, the causes of the seasons, shadows, movement of the moon, actions and causes of the tides, and review several calendars developed over the years to mark the passage of time.
7th Grade: Life Science
Our Life Science is a standards-based, issues-oriented science course that emphasizes the life/health sciences. The course is part of our three year integrated science with Issues and Physical Science, the SEPUP physical science course and Issues and Earth Science, SEPUP’s Earth Science course.
Personal and societal decision-making
Science and technology as professions
Science as a predictive activity
Description of Units:
Experimental Design: Studying People Scientifically: Student investigations address important ideas about the nature of science, the traditional scientific method and experimental design. At the end of the unit, they evaluate several proposed studies for the quality of their scientific design.
Body Works: Students explore the role of organ systems in providing nutrients and oxygen to the body and transporting and eliminating wastes (maintaining internal balance). The unit focuses in depth on the cardio-pulmonary system as students investigate heart disease, nutrition and exercise.
Cell Biology and Disease: Students study microbiology; cell size, structure, function and permeability; and systems of classification. They explore the function of the immune system and the growth of antibiotic-resistant organisms. A project on disease develops research skills.
Genetics: Students explore fundamental principles of Mendelian genetics in pea plants and humans. They study asexual and sexual reproduction, the process of cell division, and the role of nature and nurture in determining traits. Near the end, students model the use of DNA technologies to solve real problems.
Ecology: Students consider what happens when a new species is introduced into an ecosystem as they model ecological relationships within an ecosystem; simulate the effect of competition, predation and other factors on population size; and investigate local ecosystems.
Evolution: Students consider whether an extinct species should be brought back to life as they examine fossils, consider the lines of evidence for evolution, natural selection, and the role of genetic mutations. Students evaluate the impact of humans on the extinction/evolution of species.
8th Grade: Physical Science
Using the text Issues and Physical Science, students learn how to gather and interpret scientific evidence about issues of interest to them and their community. As a result, they begin to appreciate the power and also some of the limitations of science. They also begin to recognize that science is much more than a set of answers to be learned, but rather, a way of asking questions.
We examine issues in a societal context. We treat issues in a way that fosters and promotes the ability of young adolescents to think abstractly, and builds upon their need for peer interaction and support. It serves as the physical science component of our integrated, multi-year science program.
Description of Units:
Studying Materials Scientifically: Students investigate the properties of different materials. They identify unknown substances and to separate mixtures using a variety of chemical and physical properties, including density. As they learn about hazardous materials and the safety procedures used in handling them, students create similar safety guidelines for working with chemicals in the science classroom. In the culminating activity, students apply their understanding to evaluate the safety, effectiveness, storage and handling of cleaning products.
The Chemistry of Materials: Students explore the life cycles of a variety of common materials from the acquisition of raw materials through to the end of the product’s useful life. After learning about the basic building blocks of matter, elements and the periodic table, students model the structures of several common compounds. Moving from the atomic level to the material level, students investigate what conservation of matter means in light of the product life cycle and how this can affect manufacturing decisions. In the culminating set of investigations, students draw upon their understanding of the atomic nature and conservation of matter to determine a way to improve the life cycle of a computer circuit board.
Water: Students study the complex issues that surround a very basic necessity-drinking water as they investigate water quality issues in the fictional community of Willow Grove. The unit begins with students investigating drinking water quality and the issues of biological and chemical contamination. John Snow’s historic epidemiological work on the cause of cholera and more recent problems with microorganisms such as E. coli and Giardia provide examples of biological contamination. Industry and human use of chemicals and fossil fuels provide examples of chemical contamination. In the culminating activities of the unit, students apply what they have learned to make decisions about precipitation and neutralization as methods for treating industrial wastewater containing acid and heavy metals.
