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Course Descriptions

Sixth Grade

Academic achievement, of course, is a prime goal during sixth grade. During the first semester, teachers work to ease the transition from Lower School to Middle School by helping students with organization and time management skills.  Sixth grade is not a breeding ground for competitiveness. At MPH, childhood is still celebrated in sixth grade and learning is the prize everyone wins for effort. Children are guided toward academic success with encouragement and care so that their confidence as learners and new members of Middle School is strengthened. Leaving behind the homeroom environment of Lower School, sixth graders follow a schedule that allows them to have a “home” in the team leader’s classroom, as well as their individual advisor’s room, while introducing them to departmentalized courses throughout campus.  Students study a World Language, participate in daily physical education or dance classes, and rotate through classes with different students.

Seventh Grade

Seventh Grade is a unique year for students. The middle of the middle school years, it is a time full of dramatic personal change, as well as neurological growth. Seventh graders are constantly watching, striving, bouncing and needing! We know this about our students and design the academic program around seventh graders’ developmental needs. Seventh graders further develop academic and research skills in challenging classes in the core disciplines. While they are provided continuity by traveling in academic clusters throughout the day, the additional enrichment courses they participate in allow them to feel some independence, too. Students take abbreviated courses like Life Skills, fitness, and technology.  This independence and the fully departmentalized structure of classes contribute to students’ growing sense of being responsible for their own learning – a key understanding for future success in Middle and Upper School.  Students continue to participate in daily physical education or dance classes and further their study of a World Language.

Eighth Grade

During this culminating year of Middle School, students are looking ahead to Upper School with wide eyes, though their teachers realize they are not ready for the next division quite yet. There is still important work to be done in Middle School. The eighth grade curriculum hones in on study and research skills, exploration and thought, advanced problem-solving and all that is demanded of a successful scholar. The Eighth Grade academic menu offers students greater choice. Enriched science and art are offered, health is a part of the curriculum, and there are options among math courses. All students take an introduction to Eastern Cultures called “Chinese Kaleidoscope” to continue broadening their horizons as they become members of the global community.  Independent learning in each classroom expands, and opportunities for personalized experiences are introduced. Experiential trips are essential to Middle School, and eighth grade is no exception. A trip to Washington, D.C., taken in the spring, is an urban adventure that challenges students to respond to a major city and all that it has to offer. Navigating city streets, Metro lines, and crowds are part of this dynamic experience in the nation’s capital.


Strong independent schools, have challenging and engaging English curriculums. This holds true at MPH. In the middle school, the basics of English grammar, composition and literature are stressed, yet students deepen and polish their approach to the written word with great intention and care. Annotation, critical thinking, discussion, and editing skills are highlighted in middle school as students participate in shared, purposeful inquiry using academic language, some for the very first time. When writing, which students do often, middle schoolers work through the mechanics – sentence structure, mode, word choice, and paragraphing – developing a position or argument, identifying an audience, and organizing their ideas along the way.  Essential questions drive this academic push by putting emphasis upon communication and vocabulary development at all levels. Middle school also prepares students well for the Upper School. Students in grades 6 – 8 are exposed not only to plays and young adult literature, but also graphic novels, epics, short stories, and poetry. Students also actively take part in an independent reading initiative called Middle School Reads, picking works from a suggested list with the help of their faculty advisor.


English 6

In Sixth Grade English, students work toward becoming critical readers and proficient writers. Texts of varied genres including novels, plays, short stories and poetry are used to engage students in reading. An introduction to literary elements and opportunities to write in a variety of ways allow students to connect more deeply with literature. Grammar instruction focuses on building creative and complex sentences in addition to reviewing the mechanics of writing.

Readings may include: “Love that Dog,” “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry,” “The Shakespeare Stealer,” and “Baseball in April and Other Stories.” Additionally, students will self-select books for independent reading projects throughout the year.

