Academics

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, and fluid leadership opportunities through a wide array of athletics, clubs, curricular and annual activities such as TEDxYouth Day. TEDxYouth is an independently organized one-day conference each fall for Middle Division students and TSC alumni featuring live speakers, performances, and workshops.

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 causelocal, regional, national or internationalthey're 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 preperation 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. 
 
Belinda Nicholson
Middle Division Director

Academics: Middle Division

Grade 6

List of 10 items.

  • English

    During the first two months of school, students engage in a study of identity in English class. We look at the ways in which authors portray characters in the short stories they craft, compelling students to examine their own emerging identities. Students also explore identity in poetry. Jumping off from their summer study of “Shakespeare’s Secret,” students start the year reading a collection of pieces by authors such as Ray Bradbury, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Victor Hernandez Cruz, and others. Students read these pieces to gain a deeper understanding of characterization, figurative and descriptive language, and dialogue. Aligning with our literary studies, students write a collection of pieces including poems, a short story ending, and a scene script. We begin reading the shared text “Home of the Brave,” by Katherine Applegate. Students begin to annotate this and other literary pieces in order to identify salient themes, imagery, evidence and claims. Students independently read a variety of self-selected books. Through assignments involving personal identities and an in-depth examination of stereotypes in advertising, students explore the difference between assumptions and observations, learning to specifically distinguish between the subjective and the objective in their own writing.

    Students engage in the reading of “The Giver,” the Newbery Medal-winning novel by Lois Lowry. They examine several aspects of society, including health care, leisure activities, judicial systems, family structure, education, selection of leaders, and careers. Students carefully select their topics and explore how the topics are portrayed in “The Giver” as compared to aspects of American society, culminating in a formal compare-contrast essay. To deepen exploration of the value of collective and individual memories, students engage in an interdisciplinary project exploring LightLogo. They program designs that form an inventive narrative. These narratives involve interviewing someone of their grandparents’ generation to capture and preserve the memory of the previous generations. In addition, students begin reading “Romeo and Juliet.” Through pre-reading activities and footage from a recent film version, along with audio recordings, students are introduced to Shakespeare’s language, key characters in the play, and the overall plot line. Students demonstrate their understanding of the text through writing, discussion, and acting. Students study the power dynamics of the era, as expressed through sword-play and 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

    As part of our exploration of number theory, students explore 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. Students use these concepts to solve real-world problems. Students extend their 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. Students create and solve real-world fraction problems that use all four operations. For enrichment, students explore continued fractions, jigsaw-puzzle problems, and Euclid's Algorithm.

    The calendar year ends with a unit on decimals. Students strengthen 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 fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. For enrichment, students also learn to predict which fractions will have terminating decimal representations and which will have repeating decimal representations.

    The second semester of Grade 6 math encompasses many different topics, connections, and problem-solving skills. Students study percentages and their representations, including various real life examples of discount, tax, and tip. They experiment with probability by examining and perfecting our play in games involving dice, coins, and other probabilistic events. Students also begin to determine situations where order does and doesn't matter when calculating probability. Next, students embark on the 4-triangle project where characteristics of polygons and sum of interior angles are discovered. This begins a geometry unit that covers two-dimensional geometry, including angles, triangles, quadrilaterals, circles, area, and perimeter (including circumference). Students are then able to elicit formulas for surface area and volume by building upon previous knowledge learned in two-dimensional geometry. Using Geometors Sketchpad, students use their knowledge of surface area to design their own three-dimensional artwork. Students then spend time exploring graphs and charts and how to read them. In preparation for students’ first unit in Grade 7, the year ends with an extension of our positive and negative number studies.
  • Music

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

    Grade 6 students begin the second semester with a comparative study of Renaissance and modern instruments. They discover that the ancestors of the modern orchestra have similar sounds and can often be grouped in today’s orchestral families. Continuing with compare and contrast, students hear several versions of music based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In preparation for a curriculum share students also learn pieces from Arab countries. Students focus on improvisation on barred instruments and drums. During the final months of school, students work on a square dance unit, learning relevant vocabulary, and bring their new dance moves to a year-end buddy share with Grade 2.
  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Each student is given the unique opportunity to participate in a Performing Arts Elective. The following ensembles are offered: Instrumental Ensemble, Dance Ensemble, Concert Choir, Concert Band, Drama and Jazz Ensemble. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division, and each group will have the opportunity to perform at two evening concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with instruments or other necessary materials, take risks willingly and demonstrate that they’ve made personal progress with regard to relevant skills.
  • Science