Energy: People use energy! How we use it will determine the quality of life on earth for future generations. To use energy in an informed way—in a way that maintains or improves environmental quality—we must first understand the nature and implications of our personal use of energy. In this part of Issues and Physical Science, students explore energy transfer and conservation in the context of household energy usage. The activities explore key energy concepts, including the variety of types of energy, energy transfers within and between systems, the energy chains involved when energy is transformed from one type to a more desired type and the methods used to quantify energy and determine the efficiency of energy transfers. Through their experiences in this part of the course, students become aware that energy is a quantifiable commodity that can be obtained, stored and used in various ways. They learn that as energy is transformed, some becomes unavailable. The focus on energy efficiency and the waste involved in energy transfers leads to the consideration of renewable and non-renewable energy sources and the trade-offs involved in each. This helps students develop their understanding of the environmental costs of all energy use and provides them with an approach to making decisions about energy. They apply this understanding in the culminating activity of the unit, in which they design an energy-efficient home.
Force and Motion: Students investigate concepts related to force and motion in the context of vehicle safety issues. The students program LEGO robotic vehicles to investigate speed, motion graphs and the impact of mass and speed on vehicle accidents. Students investigate force, acceleration, mass and friction and are introduced to Newton’s laws of motion. They apply these concepts to vehicle braking and stopping distances and investigate the stability of vehicles with different centers of mass. The unit ends with an investigation of types of car accidents and students’ recommendations for reducing the risks of vehicle collisions.
Using the Glencoe California Series textbooks as organizing principles, the classes move chronologically through world history, from the earliest evidence of mankind to the current day. With role-playing exercises we emphasize historical empathy and give the students opportunities to imagine the world from numerous cultural perspectives. The program is built to develop an awareness of our culture in context and the understanding that every civilization is, at least in part, a product of its time and geographic perspective.
The curriculum is differentiated, creating opportunities for students to approach the same historical material in different modes of expression and at a pace most productive for the individual. The presentation of material is enhanced with projections, videos and review games on interactive whiteboards. Students demonstrate their understanding in visual, video and dramatic expressions, in addition to the traditional evaluations through objective testing and essay writing. The goal is to balance these evaluations so each student can work from his or her strengths and also be challenged to experiment in new modes of expression.
Using hands-on map making, interactive map technology and map puzzles, we encourage students to develop a familiarity with world geography. Current events are retrieved from both printed and digital media and compared with events in the historical culture that we are studying.
The middle school history program begins with a survival game, raising the question, “What does mankind need to live and thrive?” From there the students create a “Paradigm for Civilization” which is then compared with actions taken by each civilization. We emphasize the difference between primary and secondary sources and the need for responsible citizens to always weigh the source of information. Whenever possible, we bring in guest speakers with direct experience in a subject, particularly in the realm of religious practice. In that way we put a distinctively human face on what may possibly be misunderstood. The goal is building students who are curious, open minded and think for themselves.
The Country School’s foreign language program is implemented in the middle school with two major objectives. The first is to teach comprehension of Latin and Spanish through practice in reading and translation. The second is to develop, through these readings and translations, students’ understanding of the social history and culture of the people of ancient Rome, Spain and the Americas. By integrating culture with the grammatical development of each language, our Foreign Language Program teaches not only the skills of reading, translating and comprehension, but also an understanding of our multicultural world.
Students’ studies of vocabulary, grammar, syntax and cultural context in Latin and Spanish are arranged in a systematic way to provide them with the skills needed to read and translate with comprehension and enjoyment.
Teachers use strategies of speaking, listening and writing. The first teaching strategy is to have the students speak the target language by reading aloud small passages. Students then learn by listening to Latin and Spanish spoken aloud by the teacher and/or other students. Finally, students write meaningful phrases and sentences in the acquired language, based on patterns they have seen in their textbooks. This variety of teaching strategies actively engages our students and accommodates a variety of learning styles so that all students may succeed.
Students demonstrate their understanding of Roman, Spanish and Latin-American culture and the effects they have in their own language and culture. In addition, students research aspects of historical events and connections with their social studies teacher. Research projects integrate book learning with technology, in class and in the school’s library. In this way, students expand their knowledge of other disciplines including history, government, economics, geography, law, art and architecture.