Middle Division

Building on the Primary and Intermediate Division programs, which lay the foundations for inquiry and project-based integrated learning, the Middle Division of The School continues to foster the academic and social-emotional development of our students. Our goal is to help students become their best selves: intrinsically motivated self-advocates who develop a clear understanding of themselves as learners and co-creators of the world around them. Teachers differentiate instruction in the classroom to both challenge and scaffold a wide range of learners. Student-to-teacher feedback is conducted in a variety of formats including assessments, letter grades, checkpoints, homework and class engagement.  

Strong interpersonal relationships, executive functioning, and social-emotional learning are fostered through our advisory program. In addition, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health partners with The School to provide gender and sexuality education as part of our Life Skills curriculum. We cover a full range of topics from developing healthy relationships, affirmative consent, and identity development to cyber safety.  

Students have many opportunities to explore leadership in the Middle Division. We encourage both formalized leadership roles such as in student government, as well as fluid leadership opportunities through a wide array of athletics, clubs, curricular and annual activities.

Culminating a K-8 Social Justice curriculum and myriad service learning opportunities throughout their time at The School, the capstone project of the Middle Division is the Social Action Project in Grade 8. Every student identifies a cause—local, regional, national or international—they are passionate about, and determines ways they can help move it forward. At the end of the year, they present their projects to The School community at an exhibition, so other students and families can learn about, and possibly also contribute to, their cause.

Beginning in the spring of Grade 7, Middle Division students begin the high school placement process, in which they apply and gain entry to a range of public, private, boarding, and parochial schools in the tri-state area and beyond. The School's goal is to place every student in a school environment in which they will continue to thrive. Families and students collaborate with our High School Placement Office on an individualized process to research and choose schools that best fit each student's needs and personality. As part of this process, The School offers test preparation for standardized testing for high school entry.

The Middle Division at The School at Columbia is an academic and energetic environment, in which children continue to realize their strengths, develop their focus, and grow as students.

Jason Singleton
Middle Division Director

Academics: Middle Division

Grade 6

List of 11 items.

  • English

    During the first term in English class, students engage in a study of identity. They look at the ways in which authors portray characters in the short stories, poetry, and novels they craft, compelling students to examine their own emerging identities. Jumping off from their summer study of You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly, students
    start the year reading a collection of pieces by authors such as Ray Bradbury, Toni Cade Bambara, and Jacqueline Woodson. Students read these pieces to gain a deeper understanding of characterization, figurative and descriptive language, vocabulary, and dialogue. Aligning with literary studies, students wrote a collection of original pieces including a continuation to Bradbury’s short story All Summer in a Day, original poetry, and responses to their reading. Throughout the term, there is an emphasis on independent reading tracking the progress and interests of each child. In addition, students have annotated many literary pieces this year in order to identify salient themes, imagery, evidence and claims.

    As a class, students read Katherine Applegate’s "Home of the Brave," a novel written entirely in free verse. This text tells the story of a young Sudanese boy, one of the “Lost Boys,” who comes to the United States to live with his aunt and cousin and slowly adjusts to life in America. After witnessing the murders of his father and brother,
    then getting separated from his mother in an African camp, Kek alone believes that his mother has somehow survived. Students followed up their reading of this text through the completion of an “Exquisite Corpse” project. This involved creating a three-piece visual representation of a favorite character, highlighting their
    growth and development across the book. They followed this up with the writing of a formal literary analysis essay, attending to the question, “How does my character grow and change across ‘Home of the Brave?”

    When we returned from winter vacation, we worked in small book groups around the theme of refugees. Students read one of seven different novels about a young person forced to flee their home country.

    After returning from winter break, students continued working in their refugee book groups. Having chosen from a selection of seven novels depicting the experiences of young refugees, students were engaged in connecting their texts with the real world experiences of both historical and contemporary refugees. Our study of the refugee experience culminated in a time capsule project completed collaboratively by each book group. In addition to visual and artistic representations of the novel’s events, each student contributed written pieces reflecting their understanding of the novel. Students were able to complete these written pieces in the form of letters, journal entries, and/or news articles depicting the journey of the novel’s characters.

    After completing their book groups, students were engaged in writing speeches as a part of our public speaking study. Each student produced two speeches, the first being a demonstration speech, and the second being a persuasive speech about an issue of their choosing. Before writing their own pieces, students examined and critiqued speeches on a wide range of topics from a diverse selection of speakers.

    Upon returning from spring break, we began our study of “The Giver,” the Newbery award winning novel by Lois Lowry. As they began the novel, students considered and discussed ideal organization of a society, paying particular attention to the correlation between quality of life and factors such as access to education, gender equality and public safety. The group carefully examined the novel’s handling of family structure, careers, personal relationships and memory. Each student developed thoughtful comparisons of Lowry’s portrayal of these topics to our own experiences of them in American society, with the ultimate aim of producing an analytical essay synthesizing their reflections on each.

    In addition, we began reading “Romeo and Juliet.” Through pre-reading activities and some footage from a recent film version, along with audio recordings, students were introduced to Shakespeare’s language, key characters in the play, and the overall plot line. Students demonstrated their understanding of the text through writing, discussion, and acting. Students studied the power dynamics of the era, as expressed through dance, through a collaboration with the Dance department.

  • Life Skills

    The Life Skills curriculum provides opportunities for students to participate in discussions regarding issues impacting positive social interactions. Students progress toward objectives in areas of self-awareness, self-management, social skills, relationship management, decision-making, and responsibility. During Grade 6 Life Skills classes, students learn, discuss, and practice strategies related to a range of topics including; street smarts, nutrition, hygiene, conflict resolution, puberty, sexuality, relationships, media literacy, and cyber safety.

  • Mathematics

    In Grade 6 Mathematics, students begin the year with an exploration of number theory, divisibility rules, prime and composite numbers, and the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic. They use prime factorization to find all the factors of a large number and write prime factorization in both long string form and short exponent form.
    Students study alternative methods—stacking and ladder—for computing greatest common factors and least common multiples of two or more numbers. They use these concepts to solve real-world problems. The fractions unit extends students’ understanding of addition and subtraction of fractions to fractions with unlike
    denominators, improper fractions, and mixed numbers. Students also build fluency with multiplying and dividing fractions and solve real-world fraction problems that use all four operations. For enrichment, students explore continued fractions, jigsaw-puzzle problems, and Euclid's Algorithm.