English 7

In English 7, students are exposed to a wide array of books, stories, poems, and media so that they can find connections within and between these works. They are asked to look critically at how these works are constructed and at how these writers use language to make meaning. Literary analysis is a primary focus of the course. Their reading serves to inform the students’ own emerging writing skills. From reinforcing their understanding of the fundamentals, such as elements of fiction, students develop a good working knowledge of different modes of writing such as exposition, persuasion, and argumentation. Varied creative assignments, frequent in-class writing, and exposure to a variety of genres and modes of literacy-including media and computer-provide students with a wealth of opportunities to grow.

Readings may include “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Lord of the Flies,”  “Classic Fairy Tales,” “Watership Down,” “The Weight of All Things,” “The Hunger Games,” “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy,” “Chains,” and more.

English 8

In Eighth Grade English, a variety of both contemporary and classic texts are used to engage students who are developing into more sophisticated thinkers and writers. These texts address a number of serious issues and themes which generate strong reactions from adolescents and allow them a variety of ways to interact with literature. In addition to discussing and writing about what they read, students will have opportunities for recitation, dramatic interpretation, and multi-media presentations. Continued review of mechanics and grammar, and regular attention to vocabulary development are used to strengthen and streamline student writing.

Readings may include: “Tangerine,” “Animal Farm,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Speak,” “Macbeth,” “Monster,” and numerous short stories and poems.


The effort to help students answer their own questions, such as, “How does this relate to the world I know? How can mathematics help me understand my world and what people do?” has been the foundation to the implementation of a math curriculum for over 20 years at MPH. Curriculum is designed so that students personally construct their mathematical understanding as they make sense within situations requiring the real application of mathematical thinking and computation. In doing so, mathematics, another necessary literacy for our children, becomes a tool for life. Comprehension of “when,” as well as the skill of “how,” are integrated within lessons.

We strive to balance students constructing their own meaning from mathematical situations with teaching students the necessary algorithms for future success in math.  Algebraic thinking is stressed beginning in the Lower School and accelerated students have the opportunity to take Algebra beginning in seventh grade.  Beyond that, students develop problem solving, reasoning and communication skills with excellent results. Our students thrive on taking “calculated” and thoughtful risks in mathematics; witnessing the many “aha!” moments in a class is exhilarating for the students and teachers.


Mathematics 6

Math 6 topics include number theory, operations on decimals, fractions, and integers, measurement, geometry, ratios and proportions, and introductory probability and statistics.  Cooperative learning and problem solving skills, as well as writing to communicate mathematical ideas, are emphasized throughout the year.  Students explore material through a series of small group activities and projects, as well as through whole class discussions.

Mathematics 7

This course is offered to Seventh Graders and provides a rigorous presentation to the study of algebra. An introduction to the use of variables in equations is fundamental to the course. Numerical concepts encompass order of operations, number theory, integers, rational numbers (positive and negative fractions), percent, ratios, volume and surface area and provide a sound foundation for the future study of algebra. Problem solving is also stressed. The graphing calculator is used to evaluate expressions, graph linear equations, check answers, and explore mathematical ideas to help students become familiar with its operation.

Mathematics 8

Math 8 fosters the relationship between numbers, algebra, and graphs, and pays special attention to cultivating problem solving skills. Students pursue traditional topics of algebra: operations with rational numbers, ratio, proportion and percent, solving linear equations and inequalities, graphing linear functions and inequalities, beginning operations with polynomials, and probability and statistics. The course focuses on algebraic manipulation skills, communication of ideas, and the basic use of the graphing calculator. The course includes projects and activities designed to highlight uses of math in the real world, improve algebra skills and create an excellent understanding of the mathematical concepts. It is offered to students who have completed Math 7.

Mathematics 1AB

Math 1 AB is a project-oriented algebra class offered to students who have completed the seventh grade Pre-Algebra class, but are not quite ready for the pace and theory of Math I AC. Students pursue traditional topics of algebra including solving equations and inequalities, exponents, polynomial expressions and graphing linear functions, as well as computation with rational numbers and statistics. Developing the relationship between algebraic models, graphs, and geometry of measurement with special attention to problem solving skills and concepts is a major focus. Special attention is devoted to algebraic manipulation skills, communication of ideas, graphing and the use of the TI-84 calculator. Students apply their algebra and graphing skills to analyze real data to show how math is connected to real life situations.


