Middle School - Academics

Transitioning to Middle School

In the Middle School, the fifth grade is a transitional year when students acclimate to departmentalized learning while enjoying the comfort and familiarity of a single classroom environment. Our program enables students to learn from content specialists as we ease students into a departmentalized structure, which is the norm of the Middle School program. Students in the fifth grade remain in a “home base” classroom throughout the day, but they enjoy the departmentalized experience of Middle School as different teachers who are content specialists visit their classroom to teach them throughout the day. Language Arts and Social Studies meet under an umbrella Humanities program, which enables the teachers of the two subjects to foster cross-curricular development goals. Similarly, for Hebrew, Science, and Chumash, students learn from subject specialists who come to the students in their home base classrooms. The math program is leveled based on skill, as determined by fourth grade teachers and results from the fourth grade Terra Nova standardized tests.

General Studies

WB NagyLanguage Arts

In Middle School Language Arts, reading and writing are critical tools for understanding a wide range of experiences. An introduction to various literary genres and styles helps to cultivate curiosity, empathy, and understanding among our students. By delving into the disparate worlds reflected in our literary choices, our students safely explore the world of the “other” while gaining key skills related to comprehension, self-expression, grammar, and critical thinking. High interest reading along with classical literature selections help to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning among Middle School students.

Throughout the grades, a scaffolded writing curriculum is embedded in each unit with the goal of cultivating increased independence and sophistication. Writing, paired with a targeted vocabulary program, allows students to hone their literary voice through various writing styles. In each grade, grammar topics are taught and reinforced in concert with writing instruction as well as through concentrated units to introduce new skills.

In fifth grade, the overarching theme of assigned literature is empathy. As students transition to middle school, there are many social and emotional changes that take place. By putting themselves in the shoes of another, students learn to have an understanding of, and sensitivity towards, the feelings of others. Through the use of high-interest fiction and nonfiction selections, students begin to discover the pleasure of reading for enjoyment. Each unit focuses on specific grammar skills and uses vocabulary words directly from the literature. As the year progresses, students work towards gaining independence in the writing process, with a strong focus on outlining. Each unit culminates in a writing assignment that focuses on gaining an understanding of specific writing tools.

The sixth grade Language Arts curriculum focuses on character development and features literary selections with similarly aged main characters. Despite the wide range of diverse experiences and challenges reflected in each piece of literature, for the students, each character moves from being remote to relatable through the identification of shared realities and perspectives. By noting these similarities, students gain a deep sense of empathy for the “other” as well as an ability to recognize point of view.

Each unit includes both expository and creative writing focused on including explicit details, citing examples, choosing vivid vocabulary, and ultimately using textual evidence. Throughout the year, students work on both the form and function of their sentences and paragraphs, moving from single paragraph responses to multi-paragraph essays. Students practice self-expression and increase writing stamina through myriad writing assignments.

Previously learned grammar topics, including parts of speech and types of sentences, are reviewed and new topics are introduced to shepherd the development of more sophisticated writing.

The seventh grade Language Arts curriculum focuses on identifying theme and author’s purpose in literature. Through encounters with the challenging situations faced by the characters in each of the literary selections, the students evaluate the author’s perspective, the characters’ varied perspectives, and the student’s own unique assessment of the messages gleaned from the text. With an emphasis on integrating textual evidence and weaving direct citations into expository writing, the students draw on their mastery of outlining skills to organize well-articulated arguments and substantiate claims.

Each unit includes both expository and creative writing focused on increasing sophistication and complexity of sentences, using quotations correctly and effectively, and adding smooth transitions between ideas to establish flow in the writing. Students continue to practice self-expression and develop writing stamina through myriad writing assignments. Previously learned grammar topics are reviewed and new topics are introduced to shepherd the development of more sophisticated writing. Throughout the year, students work on evaluating their own writing to check for effectiveness, improving their self-editing skills, and increasing independence in writing.