    After that, students move into a unit on decimals. Students strengthen their understanding of place value and rounding. They explore the relationship between fractions and decimals, learning how to convert fractions to decimals and vice versa. Students learn to fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. For enrichment, students predict which fractions have terminating decimal representations and repeating decimal representations.

    The semester ends with students exploring the order of operations and the use of variables in mathematical expressions. They learn to write expressions and equations that correspond to given situations, evaluate expressions, and use expressions and formulas to solve problems.

    Students apply and extend their previous understanding of numbers to the system of rational numbers and in particular negative integers. They learn that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge), and use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts.

  • Music

    In Music, students continue to review and solidify skills in several fundamentals of music, including rhythm, instrument technique, and vocal technique. Students continue to work toward proper technique on both pitched and un-pitched percussion instruments. Emphasizing technique allows ease and comfort when improvising.
    Improvisation, an original expression of oneself, is studied as a component of the Grade 6 theme Identity. Students sing throughout the Fall Semester, and focus is placed on good breath support, proper vowel placement, and annunciation.

    Grade 6 students began the second semester studying musicians as part of a research project. The product of their research - song selections by musicians of color, yielded listening sessions in class. Classes continued their focus on improvisation but expanded improvisation to the drums. Additionally, as we prepared for a curriculum share, the grade thought through the use of improvisation as a conversation between two instruments. Students revisit beloved folk dances in the spring in preparation for a yearend buddy dance. Set dances and square dances bring them together in fun, light hearted opportunities to socialize through movement, while emphasizing safe use of space and cooperation.

  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Students participate in a yearlong Performing Arts Class elective. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division and each group performs at Winter and Spring concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with necessary materials, willingly take risks, and demonstrate that they have made progress with regard to relevant skills.

  • Science

    The Grade 6 Science curriculum begins with an introduction to scientific method. Students look at the cyclical nature of the process, from questions to hypotheses to tests to interpretations and onto further questions. They move to a brief introduction to atomic theory and the periodic table before beginning a study of water and
    weather, which involves a great deal of practical experimentation. Students are consistently asked to refine their experimental technique, and challenged to analyze their results to draw appropriate conclusions. Students learn about the makeup of the atmosphere at different altitudes, about the water cycle, about how clouds form and how winds move them, bringing the weather. They learn how energy is transferred through the system, and the effects
    this has on life on Earth. They take part in the Hudson River Snapshot project, a day where schools, colleges, and scientists cooperate to collect data all along the river. Throughout the semester, students use scientific tools and technologies to carry out their investigations.

    The second semester marked the beginning of the Space unit. Students started by learning about our own solar system. They compared the scale of the solar system to the scale of the galaxy, and the distances between galaxies. Students contemplated the number of stars and planets, using a range of computer simulations and video clips to grasp the enormity of the numbers involved. Next began a detailed study of the process by which stars and planets are formed and die. Students learned about the role fusion plays, and the stages of progressively heavier atoms forming in the core of stars. They learned about Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Black Dwarfs, and Black Holes. This led into a study of forces: of Galileo and Newton, and their contribution to modernity. Students experimented with trolleys, ramps, and pendulums. Throughout, students were encouraged to explain their ideas and record their questions. Attention was placed on explaining sequences of events clearly, and on seeking meaningful answers to questions through research and by making connections to scientific principles learned throughout their school career.

  • Social Emotional Learning

    The Social Emotional Learning curriculum provides opportunities for students to participate in discussions regarding issues impacting positive social interactions. Students progress toward objectives in areas of self-awareness, self-management, social skills, relationship management, decision-making, and responsibility. Students learn, discuss, and practice strategies related to a range of topics including building healthy relationships, being a positive community member, digital citizenship, organization, and emotional regulation.

  • Social Studies

    The year begins with a unit in which students explore their personal histories as individuals and as part of a collective. Students engage in various projects that focus on analyzing their personal identities and how being part of this diverse city affects ritual and tradition. Through the study and analysis of advertising and current events, students also learn about the dangers of making assumptions, expressing bias, and believing stereotypes. After Winter Break, students begin their study of the monotheistic religions, and are currently engaged in in-depth research projects about each topic. They learn how to cite sources, craft research questions, and take notes on various texts, documentaries, and presentations. Students continue to practice these skills in the Spring Semester.

    In the second half of the year, students continued to study the concept of Identity in the context of religion and medieval Spain. They developed research and note-taking skills when presenting about the different monotheistic religions, and were introduced to paraphrasing techniques in their study of historical texts. Students thought about how tensions between religions might develop and ultimately bring down the prosperity of a nation. They examined the Spanish Inquisition, the struggles that many Jews and Muslims had to face when forced to convert to Christianity, and the way their descendants are currently redefining themselves based on this history. Students also engaged in an extensive study of current events and the role that bias and perspective plays in the way news is reported.

  • Spanish Language/Literacy

    This semester in Grade 6, students begin by learning different ways to greet each other in Spanish, and creating “greeting dialogues.” Students also create their own biographical poems in Spanish. They learn how to put together information about themselves by analyzing different ways to use pronouns and verbs while writing poetry. Students integrate technology by using an app such as Explain Everything. They also use online sites such as Tagul, StoryboardThat, Quizziz, Plickers, Kahoot, and Socrative to review concepts and make
    oral and written assignments. This allows students to listen to their pronunciation and their classmates’ work. Students connect to their study of Mecca through exploration of the history of important cities in Islamic Spain. They compare maps of present day Spain to Al-Andalus, look at the Alhambra, and take a virtual tour of the site,
    describing and answering questions about what they see. Students learn to use important regular and irregular verbs and to
    ensure that adjectives and nouns agree. They study basic questions and build vocabulary through activities requiring listening, reading, and speaking skills.