Grades six through eight are a natural crossroads already existing between lower school and upper school education, between childhood and adolescence, and between an understanding of the concrete and an ability to tackle the abstract. Therefore, Middle School History lessons and activities are written to develop upper level thinking skills and also inspire a love of history. Students in middle school are called upon to analyze events and defend their analyses. Several lessons focus on what life was like during a certain period of time or how historical events affect them as individuals. The curriculum provides activities that students of various levels of ability and interest can find both challenging and rewarding. While many of the activities culminate in some form of written work, other assignments include working on multimedia presentations, maps, and debates. Students are called upon to gather information from many resources and write clearly about what they have learned.  No skill is taught in a vacuum. Perhaps most importantly, students are given the opportunity to act as historians. Throughout the curriculum many primary sources are presented, such as speeches, personal accounts of events, and political cartoons. Teachers may have to help students figure out the more difficult passages, but it is important that every student participates in viewing the past through primary source materials as well as his or her own eyes.

6th Grade History – Digging the Past: Historical Concepts in the Ancient World and Beyond
Students in History 6 study key historical concepts through the context of early world history. We spend much of the year developing an understanding of core concepts such as cultural universals and the struggle for power, while giving considerable attention to subsets like belief systems, social division, and trade. Specific content includes ancient civilizations, early Islamic civilization, and the Middle Ages. Current events will be frequently woven into the curriculum where applicable.  In addition to fostering core skills in areas such as geography and writing, students can also expect ‘hands-on’ activities and projects to help strengthen their understanding of history and the world today.
7th Grade History – Pivotal Points in U.S. History
Why did American colonists fight a revolution against the British Empire? How did the new American citizens decide that their government was failing and write, in one summer, a Constitution that is still in use over 220 years later? How did that government almost fall apart during the Civil War? By forgoing the usual “survey” approach to history and examining just a few periods – the “pivotal points” – we find out what makes history both exciting and crucial. Primary sources are stressed throughout the year, and students write, edit and revise analytical, narrative and creative assignments. Give me liberty or give me death!
8th Grade History – Current Events Literacy
The primary goal of Current Events Literacy is for students to develop a background in 20th century world issues, which helps foster a stronger understanding of the world today. We cover a variety of historical topics ranging form the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict to Apartheid, while emphasizing overarching themes that include: economy, political systems, the legacy of imperialism, and the changing face of leadership. We use group projects, discussion and debates, and reading a variety of sources to help students develop a sound understanding of current world issues. Critical thinking, collaboration, and writing are all skills emphasized in this class.


Imagine a middle school chorus of ‘what if’ and ‘how come’ serving to shape the nature of science education. It is the use of this natural curiosity as a spring board to catapult learning into an intensely personal experience that hallmarks middle school science teaching at Manlius Pebble Hill School. This constructivist approach dovetails with the questioning, rapidly developing and vastly different intellect s of middle school students. A faculty celebrating this and building experiences to monopolize on it has been highlighted as strength of our program. Whether comparing chemical reaction rates, building solar ovens, or investigating nearby Butternut Creek students are consistently offered rich, hands on opportunities to question, challenge, and develop a refined sense of understanding based on each personal experience. Attention is also given to moving students’ thinking such that they intellectually allow an experience to teach them all that it can. That is, there may be significant learning occurring throughout and as a result of an experience that was not anticipated or the initial focus of the experience by the student. However, opening one’s mind to allow all this information to be considered is a skilled thought pattern one finds within all great scientific thinkers, past and present.  This style of learning is exemplified not only by our daily approach to teaching the unique middle school student but is also extended to our Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Fair, student attendance at a Syracuse University lecture, and participation in Bristol – Meyers Squibb Summer Horizons Program.  Students graduating from our middle school have a refined sense of the scientific method as well as the skills to write their thoughts within the structure of a laboratory report.