    The Grade 6 science curriculum begins with an introduction to scientific method. We look at the cyclical nature of the process, from questions to hypotheses to tests to interpretations and onto further questions. We move on to a brief introduction to atomic theory and the periodic table before beginning our study of water and weather, a unit that 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. Students 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 technology to carry out their investigations.

    The second semester marks the beginning of our unit on space. Students start off by learning about our own solar system. They compare the scale of the solar system to the scale of the galaxy, and the distances between galaxies. Students contemplate the number of stars and planets, using a range of computer simulations and video clips to comprehend the enormity. Next begins a detailed study of the process by which stars and planets are formed and die. Students learn about the role fusion plays, and the stages of progressively heavier atoms forming in the core of stars. They learn about Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Black Dwarfs, and Black Holes. Expert physicists and astronomers from Columbia University visit classrooms and answer students’ questions. This leads into a study of forces, of Galileo and Newton, and their contribution to modernity. Students experiment with trolleys and ramps and pendulums.

    Students are encouraged to explain their ideas and record their questions. Emphasis is put on the ability to explain sequences of events clearly, and to seek meaningful answers to questions through research and by making connections between scientific principles taught throughout their school career.
  • 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 a part of this diverse city affects self-expression and understanding. Through the study and analysis of advertising and current events, students also learn about the dangers of making assumptions, expressing bias, and believing stereotypes. They compare and assess different news sources, with the understanding that the same event might be portrayed very differently depending on the media’s bias and perspective. Students also begin their study of the monotheistic religions, and are building research skills such as formulating research questions and effectively taking notes for research purposes.

    In the second half of the year, students continue to study the concept of identity in the context of medieval Spain. They develop research and note-taking skills when presenting about different religions and writing about the history of Cordoba in the Islamic Empire. Studentss consider how tensions between religions might develop and ultimately bring down the intellectual prosperity of a nation. They examine the Spanish Inquisition, the struggles that many Jews and Muslims faced when forced to convert to Christianity, and the way their descendants are currently redefining themselves based on this history. After studying the Inquisition and the Dark Ages, students turn their focus to the European Renaissance in Italy. With a focus on the Scientific Revolution, students study primary and secondary sources, look at new technologies such as the printing press, and analyze art and architecture, to come to an understanding of how ideas developed during this time period have affected our contemporary world view. Students study the trial of Galileo, demonstrating their understanding of his ideas and inventions, and what it took for an individual to depart from common beliefs and expectations.
  • Spanish Language/Literacy

    Students start 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 ways to put together information about themselves by analyzing different ways to use pronouns and verbs while writing the poems. Students integrate technology by using apps like StoryRobe, Explain Everything and ComicLife. They also use sites such as Tagul, Vocaroo, Kahoot and Socrative in order to review concepts and make oral and written assignments. This allows students to listen to their pronunciation and their classmates’ work. Students connect to a 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 how to make sure adjectives and nouns agree. They study basic questions and build vocabulary through activities requiring listening, reading, and speaking skills.

    In connection with a study of Florence, students explore and analyze the Spanish Renaissance. This includes study of the biography and work of the renowned Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Sixth-graders study Velázquez’s life and describe his art using varied vocabulary and grammatical structures. Students learn to analyze Renaissance paintings using prepositions, regular, and irregular verbs in the present tense such as gustar, querer, tener, ir, ser and estar. They learn the expression hay (there is) as well. Sixth-graders move on to a study of the geography, art and culture of Mexico during pre-Columbian times. They also learn how to use definite and indefinite articles and practice noun-adjective agreement while using home-related vocabulary. Students incorporate different activities that allow them to use and practice their oral and written communication skills. Through these activities students are encouraged to take risks to enhance their skills.

