The GFS Middle School offers a lively, engaging, hands-on curriculum that promotes intellectual curiosity and the development of powerful academic skills. Rich course offerings, a robust advisory program, the introduction of interscholastic sports, a wide array of clubs and activities, and additional learning opportunities during seventh- and eighth-grade EXPO combine to make our Middle School a wonderful place to be during these crucial years of personal discovery.
- Computer Science and Technology
- Interdisciplinary Studies
- Modern Languages
- Physical Education
- Theater Arts
In Middle School, students begin their study of art with a course that emphasizes developing visual skills and experiencing various media, including painting, collage, 3D design, photography, and digital media. They learn how to critique and deepen their understanding through the study of artists and periods in art history. Finally, students take on increasingly challenging projects that build on their vocabulary, their skills with various media, and their visual literacy. It is critical that each student, regardless of his or her skill level, feels successful and supported in art.
Students participate in a sequential program, where they are introduced to appropriate skills and concepts at each grade level. New materials and technology are explored, practiced, and integrated with previous learning as students progress from simple exercises to complex assignments requiring increased independence. Using a problem-solving format, concepts are first presented and examined, then students develop individual solutions to creatively answer assigned problems. Frequent use of critiques helps students recognize quality and appreciate the uniqueness and diversity of effective responses.
Each spring, there is an All-School Art Show, where every student’s work is on display for the community to celebrate. Student work in color theory, symmetry, asymmetry, still life, portraiture, conceptual art, 3D design, and digital media is exhibited.
The Middle School athletics program is an integral part of our school curriculum. We believe in providing students with the opportunity to learn about a variety of sports, to experience the lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship, and to develop fundamental skills and game strategies in an engaging and challenging environment. Students are placed on teams that reflect their grade and/or ability level. All programs have full practice schedules, and competition levels vary by team and program.
At GFS, we value the sense of community, camaraderie, physical and mental well-being, and skill development that come from engaging in our athletic program. It is our expectation that all students will actively participate and fulfill their athletic requirement. In sixth grade, joining a sports team is optional. In both seventh and eighth grades, two seasons of athletics are required.
There is a non-competitive movement option available during the winter. Students may elect to substitute one season of after-school sports with Theater Movement Arts, which combines collaborative, ensemble-based theater-making with skills-based classes in various movement-centered disciplines. Each session includes Actor-Ensemble Training plus two movement-based specialty classes, such as African Dance, Stage Combat, Latin Dance, or Circus Arts.
See more information about Middle School Athletics.
The study of Latin or Greek provides students with basic grammatical concepts, a rich vocabulary, and exposure to the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean—a world fascinatingly similar to our own and yet different in interesting and instructive ways. Our Latin and Greek courses encourage students to build their knowledge gradually and surely, while providing extra time for the study of vocabulary and Classical culture.
Students may opt for Latin as their primary language in seventh grade, which allows for exposure to history, culture and English vocabulary development in a two-year Latin I program, or choose a one-year intensive course in Latin or Greek in eighth grade as a second language option.
No work in our 21st-century classrooms can be done without the integration of technology, which has become a valuable learning tool in the Middle School and is fully integrated into the curriculum. Our goal is to provide students with a thorough understanding of the moral and ethical responsibilities that accompany the use of technology.
Technology is incorporated into each course. Students use programs like Garage Band in music, learn to create spreadsheets and use databases in math and science, and explore design, desktop publishing, and presentation software in art, English, language, and history. Teachers make assignments, provide resources, and communicate with students through the Google Classroom platform. Additionally, there are EXPO offerings in programming, coding, and web design.
In the first year of Middle School, students have class in the computer lab once a week. The sixth-grade teachers and the technology coordinators work as a team to develop projects and activities that relate directly to the core of the sixth-grade curriculum.
Overall goals include developing technological literacy and skills, developing an understanding of the moral and ethical responsibilities that arise when using technology, and cultivating independent problem-solving and troubleshooting skills so that students may adapt and grow as technologies change.
During the first part of the year, students complete smaller projects that focus on word processing, digital images, internet research and drawing and graphic-design skills. The second part of the year focuses on major projects that incorporate spreadsheet, presentation and web-design skills and software, as well as more complex topics, such as evaluating online information and ethical concerns when using technology. Where possible, projects are integrated thematically with the sixth-grade core curriculum to encourage students to engage more meaningfully with their work in this class, and to support the work they are doing in their other classes as well.
In seventh and eighth grades, students use the computer room primarily in the context of their individual classes. The technology coordinator and the members of the faculty work together to develop and introduce a set of continually-evolving projects and digital skills appropriate to the age group and the specific curricular content being taught.
