Middle School Curriculum


Advisory in Middle School at TDS is comprised of small, mixed-grade-level group that meet at the beginning and end of each day. Every middle school student has an advisor. This advisor is one of the student’s academic teachers and plays an additional role of liaison between home and school. The advisor is a strong advocate for his/her advisees throughout the year and monitors the student’s academic progress regularly.

Every morning, between 8:15 and 8:30 AM, students meet in homeroom to take attendance, engage in team-building activities, talk in small groups, and discuss current events. Every other week, there is an extended advisory program that focuses on topics such as empathy, executive functioning skills, conflict resolution, and our core values of compassion, respect, resilience, responsibility, and integrity.

Throughout the year, middle school advisory groups meet with lower schoolers for Crossroads, where they play a game or complete an activity together. Crossroads provides an opportunity for middle school students to practice their leadership skills as they act as “buddies” for the younger students at TDS.

Additionally, each advisory will choose a community service focus for the year and will conduct in-school and out-of-school activities related to this focus. Students are given an opportunity to practice civic responsibility and empathy while learning the communication and organization skills necessary to plan and organize these activities.

In addition, parent-student-teacher conferences are held in the fall and spring to monitor student progress and set realistic goals.

Language Arts

Students read, analyze, appreciate, and enjoy high-level texts representing a variety of genres. Through discussions, independent and group projects, writing, and presentations, students explore literature, grammar, the mechanics of writing, and vocabulary. They exercise critical thinking skills as they respond to quality literature and to differing viewpoints.

6th Grade
Mockingbird (Kathryn Erskine), A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle), The Crossover (Kwame Alexander), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), Under the Mesquite (Guadalupe Garcia McCall)

7th Grade
Lord of the Flies (William Golding), The Giver (Lois Lowry), Red Scarf Girl (Ji-li Jiang), Inside Out and Back Again (Thanha Lai), A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park)

8th Grade
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton), House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros), March (John Lewis)


Middle School math focuses on providing a strong algebraic foundation for students. Students participate in group discussions, independent activities, traditional presentations and skills practice, small group exploration, writing out solutions with logical reasoning, projects, and problem-solving activities with a real-world focus. All of these methods combine to ensure that students are learning concepts and applications in a challenging yet supportive atmosphere.

Students begin Middle School in a 6th Grade Math or Pre-Algebra course and progress through Algebra or Geometry by the end of 8th grade. Students typically follow one of these two pathways:

6th grade Math → 7th grade Pre-Algebra → 8th grade Algebra

6th grade Pre-Algebra → 7th grade Algebra → 8th grade Geometry*
*Students who complete the Geometry course in 8th grade will receive Geometry or Common Core II credit for high school.


Science invites students to take an active role in their learning and to refine their investigative skills as they examine a range of scientific concepts and understandings. Using hands-on activities, inquiry-based labs, scientific readings, research, and discussions, teachers encourage students to apply their knowledge of science to real-life situations and events. The integration of math and technology helps students analyze and present scientific data and findings. As students work, they are encouraged to apply the skills and problem-solving strategies employed by people working in scientific fields.

6th Grade: Earth Science
Geology, Hydrology, Meteorology, Mapping, Climate and Resources, Astronomy

Examples of Labs:

  • Earthquake Resistant Structures: Students work in teams to research earthquakes, build a structure from Popsicle sticks/straws, then test the structure for strength and durability on the shake table.
  • The Amazing Race: Students use their mapping skills to race around the school answering questions about mapping.
  • Water Quality Testing: Students use Venier probes and equipment to test the quality of water in Durham’s watershed from the TDS field.
  • Energy Conservation: Students choose a solar oven or wind turbine to build, then test and observe the energy outputs of alternative sources of energy.

7th Grade: Life Science
Cells and Cells Processes, Genetics and Heredity, Biotechnology, Evolution and Classification, Ecology, Human Anatomy and Physiology

Examples of Labs:

  • Cell Model: Students create a 3-D scale model of a plant or animal cell.
  • Gummy Bear Osmosis: Students explore the effects of water and saltwater on gummy bears, carrots, and aquatic plants
  • Strawberry DNA: Students extract DNA from a strawberry and make a slide to view under the microscope.
  • Tragedy of the Commons: Students use straws to “fish” cereal from a “pond” to test how ecosystems and resources are allocated.