  • Visual Arts

    Sixth-graders begin the fall semester with an examination of the grade-wide theme Identity. Students experiment with ways to visually represent who they are by creating Memory Maps of events that shape their identity. They are encouraged to use a variety of drawing techniques and materials to create these works. 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 detailed self-portrait using tempura paint.

    Grade 6 students continue to develop creative and critical thinking skills while reinforcing learning to work in the shared art studio. Recognizing that religious and social beliefs often influenced artistic expression, students study principles of Islamic art in collaboration with their Social Studies unit. Students begin creating geometric designs using Turtle Art. This allows them to create repetition and symmetry easily. They then take their designs and 3D print stamps that are used to create ceramic tiles. They not only think about the shapes used to create their patterns, but also discuss color and how that can affect the pattern. Working collaboratively in small groups, students create short stop-animation films, allowing them to each take on a specific role in the process. Sixth-graders are also introduced to wheel-working, creating many pots using this new technique.
  • Wellness

    The importance of cooperation, and utilizing effective communication strategies to learn as a community, are emphasized. Students begin learning about the five health-related fitness components and how these apply to their identity. They engage in mindfulness practices to help them be self-reflective, be present, and promote self and community kindness. Students work on basic skills; they learn the rules and parameters of activities, such as volleyball and basketball. During this process they learn and practice social and personal responsibility.

    In the second semester, students continue to work on communication strategies in a team setting as part of a larger community. They move into a lacrosse unit that emphasizes healthy competition and tournament play. Students deepen their understanding of the differences between men’s and women’s lacrosse, and construct ideas about how to change the sport. They expand their understanding of their bodies through integrated learning on the skeletal system, muscle pairs, and body functions. They finish the year with an introduction to the concept of lifetime sports in connection with a unit on softball.

Grade 7

List of 10 items.

  • English

    Students begin the year in English reading poems by Audre Lorde and Gary Soto, and short stories by Sandra Cisneros, Kurt Vonnegut and Langston Hughes. These pieces tie into work students are doing in Social Studies, and the Grade 7 theme of Self + Society: The Courage to Act. Emphasis is on posing questions and developing interpretations. In addition to literary analysis, students write either a poem or short story based on Lorde and Soto; a description using sensory and figurative language; a new scene or alternate ending for one of the short stories; and a brief interior monologue. During these initial weeks of school, students also launch their year-long independent reading program; set up independent reading pages (linked to the 7th-grade independent reading site); and create writing logs where students will reflect on the writing pieces they do, identify writing strengths, and develop goals to help them grow throughout the year. Student begin to read Gabriel García Márquez’ early work “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.” They will be deepen their literary analysis and write two essays during this unit, as well as continue to write creative pieces. This unit will tie into an observational drawing unit in Visual Arts, observational work in Science, and work students are doing in Spanish class. During this time, they will begin a study of common writing and speaking mistakes, and grammar. After Márquez, students will choose 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.”

    The focus of Grade 7 English is on building skills for reading critically and writing effective expository essays. The class challenges students to move beyond plot summary towards textual analysis and interpretation. During class discussions, students practice skills of informed, shared, purposeful inquiry using academic language to express their ideas in preparation for writing analytical essays. Students practice formalist criticism, identifying those literary devices that authors use to convey meaning, and accounting for these structures in their written work. All students work to develop a thesis and organize their support evidence; some write within the framework of the five-paragraph essay, while others use different organization and structures according to their preference. During the second semester, students complement their growing knowledge of India and the African continent with themes and concepts raised by writers from these regions. Students examine characters whose ways of thinking challenged the existing social order. Students read “Keeping Corner” by Kashmira Sheth, and “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe to enhance their understanding of these themes, while considering their own burgeoning sense of self and society.
  • 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 on a variety of topics, including nutrition, hygiene, puberty, sexuality, friendships and other relationships, media and cyber safety. Students also have the opportunity to learn and practice effective stress management and communication skills.
  • 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, expressions, and integers. 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 project work. There are two projects: the Most Famous Entertainer (MFE) Project and the Box Project. For the MFE, students compare data on two entertainers with the same name and construct bar graphs and a box-and-whisker graph to illustrate their findings. For the Box Project, students construct rectangular boxes. This process requires 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 create the content for these rectangular boxes by writing and providing the solutions to three numerical expressions and word problems related to topics of their choice from across the curriculum.  In addition to nightly homework assignments, weekly quizzes, and tests, the Grade 7 mathematics curriculum is further differentiated through independent work in the Enrichment Activity Center. The year in pre-algebra ends with an introduction to plane geometry, linear equations, and radical numbers.
  • Music