Underlying the use of all technology in the curriculum is an appreciation for the rapidly-changing nature of the skills and capacities needed for success as a citizen of the 21st century; students develop skills to help them think creatively, solve problems, communicate effectively, acquire a global perspective, research independently and create useful digital content. Projects encompass a range of computer skills, including word processing, spreadsheet creation, graphing and analysis, multimedia presentations, web research, layout and publishing, graphic design, musical composition, website design, and effective social-networking skills. Online collaborative tools, such as wikis and blogs, are also being used by many of our faculty as part of their collaborative classroom experience.
In addition to the regular curriculum, for the last several years eighth graders have participated in day-long seminars dealing with issues relating to acting ethically and responsibly in a digital world.
In addition to their classroom experiences, seventh- and eighth-grade students have the option to receive further instruction and complete hands-on, technology-related activities during EXPO, a double period of elective time meeting once a week for a trimester’s length.
During the EXPO technology course, students are given an opportunity to extend their skills in topics such as graphic design and page layout, animation and movie making and HTML and web design. While the focus is on developing specific skills and techniques related to the chosen technology, students are also encouraged to express their creativity and artistic skills through the applied technology.
Students may also elect to work on our student-produced Middle School publications, including our newspaper, literary magazine, and yearbook.
GFS students are poets, journalists, playwrights, storytellers, griots, and essayists, and our program places student voices at the center of the classroom through a variety of writing projects, including journaling, freewriting, short story workshops, and thoughtful work around the structure of more formal, analytical pieces.
In small and large group discussions, students seek to understand and unpack a diverse group of texts and authors. They are invited to reflect, both in conversation and on the page, on the significance of writing, and the ways in which literature lifts up marginalized voices. Interdisciplinary approaches allow students to consider readings through art and music as well.
Students emerge from the Middle School with a better understanding of writing as a process. They are asked to peer-edit each other’s work, and then revise what they have written with their classmates’ comments in mind. Vocabulary and grammar lessons, often gleaned directly from the texts, help the students gain expressive flexibility and strength. By placing the students’ voices at the center of their practice, our teachers hope to guide students toward a lifetime love of writing and reading.
The English program in sixth grade is geared towards deepening students’ writing and reading experiences and beginning to establish the skills they will require to analyze literature during their Middle School years.
Students read novels, short stories and poems. Topics include, but are not limited to, survival, exploration, injustice and intolerance. In some cases, the texts are integrated with the social studies curriculum.
Additionally, students begin to learn how to annotate as a means of collecting information for discussion and written analysis. Writing is a central component of the sixth-grade program, and students develop their skills in various areas of the writing process, such as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and proofreading. They also learn the basic elements of poetry, which they apply when reading and writing poems.
The seventh-grade English curriculum is designed to expose students to a variety of writing styles, themes and characters. The students read plays, novels, essays and poems in which characters are discovering, developing or challenging their sense of identity. Seventh graders are asked to consider the use of symbolism during discussions and follow-up activities. Throughout the year, they are expected to produce a variety of written work—short stories, poetry, essays and journals. While the seventh-grade curriculum works to foster creative writing through short story writing and journaling, students continue to work on their critical writing as well. Emphasis is placed on improving paragraph and essay structures, as well as developing an argument in writing.
Eighth-grade English is a writing- and literature-based course designed to introduce students to a variety of genres (plays, epic poems, historical novels, vignettes). There is a focus on creative and critical written responses to the readings, and students are required to consider a literary work in its historical context. As critical readers and writers, students make connections to their reading through various lenses: personal, historical, cultural and psychological. Vocabulary is culled from each of the texts to build fluency and comprehension. In addition to advancing reading comprehension, students are asked to practice different forms of creative and analytical writing to build their skills and critical thinking. They are always encouraged to revise pieces and frequently do multiple drafts of both creative and critical writing. To support their writing, students also study grammar structures, reviewing parts of speech and introducing phrases and clauses.
The EXPO (Explore, Experience, Express) program provides an opportunity for seventh and eighth grade students and their teachers to work with a variety of groups in community-building activities, giving students a sense that their grade—and the Middle School as a whole—is a distinct division, contributing to the GFS and Germantown communities.
There are both community involvement and elective EXPO courses. Seventh and eighth graders are scheduled into one community involvement course each year (and may elect a second course or choose from one of the other offerings). These courses allow students to have meaningful interactions with the people, places, and resources that make up the historic neighborhood of Germantown. As a result, many mutually-beneficial partnerships have developed between neighborhood organizations and GFS, including the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and the Holsey Temple CME Church in Germantown.
Elective EXPO courses encourage students to consider options supported by our academic program, but allow focused time on specific interests. Examples include programming, HTML coding and web design, animation and filmmaking, woodshop, black-and-white photography, drama, and world percussion.
