The middle school science curriculum is an inquiry and Project Based Learning (PBL) program that focuses on building 21st century skills, ethical thinking, a passion for science, and a deep understanding of the scientific method. PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Curriculum is organized around authentic real world driving questions that lead students to discover answers through innovation, experimentation, and hands-on activities. A variety of scientific disciplines are included in each driving question framing one of the PBL units. This approach allows for a spiraling of content throughout the four year science program.
Unit 1 Driving Question: “How does the human body work and what does it need?” Students investigate the structure and function of the systems of the human body with a series of labs and experiments as well as model building and peer teaching. The reproductive system is included in this unit and the sexuality and puberty education that began in 4th grade is continued. The variation that exists among individuals in terms of their sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, and sex assigned at birth is discussed.
Unit 2 Driving Question: “How does the Earth’s surface change?” As we delve into plate tectonics and what we know about the interior of the Earth, students come to a deeper understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Students construct models of landforms as they learn to contribute meaningfully as a member of a group working towards a shared goal.
Unit 3 Driving Question: Where should humans explore next in our Solar System?” The final unit begins by zooming out to explore our solar system with Earth as our reference point. Students develop a sense of scale through building models of the massive sizes and distances that exist in the Universe. They then work in teams to research, propose, design, justify and construct large scale models of landscapes, probes, landers and bases on worlds that are the likely next steps in our species’ actual exploration of the solar system. Culminating with a field trip to the Buehler Challenger & Science Center in New Jersey for a simulated mission to the moon, our aim is for students to end this unit not only with an incredibly deep base of content knowledge but, more importantly, a sense of wonder and awe for the history and future of humanity’s place in the cosmos.
Unit 1 Driving Question: “What is the relationship between humans and green spaces in New York City?”. In the fall, students study the kingdoms of living things, how plants are classified, and what types of green spaces exist in our city. They come to deeply understand the process of photosynthesis as well as the carbon and oxygen cycles, and the difference between biotic and abiotic factors. We take trips to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Prospect Park, and the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm to deepen our understanding of these topics, and then students design and write informational pamphlets on a particular type of greenspace which we mail to N.Y. city officials.
Unit 2 Driving Question: “How can we apply our scientific knowledge of water to solve the world water crisis?” In the winter, students are challenged to use their knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of water, the water cycle, and water access worldwide to design, build and present a solution to the world water crisis. Through this exploration, students are asked to innovate, design, and build models of their solutions, as they collaborate on ideas working in small groups. Students also study and analyze their own physical and virtual water use. As we work to build empathy, students research how a lack of access to clean drinking water affects people both in the United States of America and abroad. As students read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park in Humanities class, students are encouraged to carry gallons of water for a special 6th grade event that we call The Water Walk.Unit 3 Driving Question: “In what unique ways do various organisms reproduce?” In the spring students study the difference between sexual and asexual reproduction and research the unique way that a particular organism reproduces. At the end of the year, an in-depth study of human conception, pregnancy, and birth continues the learning where the fifth grade puberty unit left off.
Unit 1 Driving Question: How can citizen scientists use technology to further our understanding of the Universe and to promote the well-being of humans?
In this unit, students go to the Beta Lab for their entry event and they participate in a satellite building team challenge. The size of the solar arrays are built to scale based on the satellite’s energy needs. The team needs to make sure that their satellite fits into the payload fairing of the rocket and that it does not get destroyed during the launch. Once in space the solar arrays must be easily deployed. After engaging with satellites, students learn about citizen science and how and why it is used. They learn about the electromagnetic spectrum and how images created by instruments that sense different wavelengths give different information due to how light interacts with matter and gravity. Students learn about what satellite technology has taught us about the origins and composition of our Universe, as well as what it tells us about our planet.
Students create a citizen science project that uses satellite data for a chosen purpose. A website is created in order to engage and educate citizen scientists that participate in the project. A model of the satellite, along with a description of its instrumentation and power requirements is built. Student ideas are submitted to NASA on their website, Submit Your Story. Additionally, citizen scientist projects are showcased within the Berkeley Carroll community.
Unit 2 Driving Question: What does E=mc2 have to do with elements and the formation of life?