Science 6
This introductory course in scientific inquiry covers a variety of scientific fields. The class is activity-oriented and acquaints students with science methodology. Relevant news articles pertaining to local environmental issues are woven into class work. Scientific inquiry is made less mysterious by allowing students to understand the world through supervised experimentation. Students are involved with ecosystem comparisons, microscopic investigations, building solar powered mini cars, and basic experiments in chemistry and physics. As the year progresses students are given greater independence in determining both control and variable trials of each experiment and learn to make objective statements about their observations while writing increasingly complex lab reports. Progress is evaluated through the development of detailed, thoughtful, and descriptive writing. Independent work is also achieved through the design, development and execution of a S.T.E.M Fair project. Many students then continue this effort and attend the CNY Science & Engineering Fair, a competitive regional event.

Science 7: Life Science
The focus for seventh grade Life Science is on human body systems: skeletal, muscular, integumentary, digestive, circulatory and nervous. Laboratory work is designed to give students hands-on experience, reinforce course content and develop an understanding of the scientific method. The material complements the 6th and 8th Grade science curricula, so that students are exposed to the fundamentals of the life and physical sciences before reaching the Upper School. In addition, students carry out a thorough preparation for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fair, which is designed to give them experience in selecting a question for research, designing and carrying out an appropriate experiment, analyzing results, and communicating with both adults and their peers.

Science 8: Earth Science
Like all other sciences, environmental science is a process of satisfying our curiosity about why things are the way they are and about how things happen the way they happen. During this course, students learn that we know so little about environmental interactions that it is difficult to predict long term effects. The course goals are to provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems – both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing them. Throughout the course of the year student and teacher generated activities allow creative problem-solving and involvement in experimental design. The key themes include population, biodiversity, air and water pollution, biomes, farming practices, and habitat restoration.

World Language

The World Language program in the middle school offers the study of both classical and modern languages beginning in 6th grade. Through the study of world languages, middle school students develop an understanding of the structure of language and a wider perspective of their everchanging world. In classical studies, students focus on the reading and writing of Latin in order to gain an understanding of the linguistic and cultural heritages derived from the world of Ancient Rome. Through the study of French and Spanish, students develop skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing, as well as a knowledge and appreciation of other cultures. The goal of the modern language program in the middle school is to empower students to communicate successfully in today’s multilingual world. In every World Language classroom, middle school students experience immersion into other cultures through food, music, art, literature, publications, film, and other media.


French 6
6th Grade French is a transitional language course bridging the students’ language experience in the lower school to the more formal college preparatory study of French in the middle and upper schools. 6th grade students will continue to develop their skill in speaking and listening comprehension, while beginning emphasis will be placed on spelling, grammar and reading. An important step will also be to develop their study skills, especially when it comes to note taking, memorization,organization, preparation for tests and presentations. The students will be exposed to many aspects of francophone cultures worldwide through readings, movies, songs and Internet researches. Basic class commands will be spoken in French.
Spanish 6
Spanish 6 is a transitional course, allowing the students to practice the basic Spanish they have learned in the Lower School, and to transfer their previously acquired knowledge to more sophisticated structures of Spanish. In addition, the students learn different idiomatic expressions from various Spanish-speaking countries. They are expected to use their Spanish orally and to demonstrate accurate spelling in the written language. The students learn more about Hispanic Culture and create an original project for the Spanish Culture Fair which they put on for their Pre-K buddies.
Intro to Latin
Latin, as an introductory course, focuses on the “phenomena” common to western languages and on the workings of language in general, using Latin as the vehicle to that end. A linguistic approach is used; that is, the student experiences the process of language and learns a method of dealing with language studies. A rudimentary knowledge of the system of language facilitates language learning in general. Great care is taken in selecting concepts which are central not only to the understanding of Latin grammar, but which, at the same time, are directly transferable to English and other languages. Additionally, the course emphasizes an awareness of Greek and Roman civilization and its impact upon our world.
French/Spanish/Latin: IA/IB (Grades 7 & 8)
Seventh Graders begin the first level of French, Spanish, or Latin and complete one-half of the standard high school French I/Spanish I/Latin I curriculum. Upon successfully completing the Seventh Grade program, Eighth Graders study the second half of the standard French I/Spanish I/Latin I curriculum. Seventh and Eighth Grade world language courses are termed IA and IB, respectively. Students successfully completing French IB, Spanish IB, or Latin IB receive one high school world language credit.