In our history classrooms, students and faculty explore and challenge ideas together, building on the foundational Quaker belief in continuing revelation. Examining differences and empathizing with multiple perspectives are central to this process. We endeavor to help students make meaning out of a variety of sources through thoughtful questioning, close reading, analysis, and research. Students and faculty practice communicating ideas with clear, direct expression supported by evidence. Creating historical consciousness—the consciousness that people in the past had different values, assumptions, and worldviews from people in the present—is central to our work together. Our hope is to gain a deeper sense of our own identities, develop moral understanding, and foster engaged citizenship that will contribute positively to the world.
In sixth grade, students explore questions related to our place in society, how communities survive and sustain themselves, and the lenses through which we see the world. They begin their study of history by investigating geography, reading and creating maps, and practicing fundamental research skills. Students then dive into an immersive study of ancient Latin American civilizations, with a focus on the Maya, the Inca, and the Aztecs. They conclude their studies with an examination of the Renaissance and the impact of contact between the cultures of Latin America and Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Seventh and eighth grade students embark on a two-year study of U.S. history. The seventh-grade year begins with European colonization, and extends through the period of territorial expansion, increasing sectionalism, and the Civil War (circa 1492-1865). The history of Germantown and Philadelphia is central to this study, with field trips to local sites. Students grapple with questions regarding who gets to tell the story of history, and who the “we” are in “We the People” at various points in our history. The eighth grade course builds on the foundation laid in seventh grade, and explores U.S. history through thematic units, including civil rights, foreign policy, immigration, and economics. Students examine these themes from the time of reconstruction to the present.
The development of critical thinking, research, public speaking, and writing skills is central to each of these courses.
The history and English curricula intersect in each of the three Middle School years. Students in sixth grade read The Second Mrs. Giaconda in English, for example, while they study the Italian Renaissance. Other trips and projects cross several disciplines. The seventh grade takes a boat trip on the Delaware River, for example, on which they engage in a math project, visit Fort Mifflin and create a map for art, and a Germantown research project serves as a springboard for Quakerism, English and history. The eighth-grade year concludes with a media studies project, which also crosses disciplines.
Our mathematics instruction is designed to equip all students with the skill set to reason and communicate proficiently in mathematics. Students dive into the language of math and become successful problem solvers. They explore number operations, probability, and algebra. Our approach blends problem-centered instruction with basic skills work as students learn to use vocabulary, forms of representation, materials, tools and techniques, and intellectual methods of the discipline. The program draws upon material from the Connected Mathematics program as well as other sources.
In sixth grade, students continue to develop enthusiasm for math and confidence in their abilities in approaching a variety of problems. Overarching goals include developing comfort with handling mathematical concepts and approaching a variety of problems, determining which tools and strategies can be used to solve them; developing and solidifying arithmetic skills and understanding of math processes and procedures; confidently approaching problem solving by combining solid skills with number sense; and developing the ability to communicate mathematical thinking.
The main objective of seventh grade mathematics is to provide students with the tools and conceptual building blocks to make sense and meaning of the content of a formal Algebra I course. Throughout the year, students learn to shift their perspectives between concrete and abstract representations of numbers, patterns, and relationships. Through projects and activities, they identify, represent, and extend patterns in tables, graphs, and equations, and develop their proportional reasoning skills using problem solving and exploration as they develop a strong conceptual understanding of the role of constant rate of change to describe a linear function. Students also learn to model problems and data in probability and statistics.
In eighth grade, we emphasize better understanding of previously introduced algebraic concepts and applications, as well as proficiency in problem solving, mathematical reasoning, and higher-order thinking skills. Our goal is to prepare students for the study of higher level and increasingly abstract mathematics, with an emphasis on using the language of Algebra to model real-world problems and situations. We strive to instill in our students an appreciation for the intrinsic beauty of math, confidence in their algebraic ability and understanding, and a strong engagement in mathematical thought and work.
Our French and Spanish courses are designed to produce fluency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Using a textbook series, students are exposed to the cultures of the many countries where these languages are spoken. Text, film, music, video, computer-based activities, and creative projects are integrated into instruction in order to ensure an enriched understanding of the language and culture.
Students entering the seventh grade begin their study of another language and culture by choosing French, Spanish, or Latin. French and Spanish are both taught in the target language, encouraging students to develop an ear and voice for the language. Languages that begin in seventh grade continue in eighth grade to complete Level I.
In sixth grade, students take Anatomy of Language, an in-depth study of languages and grammar. In this year-long course they explore the languages that are alive in their current experiences, as well as examine the world’s languages and how they are related to one another. Students learn English grammar by examining sentence structure, and build a linguistic vocabulary. Over the course of the year, they will examine the world’s language families, writing systems, and the spread of literacy and knowledge. Students graduate sixth grade with a strong sense of the world’s languages, a good handle on geography, and a solid grasp of English grammar.