    Grade 7 students study the history of Jazz with an emphasis on the blues and the Big Band Swing Era. Within this unit, students increase their proficiency and technique with mallets on the soprano, alto, and bass xylophones and metallophones. Students have the opportunity to play the 12-bar blues scale and harmonic progressions in different keys. They explore swing eighth notes, sixteenth note rhythm patterns, syncopation, melodic notation, and improvisation all incorporated with arrangements of jazz standards.

    Within the curricular study of Delhi, students study the Indian tabla drum. Students use GarageBand 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--are employed to create a final digital musical file ready for release in iTunes. The final project of the year is a study of Africa. Students 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 is practiced on both pitched and unpitched instruments, with an emphasis on mallet technique with xylophones and drum circle technique on congas, tubanos, and djembes in three- and four-part arrangements.
  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Students continue to participate in their yearlong Performing Arts Elective. The following courses are offered: Concert Band, Concert Choir, Drama, Instrument Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, and Dance Ensemble. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division and each group will have the opportunity to perform at two evening concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with instruments or other necessary materials, willingly take risks, and demonstrate that they’ve made personal progress with regard to relevant skills.
  • Science

    What can cause a population to change? The very first unit 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, students 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.

    In the next unit, on human biology, students focus on what happens to food and oxygen to enable the body to meet our energy needs. Students begin by examining the body on a cellular level and sharpen their microscopy skills. They then more closely examine human body systems in order to understand how the digestive tract, the circulatory system, and the respiratory system are all linked.
    In a following unit on heredity, genetics, and natural selection, students study genetics and natural selection and explore how these ideas relate to why we look the way we do. They examine closely ideas of heredity, variation within and between species, and natural selection.

    The spring semester begins with an investigation into species’ responses to environmental pressures, exploring variation, natural selection, and adaptations. This leads into a study of basic genetics to reveal the mechanism of change in populations. Students learn 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 are able to see how selective pressures affect the genetic makeup of a population and can result in the emergence of new species.
  • Social Studies

    At the outset of Social Studies, we introduce the theme of the year, Self + Society: The Courage to Act. Students explore different types of courage, looking at examples from both past and present. Discussing social activism in the 21st Century, they 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 students begin 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 also an emphasis on often untold perspectives and “hidden” historical narratives related to the period, with a focus beyond the traditional, “master narrative” that centers on the “founding fathers” and excludes other key groups such as women, African Americans, and indigenous peoples. Various independent and collaborative projects provide students with opportunities to sharpen their research, presentation, and cooperative skills. Consistently throughout the term, students engage with current events and pressing issues, which are a crucial element of classroom discussions.

    Beginning in January, students study India’s history starting with the achievements of the Indus Valley Civilization and ending with Partition. For the rest of the semester, students study the ancient Kingdom of Benin and Benin City, including an investigation of the stolen art of Bini people. They begin the unit by researching various African countries to develop an understanding of the diversity of the countries, peoples and geography that exists on the continent. They explore interactions with and reactions to Europeans and how these have shaped Indian and West African societies.
  • Spanish Language/Literacy

    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 ways of expression, students investigate both TSC 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, video footage, 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 to South American cities. This city unit is used as a springboard to 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.

    During the remainder of the school year, students delve into a study of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its connections to West Africa. Students explore the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its enduring impacts on the area. Students investigate and discuss the various syncretisms of Spanish and African culture that occurred in this area. Students also research and communicate spontaneously on an array of present-day political and cultural topics pertaining to the region.
  • 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 personal 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 music. This project connects the disciplines of Visual Arts, Music, and Technology. Students discuss possible connections between music and painting, view works by artists who have been influenced by music, and use digital images of their paintings as backgrounds for their Big Band digital collages for Music class. The final unit before Winter Break is observational drawing. Students make a series of observational drawings in a variety of media using lines, shapes, textures, light and shadow, while observing objects from a fixed perspective.