This unit begins with a study of the history of the foundational science that allowed for Einstein to create the most beautiful equation of all times. An understanding of the equation is necessary in order to understand how stars produce the vast majority of the elements on the periodic table. Students gain a thorough understanding of the periodic table. Each student researches an element and then dresses like the element for an event called the Element Pride Parade. Elements meet with members of their family in order to learn about their similarities and differences. Next students learn about how and why elements bond. They conduct numerous chemical reactions and they draw diagrams of what is happening to the atoms as the reaction takes place. At the end of the unit, students work in a group to write a skit for an Atomic Bonding Game Show. Each class selects the best skit from their class to go to the Science Oscars. The entire grade gathers for the Science Oscars and awards are given out for different categories.
Unit 3 Driving Question: What role should science play in the creation of societal laws that influence human diversity?
The diversity that exists in the human genepool is the result of a natural selection process that began with the evolution of our species. At some point in the last couple of centuries, humans consciously created different technologies that have an impact on human diversity, and with the development of these recent technologies, humans have a far greater ability to alter diversity than ever before. How do nature and scientific technologies hinder and promote human diversity? How can we use our scientific understanding of diversity in a way that protects all members of our global community? In this unit, students learn the science of DNA, genes, and traits by visiting Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island and working with the cells of Henrietta Lacks. Students learn how the natural selection of traits drives evolution in all species and how the human species continues to evolve. Recent genetic technologies that can interfere with the evolutionary process are discussed and students do a bacterial transformation in class in order to experience genetic engineering first hand. While humans have tried to control genetic variation in humans for a long time through laws, now science has made it possible to alter traits on a molecular level. Students learn about these new gene altering techniques. Then, they are asked to create a mechanism, a tool, or a platform that communicates to our community how diversity should be protected by science.
The overarching question for the year is: As a steward of both my local and global community, what is my role as we overcome the challenges of an uncertain future?”
Being a steward requires students to understand ways that privilege, which might result from their identity or the place on this planet that they inhabit, provides them with access that others do not have. While participating in this work, students are encouraged during moments of discomfort to lean in to this feeling. Being a changemaker is a life-long process, and the work that is done in eighth grade is meant to make responding to issues in the world a habit.
Unit 1 Driving Question: As a steward of both my local and global community, what is my role as my coastal community addresses the challenges of the changing climate?
Coastal communities will be the first to notice the effects of the changing climate. Rising seas, stronger storms, different ocean chemistry. The organisms that call this environment home, including ourselves, will need to adapt. Our unit will focus its inquiry on coastal communities in the mid-Atlantic region, specifically Jamaica Bay, Chesapeake Bay and New York City. Students will work to understand the problem. Then, they will do what they can to mitigate against the impacts of climate change by designing an action that engages the members of their community.
Unit 2 Driving Question: How can I improve the social, physical and aesthetic cityscape that my community inhabits by designing infrastructure that is approved by experts in the field?
Our city hosts some of the first, largest and longest examples of infrastructure projects but, arguably, has not had significant investment in its public works lately. Students will focus on the bridges in New York City. They will conduct research in order to propose locations that would benefit from having a new bridge built or from having a working bridge redesigned. Students will learn the physics of the forces that need to be considered when engineering a bridge by studying models of bridges, conducting experiments, and building models. The student’s task is to plan, design and build a scale model of a new bridge for our city that will positively impact the social, physical and aesthetic community of which we are a part. Student teams are formed around a location in NYC. Students build a scale model of the bridge then build the model. The student teams pitch their design to actual experts in the field. These experts choose the best bridges in the class. The best bridge is one that is innovative in terms of design, structurally sound and will improve the quality of life for NYC residents.
Unit 3 Driving Question: How can we support the health of our community and the environment through our food choices?
Thinking more critically about food can have a positive impact on so many different global issues. Students will start the unit by creating a unique experiment to learn more about the chemistry involved in cooking food. Then, they will closely examine the digestive system of a frog as a jumping off point for learning about the chemistry involved in the digestion of each major macromolecule in humans. Each student considers the environmental, social, and health aspect of a particular food and the information that they uncover is presented in a research paper. Another aspect of the curriculum is to consider the issue of hunger close to home and to create a mechanism for supporting people in our borough who live with food insecurity. Students will work towards creating a “food truck” that provides an ethical meal and takes into consideration both the health and environmental impacts of food for people in our community.
Additional Information:The 8th grade visits the eastern shores of Virginia and Maryland for a week-long investigation into coastal communities. Our students immerse themselves in hands-on exploration and participation in local agriculture and aquaculture methods. They engage in focused learning experiences with local historians, community leaders, business owners and workers. Students share communal meals and games with children of migrant workers, and enjoy recreational activities like sea kayaking, beach bonfires, cook-outs, and zip-lines.