The eighth grade Language Arts curriculum explores the human condition and the plight of "The Other"-- which is coupled with daily class discussions created specifically to inspire critical thinking and encourage positive methods of communication. As each student crafts increasingly complex written pieces throughout the year, his or her growing writer's portfolio becomes a testament to the immense intellectual, psychological, and emotional growth sustained in the eighth grade school year. Throughout the course of the year, students compose multiple, literature-based expository essays; engage in varied creative writing and project-based learning assignments; and receive individualized writing advice and feedback from their teacher as they continue to grow their skills as thinkers and writers.

Mathematics

Mathematics is both an eternal language and a universal language that provides a unique foundation for critical thinking and logical interpretation. Mathematics enhances skills in art when applied to color and shape; to music when applied to sound; and to Gemara when applied to textual analysis. JKHA Middle School teachers seek to foster students’ appreciation for the beauty of mathematics by building on previous concepts to ensure in-depth understanding. We expect students to gain mastery of each topic, enabling them to model real-world applications and problem-solve by incorporating all previously acquired knowledge and skills.

Upon advancement from middle school, students will have developed a strong foundation for Algebra, as well as competency in using a variety of problem-solving techniques, determining the best strategies for solving word problems, estimating the reasonableness and effectiveness of solutions, and performing successfully on different types of formal and informal assessments. We are proud of our students’ participation in many math contests, including Mathematical Olympiads, New Jersey Math League Contest and Kushner's own Math Masters Tournament.

Science

The Science curriculum at the Middle School focuses on exposing students to the scientific principles of the world we live in.

The fifth graders are learning science this year following a curriculum known as  STC- Science and Technology concepts designed by Carolina Biological Company. The curriculum is designed to enhance critical thinking and scientific inquiry by conducting many experiments to reinforce the scientific knowledge they learn. They begin the year by covering a unit on ecology where students get to build their own self-sustaining ecosystem with plants and living organisms. They then conduct experiments demonstrating the negative effects of pollution on their ecosystems.

The next module covered is known as Floating and Sinking. Students are introduced to the concept of density and basic chemistry. Students experiment with different objects to understand the relationship between mass and volume. They complete the unit by using the knowledge they have learned to build their
own boats that float in water.

The last part of the year is spent on the classification of living things. Students learn how the kingdoms are divided and understand the process of assigning scientific names to living things.

The sixth grade science curriculum focuses on the concept of “Stability and Change.” Students learn about the conditions that affect stability and the factors that control the change.Students investigate these small and large changes in the Earth and discover how the disruptions affect the environment where we live. Specifically, the students learn about plate tectonics understanding how the shape and position of continents, earthquakes, and volcanoes explain the changes that are found in the Earth. Additionally, when studying the ocean systems, students investigate how the water cycle provides stability to the amount of water found in our environment both above ground and underground. Throughout each unit, students are developing the following critical thinking and processing skills: making inferences, communicating using written expression, classification of information, experimenting, collecting and recording data, note taking, as well as problem solving.

In the seventh grade, students begin the study of biology by learning about cells which is the fundamental basis of unicellular and multicellular life. They discover just how complex the cell is by studying many of its important functions including transport, respiration, photosynthesis, and cell division. Students become familiar with the microscope as they view onion, cheek cells, and unicellular organisms in pond water. Students  gain an understanding of how the cells all work together to form tissues and organ systems creating the complex human body!

Our Science program for eighth graders focuses on exploring the basic scientific principles that underlie the physical world. The role of science in society is emphasized, as is the importance of critical thinking and experimentation to all branches of knowledge. Engaged by a rich variety of hands on activities and the SAE Toy Project, students also develop critical social and communications skills. Working in teams and supporting each member's ideas and contributions is forefront in the developmental growth of the students in this grade.

The curriculum covers Physics. Chemistry and an application of their physical science skills in bringing an idea for a motorized toy from a design to fruition.

Social Studies

Middle Schoolers are endlessly fascinated by every aspect of identity. Our Social Studies program is designed to illuminate the connections between personal identity and the history of humankind, focusing on the developments have shaped and continue to influence people and civilizations.