    Grade 7 students begin the second semester with a multi-media painting titled “Simón Bolívar History Event.” In Spanish class, students study the life of Simón Bolívar. In Visual Arts, students view and discuss History Paintings by artists ranging from Goya to Picasso, including the Venezuelan artist Tito Salas. Students then create their own multi-media history paintings representing an event in the life of Bolívar. Next, students create their own zine, or informal booklet on a subject of their choice. The next major project is coordinated with the Grade 7 study of India, and integrated with students’ tabla sound design project in Music. Students learn about traditional Indian textile block-printing motifs in preparation for creation of their own print. Students design and cut their own block print and create an original print composition based on rhythm, repetition, and variation. Seventh-graders also rotate in small groups to receive concentrated instruction on the pottery wheel. In preparation for the grade-wise trip to Philadelphia in late May, students learn about artwork in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They select one work of art on which to become an expert. During their visit to the museum, each student become a facilitator, guiding their group in a viewing experience of their selected artwork.
  • Wellness

    Grade 7 students begin their year in Wellness learning about and participating in a variety of fitness activities. 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 to compare their scores as they move throughout the year. Students use technology to help create their own personal fitness plan. Students return to the fitness assessment in the spring so they can see how the physical activities they participate in throughout the year affect their fitness levels.

    During the second semester, Grade 7 students focus on the skills, rules, and teamwork involved in team sports. Specifically, students are immersed in the study of cricket and soccer. As they study India in classrooms, they work on the skills of the sport and read about the impact it had on India’s people. When the classroom focus turns to West Africa, Wellness classes study South Africa and the effects soccer had on the political prisoners who were jailed with Nelson Mandela. Students create their own soccer league and practice, play, and conduct a tournament under their own rules and laws. Finally, students revisit the fitness unit to compare their fitness scores in the spring to those of the winter and fall. They are encouraged to reflect on the changes in their scores to plan for improvement or maintenance in the future.

Grade 8

List of 10 items.

  • English

    Students launch the 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 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. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” provides an ideal source for interdisciplinary work with Social Studies, and a catalyst for various writing experiences. Here, and with other selected texts, themes revolve around our year-long exploration of social justice, and tie in closely with students’ study of government and society. Likewise, our first long work, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” introduces students to the American canon and spurs discussion of important topics.

    We begin 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 as they have more frequent contact with ever more challenging source material. Finally, during the first months of school students begin a vigorous independent reading program, allowing them to read at individualized levels, according to personal tastes, and to broaden their reading range and strengthen the reading skills acquired through the study of class texts. They read both in school and at home, and track and review their reading on their online reading logs. They share reading suggestions with each other and make recommendations for adding to the school’s growing library.

    After winter break, students delve into the difference between a topic and a thesis, practice strategies for going back into the text with a specific focus, study different models for structuring their essays, and craft essays where form follows function in a cogent manner. Students continue to practice writing skills honed during a short story unit earlier in the year, including clarity, specificity, fluidity, and richness of writing. To these, students add lessons on supporting contentions, and on integrating evidence and quotations into a piece of writing. The goal of this writing project is less a “perfect” essay than an authentic one. Using memoir excerpts for inspiration, students follow the formal literary essay with an examination of personal essays and anecdotal storytelling. Students explore techniques for brainstorming, and develop, write, and share their own personal essays. During Spring Break, eighth-graders choose one of five books to read on their own, and discuss them online with classmates. Online conversations are moved into the classroom immediately after break, and students do small final book projects of their own choosing.

    A poetry unit straddles Spring Break; students read a wide range of poetry, and write numerous different kinds of poems, drawing on a rich variety of poetic tools and devices.

    The vigorous independent reading program continues throughout the year. A final unit revolves around the reading of Art Spiegelman’s seminal graphic narrative “Maus,” and creation of a piece of graphic storytelling. This is an interdisciplinary unit with Visual Arts and Social Studies on World War II and the Holocaust, and graphic storytelling. In English, students focus on visual literacy, symbols, and story structure as they read, and on the tools of storytelling as they make their graphic storytelling pieces.
  • 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). Students finish a unit on equations with a review of ratios, rates, proportions, and percents. Students then translate their skills with solving equations to solve multi-step and compound inequalities. For each of these topics, students use their knowledge of set theory to represent solutions in multiple ways.

