In sixth grade advisory, students take significant responsibility for governing their own affairs. In addition, the early part of the year is marked by many class discussions and individual check-ins concerning the student’s adjustment to middle school life and expectations. An important focus during advisory time is on organization of materials and time management. The students spend time adding dividers, returned assignments, worksheets and notes to their binders as well as regularly cleaning out their homework folders and lockers. Time is also spent discussing upcoming school events and properly writing those events in their individual student planners. Advisory class time is also used for students to update and refine their portfolios.
During the year, the class undertakes a project of its choosing as a follow-up to their four-day environmental education retreat at Teva. Through the Min Ha’aretz curriculum, the sixth grade explores various Jewish perspectives on the environment and responsible behavior. In these sessions, students expand their knowledge of healthy eating and living, learn how they can help fight hunger and poverty, and examine kashrut laws with an eye toward ethics and morality. The students also participate in community service projects, volunteering in Central Park and at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger food pantry.
In Health classes sixth grade students learn about human development and sexuality through the lens of the Jewish values of kevod habriot (respect for God’s creations) and b’tselem elohim (human beings are created in the image of God). In order to maintain a safe learning environment, for some health classes the students are divided by gender.
The sixth grade begin their study of art by drawing a tree in black and white. Then they focus on the artist Vasily Kandinsky. He painted in three distinct styles throughout his career: colorful semi-realistic, spiritual abstract and tight geometric. Students are asked to create three works – one in each style.
In conjunction with their study of Greece, the sixth grade goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Greek collection. Then they paint a clay plate with a Greek story of their choice. This is followed by a clay relief series of Judaic symbols. Students use colored modeling clay to create layers and objects from their Jewish tradition. In the spring, in conjunction with their humanities study of Africa, the sixth graders visit the Metropolitan again, this time to see the African exhibit. Then each student sculpts, paints, and decorates an original African mask. Students also use ipads for sketching still life compositions.
Hebrew is taught on different levels to Middle School students. The beginners’ curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit book 1 is designed for students with no or very little knowledge of Hebrew. In this program, students learn to speak in short dialogues about daily life; write paragraph-length personal narratives, memos, and assertions of opinion; and read stories, folk tales, and descriptive or informational non-fiction texts. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include singular and plural forms; masculine and feminine forms; present tense, past tense, and infinitives; four of the seven verb patterns (binyanim); the basic possessive forms; prepositions; nominal clauses; and word order in sentences.
The intermediate curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit books 2-3 is a two-year sequence that is typically studied by students entering seventh and eighth grade in Jewish day schools. In this program, students learn to speak in longer dialogues about a wide range of subjects and in interviews; write letters; and read longer short stories, non-fiction texts, essays, and simple songs, poems, and biblical passages. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include the basic future tense; all seven verb patterns (binyanim); declension of several prepositions; noun-adjective agreement in gender and number; nominal, verbal, and object clauses; parts of speech; and word order.
The advanced curriculum – Bishvil Ha’Ivrit books 4-5 is a two-year sequence that is typically studied by students entering ninth and tenth grade in Jewish day schools. In this program, students learn to speak freely in conversation on any topic; read news articles in easy Hebrew, full-length short stories partially adapted to easy Hebrew, and poetry, songs, biblical verses, and midrashim; write multi-paragraph narratives, reports, and essays; and understand TV or radio news items. The language structures that they learn to recognize and use include the future tense in four binyanim (verb patterns), declension of prepositions, gerunds, past participles, possessives, suffixes, and conditional clauses.
The theme of the sixth grade humanities core curriculum is “Big Ideas that Shaped Civilization.” The year begins with a study of democracy which focuses mainly on Ancient Greece. Prior to situating the study in the ancient world, however, the students briefly explore elements of contemporary American democracy to contextualize their study in a more familiar setting. The study of Ancient Greece is both literary and historical, with particular emphasis on Athens as a center of direct democracy and on Greek culture and mythology. Students also learn about other forms of government, such as oligarchy and tyranny. They simulate an Ecclesia and construct Greek temples in small groups, adopting the value system of a particular type of government. Exploring both primary documents and secondary sources, the students culminate the trimester by writing their own original Greek myths and essays comparing and contrasting two forms of Ancient Greek government.
The second big idea which students explore is narrative, and the context within which it is examined is African cultures. Students encounter African narratives and glean from them some of the key stories and information about African life, culture, and beliefs. The wealth of aesthetic forms that African narrative takes is presented, including oral storytelling, song, written stories, and museum artifacts. Authentic examples of these are studied by the class as a whole, and students learn to identify the common features that all narrative forms share, as well as features unique to each of the forms. For the concluding project, students write an African folk tale with a creative component, such as a drawing or a three-dimensional display, that highlights an implicit point in their narrative. In addition, they select one African civilization of their choice and create a visual presentation using a range of different analytical tools, such as timeline or pictorial collage.