The Middle School music program provides students from all backgrounds and experiences the space to explore musical growth and artistic inspiration. Students have numerous opportunities to develop their musical literacy and understanding, artistic expression, and love for music while tapping into our deepest roots of community and personal connection.
Our curriculum has three main components: the study of music fundamentals; musical understanding through listening, historical study, and analysis; and musical creation through singing and instruments. Students in sixth and seventh grades participate in classes in Folk Instruments, Music Composition, Keyboard Skills, and FUNdamentals; students in eighth grade focus on music history as it relates to social justice, film scores and the use of compositional techniques, and contemporary music as a reflection of social and political statements. During the eighth grade year, all students participate in the annual musical, which highlights the vocal and acting skills that are developed through months of collaborative work.
All Middle School students also have the opportunity to participate in any of three performing ensembles: Orchestra, Chorus, and Jazz. These groups rehearse two or three periods per week, in addition to the regularly scheduled, required music classes, and perform throughout the year at community assemblies and evening concerts.
In Middle School, the goal of the Physical Education program is to lead students to develop their individual movement skills and discover their interests through participation in coeducational classes at each grade level. By providing opportunities to develop competence in movement and an appreciation for the diversity of fitness and skill levels, we hope that our students will participate actively in class activities and beyond.
Students learn team and individual sports while developing sport-specific skills and techniques. As they move through the Middle School program, they review fundamental motor skills through non-traditional activities—including adventure education—and strengthen social skills through participation in group and partner work, especially problem-solving activities.
The sixth-grade Physical Education program focuses on applying concepts of both team and individual sports while developing sport-specific skills and techniques. Activities include field hockey, football, speedball, tennis, basketball, badminton/squash, volleyball, wrestling, tumbling, lacrosse, softball/baseball and track and field. Fitness activities are an integral part of the program as well. Students have hour-long physical education classes three times per week during the entire year. Extended class times in the fall and spring allow these students to travel to the GFS playing fields.
In the eighth-grade physical education program, students revisit and refine basic motor skills while deepening their understanding of sports strategies. Students take on additional responsibilities serving as team captains for intraclass games. Activities include football, badminton and floor hockey, as well as a culmination of games previously played in the Middle School physical education program. All students participate in outdoor/adventure education activities, including learning the basics of top rope climbing. Eighth-graders have physical education class three times a week for the entire year. The eighth-grade course also includes a quarter of Sexuality Education.
Germantown Friends School’s Quaker identity fundamentally influences the Middle School program. The study of Quaker values—Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship (the SPICES)—is woven into the curriculum in a variety of ways, including classwork and community projects. In seventh grade, students choose a semester-long Quakerism elective with a special focus on equality and racial justice, environmental stewardship, or peace and community.
The Germantown Monthly Meeting is central to the life of the school. The Middle School has its own weekly Meeting for Worship, when students and faculty come together in the Meetinghouse for shared, silent reflection. In addition to gathering as a full division, we foster a deeper connection to Meeting through mixed-grade worship sharings, “informal” Meeting for Worship, and Meeting for Worship by grade.
The focus of Middle School science is exploration. Students begin their sixth grade year studying the characteristics of life, moving from cells to organ systems to organisms. Along the way, they learn how to create a scientist’s sketchbook, use a microscope, and hone their observation skills.
In seventh grade, students begin with a comprehensive study of matter and its properties, including an in-depth unit on chemistry, then move into an investigation of important principles of Earth Science. They spend six weeks on a robotics unit, tackling physical challenges with their robots using introductory programming skills.
The eighth-grade year is devoted to the study of the many cycles of the Earth and its interconnected systems in an environmental science course. As a culminating experience, students put their research skills to the test as they conduct experiments on an independent project for our annual Science Night. In addition to writing a research paper and a lab report, they create scientific posters and present their findings to peers and parents.
The focus of the Theater Arts program is to balance introductory skill development with community and character building. Engaging students in new forms of creative expression helps them develop and reinforce positive relationships among their peer group. It’s physical, it’s communal—and it’s fun!
Theater also gets integrated into classroom teaching throughout the Middle School years. Partnerships between drama faculty and other core (often English) teachers help to bring the delight and power of theater into the teaching of curricular texts. It is not uncommon to see the staging of scenes, the recitation of poems, or the dramatic reading of prose in a Middle School classroom, bringing the great texts to life in body and voice.
In seventh and eighth grades, students have the option to elect drama during their EXPO blocks. These trimester-long sessions focus on the preparation and production of a short one-act play. Students work closely with theater faculty on every aspect of the production, including props, lighting, and costumes. The nature of the plays produced vary based on student participation and interest.
The Eighth Grade Musical is a special collaboration between the music and drama departments, and provides an opportunity for the entire grade to come together and celebrate one another in music, dance, and scene. All eighth grade students participate in at least one aspect of the production, including set design and construction, stage management, lighting and sound, costume design, and, of course, performance.