    This semester, Grade 6 students finished their study of Al-Andalus and the Alhambra. In connection with study of Florence, students explored and analyzed the Spanish Renaissance. This included study of the life and work of renowned Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Sixth-graders studied Velázquez’s life and described his art using varied vocabulary and grammatical structures. They analyzed Renaissance paintings using prepositions, and regular and irregular verbs in the present tense such as gustar, querer, tener, ir, ser and estar. They learned the expression hay (there is), as well. Sixth-graders moved on to study the geography, art, and culture of Mexico in the pre-Columbian era. They learned to use definite and indefinite articles, and practiced noun-adjective agreement while using house- and apartment-related vocabulary. They practiced oral and written communication skills through different activities, and were encouraged to take risks to enhance listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish.

  • Visual Arts

    Sixth-graders begin the Fall Semester with an examination of the grade-wide theme of Identity. Students experiment with ways to visually represent who they are by creating portrait collages inspired by the work of artist Frank Big Bear. Next, they begin a study of observational drawing through facial features. They pay close
    attention to line, size, shape, value and texture to express the varying facial features. Students use these skills to create a self-portrait drawing, which becomes the basis for a painted self-portrait. During the self-portrait study, students work to mix a variety of shades and tones for their own skin tone. This assignment focuses on details; students are encouraged to work slowly and patiently, adding each individual hair or fleck of color in the eye. This project concludes with a chance to write about their experience during this artistic process. We then began an exploration of printmaking, using a variety of materials and techniques that we will continue to work with in the spring semester.

    Grade 6 students continued to develop creative and critical thinking skills, and to strengthen learning in a shared art studio. They started the semester with a reduction printmaking project, focusing on a symbol or icon that they felt represented their personal identity. Recognizing that religious and social beliefs often influence artistic expression, students studied principles of Islamic art on a trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the studio they had a chance to create a tessellation of their own design and then used Turtle Art to create 3d printed designs, that were used as a stamp for clay tiles. Students were also introduced to the ceramics wheel, creating pots using this new technique.

  • Wellness

    This semester’s Wellness class emphasizes the importance of cooperation, utilizing effective communication strategies to help students learn as a community. They begin learning about the five health-related fitness components and how they apply to their identity. During this process, mindfulness-based themes are woven into lessons to connect to students’ social and personal responsibilities. More specifically, students learn about volleyball and pickleball. Students work on basic fitness skills and strengthening their eye-hand coordination; they learn the rules and parameters of an activity, and then take part in a culminating activity.

    This semester, students continued to work on communication strategies in a team setting as part of a larger community. Grade 6 students moved into a lacrosse unit, emphasizing healthy competition and tournament play. They deepened their understanding of the differences between men’s and women’s lacrosse, and constructed ideas about how to change the sport. Students expanded understanding of their bodies through integrated learning on the skeletal system, muscle pairs, and body functions. They finished the year with an introduction to the concept of lifetime sports in connection with a unit on softball.

Grade 7

List of 11 items.

  • English

    We began the year in English reading poems and stories by Audre Lorde, Gary Soto and Sandra Cisneros. These pieces tied into work in Social Studies, and the Grade 7 theme of The Self and Society: The Courage to Act. Emphasis was on posing questions and developing interpretations. In addition to literary analysis, students wrote
    either a poem or short story based on our reading, and wrote a description using sensory and figurative language.

    During the initial weeks of school, students also launched a year-long independent reading program; set up independent reading pages (linked to the Grade 7 independent reading site); and created writing logs where they reflect on the writing pieces they do, identify writing strengths, and develop goals to help them grow throughout
    the year.

    We then read Gabriel García Márquez’ “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor,” deepening literary analysis and culminating in multimodal student choice projects and writing a short fiction piece. This unit tied into observational drawing in Visual Arts, observational work in Science, and work students did in Spanish. During this time, students began a study of common writing and speaking errors, and grammar.

    Before Winter Break, students wrote a thesis-driven essay and chose books about the Colonial United States to read in small groups, tying in with work in Social Studies on the American Revolution and rethinking the master narrative.

    Our seventh grade English program encourages students to ask themselves and their peers questions about literature, to develop interpretations, to read broadly and deeply, and to share their reading, their reactions and their insights with each other; it supports authentic writing in a wide variety of forms, including expressive prose, poetry, expository essays, literary analysis, letters and digital discussion; and it seeks to strengthen the ties between reading, writing and oral expression.

    Students launched the second half of the year with blended learning (online and offline) reading groups, choosing from one of six books set in Colonial America, tying in with work in Social Studies on the American Revolution and rethinking the master narrative. Authors included Sharon Draper, J. Albert Mann, Steve Sheinkin, Laurie Halse Anderson and M.T. Anderson.

    Following this, we read, wrote, recorded and discussed poetry. Students read from work of poets both past and contemporary, and wrote five or six different poems, experimenting with a wide range of poetic tools, devices and forms. They worked to eliminate clichés and hone their revision skills; this will serve them in all types of writing. (Please ask your child to show you the 7th grade poetry site, where you can read and hear some of the students’ original poetry, and view some of their comments about the work.)

    After our poetry unit, we picked back up on short stories, delving into story structure with a story by Langston Hughes, and another by Kurt Vonnegut. Students wrote a formal, thesis-driven essay about one of the stories.

    In the spring, we did a second reading group project, with book choices tied to India or West Africa, and connecting to work in social studies, art and music. Authors included Rukhsana Ali, Kashmira Shethi, Mitali Perkins, Nnedi Okorafor, Tomi Adeyemi, Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

    We ended our year in 7th grade reading and writing personal essays. (Please ask your child to share their online writing log with you, to see their reflections about their writing this year.)

    Our robust independent reading program continued throughout the year, allowing students to read according to personal tastes and abilities, and to grow into new kinds of reading. (Please ask your child to share their independent reading page with you, to see what they read on their own, this year.) The study of common writing and speaking mistakes, grammar and punctuation also continued to be woven into reading and writing lessons.