In Spanish and French, a communication-oriented approach is used. Students attain proficiency in the skill areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They also develop an awareness of the language’s culture. Latin IA and IB emphasize the fundamental grammatical concepts of language through the writing and reading of Latin, and also a student’s awareness of ancient culture.

Visual Arts

The Middle school art program provides an integrated sequence of art instruction and experiences intended to instill in each student the skills and information needed to ensure a lasting appreciation of the importance of art in our lives.

All students learn a variety of practical skills such as drawing, the use of design principles, and color theory. The eighth grade student has the opportunity to choose art as an elective in addition to the required art course. One offering is 2-D Design and the other course elective is 3-D Design and Sculpture. Many types of media are used to create 2-D projects. These materials include pastels, colored pencil, printmaking, and watercolor.

The 3-D design course is an exploration of media such as clay, plaster, fused glass and found materials. Technology is also important to the curriculum as students work from web quests for research projects on Impressionism and Modern Art. The principles that brought about discovery, growth and changes in art are also explored.


6th Grade Art
The 6th Grade art class is where the students are able to experiment with a variety of media within the context of the “elements and principals of design.”We begin with a focus on drawing in order to develop and improve skill and technique. This includes instruction on contour line, value and attention to detail. The importance of craftsmanship is also stressed.The students are introduced to the work of many artists including Cezanne, Matisse, Faithe Ringgold, Georgia Okeeffe, and Picasso. Although the focus is on 2-D art this year, we also  work in clay and fused glass.
7th Grade Art
In 7th Grade Art, the focus is on color theory, drawing and Impressionism. Projects include:

1. Contour line drawing, color and value studies, perspective drawing, and printmaking

2. The Impressionism unit includes discussion, slides and videos on 12 Impressionist artists. Students write a 2-page paper on an artist of their choice, create a reproduction of the artist’s work in pastels, then present the research and drawing to the class.

8th Grade Art
In 8th Grade Art, the focus is on 20th Century Art. The text is: “Understanding Modern Art.” Students will be introduced to many artists of the 20th century including Pollock, Calder, Kandinsky, Miro, Picasso and Dali, through slides videos and discussions.  They will write a 2-page paper on one of the modern artists and create a reproduction of the artist’s work. Once the student understands the complexities of the artist’s style, they will create an original painting that will incorporate the artist’s style and technique.

We will be working with clay, collage and printmaking, always with a focus on the abstract. The goal is to help the students understand and appreciate the many movements of Modern art; how historical events played a major role in these movements; and to answer questions about the value of this non-objective work.

Performing Arts

MPH recognizes the importance of developing well-rounded and culturally literate students. Therefore, the enjoyment and appreciation of music, drama, and dance is made an integral part of the curriculum. Middle School students select either vocal or instrumental music, and may study both. Dance may also be chosen as a Physical Education elective.



Chorus is a vocal performing group made up of Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade students. The students work to develop introductory sight-singing skills and good vocal habits including breath support and intonation. Ease of tone production, discipline, and performance skills are stressed. Students rehearse a variety of music in two or more parts and present two evening concerts each year. Concerts are the culmination of the entire semester’s work and all members are expected to be in attendance for each concert.

Instrumental Music

Students study a variety of challenging music geared to the performance level of the group. This ensemble will perform a variety of music while studying the art of instrumental balance, intonation, blend and style. Lesson groups will be formed to allow more intensive individual development and to prepare for NYSSMA events and All-County auditions. This ensemble performs at least two major concerts.

Middle School Band and Symphony Strings

Students study a variety of challenging music geared to the performance level of the group. This ensemble will perform a variety of music while studying the art of instrumental balance, intonation, blend and style. Lesson groups will be formed to allow more intensive individual development and to prepare for NYSSMA events and All-County auditions. This ensemble performs at least two major concerts.