In the spring, the focus shifts to a third big idea, religion. After briefly examining several contemporary world religions to gain an appreciation of similarities and differences among established faith systems, students undertake a more in-depth study of Europe in the Middle Ages, which is one of the prime examples in human history of a society in which religion served as a central organizing principle. Reconstructing the daily life experience of different social groups in medieval Europe, they explore the role of the individual in the community. For example, they simulate guilds by creating wares with fellow guild members and trading them in a marketplace. Through reading, role plays, and artistic study, students come to appreciate the pervasive role of Christianity in the feudal society of medieval Europe.
Much of the reading and writing students do is connected with the main themes, for example, Greek mythology, an extended African narrative entitled Facing the Lion, and historical fictions set in medieval Europe, Catherine, Called Birdy and Adam of the Road. These readings and associated writing are complemented by many additional experiences with literature and language. Throughout the year, each student continues the habit of independent reading. In addition, the class as a whole reads newspaper and magazine articles and a play (“The Miracle Worker,” by William Gibson), and students regularly respond in writing to their reading. All of these reading experiences take place within a supportive setting in which students and the teacher talk about, share, and learn from their own and each other’s reading experiences. As well as gaining practice in formal academic writing of varying lengths, students continue to write using the writing process. The curriculum also incorporates regular, continuous, direct instruction in grammar, spelling, and vocabulary building.
Sixth grade study of the Holocaust focuses on the rise of Nazism, the imposition of anti-Jewish laws and restrictions on the Jews of Germany, and the responses of German Jewry, culminating in Kristallnacht. Students explore the history through an investigation of essays as well as book clubs around a variety of first hand narratives.
The sixth grade Torah curriculum picks up the Exodus narrative with the last of the ten plagues and carries halfway through the Israelites’ first year in the wilderness, finishing with the crossing of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek (Sh’mot 12-17). Students work in study pairs (chevruta) and small groups to study the text, analyze it, question it, write their own commentaries, and compare them with traditional commentaries that also address the class’s questions. They share their insights, questions, and interpretations with their classmates and progressively become more independent in their ability to comprehend and work with the biblical text as they become increasingly proficient in biblical vocabulary and grammar.
Sixth grade marks the start of students’ formal study of Talmud. Building on skills and concepts they learned in Mishnah in their upper elementary years, the passages that comprise the curriculum early in the sixth grade consist primarily of baraitot, texts that are similar to mishnayot in length, language, structure, and style of argumentation. The first several Talmud passages are written in Hebrew and incorporate only isolated words and brief phrases of Aramaic. They are selected from Tractate B’rachot, whose subject matter is already familiar to students from their general knowledge of t’filah and from their study of Mishnah; the specific content, however, is new to them. Later in the year, the Talmud passages gradually lengthen and become somewhat more complex in structure and argument; Aramaic is sprinkled in more liberally, as well. These texts are chosen primarily from the tractates of Mo’ed that deal with the Jewish holidays and Jewish calendar, also familiar ground for students. By the end of the year, the passages are between half a side of a page and a full side, with corresponding complexity in other respects as well.
Students prepare the text in study pairs (chevruta) with the aid of worksheets, which help them to understand vocabulary and the meaning of each line and to analyze the passage into stages or steps. Pooling the insights of the class in a subsequent discussion helps bring the principles, the flow, and the thematic development of the Talmudic discussion into focus. Review activities and end-of-unit assessments help students solidify their understanding and gradually expand their text attack skills.
Sixth grade study the history of the modern State of Israel through historic speeches, documents, and song. Through these cultural elements, students gain perspective on the period of 1948-1978.
In t’filah, the sixth graders begin to pray twice daily, adding the minchah (afternoon) prayer to their routine. They continue to add new prayers to their daily liturgy, including additional chapters of psalms from p’sukei d’zimra. However, the main focus of the curriculum is on d’varim shebik’dushah, the parts of the service that are recited only with a minyan: kaddish, bar’chu, and k’dushah. Students’ inquiry into the meaning of new t’filot becomes more sophisticated as their text skills improve; they often trace the origins of new prayers in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and other sources. Sixth grade students also learn ta’amei hamikra (Torah cantillation), which they put to use by reading from the Torah scroll in the middle school minyan on Mondays and Thursdays. As their bat or bar mitzvah approaches, they begin to put on talit and t’filin daily.
In the spring of sixth grade, students begin to prepare for their Jewish Studies exhibition. They explore their attitudes about becoming bar or bat mitzvah; investigate the concept of mitzvah in the Torah as understood by Maimonides, Sefer Hachinuch, and other authorities; and research a chosen mitzvah, which they also incorporate in their personal practice and keep a journal to help them reflect on the experience. The mitzvah project culminates in an exhibition in which students write an extensive paper and make an oral presentation to members of the wider school community. They then defend their presentations by responding to “warm” and “cool” questions from the learning community.