  • Life Skills

    The Life Skills curriculum aims to help students understand that the decisions they make every day impact themselves and their community. The overarching goals of the year focus on personal responsibility and strategies to manage common stressors, such as school work and relationships. This is achieved through
    discussions of a variety of topics, including values, communication, emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships (friendships), gender roles/identity, and sexual development. Students have the opportunity to learn and practice effective stress management and communication skills.

    The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum presents students with opportunities to participate in dialogues regarding issues affecting positive social interactions. Working in groups with grade-level teachers and The School’s psychologists, students progress toward SEL objectives in areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, decision-making, and responsibility. The Grade 7 SEL curriculum, implemented in conjunction with Life Skills, focuses on the high school placement process. Lessons include discussions of researching different choices the students have for high school, mock test taking for high school entrance exams, high school essay writing, practice completion of high school applications, and interview prep for high school admissions.
  • Mathematics

    The semester begins with the prerequisites for building a strong foundation in algebra. Students are challenged to explore their sense of numbers, describe patterns, and evaluate variables, exponents, numerical expressions, and inequalities. They begin to think algebraically as they investigate repeated multiplication using the formulas for area and perimeter, as well as powers, exponents and the order of operations. Students learn how to evaluate variable expressions, perform operations with integers, and plot points in a coordinate plane. Students use mathematical properties to simplify variable expressions and write and solve one- and two-step equations and inequality equations. Student work is extended and deepened through the Great Mathematician Project (GMP). This process requires students to independently research the life of a mathematician. Students present their findings at the GMP expo and created numerical expressions and equations relating to the mathematician of their choice. In addition to nightly homework assignments, weekly quizzes, and tests, the Mathematics curriculum is further differentiated through independent work in the Enrichment Activity Center and research for the Great Mathematician Project.

    Student work was extended and deepened through the Great Mathematician Project. For these independent investigations, students were challenged to think algebraically, and integrate algebraic concepts into artifacts that they constructed. For the Box Project this entailed making rectangular boxes. This process required a review and application of operations with fractions and decimals, and calculation of costs for cuts, value of scraps, profit, perimeter, area, volume, and surface area. Students created the content for these rectangular boxes by writing and providing the solutions to three numerical equations and word problems related to topics of their choice from studies across the curriculum. For the Most Famous Entertainer Project, students researched entertainers with the same first or last name, determined their net worth, and compared their contributions to society beyond entertainment as social activists, volunteers, or philanthropists. This project helped inform students’ choices for the independent inquiry required for the Great Mathematician Project. In addition to nightly homework assignments, weekly quizzes, and tests, the seventh-grade mathematics curriculum was further differentiated through independent work in the Enrichment Activity Center. The year in pre-algebra ended with an introduction to plane geometry, linear equations, and radical numbers.
  • Music

    This semester the curricular focus on Philadelphia gave seventh-graders the opportunity to study the history of Jazz with an emphasis on the blues and the Big Band Swing Era. Within this unit, students increased their proficiency and technique with mallets on the soprano, alto, and bass xylophones and metallophones. Students
    had the opportunity to play the 12-bar blues scale and harmonic progressions in different keys. They explored the instrumentation of a Jazz Big Band, swing eighth notes, syncopation, melodic notation, and improvisation all incorporated with arrangements of jazz standards.

    Our integrated curriculum used in the study of India has given the students the musical opportunity to study the Tabla Drum. Students used the GarageBand software program on their computers to create sound designs with various musical forms: AB, ABA, Rondo, and Rondo-Sonata. The musical concepts of form, dynamics, timbre, and contrast, as well as, the recording studio techniques of panning the audio spectrum, working with faders, and mixing were employed to create a final digital musical file ready for release in iTunes. The final project of the year was the 7th grade’s integrated study of Africa. This study has given the students the opportunity to explore West African songs with melodic notation on the G clef with both pentatonic and major scales. The playing of percussion instruments and the reading of a musical score has included both pitched and un-pitched instruments, with an emphasis on mallet technique with xylophones and drum circle techniques on the congas, tubanos, and djembes in three and four part arrangements.

  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Students participate in a yearlong Performing Arts Class elective. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division and each group performs at Winter and Spring concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with necessary materials, willingly take risks, and demonstrate that they have made progress with regard to relevant skills.

  • Science

    Seventh grade ecology is a project-based ecology unit focusing on organisms’ needs for survival and what happens when those needs are not met. Over the course of the unit, we will discover why food is important, how the structure and the function of organisms help them to eat and reproduce, and finally, what the relationship
    between organisms can look like. At the unit’s conclusion, students will dive deep into the world of invasive species and re-imagine the marine ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands by creating their own invasive species to disrupt the food web.

    Spring semester life science focused on the study of genetics and natural selection, and kicked off with students exploring the idea of inherited versus acquired traits, particularly as they relate to food preference. This led to a deeper study of the language of genetics. Students gained a fluent understanding of how to interpret karyotypes and pedigree charts in order to explore variation in traits. From their foundational work in genetics, students begin to examine how organisms inherit traits from their parents, and how dominant and recessive alleles interact to produce variation in a population. By revisiting natural selection through the lens of genetics, students were able to see how selective pressures affect the genetic makeup of a population and can result in the emergence of new species. The central question students explored throughout the semester was: Why do we look the way we do?

  • Social Emotional Learning

    The Social Emotional Learning curriculum aims to help students understand that the decisions they make every day impact themselves and their community. The overarching goals of the year focus on personal responsibility and strategies to manage common stressors, such as school work and relationships. This is achieved through discussions of a variety of topics during Life Skills and advisory, including values, communication, emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships (friendships), and gender roles/identity. Students have the opportunity to learn and practice effective stress management and communication skills.

    The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum presented students with opportunities to participate in dialogues regarding issues that affect positive social interactions. Working in groups with grade-level teachers and the Social-Emotional Learning team, students progressed toward SEL objectives in areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, decision making, and responsibility. The Grade 7 SEL curriculum, implemented in conjunction with Life Skills, focused on the high school placement process. Lessons included how to research high school options, mock test-taking for high school entrance exams, high school essay writing, high school applications, and interview preparation.