The goals of the Middle School Social Studies program include fostering a connection between past and present that is personally meaningful to the students, teaching students to recognize the influence of past civilizations, events, and leaders upon our modern lives, and encouraging students to analyze how decisions made today, like those of the past, may affect the generations to come. As the school’s mission emphasizes empowering students to “analyze, create, and seek out new intellectual challenges,” the Social Studies program provides students with the opportunity to analyze the past and its influence, create meaningful connections to the material, and seek new intellectual challenges in the form of research, projects, and formal assessments.

The Social Studies curriculum for fifth grade is the first half of a two-year academic program that culminates in sixth grade. In fifth grade, the students embark upon a journey through Ancient Civilizations, in which they explore the beginning and legacies of the Fertile Crescent civilizations, Egypt, and Greece. Additionally, students examine geography, chronology, and the foundation of civilization dating back to the Prehistoric era. Using project-based learning, students engage deeply in the units covered. Additionally, there is a heavy emphasis upon skill development in the course, especially in the areas of writing, organization, test taking, listening, note-taking, and critical thinking. The year culminates in the Legacy Project where students embark upon a multifaceted research project.

In sixth grade, students continue to study ancient civilizations, picking up on where they left off in fifth grade as they explore the civilizations of India, China, Greece and Rome over the course of their study. Wherever possible, Jewish history is incorporated into units to illustrate the simultaneity of Jewish history parallel to the ancient civilizations covered. Additionally, during the study of Rome, students learn about Christianity and the way in which it specifically impacted Judaea and the fall of the Second Temple. Over the course of the year, students complete multiple independent research projects and bi-monthly current events assignments to foster their growth as critical and analytical historians. Students are assessed based on written evaluations, class participation, homework assignments, and both individual and group projects. As the students embark on their middle school journey through history, so too do they begin to determine the role of geography on the progress of a civilization’s development as well as how to analyze critical events and people in a given ancient civilization and determine the extent of their legacy within and beyond that civilization.

The seventh grade Social Studies curriculum encompasses the period of American colonization through the Civil War in American history, from 1591-1865. In this course, in addition to learning the factual information about the historical events, pivotal leaders, and accompanying terminology of the time periods covered, students learn to analyze the historical significance of individual events, people, and terms both contextually and in the present day. In addition, students draw connections between their work in sixth grade ancient civilizations and the seventh grade American history class. Students are assessed on their notes, written evaluations, group and individual projects, and research-based historical fiction papers. In seventh grade, students explore and sharpen their research skills, using both library databases and texts. Additionally, students examine critical events in American history and evaluate their broader historical significance over the course of American history, internationally, and currently.

In the eighth grade, students investigate United States history from Reconstruction to the Cold War era and beyond. A thematic approach to the history of that century includes the study of industrialization, the Progressive Era, World War I and the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and the New Deal, World War ll, and the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. The curriculum focuses heavily on academic writing skills in the form of Document Based Questions (DBQ) and analytical historical writing.The eighth grade academic year ends with a rigorous student-driven research project, through which students examine a current political issue, with their research focusing on how that issue impacts the contemporary American landscape.

Judaic Studies

Tanach

In Middle School, students divide their Tanach studies between Chumash and Navi. The goals of the overall program are the development of independent reading and comprehension skills while learning to value and appreciate the subject matter. To this end, the curriculum places a heavy emphasis on mastery of key vocabulary words and grammar skills, partnered with life lessons that emerge from the text. Students are encouraged to ask questions and to think analytically, focusing on a multitude of classic commentaries with different literary styles. They do this as individuals, working on project creations and personal skill-building, and as learning teams, engaging in the text, asking each other questions and considering multiple perspectives.

The Chumash curriculum builds on the skills and knowledge accumulated in Lower School. Starting with the study of Sefer Shemot in 5th grade, students embrace intensive study of the peshat, the simple meaning of the text, and build upon this understanding with multiple levels of commentary. The 6th grade curriculum introduces students to the first half of Sefer Bamidbar, inviting them to consider the challenges the Jewish people faced in the desert. The second half of Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim are the focus of the 7th and 8th grades.

Each year, Middle School students focus on the study of a new book of Navi. The 5th grade studies Sefer Shofetim, considering the challenges of establishing a holy society. The 6th grade encounters the many models of Jewish leadership presented in Sefer Shmuel Aleph. Shmuel Bet and Melachim Aleph complete the 7th and 8th grade study, inviting students to study the infancy of the Jewish monarchy.