8th Grade: Physical Science
Scientific Method, Properties of Matter and changes to them, Motion and Forces, Transfer of Energy

Examples of Labs:

  • Atomic Cookies: Students make a Bohr model of an element using a cookie.
  • Chemical Reactions Labs: Students test different types of chemical reactions to determine endo/exothermic, synthesis, decomposition, or replacement reactions, then balance the chemical equation.
  • Graphing Motion: Students use the Venier Lab equipment to graph motion of a person, velocity and acceleration of a car and determine the rate of gravity.
  • Marble Run/Mission Possible: Students choose an engineering design challenge to apply concepts in physics and simple machines to create a track that takes exactly 30 seconds for a marble to travel or a Rube Goldberg type project involving 6 types of physical science tasks.
Social Studies

Social Studies focuses on the history and geography of civilizations and societies around the world from prehistoric times to the present. Students interact with a variety of primary and secondary sources in order to assist them in their inquiry into topics such as the roles of tolerance and intolerance in civilizations around the world, causes of inequality, and methods used by groups and individuals to enact change. Throughout their coursework students engage in research activities designed to help them ask thoughtful questions and seek and evaluate answers.

6th Grade: Ancient World Cultures
Prehistory, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, Rome, The Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, Medieval Europe, and World Religions

Examples of Projects and Activities:

  • Investigating the Death of King Tut: Students examine a variety of sources and develop a theory about how King Tut died.
  • Journey Along the Silk Road: Students use historical sources to aid them in writing a piece of historical fiction about traveling along the Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty.
  • Breaking News: Students write, act in, and film a news report about the death of Alexander the Great.

7th Grade: Global Studies
Human Geography of Latin America, Africa, South Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. Major themes include Globalization, Colonialism, Industrialization, Population Trends, Human Environment Interaction, Political Systems, and Economic Systems

Examples of Projects and Activities:

  • Blogging about Globalization: Students research news stories related to globalization and create blogs about how different places around the world are interconnected.
  • Medieval Business Plan: Students create a business plan for a pre-industrial society.
  • Primary Source Research Project: Students develop their own theories about historical events and use newspaper archives to find supporting evidence.

8th Grade: United States History (1900 to Present)
The Constitution, Immigration, Civil Rights, Gender Equality, Military Conflicts, and Economic Issues

Examples of Projects and Activities:

  • Supreme Court Mock Trial: Students argue whether or not hypothetical actions by the government are constitutional and cite sections of the constitution and prior Supreme Court cases in order to make their argument.
  • Immigration Research Papers: Students research the experiences of an immigrant group in US history. One student’s paper can be viewed here.
  • Advice Columns: Students write an advice column for civil rights activists in other countries citing examples from civil rights movements in the US. Read one student’s column here.

Coursework becomes increasingly academic to promote fluency in Spanish speaking, reading, and writing. Students also gain exposure to Spanish cultures and traditions around the world. Gateways to effective communication and world citizenship are opened as students prepare for more intense foreign language study in high school. By the end of eighth grade, most students have completed the Spanish II course and should be ready to take Spanish III in high school.

6th Grade
Topics include an understanding of Spanish speaking countries and their capitals, present tense regular verb conjugations, possessive adjectives, noun/adjective agreement, interrogation words, basic vocabulary, some irregular verbs, cultures of España, Puerto Rico, México and Estados Unidos.

7th Grade
Topics include negative and affirmative commands and words, ser vs. estar, reflexive verbs, preterit of irregular verbs, present progressive, indirect object pronouns, demonstrative adjectives, cultures of Costa Rica, Argentina, Ecuador, and República Dominicana.

8th Grade
Topics include direct and indirect object pronouns, regular and irregular preterit verbs, demonstrative adjectives and pronouns, reflexive verbs, present progressive, the imperfect tense, formal commands, double object pronouns, the subjunctive, por and para, the future tense, details of the cultures and Spanish dialect of Ecuador, República Dominicana, España, México, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Costa Rica, y mucho mas!

Physical Education

PE promotes fitness and healthy lifestyles. Students participate in a movement-based curriculum as they are challenged to understand the relationships involving self, space, equipment, and others around them. Group activities, cooperative games, and problem-solving are integrated into more physically demanding situations, allowing students to challenge their skills while building their concept of self. They are taught to lead their own warm-up exercises, and they learn advanced skills and strategies for team games like badminton, soccer, and basketball.