This course provides an introduction to dance as an art form, rich in more than five centuries of history. It challenges the entire body, stimulating the mind as well as the muscles. Students develop strength, flexibility, coordination, and confidence while learning fundamental movement skills, spatial and body awareness, dance vocabulary, and the appreciation of dance as a medium of artistic expression. The year culminates in a performance of original choreography and repertory variations. Prior dance experience is not necessary.

Computer and Information Technology

Technology education in the Middle School directly correlates with adolescent developmental. With an emphasis on social responsibility and problem solving, students use technology with the purpose to be productive, creative and to design.  In each grade, direct instruction in computer science education takes place as students investigate different computer hardware, subject specific software, and Internet applications with the goal of gaining an understanding of each tool as in pertains to their learning. At the crux of this exploration is the intersection of technology and how it applies to research and communication – two essential skills for students to know for school success.

Our technology instruction is integrated in each class – the core academic teachers are in charge of the instruction and implementation of technology and its usage. The Middle School does not teach formal computer classes by intention, as technology is built into the curriculum in all subject areas. All students create presentations, demonstrate competence in concepts and ideas, and publish their work in the context of the curriculum. Philosophically, we believe that middle school students learn best when they can construct their own knowledge using technology in their course work across the disciplines. All students word process written assignments, use electronic resources and Internet sources design projects using web tools, tablets and PC’s. Our students aren’t the only ones embracing technology. The Middle School teachers also model appropriate uses of technology by incorporating web tools and technology hardware in their courses.


Tech Skills, Grade 6
Grade 6 Tech skills is a yearlong course designed to help students with the technological transition from lower school to middle school. Students will learn the computer skills they needs to have a successful middle school experience. Throughout the semester students receive training on different cloud computing resources, methods to improve their typing skills, and programs used in the middle school curriculum. Students also have the opportunity to start thinking about programming logic and media arts development through the use of tools such as the Alice and Scratch programming languages, MonkeyJam and Pivot animation software, and TinkerCAD 3D modeling program. By the end of Grade 6 Tech Skills students will have the resources they need to be successful in middle school.
Technology 8
Students will continue to strengthen technical skills for use in the classroom and in the future.  Using Microsoft Office in the classroom, particularly Excel will be emphasized.  They will also work through creative projects such as Web Design, computer programming, etc.  The project selection will be based on the skills and interest level of the students.

Health and Wellness

The Health and Wellness faculty recognize the dynamic and unique nature of the Middle School student. The changes in physical appearance through often rapid muscular/skeletal growth and hormonal influences effecting the beginning or progression of puberty challenges the 11 to 14 year old to master his/her body in seemingly constant ways. At the same time cognitive changes find her more able to think abstractly, reason morally and advance her desire to solve “real life problems.” His desire and even need for peer friendships, approval and acceptance can be overwhelming. Her desire for independence can also feel overwhelming; his need for self identity and defining of self– the adolescent’s most important task– can result in personal turmoil and tension at home. The egocentrism and “feeling invincible” reality for most adolescents cannot be denied.

But wait! The Middle Schooler is also fun loving, expansive in her thinking and empathetic. He probably loves competitive sports and a good debate.Through a variety of programs inserted throughout the year we strive to help and guide the 6th and 7th grader to a better understanding of herself  and all that makes up his world. Our school counselor and health educator hold seminar style interactive sessions with students. Community resources may also be invited to engage our students in self discovery. This year for example our 7th graders will be attending a series of presentations with a Vera House educator addressing healthy relationships and communication. The conversations and activities will involve our students in thinking about bullying and harassment.


8th Grade Health

The Eighth Grade students’ Health and Wellness education is a formal 80 minute, every other day, semester long course. Activities, discussions, films and lectures bring information about decision making, drugs, alcohol, nutrition, exercise, relationships and CPR/AED certification to the classroom. Students are consistently challenged to actively participate in thinking about themselves in their world.