  • Social Studies

    At the outset of Social Studies, the theme of the year, Self + Society: The Courage to Act, is introduced. Students explore different types of courage, looking at examples from both past and present. Discussing social activism across time and place, students underscore the importance of decisions that individuals make or elect not to make, as well as how individuals and groups can create social change. As they study a unit on the American Revolution,
    students are challenged to identify the complex decisions of the principals involved and realize that outcomes are far from guaranteed. They evaluate causes and effects related to how and why different figures took real and significant risks in pursuing independence. The events leading up to the American War of Independence are introduced and critically examined through primary and secondary sources. Throughout the study, students
    analyze these documents with a curious, critical lens to deepen understanding. There is an emphasis on often untold perspectives and “hidden” historical narratives related to the period, with a focus beyond the traditional, “master narrative” that centers the “founding fathers” and excludes other key groups such as women, African
    Americans, and indigenous peoples. In another unit of study, “master narratives” and stereotypes related to the continent of Africa are unpacked and challenged as students learn about the kingdom of Benin, focusing on the unique aspects of Edo culture. Thoughtful analysis of art and artifacts, especially the “Benin bronzes,” provides
    students with context to better understand Edo society. Throughout the semester, various independent and collaborative projects offer students opportunities to sharpen their research, presentation, and cooperative skills. Students also frequently engage with current events and pressing issues, which are a crucial element of classroom

    This past year, seventh graders investigated and critically analyzed events, dilemmas, and persistent issues throughout history relating to the seventh grade theme, Self and Society: The Courage to Act. Students strove to understand history and current events using a variety of primary and secondary sources. They examined how power and perspective affect the telling of a story, whether past or present. They also looked at ways pre- and post-colonial history shape nations and their people. This semester, students studied social movements in the thirteen colonies, India, and West Africa. Through our units of study, students explored collective responses to European imperialism and colonialism’s lasting impact on Indian and West African societies, with a focus on methods of resistance, decolonization efforts, and the challenging of dominant, “master” narratives that are still prevalent today. Various projects gave seventh graders opportunities to make choices according to their interests, strengths, and passions, as well as sharpen their research, critical analysis, creative writing, and presentation skills.

  • Spanish Language/Literacy

    The seventh-graders begin the year by describing themselves, their friends and family using full sentences and connectors to form engaging and rich phrases. To further gain more ways of expression, students investigate both their own school and a school in Cali, Colombia. The focus of this progression is for students to be able to sustain a conversation where they ask and answer open-ended questions. Through audio recordings, videos, and in-class
    activities, students engage in expressive conversations about school life. They then move on to explore their city. Acquiring city vocabulary, students practice how to ask and give directions to get around the city. Through map work and navigating various Latin American-influenced neighborhoods in New York City, they then move on to South American cities.

    This city unit is used as a springboard into a study of the independence efforts led by Simón Bolívar and the formation of La Gran Colombia. This particular focus serves as an interdisciplinary connection with their Social Studies unit on Philadelphia, thus helping to further reinforce important themes in both domains. Students are
    presented with the challenge of engaging in spontaneous conversations when discussing these historical events
    and expressing their ideas and viewpoints.

    Students begin the second semester by researching Mexico’s geography and culture. They focus on a Mexican city of their choice and furthered their research. Students collaborate in partnerships to create a travel agency to promote the city they learned about. This information about Mexico serves as a springboard to study the Mexican Revolution.

    Students learn about the Mexican Revolution through a Mexican soap-opera style script. They enact Pancho Villa and some of the other main figures from this Revolution. This unit is concluded with the study of the Muralist Movement in Mexico. Students are exposed to artists such as Diego Rivera, and murals that express the remaining sentiments of the Revolution. Students demonstrate newly acquired vocabulary and cultural knowledge by writing an expressive and dramatic soap opera of their own.

    During the remainder of the school year, students delve into study of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its connections to West Africa. Students explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its lasting impact on the area.

    The main linguistic focus of the second semester is continuing to develop reading, writing, and verbal skills through primary-source and student-generated materials. New verb tenses, vocabulary, and grammar rules are introduced throughout the second semester to enrich students’ expressive abilities.

  • Visual Arts

    In the art studio this year, seventh-graders continue to develop skills while working with materials. They add to their expressive repertoire and strengthen their confidence as artists. Students begin the year with a challenge to design letter forms and create a typographical design to represent and express their interests and personality. The
    second unit is an exploration of the materials and techniques of watercolor painting. In a series of abstract watercolor paintings, students explore the expressive potential of the nature of watercolor in paintings inspired by jazz. This project connects Visual Arts, Music, and Technology. Students discuss possible connections between
    music and painting and view works by artists who have been influenced by music. Students use digital images of their
    paintings as backgrounds for Big Band digital collages in Music. Next is a unit focusing on observational drawing. Students make a series of observational drawings using a variety of media employing lines, shapes, textures, light and shadow, while observing objects from a fixed perspective. The final project before winter break is integrated with their Social Studies unit on the Benin culture. Students draw copies of a Benin Palace Plaque in order to understand the use of pattern, three dimensional relief, and stylized features. Finally they
    design their own personal Plaque and create a red clay relief sculpture. After the winter break students begin the Simón Bolívar project integrated with their Spanish class. Students study the life and historical significance of Bolivar. Then they create their own multimedia relief painting expressing their knowledge of, and a personal connection to Bolívar.

    Grade 7 students began the new semester with the multimedia painting project titled “Simón Bolívar History Painting.” This project was integrated with Spanish Class. In Spanish class Grade 7 students studied the Venezuelan independence leader Simón Bolívar, and focused on his remarkable journey leading his army and their families over the Andes Mountains from Venezuela to Colombia. Each student created a character and wrote a journal account of their character’s imagined experience following Bolívar over the Andes Mountains. His strategically bold decision to cross the mountains in order to take the Spanish by surprise in Colombia, tested his followers to the brink of human endurance. The plan was successful, leading to a decisive victory in the struggle for independence from Spain. In Art Class, Grade 7 students expressed themselves in a multimedia painting about their character’s experience. Students viewed and discussed History Paintings by artists ranging from Goya to Picasso, including Tito Salas. In a multi step process of sketching, layering cardboard, collage and painting, students created their own multi media history paintings. Students also finished their work on the pottery wheel and glazed their pots. The final project was coordinated with the Grade 7 study of India and integrated with the Tabla Sound Design project in Music. Students learned about traditional Indian textile block-printing motifs in preparation for creating their own print. They created original designs for their block prints and created an original print composition based on rhythm, repetition, and variation. In Music class, their finished print became a visual component of their Tabla Sound Design.