    Going forward, students continue to explore applications of variable expressions and equations. The next unit focuses on solving and graphing absolute value equations and inequalities. Students then look at classic algebraic problem-solving topics such as distance, rate, and time. The semester finishes with an introduction to mathematical functions that covers domain and range, writing function rules, and some introductory graphing. Students apply all of these skills to solve real-world problems and develop stronger analytical and critical thinking skills. Throughout each unit, students are encourages 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 begins with an extension of the study of polynomials, as students learn to simplify and perform operations with rational expressions. This is followed by a unit on solving quadratic equations by factoring, completing the square, and applying the quadratic formula. In February, students began a unit on computer programming. They are introduced to many fundamental concepts of computer science through processing, where they write interactive programs in Java that help the user create diverse works of art.

    After Spring Break, students begin a unit on mathematical functions. They are introduced to the concepts of relations and functions, domain and range, and writing function rules. They explore properties of linear functions, absolute value functions, quadratic functions, and exponential functions. Students then apply their knowledge of functions and the coordinate plane to solve systems of equations graphically, in addition to solving by substitution and elimination. The semester continues with a study of systems of inequalities, as well as absolute value inequalities. Students learn how to solve these problems both graphically and algebraically. They finish the year by looking at additional topics in algebra that may appear on the Algebra I Regents Exam.
     
  • Performing Arts: Elective

    Students continue to participate in their yearlong Performing Arts Elective. The following courses are offered: Concert Band, Concert Choir, Drama, Instrument Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, and Dance Ensemble. Groups are comprised of students from the entire Middle Division and each group will have the opportunity to perform at two evening concerts during the school year. Students are expected to participate actively with a positive and respectful attitude, be prepared with instruments or other necessary materials, willingly take risks, and demonstrate that they’ve made personal progress with regard to relevant skills.
  • Music

    The music curriculum for the Fall Semester of Grade 8 includes a mini-course selected by students. The elective music offerings provide students the experience of choosing classes that suit their interests. The Music Department offers four choices: Music of Chance, History of Your Music, Songwriters Workshop, and Bits of Music. Courses are hands-on and experiential, ranging from research techniques to a wide variety of compositional techniques.

    During the second semester, Grade 8 students dedicate their time and energy to the production of the annual Grade 8 musical performed at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. During this unit, each child studies all aspects of the theater including costumes, set-making, publicity, lighting, sound, vocal production and staging.
     

  • Science

    The first semester in 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 next 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 leads to an understanding of the Periodic Table of Elements. They also examine how and why certain atoms bond to form molecules, while others do not. When students return after Winter Break they continue the study of matter, investigating how chemical reactions cause matter to completely alter its properties. Throughout the study, students capitalize on the scientific inquiry skills that 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 the students prepare to continue their scientific education in high school.

    Students begin the spring by exploring the series of discoveries that led to our current understanding of atomic structure. They then investigate how atoms bond to form molecules, study both ionic and covalent compounds, and learn how the molecular structure of each dictates the properties of the actual substance.

    Throughout the study, hands-on lab experience and critical analysis skills are emphasized. Careful observation and analysis is regularly required. For example, students create a precipitate and conduct a quantitative analysis of the reaction to determine how much of the reactants are recovered. They also test the conductivity of various liquid compounds and aqueous solutions, and use the data to determine whether the substances are likely to be bonded ionically or covalently.

    In the following unit they apply their understanding of chemical bonding to a study of chemical reactions, learning how to preserve the law of conservation of matter by balancing chemical equations. In the final weeks, students wrap 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 the year, students are required to share their understanding and their conclusions both through written lab analyses, and by articulating their ideas aloud during class discussions.
     
