middle school science class demonstration with green ballooon

Whether it’s keeping up to date on the latest technology or making sense of current events, science education is fundamental to making sense out of an increasingly complex world. Even if a student has no interest in a science career, they should, as adults, still be able to critically read the science section of their local newspaper.

To that end, the Middle School science department incorporates cross-cutting concepts (such as patterns, cause and effect, energy and matter), skills and practices, and disciplinary core ideas as a means for teaching the science curriculum.

These core ideas all have broad importance within or across science or engineering disciplines. They provide a key tool for understanding or investigating complex ideas and solving problems, relate to societal or personal concerns, and can be taught over multiple grade levels at progressive levels of depth and complexity. 

In learning about the core ideas, students ask questions and define problems. Amongst other skills, they gain proficiency in the development and use of models, using mathematics and computational thinking, analyzing and interpreting data, and engaging in arguments from evidence and reasoning. 

By the end of eighth grade, students will have developed proficiency in the following:

  • Continuing to develop critical thinking skills
  • Asking questions about their surrounding world
  • Using a skills toolkit from which to help analyze data
  • Using both evidence and reasoning in their scientific arguments
  • Clearly communicating their ideas both orally and in writing as a member of a scientifically curious and literate community


Students explore space, physical, and life science topics in the sixth grade. The developmental theme is Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society and the curricular features are Earth’s place in the universe; Matter and its Interactions; From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes; and Engineering Design.

Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions that include:

  • What is our place in the universe and what makes up our solar system?
  • How does water make Earth ripe for life and influence weather and climate?
  • What are the basic structures and functions of all living organisms?
  • How does food provide both matter and energy to an organism?

Students model the Sun-Earth-Moon system to explain the cyclic patterns of moon phases, eclipses, tides, and seasons. In doing so students begin to formulate an understanding of gravity and how mass and distance between objects affect the gravitational force between them. They use models, demonstrations, and experiments to consider and explore a range of questions around what makes Earth, of all planets, most conducive for life.

After students have explored some of the necessary conditions for there to be life, they delve into what life is itself.  Students gain skills into microscopy, use what they know to make an argument backed by evidence, and engage in research into various cell types. Students further look at scale and proportions, this time expanding their understanding of scale down to the nano level, and work on metric conversions. Finally, students do a dissection and model their understanding of the rearrangement of matter as it is digested and then used by cells. 

Students’ experiential learning includes:

  • Climate Change Interdisciplinary Unit with social studies, English, math, and art culminating in a Climate Change Hero Community Presentation
  • Surgery Day


Students explore ecology, energy, motion, and the Earth in seventh grade. The developmental theme is Re-Connecting to the Scientific Process and the curricular features are Earth’s Interconnected Spheres (Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, Geosphere, Biosphere).

Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions, including:

  • How do Earth’s systems connect and how does this make this planet the place for life?
  • How do humans use science to innovate, to solve problems, and to understand their world and the universe beyond?
  • How do we affect our environment and how does it affect us?

Students dive into a field-based ecology unit focusing on the following questions: What is an ecosystem and how does it work? How do organisms interact with each other and with their environment? How can we tell if an ecosystem is healthy?  Building upon the class’ ecology work, they look more closely at how energy flows into and throughout an ecosystem by tracing electromagnetic radiation from the sun and following the pathway of its transformation through the life-giving processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration here on Earth.

The focus shifts to Newton’s laws of motion to answer, Why do things move and why do they stop? How can physics send humans to space? How do engineers work together to imagine, construct, and test their designs in the face of resource, time, and financial limitations?  Finally, students ponder and examine the nature and dynamism of the Earth beneath their feet. They investigate how the analyses of seismic waves enables scientists to infer the structure and characteristics of Earth’s layered interior. Students then examine the evidence for continental drift via plate tectonics, and they investigate the ways in which tectonic plates move and the resulting geologic landforms and events.

Students’ experiential learning includes:

  • Hyla Woods English and Science collaboration: using field study, scientific testing, literature, and writing to determine if an ecosystem is healthy
  • Working on competing teams to design, construct, and launch their very own model water rockets
  • A week-long class trip to Mt. St. Helens to see geologic principles up-close and connect to earlier ecology work while examining nature’s recovery following the eruption.


Eighth grade science begins by discovering fundamental concepts in chemistry explored through a series of driving questions, labs, and engineering challenges. The developmental themes are Physical Sciences. The curricular features are Chemistry, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Genetics, Natural Selection, and Evolution.

Students use these lenses to answer essential guiding questions that include:

  • How can I make new stuff from old stuff?
  • How does understanding chemistry help us make healthy choices about our environment?
  • How can I reduce my impact on the environment?
  • Why do I look the way I do?
  • How has life changed over time?

Photographing chemical reactions and conducting an experiment serve as an introduction to physical science. This is an opportunity for students to engage in laboratory skills such as measuring mass, volume, density, and looking at characteristic properties. Students work to refine a model of the particulate nature of matter, and continually refine this model as they explore deeper. They also engage in two engineering design challenges to launch an Alka-Seltzer rocket the furthest and maintain an exothermic hot-pack within a temperature range for a twenty-minute interval. They use their model of particles to help explain these two phenomena.

Leaning on their understanding of chemistry, students next begin by analyzing data and using this as evidence to form an argument for what is having the greatest impact on the current temperature trends. They explore how chemical reactions produce greenhouse gases and how the molecular structure of these greenhouse gas molecules are linked to global warming.

Finally, students delve into genetics, natural selection, and evolution, looking into patterns of inheritance, and the molecular basis underlying these concepts, as well as moral considerations surrounding human involvement. Students learn that they look the way they do because of the genetic information that is passed down via sexual reproduction and the same patterns seen in human offspring can also be seen in other species that reproduce sexually. They use the theory of natural selection to explain changes in organisms over time by examining peppered moths and Galapagos finches. To further explore the idea of how organisms change over time, students also examine evidence from fossils (relative dating), embryological data, DNA, and the skeletal structure of species, and look for patterns in this data. They explore the evidence that scientists use to trace our evolutionary history.

Students’ experiential learning includes:

  • CHOP Project - students explore Climate change, Habitat destruction, Overconsumption of resources, or Pollution, collect data, consult an expert, and design a solution
  • Students complete a “Take Action” portion that requires them to make a personal change in their behavior, write a letter to an outside source, and help shape policies at Catlin Gabel