  • Wellness

    Grade 7 students began their year in Wellness learning about and participating in a variety of fitness activities. Since one goal of the Wellness program is to help students find ways to stay healthy throughout their lifetimes, students complete assessments that reveal their levels of fitness and give each student a benchmark from which to compare their scores throughout the year. Students will return to the fitness assessment during Spring Semester so
    they can see how the physical activities in which they participate throughout the year affect their fitness levels.

    After the first foray into fitness, seventh-graders focus on the skills, rules, and teamwork involved in team sports. Specifically, students are immersed in the study of soccer. While they study West Africa in the classroom, they work on the skills of the sport and read about the sport’s impact on people’s lives. Students look further to South
    Africa, social justice, and the effect soccer had on political prisoners who were imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. Students recreate the Makana Football Association, founded by inmates imprisoned on the island. They create their own soccer league, practice, play, and conduct a tournament under their own rules and laws.

    Additionally, at different points in the semester, students participate in several cooperative games and activities. These cooperative games teach students how to play with, rather than against, each other. The focus is shifted from the outcome of a game to the experience of playing it. The cooperative games are designed to build a student’s self-worth through cooperation, acceptance, inclusion, and fun.

    During the second semester, Grade 7 students finished their study of rock climbing. In addition to contributing to students’ overall physical fitness, rock climbing provides opportunities for social-emotional skill building, including self-knowledge, self-confidence, and self-reliance. Ultimately, climbing activities provided a setting for real-life experiences including meeting challenges, traveling beyond one’s comfort zone, and developing character. After rock climbing, students’ focus returned to the skills, rules, and teamwork involved in team sports. Specifically, students were immersed in the study of cricket. As they studied India in the classroom, they worked on the skills of the sport, including bowling and batting. Additionally, students watched the cricket documentary “Beyond All Boundaries,” and read about the sport’s impact on India’s people. Finally, students revisited the fitness unit to compare their fitness scores in the Spring to those in the Fall. They were encouraged to reflect on the changes in their scores, and to plan for growth and maintenance in the future.

Grade 8

List of 12 items.

  • English

    We launched our year in English by reading poems by Billy Collins and Walt Whitman as an introduction to poetry and to reinforce literary criticism techniques begun last year. Reader response criticism is a new approach for the students, but they still have opportunities to perform other methods, including formalism (based on literary devices employed by writers), gender studies, economics, and historical criticism. In addition to this writing, students also choose among original, creative pieces inspired by our readings.

    Our first long work, Walter Dean Myers’ “Monster”, spurred discussion of many compelling topics. Ken Burns’ “Central Park Five” was an ideal source for interdisciplinary work with Social Studies, and a catalyst for various writing exercises. Here, and with other selected texts, themes revolve around our year-long exploration of
    social justice.

    We have begun work on grammar with an eye towards editing for usage errors. The students’ own essays provide the “text” for this ongoing unit. Ultimately, students may be able to use increasingly sophisticated structures intentionally, but can meet with success simply by incorporating them intuitively.

    Finally, students continued a vigorous independent reading program, They read in school and are expected to read at home They should track and review their reading online.

    After Winter Beak, students initiated their work on Richard Wright’s “Black Boy.” They wrote essays examining various characters in the text, employing elements of descriptive language. For enrichment, students considered other texts by authors whose work or was influenced by Wright. These writers included Jesmyn Ward, Ralph Ellison, Angie Thomas, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston. Students independently developed their own points of comparison between the texts, drawing on what they found compelling in each.

    Students also studied Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, examining the events leading to MLK’s writing and the letter’s place in the Civil Rights movement. In addition to gaining important background for their future consideration of the Childrens’ March on Birmingham in Social Studies, students came to appreciate the rhetoric and intentionality of the “Letter”, identifying various argumentative techniques that King employs.

    The winter grammar unit challenged students to identify parts of speech and diagram the parts of sentences. They then focused on structures - primarily phrases - that they can use to achieve greater clarity, precision, and conciseness in their own writing. The “text” they used was compiled from content in Social Studies, Math, and Science. In the final months, they will explore the most common errors in usage, adding to a list of “mistakes we used to make.” Ultimately, all of their grammar work was designed to improve proofreading and editing skills, as students seek to effectively craft, and sometimes combine, their own sentences. Writing is a process, and the goal was to be experienced in every stage of it.

    In April, students began our study of Maus I, again with an eye towards interdisciplinary work. The themes they considered informed their experience of the Holocaust Museum on our trip to D.C. Their vigorous independent reading program continued to the end of the year.

  • Life Skills

    The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum is taught to students during Life Skills class, which includes Gender Sexuality Education (GSE) and topics that provide students the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills necessary to make decisions that promote a healthy body and healthy mind. The curriculum focused on Gender Sexuality Education from January to May. GSE educators from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health collaborated with The School to teach topics that included relationship management, types of communication, sexual orientation, decision making/sexual decision making, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) facts and prevention. Life Skills content was covered from May until the end of the school year. Topics covered during Life Skills classes included the transition to high school, stress management/organization, nutrition and healthy habits, and drug and alcohol prevention. During Life Skills, students progressed towards meeting objectives in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, decision making, and responsibility.

  • Mathematics

    The semester begins with a review of order of operations and an introduction to set theory. Students learn about the real number system and many of its subsets, as well as the properties of real numbers. They then move on to solving multi-step equations involving the distributive property, fractions, decimals, and multiple variables (literal equations). They finish their unit on equations with a review of ratios, rates, proportions, and percents. Students then translate their skills with solving equations to solve multi-step inequalities, compound inequalities, and absolute value equations and inequalities. They also look at classic algebraic problem-solving topics such as distance, rate, and time. For each of these topics, students use their knowledge of set theory to represent solutions
    in multiple ways.

