The Middle School curriculum, schedule and culture capitalizes on the evolving needs of the early adolescent through project-based learning that brings academic material to life and fosters cooperative team spirit. Social studies and the sciences are taught in semester-long intensives which allow students to focus on each discipline in depth. Students select their own arts electives including theater, pottery and band. In addition to regular wellness classes, daily advisory groups bolster students’ emotional intelligence by encouraging them to take pride in their school work and to explore opportunities outside of the classroom such as clubs and team sports.
The pre-adolescent is preoccupied in understanding how they fit in with a diverse group. Therefore, they are developmentally primed to read books that focus on the various perspectives of growing up. The literature and writing assignments challenge the sixth grade student to take multiple perspectives and support their assertions about characters and themes. Students read books that focus on the annual theme of “Growing Up in a Diverse World”. Examples include: Inside Out and Back Again, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Schooled, and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.
The seventh grader yearns for independence, but also has a strong desire to connect with peers. It is a year of self discovery and social awareness. Students read books that focus on the annual theme of “Identity” and further develop the critical thinking skills needed for literary analysis and commentary. Examples include: Dicey’s Song, The Giver, Animal Farm, A Northern Light, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Writing assignments encourage the seventh grader to refine and expand upon their previously learned knowledge of the writing process while they publish essays, stories, and reports from multiple genres.
To prepare the eighth grade student for high school, classical literature is analyzed and discussed within the annual theme of “Leadership”. Titles include, Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, and Lord of the Flies. Eighth grade students have increased writing demands and produce polished pieces with more sophisticated language and voice. In addition, they hone their public speaking skills in order to support their ideas and opinions with strong evidence and conviction. Eighth graders also have the opportunity to assume a leadership role in the school’s literary magazine.
In middle school math, students continue to reinforce the basic skills while developing problem-solving strategies and creative thinking. The basis of the math curriculum is the New York State Standards. Students are motivated for math by showing them the relevance of math to every day life. This is accomplished by participating in projects each year that involve real life scenarios for applying math. Sample projects include: designing a family budget, conducting surveys, running sample businesses, painting and furnishing a house, drawing scaled models, picking the best long distance plan, writing a budget in excel and investing in the stock market. Each project is tied in with the lessons being taught and help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to make good decisions. Individualized programs help students to work at their potential. Ninth grade math is available to students who advance a year during middle school.
Important concepts in middle school math include data collection and statistical analysis. In early middle school, students experiment with collecting various forms of data and analyzing measures of central tendency. Eventually, they learn how the various measures of central tendency can be used to represent data in various forms. For example, understanding the mean salary of US citizens versus the median salary of US citizens and how this can impact economic policy. Students also focus on learning how to graph data and read the various types of graphs. Calculation skills are focused on each year, with a focus on the basics in early middle school and more complex operations in the upper middle school. Students learn about percents and how this not only relates to discounts in a store, but to the fundamentals of running a business. By the end of middle school, students develop a solid understanding of variables, order of operations, linear equations, and various approaches to solving word problems.
There are different level math courses offered at each grade level. Students who have difficulties in math have the opportunity to be in smaller classes with more individualized attention. Students who are advanced in math also have the opportunity to be in a class where they are challenged and given the opportunity to take the 9th grade Regents exam by the end of 8th grade.
In science, students cover topics in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Within these courses, the students learn the scientific method and the basics of experimental design. Labs are conducted to reinforce the scientific method and provide a hands-on experience with the material. A large emphasis is placed on applying what the students are learning in school to real life. In biology, students learn about physiology and how life style contributes to various disorders and diseases. In Chemistry, they learn about elements and compounds and how this relates to nutrition and diet. In Physics they learn about Newton’s laws of motion and how it relates to things like seat belts and airbags. Finally, in Earth Science they learn about the environment and how to preserve it. Students are taught to analyze, experiment, and utilize a variety of approaches to problem solving. They develop the skills for working in groups through both short term and long term projects with other students and learn how to present their findings and projects to an audience. Advanced science programs are available to talented students wishing to study additional topics or certain topics in more depth.
The Sixth grade unit in science starts off with Motion, Forces and Energy. These topics include Newton’s laws of motion, conservation of energy, Bernoulli’s principle, and simple machines. Students are introduced to variables and algebraic formulas at this time and shown the integration of math and science. Projects include building cargo boats (teaches about density and buoyancy), utilizing physics formulas to construct a safe gymnasium, building compound simple machines, and building a roller coaster to better understand the principles of friction, potential, and kinetic energy. In the second half of the year, the unit switches to human physiology, where students focus on the digestive system, nutrition, and the endocrine system and reproduction. Relevant topics during these units include nutrition and health, and sexual reproduction. Project for nutrition includes preparing a three day "healthy" menu for a sleep away camp and/or compute analysis of student's diets.