The sixth grade chagim (Jewish holidays) curriculum focuses on Talmudic sources for all major holidays. In many cases, students study the classic sugyot (passages) out of which key concepts of the holiday first arise. For example, they discover the concept of itzumo shel yom m’chaper (the power of Yom Kippur to atone, with or without repentance), the classic dispute over the number of Chanukah candles to be lit each night, and the essence of the mitzvah of sipur y’tziat Mitzrayim (telling the exodus story) on seder night.
In math, sixth graders deepen their conceptual thinking and strengthen and extend their skill mastery. To reinforce their skills, they review numerical operations and apply them to fractions and decimals with rational numbers. To support their understanding, they analyze data sets, make use of estimation, especially as a check of accuracy, and use tangible objects in geometrical calculations.
The program is responsive to student needs: students work in small groups that change frequently based on interest and ability. In addition to working in groups, students often work independently. A premium is placed on students’ ability to assess their own needs.
Key focal points for the year include: Developing an understanding of number theory and multiplication and division of fractions and decimals; Developing an understanding of two-dimensional measurement; Modeling situations with tables, graphs and equations.
The following topics are studied in sixth grade:
Science study in sixth grade consists of four units, an interdisciplinary study of microscopes, and one unit each representing the physical, earth, and life sciences. The interdisciplinary unit introduces students to microscopes as they explore the up-close worlds of bacteria. They also compare and contrast plant and animal cells as a means of categorizing life forms. This leads the students to conduct their own experiments examining the properties of bacteria.
In physical science, students explore the physics and design of roller coasters, beginning with the different types of energy- potential and kinetic, moving into setting up tests with different variables of speed and drop height, and moving into designing their own roller coasters in a STEAM unit.
The first biology unit focuses on how the inside of a cell functions. Students make connections between the cell’s organelles and the parts of a city, and they investigate osmosis and how it affects the cell. The second biology unit deepens the students’ understanding of the physiology of the human body, including the digestive, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems. Students explore how a heart pumps blood, how food is broken down in the body, and how muscles work to control the body.
In the earth sciences component of the curriculum, focusing on the moons of Jupiter, students reenact Galileo’s 17th-century telescopic observations of Jupiter’s moons, observe and record Jovian moon orbits over time, experiment to learn how craters are formed and the causes of different types of eclipses, make scale models to better understand the size of the universe, and through observations create a moon journal.
Each unit encourages active learning through observation, deductive reasoning based on observation, experiment, research, hypothesis formation and testing, and scientific writing. Assessment of students’ progress is both ongoing, in the form of quizzes and tests, and culminating, incorporating research papers and final tests demonstrating their mastery of the concepts and processes they have investigated.
A highlight of the year is the major project students complete on cell biology, culminating in an exhibition in which students present their findings to their classmates, parents, and members of the wider school community.
The sixth grade instrumental program builds on the basics of keyboard playing that were taught in fifth grade. Students work solo or in pairs on pieces suited to their own levels.
As a class, they learn to play major scales and melodies, with emphasis on correct fingering and rhythm. The highlight of the instrumental program is the annual keyboard recital, in which students, individually and in pairs, perform their chosen pieces before the entire middle school.
In music theory, students review musical notation, including the treble clef, placement of notes, sharps and flats, and basic intervals. In addition, they work on sight singing and ear-training exercises. In music appreciation, they listen to a wide variety of musical excerpts and discuss characteristics of a variety of the different musical styles and composers, with particular emphasis on rhythm.
They continue to expand their repertoire of Israeli songs and American folk and show tunes, refining four or five of the songs for performance opportunities at the Zimriyah in December and the school concert in the spring. The focus of the singing program is on dynamics, pitch accuracy, memorizing lyrics, and song delivery.
Lessons begin with warm-ups, including stretching, jumping jacks, and a distance jog. The fall program emphasizes advancing students’ basic skills in soccer: leg strength, controlling the ball, and the proper techniques for throw-ins. Strategy of the games and proper positioning are also stressed. The class period regularly concludes with a game that utilizes students’ newly honed skills. Occasionally, a second soccer ball is added during the game to promote alertness and allow more students to be involved in the action. Additionally, the coaches stress communication, teamwork, and sportsmanship.
In the winter, the students continue working on soccer and supporting this with two types of indoor kickball (dome-ball and end-line kickball) games. They then move on to basketball, where they work on dribbling, passing, and shooting until they are comfortable enough to start playing full-court games. This is followed in the spring season by softball, in which the students work on proper throwing, catching, and batting techniques to improve eye-hand coordination, using the pitching machine to hone batting skills. The rules and strategy are also reviewed. In addition, Capture the Flag and soccer knock-out are introduced.