    After their extensive study of equations and inequalities, they continue with an introduction to mathematical functions. Students are introduced to the concepts of relations and functions, domain and range, and writing function rules. They then explore properties of linear functions and their graphs. Students apply their knowledge
    of functions and the coordinate plane to solve systems of equations graphically, in addition to solving by substitution and elimination. Throughout each unit, students are encouraged to explain and write about their thoughts, ideas, and processes, and to reflect on the practical applications of the content covered in class.

    The second semester began with a unit on linear functions. Students learned how to apply and graph various forms of linear equations, studied properties of parallel and perpendicular lines, and found lines of best fit of scatter plots. Students applied their knowledge of linear equations to solve systems of equations by graphing, substitution, and elimination.

    In February, students began a computer programming project using processing. Students wrote programs in Java to create interactive artwork in the coordinate plane. They learned about many fundamental concepts of computer science and their relation to algebraic functions and broader mathematics.

    After Spring Break, students looked at properties of exponents, exponential functions, and exponential growth and decay. This informed the following unit on operations with polynomials. Students learned how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide polynomials, as well as several methods for factoring polynomials.

    The semester continued with a comprehensive study of quadratic equations and functions. Students solved quadratic equations by factoring, completing the square, and using the quadratic formula. They concluded by studying the graphs of quadratic functions and their properties.

  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Students participate in a yearlong Performing Arts Class elective. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division and each group performs at Winter and Spring concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with necessary materials, willingly take risks, and demonstrate that they have made progress with regard to relevant skills.

  • Music

    The music curriculum for the fall semester of Grade 8 included a mini-course selected by the students. The elective music offerings provided the students with the experience of choosing classes that suited their interests. The Music Department offered four choices: Community Fun: Embracing and Engaging Our Elders, History of
    Your Music, Music of Chance, and Songwriters Workshop. Courses are hands-on and experiential, ranging from research techniques to a wide variety of compositional techniques.

    During the second semester of Music, the 8th-grade students dedicated their time and energy to the production of 8th Grade Musical, performed at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre in May. Each child actively engaged with all aspects of the theater including costumes, set design, publicity, lighting, sound, vocal production, acting, and staging.


  • Science

    The first semester in Grade 8 Science includes an investigation of basic chemistry: the study of matter. Students begin with an examination of the properties of matter, and consider the differences between physical and chemical properties. They focus on the physical property of density and test their scientific skills in an
    investigation of the density of various substances. They determine the density of nine different materials, and use that information to predict how the objects would act when placed into a variety of liquids. They examine how different states of matter act and what causes matter to change from one state to another. This is followed by an effort to classify matter into categories, which contributes to the beginning of an understanding of the Periodic Table of Elements. Most recently, they have been studying the development of human understanding of the atom.

    In the Spring Semester students will continue their study of matter, by examining how and why certain atoms bond to form molecules while others do not, and investigating how chemical reactions cause matter to completely alter its properties. Throughout the study, students capitalize on the scientific inquiry skills they have been
    developing over their time at The School. Asking and testing good scientific questions is a crucial skill that is continually reinforced, as students prepare to continue their scientific education in high school.

    In the second semester, students continued building on the work they did in the fall, applying newfound understanding of atomic theory and structure. They began by exploring the series of discoveries that led to current understanding of atomic structure. Then, they investigated how atoms bond to form molecules, studied both ionic and covalent compounds, and learned how the molecular structure of each dictates the properties of the actual substance.

    After returning from Spring Break, students turned attention to developing understanding of chemical bonding and to a study of chemical reactions. They learned how to preserve the law of conservation of matter by balancing chemical equations. They then wrapped up a formal chemistry study with an examination of five types of chemical reactions, and an investigation into the role of catalysts, reaction rates, and limiting reactants.

    Throughout their study, hands-on lab experience and critical analysis skills were stressed. Careful observation and analysis was regularly required. For example, they created a precipitate and conducted a quantitative analysis of the reaction to determine how much of the reactants they recovered. They also tested the conductivity of various liquid compounds and aqueous solutions, and used their data to determine whether the substances were likely to be bonded ionically or covalently. In the chemical equations unit, students performed a number of reactions, and developed the ability to predict which reactions will proceed and which will not.

    Over the course of the whole year, students have been required to share their understanding and their conclusions both through written lab analyses, and by articulating their ideas aloud during class discussions. Content mastery was assessed through a combination of their labwork, classwork, oral and written participation, as well as formal tests and quizzes.

  • Social Action Project

    In the second half of the year, the students spent considerable time developing their Social Action Projects (SAP). Building on The School’s project-based-learning approach, students learned how to identify a passion, and then take an idea and put it into action. Working with one or more adults at the school as mentors, students created a blueprint for their project, did research on their topic, identified and strategized how to effect positive change, took socially-and-environmentally-responsible action, and presented their work to the larger school community on June 7. In addition to becoming empowered by the knowledge that one can make a difference in the world, skills learned included but are not limited to: analysis of stakeholder interests, research, formal writing, problem solving, group dynamics, organization, action, and presentation.

  • Social Emotional Learning

    The Social Emotional Learning curriculum focuses on supporting students as they prepare for the high school placement process and manage relationships. The objective is to help students develop both academic and social skills necessary to navigate this transition, including how to effectively weigh risks and develop healthy strategies to deal with stress, learn executive skills to balance multiple demands, and manage relationships effectively. 

    The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum presented students with opportunities to participate in dialogues regarding issues affecting positive social interactions. Working in groups with grade-level teachers and Social Emotional Learning Teachers, students progressed toward SEL objectives in areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, decision-making, and responsibility.

    Students then focus on the transition to high school. The objective is to help students develop both academic and social skills necessary to navigate this transition, including how to effectively develop healthy strategies for dating and relationships, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, sexuality and disease prevention. Students also learned and had the opportunity to practice stress management and communication strategies.