The Seventh Grade unit starts off with an in-depth study and application of the scientific method. It then progresses with the study of the cell structure and the cell processes, including plant and animal cells, photosynthesis, and the chemistry of respiration. Through this, students will learn how organisms convert energy from food and the opposite yet vital relationship between photosynthesis in plants and respiration in animals is further explored. The first half of the year continues the study of genetics, heredity and evolution. Students will use Punnett squares, probability, and ratios in order to determine how genetic traits are passed through several generations. Students will engage in labs where they will determine if certain traits they posses are recessive or dominant. Next are Mendel's theories, the types of inheritance that are genetically possible, and a look at the timeline that explains the theory of how and why organisms have evolved. The second half of the year begins with the study of weather. In this area of study students will investigate the various factors that contribute to our weather and its changes. Within this topic the concept of the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming are discussed at length. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a debate about these topics. The last half of the year concludes with the study of astronomy and the most prominent theories in this field of study including the Big Bang Theory and The Collision Theory. Students will have the opportunity to visit a science center during the year in order to better research and understand, through hands on activities, the topics that are being covered.
The eighth grade science unit begins with the study of chemistry. Students learn about atomic structure, the periodic table of elements, and chemical bonds. Through hands-on activities, students experience the various types of chemical reactions that are possible. Students also learn about stochiometry and balancing chemical equations. The next unit covers topics within the field of earth science. Students will study the theory of continental drift, plate tectonics, volcanoes and the internal environment of the earth. The second half of the year continues with units in biology and physiology. Students learn about the cardiovascular system, respiration, excretion, the immune system, and the levels of organization in the human body. Relevant topics include the diseases and disorders as they pertain to the body systems that are being studied, nutrition, and diet. The relationship between how humans live and their diets contributing to certain diseases and disorders is discussed throughout the study of these body systems. Students are encouraged to research the latest studies of preventative measures that can be taken in order to maintain a healthy body. Another topic of study that students will engage involves environmental sciences. It is through this topic that students will have the opportunity to engage in varying projects to help them explore how they can become a part of the solution in our society's ever growing concern with recycling, global warming and the over use of our non renewable resources such as our soil and water.
Throughout the entire middle school, science students are encouraged to share their interest and previous knowledge regarding varying topics in science that they find the most compelling or useful to their course of study. Science is an ever changing field that is constantly evolving and provides us, almost daily, with discoveries, theories and ground breaking information. Students will often engage with their teachers and peers in discussions regarding these events. One of the main goals in this approach is to help students realize their interconnectedness to the rest of the world and to give them the tools with which to fully understand the information they may come across as they explore the scientific world outside of the classroom setting.
Sixth grade students explore and discover the ancient world using the History Alive! interactive program. They begin the year as social scientists reconstructing the lives of early hominids. Next, the students explore the ancient Mesopotamians and the evolution of the complex Sumerian city-states. During the second unit, students study ancient Egypt, Kush, and Canaan. The second semester begins with a study of Ancient China and its first complex civilization, the Shang dynasty. Sixth graders then move on to ancient Greece, focusing on Athens, The Golden Age, Sparta and the influence of Greek culture on other civilizations. The year ends with a study of the Roman Empire at its height.
Working in small groups, students are immersed in each of the topics with hands on, experiential lessons. Much of the information is discovered by the students as they examine and analyze primary sources, photographs, speeches, sketches, paintings, films and other sources. Students also participate in simulations that place them in actual historical situations. For example, they recreate a cave and examine images of cave paintings and other objects found in early Europe. They analyze images and draw conclusions on the lives of the various hominids. For the Neolithic Age, students examine artifacts and read about the movement from hunting and gathering to farming. Using this information, they create comic books highlighting these changes. Analyzing artifacts from ancient Sumer, students determine whether ancient Sumer was a civilization. Students also make many connections with their own lives, like looking for ways Hammurabi's code of law applies to their lives today. For the Egyptian unit, students use their bodies to re-create the physical geography of ancient Egypt, Kush, and Canaan. They also practice important skills like researching during the unit. For example, students research and teach each other about the three major periods of ancient Egyptian history. They also create interactive dramatizations. Using props, costumes, and audience involvement, students bring to life typical scenes from daily life in ancient Egypt. Research also plays an important role in the study of China as students research the lives and fundamental teachings of Confucius, Laozi (Daoism), and Hanfeizi (Legalism). As with the other units, Chinese artifacts are analyzed, and students connect Chinese traditions to their own lives. Throughout all the units, critical thinking is encouraged. For example, students compare Athens and Sparta, and decide which city-state they would have preferred to live in and why. Another benefit of the program is the social lessons learned from the many group interactions. Students learn the dynamics of working with others including flexibility, compromise and productivity.