Fifth Grade

• Students engage in a Middah K’neged Middah study of the Makkot, allowing them to research plagues on an in-depth level, to value the consequences of offenders’ actions, and to teach life lessons to peers.
• Students prepare a Pesach Haggadah throughout the year as they learn Shemot to enhance their study of Exodus story.
• In Navi, students learn to study moments of history as Hashem’s responses to human action. Students ask the questions that our forefathers asked: How should our actions and attitudes change because of what happens in the world around us?
• Fifth graders strengthen their connection to Eretz Yisrael through the Eretz Chemda Distance Learning Program. This interactive course teaches the mitzvot of the Land of Israel in a way that brings their theory and practice to life in an exciting, user-friendly and experiential way.

Sixth Grade

• Like their ancestors in Sefer Bamidbar, students physically practice “traveling through the desert” in groups, utilizing the same commands that the Jews followed in the desert.
• Students participate in class debates revolving around controversies that arise from the text. After researching multiple commentaries and considering different points of view, students master debate skills for in-class projects.
• After learning about the mitzvah, 6th graders engage in a Hafrashat Challah project, learning how to bake their own challot and to make mitzvot meaningful at home.
• Students act as on-site reporters, retelling the story of the death of Goliat from a personal perspective, offering students the chance to consider the lives of Navi characters in an up-close manner.

Seventh and Eighth Grades

• Students engage in debates and trials, closely evaluating Biblical characters and examining their personalities from multiple perspectives.
• In an Aseret HaDibrot Self-Study, students research individual commandments, studying both the text of the Chumash as well as classic commentaries. After mastering their topics, students become the teachers of that commandment to the rest of their class.
• Bilaam Project
• Students create digital Navi Portfolios where they record and personalize the life lessons that can be gleaned from the Navi.
• Students participated in a Mikdash Me’at program where they used the building of the Beit Hamikdash as a model for creating their own ideal shuls while considering the purpose of a shul and how we can make our shuls places that reflect that purpose

All Grades

• The Chumash Vocabulary League presents vocabulary acquisition in a fun and engaging manner with competitive play throughout the grades.

Torah SheB'al Peh

Middle School study of Torah She’be’al Peh seeks to enhance students’ Jewish identities as they study texts that are crucial to our heritage. As with Tanach, the Talmud curriculum places great focus on mastery of skills so that students can grow to become independent learners. In addition, the curriculum emphasizes comprehension of practical Jewish law found in the Talmud. Torah She’be’al Peh study often incorporates chavruta (partner) learning, in which students work in cooperative pairs to analyze the material during the first stages of a unit, answering questions, defining terms, and learning the content of the unit. In this form of cooperative learning, students are encouraged to attempt to parse texts independently; differences of opinion amongst the partners require students to present the viability of their respective opinions, leading to either a stronger understanding of the position or the abandonment of a failed approach. Considering and accepting new ideas is a key student skill.

Study of Torah She’be’al Peh in the Middle School is divided into two parts. In the 5th and 6th grades, students focus on the study of the Mishnayot of Masechet Brachot. The Mishna curriculum places an emphasis on mastery of practical Jewish law that students encounter on a regular basis, while learning the style of Rabbinic writing and frequently-used terminology. This study is coupled with the historical background of the time period in which the Mishna was created.

With Mishna skills fully developed, students then move on to the study of Gemara in 7th and 8th Grades. The Middle School curriculum offers students a glimpse into different areas of the vast Talmud corpus, alternating between the study of Masechet Berachot and Masechet Bava Metzia. These first years of Talmud study emphasize the mastery of key phrases and words, building a strong foundation for future independent learning. The curriculum also creates opportunities for students to explore greater religious issues and questions that arise from the text.

Fifth Grade

• “From Mikra to Mishna” - Students track Jewish laws from the text of the Torah to practical application in modern times.
• Students study biographies of the Mishnaic luminaries, focusing on what makes an upstanding Jewish individual.
•Students apply their learning of the laws of Shema along with studying the meaning of the prayer to give extra meaning to their 5th-grade specific minyan.