  • Social Studies

    The Grade 8 Social Studies curriculum starts with the concept of government. They begin with the birth of the nation’s government and continue looking at how government works. At the end of the unit, students examine various Constitutional issues, and several Supreme Court cases and the implications of when they are
    overturned. Later in the semester, students begin to analyze the context leading up to the Civil War and the significance of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments in the battle over slavery. They also examine the effects of these amendments on equal citizenship of African-Americans and their lasting impact through the Reconstruction Era, the Civil Rights movement, and into today.

    Following the study of the U.S. Constitution, students explored the American Civil War through the civil rights movement. This covered slavery through abolition, as well as the Reconstruction period, the Jim Crow era, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. These events and ideas, along with current events issues, helped students understand how and why history is important to society today and in the future.

    Concluding the year, students examined the causes of World War II and the Holocaust. They analyzed and studied the rise of totalitarian dictatorships and the events that led to the Holocaust. Furthermore, they considered the importance of personal reflection as they discussed how these powerful world events shape understanding of social justice and inspire people to promote equality in their own communities. They end-of-year trip to Washington, D.C directly reflected their study of social action and included a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as other museums. Students were compelled to consider the concept of reflection as they focused on their individual and collective roles and responsibilities to help create a more just society.

  • Spanish Language/Literacy

    During the first part of the school year, the Spanish Language curriculum connects students to the grade-wide study of Social Justice through an exploration of Latino immigration to the United States. Students answer questions such as, “To where do Latinos immigrate and why?” “What is the American Dream and does it really
    exist?” and “What are some of the challenges Latino immigrants might face in this country?” Students then move into discussions on relevant current events such as immigration reform. Finally, they shift their focus from the national to the urban as they examine and discuss the richness and diversity of Latino New York City. Students expand their learning of Spanish through speaking, reading and writing activities. They read and discuss articles from authentic digital and print sources. Students study the present progressive, preterite and imperfect tenses, direct object pronouns, and comparatives, among other grammar concepts. 

    Eighth-graders kicked off the second part of the school year with an oral history project. The project included a research component, an interview, and multiple written components. It was conducted entirely in Spanish. Students used what they learned during their study of immigration to help shape interview questions. Additionally, they applied what they had learned of the past tense throughout their writing.

    After concluding this project, the grade embarked on a unit entitled Los latinos y la lucha por los derechos civiles. This study developed in tandem with their work around the civil rights movement in Social Studies. Students discussed, in Spanish, questions such as: What are civil rights? How do we defend our rights? Who were some important Latino civil rights leaders and why were they important? How have Latinos in the U.S. contributed to the fight for civil rights? What are some modern civil rights issues that are important to Latinos? Students discussed the groundbreaking case Méndez v. Westminster, the life and works of César Chávez, and the current debate around farmworkers’ rights in the U.S. Students explored Dulce Pinzón’s photography through the virtual exhibit “Latino Superheroes,” challenging themselves to analyze the motivation behind Pinzón’s work.

    During this unit of study students continued the work they began in the fall with the past tense. They discussed the different usages of the preterite and the imperfect, and they learned to identify each tense in text. They learned how to manipulate both regular and irregular verbs in the past. Additionally, students learned how to manipulate direct and indirect object pronouns and form comparative statements in Spanish.

    During the rest of the school year students delved into a study of poetry from the Spanish-speaking world. They explored the work of diverse poets beginning with Latin American poets such as Luis Alberto Ambroggio and U. S. Latino poets such as Gina Valdés, and ending with poetry from Spain written around the time of the Spanish Civil War. During this unit they also continued deepening their understanding of Spanish language structures by learning how to identify and use informal commands, as well as learning how to form the future and conditional tenses in Spanish.

    Finally, students worked with partners to create their own Spanish children’s books, applying their knowledge of multiple time frames in their writing.

  • Visual Arts

    Grade 8 students began the year in Visual Art with an exploration of negative and positive space in a black and white collage. They built on their experience with negative and positive shapes to create their own icon designs for their diploma and graduation invitations. Students then discussed the work of El Anatsui, and explored the
    meaning of transformation in art. Starting with a cardboard box, students made changes to transform it into their own work of art. The remainder of the semester was dedicated to art electives where students have a chance to experience different creative mediums. Students divided into four groups and explored one of the following
    courses: Altered Books, Printmaking, Fiber Arts, or Drawing. After Winter Break, Grade 8 students will brainstorm and plan for the set design of the annual musical performance.

    The eighth-graders began the second semester designing the set and props for the class production of the musical performance. During IPW, students worked together to realize their ideas by painting and constructing the set and props for the musical. This winter, students explored visual storytelling through the graphic novel format. They wrote their own narratives and created an original graphic novel. This spring, students had the opportunity to choose from four elective courses: Paper Mache Sculpture, Handbuilding with Clay, 2-D Collage, and Digital Photography. After electives, their final project will be a self portrait in different mediums.

  • Wellness

    Students begin the semester working on cooperative games, and continue to work on positive effective communication strategies and working as a team, with emphasis on the theme Social Justice. Next, students work on fitness. They focus on the components of fitness (cardiovascular strength, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility). The third unit is Create a Game. As an example, students study the game of speedball. This game blends the skills and rules of basketball, football, and soccer into one fast-paced activity. Students are assessed on their knowledge throughout the year through written assignments, quizzes, self-assessments and skill tests.

    During the second half of the year, 8th-graders in Wellness had the unique opportunity to experience a variety of games and activities. Students worked together in small groups to create their own unique game or activity through the create-a-game unit. These projects gave students the chance to create a game by combining the skills, strategies, and rules from previous sports or activities they participated in during Wellness classes. The content included teamwork and the components of fitness (muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular). Then they began rock climbing. They emphasized the safety and teamwork of challenging one’s physical and mental limits, while still creating a safe environment.

    The goal for students in this final semester is to leave school with the ability to maintain their physically active lifestyles as they move forward in their lives, and to maintain understanding of the seven dimensions of Wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, and environmental.

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