The seventh grade history curriculum focuses on US history between the years 1620 and 1850 with an emphasis on the movement of people to and within the nation as well as the nation’s founding principles and beliefs. Seventh grade social studies units include: the settling of colonial America, the Revolutionary War, the government, and expansion and western migration and their impact on native people.
Students are immersed in units through projects and group work. For example, seventh graders participate in a Colonial Fair. Each student researches a character or topic and creates a colonial craft or structure like a Dutch home or a Native American long house. The school community attends a fair where the students present their research and display their pieces. Collaborative projects stressing decision making and critical thinking are integrated into the curriculum. In an US expansion simulation, students make choices about expanding while considering the real problems and moral dilemmas the young nation faced with each potential land acquisition. Some groups end up with boundaries that mimic actual historical choices while other groups make decisions that result in completely new boundary lines. In their daily assignments, they read about the historical choices made by the nation and then compare and contrast these to their own decisions.
Individual work including persuasive essay writing is also used to deepen and assess learning. For example, during the colonial unit students compose an essay on the Puritans arguing for or against their position as heroes of American history. Another piece has students arguing whether or not enslaved Americans should have supported the Patriots in the Revolutionary War. Students also compose historical fiction, such as letters to England in the voice of a Jamestown settler or speeches as Cherokees protesting their forced removal from their land.
Field trips, films, music, art, resource books, maps and data, and web sites are all used to enhance the curriculum and support a discovery based approach to learning. During each unit, connections are made between historical issues and current events. For example, as seventh graders learn about the creation of a new nation and the US constitution, they examine current day political and constitutional issues as well.
The eighth grade course focuses on US history from the mid nineteenth through twentieth centuries. Special focus is given to social and political movements. Units include: Abolitionist Movement, Civil War, Industrialization, Immigration, Reform Movement, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.
Through collaborative group work and projects, students are immersed in their learning. For example, students create an abolitionist newspaper. Working in small groups they research and compose pieces such as interviews with important figures, advice columns for Underground Railroad escapees, editorials on the evils of slavery, and art and culture sections celebrating slave crafts, music and literature. During the industrialization unit, students put monopolists on trial with the prosecution arguing they were modern day robber barons while the defense argues they were innovative captains of industry. Students are given historical roles to research and write testimonies and opening and closing arguments. The two sides argue and debate the key issues of the case before a "jury" of Bay Ridge Prep faculty and administration.
Individual work including interviews, persuasive essays and historical fiction are also used to deepen and assess learning. For example during the age of immigration unit, students read and respond to early 20th century immigration stories. They also compare and contrast the experiences of modern day immigrants with those of past immigrants. Students then compose questions to be used for an interview of a recently arrived American. Students conduct the interviews, write them into narratives, and then share them with each other during a celebration of our multicultural society. During the World War II unit, eighth grade students keep a reporter’s journal making entries from various sites such as Germany, Pearl Harbor and Normandy, France. They end the unit with a persuasive essay on the US decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan.
Primary and secondary readings, film, music, art, field trips, maps and data, and web sites all enhance the curriculum and support a discovery based approach to learning. During each unit, connections are also made between historical issues and current events. The course culminates with a Choosing to Participate Fair in which the students research a current day social issue of their choosing and prepare a presentation to educate the school community on it. At the fair visitors are encouraged to take social action. For example, one group presented information on current day human trafficking and encouraged visitors to sign a petition they created for the Secretary General of the United Nations. Another group presented evidence on bullying of LGBT teens in schools and encouraged visitors to take a pledge promising to speak up on their behalf.
Hands-on projects are an important part of both learning and assessment in the foreign language curriculum. Students produce one or two projects per unit, either individually or in small groups. They are given the criteria, vocabulary and grammatical requirements of the assignment, but they are able to choose from different media to showcase their understanding of the unit. They may decide to create a video, slideshow, poster, book, or labeled model. Students are motivated by awards for the most effective projects.
In addition to using the language for communicative purposes, the student is exposed to the study of other cultures, which in turn allows him or her to develop an understanding and appreciation of other people. Periodically throughout the study of a foreign language, the student also becomes acquainted with geography, culture and history of the countries or regions where the language is spoken. Through the study of geography, the student becomes familiar with the topography, important cities and their contributions to the cultural development of the area. Students employ the presented material and prior knowledge to compare and contrast other cultures with their own.