Sixth Grade

• At the conclusion of 6th grade, students participate in their first major siyum (celebration of completion), honoring two years of intensive study.

Seventh and Eighth Grades

• Students participate in a Shark Tank competition, devising ways to present answers to modern-day halachic questions based on the text of the Talmud.
• Learning comes to life with the use of Torah Live, providing a digital visualization of the halachot students encounter.
• The Gemara Vocabulary League invites seventh and eighth graders to compete with one another using key words and phrases from their Talmud study.
• Through the use of visuals from Gemara Academy, students diagram the flow of the Gemara and use a concrete, organized method for encountering the abstract thinking of Gemara logic.
• Use of the new and innovative Bright Beginnings Workbooks gives teachers multiple ways to express the ideas of the gemara in a "user friendly" and "kid friendly" manner.

Ivrit

One of the goals of the JKHA Middle School is to create a community of Hebrew speakers who are able to converse in Ivrit, read Ivrit books, understand articles written in Israeli newspapers, develop a better understanding of Tanach and learn the culture of Israel. The NETA program, a curriculum initiative in Hebrew language and culture is helping students to attain these goals.

JKHA Middle School has been working with the NETA program, established at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to implement this innovative whole-language approach to instruction. The program enables students to enhance their reading, writing and conversational skills. Unlike more traditional programs that require memorizing grammar or “tachbier” rules, NETA focuses on conversational Hebrew as well as Hebrew literature and grammar.

The NETA program is driven by the belief that the mastery of Hebrew will promote students’ understanding of their history, culture, and tradition. Every book in the scope of sequence presents a different theme of interest to middle school students. Topics range from computers and sports to friendship and dreams. Each theme is presented from the perspective of modern Israeli culture, Jewish tradition and general world knowledge. The curriculum includes art, science, mathematics, literature, Midrash, and philosophy. NETA is always intellectually challenging, engaging the students’ thought processes.

NETA provides intensive on-going professional development, program assessment and teacher mentoring. Teachers participate in different seminars and workshops throughout the school year and every summer. The NETA program is very carefully monitored and assessed.

Assignments, tests, and class work indicate that the program is working and that our students are learning and retaining more Ivrit language skills than ever before. Student evaluations show that they feel more confident replying to teachers in Ivrit and are able to converse with others. Students of NETA retain vocabulary words more readily and comprehend and respond appropriately to instructions given to them in Ivrit. And, test student writing skills have shown their improvement in mastering the language.

The evidence of improvement is reflected in student scores on NETA tests. As we continue our work with the NETA program, we expect continued progress and success.

SUPPLEMENTAL CURRICULA

Art

The 5th Grade learns about artists and the elements of art through projects based lessons. They engage with projects by planning and sketching, and then have the opportunity to work with different types of materials. Students then begin creating their original work, implementing the directions and skills covered through the art program.

Computer Technology

At JKHA Middle School, we believe that every student should understand technology and become adept at using it properly. To that end, teachers in both General and Judaic Studies alike strive to incorporate technology into at least one project each semester, encouraging students to master and use computer skills in real-life situations. Students working on papers for Language Arts or Social Studies, for example, must master Microsoft Word. As students explore research topics in their Social Studies classes, they learn how to utilize online databases as they embark on academic research. Assignments in math call for competency in Microsoft Excel, while projects in science require a keen understanding of PowerPoint. Keyboarding skills are essential in all classes, and especially to the composition of a Hebrew text for the eighth grade yearbook. 

Students graduate from eighth grade knowing how to use—and when to use—appropriate technology, as well as how to evaluate Internet sources and safely surf the Internet. In addition, the eighth grade students participate in a twelve-week computer applications module. The course asks students to own, operate, and market their own professional teams. Students create logos, design t-shirts, produce advertisements and more, using the Microsoft Office package including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Access, as they start up their new “teams.” As they create and market their teams, students use, improve and grow their computer skills and proficiency.

 

NJAIS

 

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Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy
Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School
110 South Orange Avenue
Livingston, New Jersey 07039
Phone 862.437.8000
info@jkha.org
info@rkyhs.org