Students also participate in health classes. 6th graders take an Emotional Health class as they enter their adolescent years. 7th and 8th graders address a variety of health topics including nutrition, alcohol and drug use, CPR & first aid, sex education, and fitness.


Arts courses include choices of visual, performing or musical arts. 6th graders participate in Studio Art and one Musical Art. 7th and 8th graders choose one or two art classes for the full year.

Visual Arts
One semester for 6th grade, full year for 7th/8th grades (2x/week)
Students in 6th grade take Studio Art. They focus on using the elements of design and various media to create pieces of self-expression, as well as works that weave into their academic subjects. For example, students attempt Chinese brush painting as they learn about Ancient China in Social Studies. In order to foster an appreciation for art, artworks are connected to artists and art history movements.

Students in 7th and 8th grades may choose to work with clay, glazes, and learn more advanced drawing and painting techniques that can culminate in creating a memorable 8th-grade painting. 

Musical Arts
Full year for 6th/7th/8th grades (2x/week)
Musical arts courses include beginning and advanced hand chime choirs and a chorus. Students learn to read music, work together to create harmonies and melodies, and perform multiple times throughout the year. Performance venues off-campus include Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Shopping Mall stages, and more!

Performing Arts
Full year for 7th/8th grades (2x/week)
Students in performing arts begin with an introduction to the acting process and lead up to participation in a play toward the end of the year. Students are exposed to many different types of acting techniques through games and practice.

Complements and Electives

7th and 8th graders have a choice of various elective classes that each run for a semester (2x/week). This year’s electives include:

Science Olympiad
A rigorous academic interscholastic competition that consists of a series of different hands-on, interactive, challenging and inquiry-based events that are well balanced between the various disciplines of biology, earth science, environmental science, chemistry, physics, engineering, and technology. The events are designed to enhance and strengthen both science content and process skills. Become an expert in 3-4 events from computer science, anatomy and physiology, forensics, bridge building, electric vehicle, to the airplanes and potions and poisons.

This course introduces students to computational thinking, algorithms, logical problem solving, and beginning concepts in programming. Students will start by programming in Scratch, a block-based learning language, and then move on to Python or Javascript, depending on interest, using the techniques they have learned. Foundational skills in computer science will give students the opportunity to learn how computers work while using them to create games, apps, movies, and new tools for problem-solving. Experiences that are both analog and digital will be hands-on and project-based to give real-world examples of how programming can be a powerful change agent. Students will be exposed to examples of how computational thinking is used across many fields, not just in computer science.

Yearbook will study photography, design, and photojournalism. Students will be documenting the year by capturing the memorable moments in photos. These will all culminate in the design and production of TDS’s yearbook. Creativity, passion, and the willingness to learn new skills will all be necessary for this fun course!

Creative Writing
Creative Writing will give students the opportunity to create in whatever literary format appeals to them! The course will cover the basics of composing different types of literature and give students the opportunity to work on their pieces, share them with their peers and teacher, and get feedback.

8th Grade Projects

In the fall of 8th grade, students begin working on a project that ties together their leadership abilities, core knowledge, and communication skills. Choosing a topic of personal significance, students conduct research, write an essay, develop a presentation using a variety of sources, and present their work to the entire middle school community.

8th graders work closely with an advisor and their Language Arts teacher during this capstone experience. They grow over the course of these months and emerge as confident presenters and passionate defenders of their own ideas. TDS alumni will tell you that this guided introduction into the world of scholarly research and writing helped them to feel more comfortable in high school when called upon to do such assignments.

The 8th Grade Project is not merely a requirement to graduate from TDS; it also provides students the opportunity to sharpen their research and public speaking skills. Additionally, this experience challenges students to take a stance on a controversial topic, and requires them to defend their position through careful examination. The previous year’s 8th grade class chose topics such as the ethical implications of self-driving cars, the debate over whether or not NCAA athletes should be paid, the issues facing the foster-care system, school choice, and alternatives to the traditional grading system.

A particular student’s 8th grade project can be a source of stimulating conversation between the student and teachers, student and peers, and student and his/her family. Engaging in discussions about his or her topic sparks powerful debate, communication, and understanding for all involved.

Click HERE to see an example of an 8th grade project presentation