  • Social Action Project

    In the second half of the year, students spend considerable time developing their Social Action Projects (SAP). Building on The School’s project-based-learning approach, students learn 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 create a blueprint for their project, research their topic, identify and strategize how to effect positive change, take socially and environmentally responsible action, and present their work to the larger school community in an expo. In addition to becoming empowered by the knowledge that one can make a difference in the world, skills learned include analysis of stakeholder interests, research, formal writing, problem-solving, group dynamics, organization, action, and presentation.
  • Social Studies

    The Social Studies curriculum starts with the concept of government. Students begin with the birth of our nation’s government and continue looking at governmental structures around the world. At the end of the unit, students examine a current Constitutional issue and debate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Students are able to answer questions like: How does our government work? Who holds power in our government? What rights are we entitled to? How are our rights protected?

    After Winter Break in Social Studies and following the study of the Constitution, students explore the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement. This covers slavery through Abolition, as well as Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Era, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. These events and ideas, along with current events issues, help students understand how and why history is important to our society today and in the future.

    Concluding the year, students examine the causes of World War II and the Holocaust. They analyze and study the rise of totalitarian dictatorships and the events that led to the Holocaust. Furthermore, they consider the importance of personal reflection as they discuss how these powerful world events shape understandings of social justice and inspire the promotion of equality in communities. The year-end trip to Washington D.C. directly reflects the study of social action and includes a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of African American History and Culture. Students are compelled to consider the concept of reflection as they focus 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 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. As a final project, students conduct an oral history of a Spanish-speaking member of the school community. As part of their oral history project, students are required to research a Spanish-speaking country, design and conduct interviews in Spanish, and convert their interview into a cogent narrative. They then present their work to the wider school community.

    Eighth-graders kick off the second part of the school year with a unit entitled Los latinos y la lucha por los derechos civiles. This study develops in tandem with their work around the Civil Rights Movement in Social Studies. Students discuss, 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 discuss 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 explore Dulce Pinzón’s photography through the virtual exhibit Latino Superheroes, challenging themselves to analyze the motivation behind Pinzon’s work.

    During this unit of study students are introduced to the past tense. They discuss the different usages of the preterite and the imperfect, and they learn to identify each tense in text. They learn how to manipulate both regular and irregular verbs in the past. Finally, students work with partners to create their own Spanish children’s books, applying their knowledge of both present and past time frames in their writing.

    During the rest of the school year students delve into a study of poetry from the Spanish-speaking world. They explore the work of diverse poets beginning with Latin American poets such as Luis Amberto Ambroggio, and U.S. Latino poets such as Gina Valdés, and end with poetry from Spain written around the time of the Spanish Civil War. During this unit they also continue deepening their understanding of Spanish language structures by learning how to identify and use indirect object pronouns, as well as learning how to form the future tense in Spanish.
  • Visual Arts

    Grade 8 students begin the year in Visual Art with an exploration of negative and positive space in a black and white collage. They build on their experience with negative and positive shapes to create their own icon designs for their diploma and graduation invitations. The remainder of the semester is dedicated to the art form of the graphic novel. Students become familiar with a wide range of graphic novels as inspiration to create their own visual narratives. Their study includes the vocabulary of the graphic novel, types of sequencing, graphic strategies, story structure, and expressive strategies for their characters. Finally students combine written text and visual illustrations to create an original story based in their own experiences.

    In the winter, students have the opportunity to choose from four elective courses: Marble Machines, Painting, Photography, and E-Textiles. The eighth-graders begin the second semester designing the set and props for the class musical production. Students work together to realize their ideas by painting and constructing the set and props.
  • Wellness

    Students begin the semester working on cooperative games and continue to work on positive, effective communication strategies, concentrating on working as a group or team with emphasis on the grade-wide theme of Social Justice. Next students work on fitness. During the fitness unit, students focus on the components of fitness (cardiovascular strength, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility). After fitness, a unit on “creating a game” begins. These projects give students the chance to create a game by combining the skills, strategies, and rules from previous sports or activities they have participated in during Wellness. The content includes teamwork and the components of fitness.

    The goal for students in this final semester is to leave The School at Columbia University with the ability to maintain physically active lifestyles as they move forward in life, and to understand the seven dimensions of wellness, (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, and environmental). Students conclude the semester with rock climbing and recreational games. Teamwork, and challenging limits of physical and mental ability while maintaining a safe environment, are emphasized.
     
     

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