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Middle School: A Challenging and Varied Academic Experience

Written by Sarah Zimmerman
Middle School Academic Dean and Learning Specialist


As Middle School Academic Dean, I am in a unique position of working with both students and teachers at Germantown Academy. One of my favorite parts of the job is to visit classes throughout the day to observe them in action. As I talk with teachers about what they’re working on and their goals for students, I am continuously impressed by the thought and planning they put into designing a diverse, stimulating set of learning opportunities for their students. I can’t help but envy the challenging and varied academic experiences that students get here at GA. Here is a sampling of interesting moments I’ve stumbled upon:


  • Eighth grade students in their science class tried a new software tool to measure the motion of everyday objects. As a demo, one student dropped a tennis ball and its bounce heights were recorded in a table and graphed by the software. The class excitedly discussed how they might use this tool in their sports physics lab and in their upcoming science fair projects.
  • During Ancient History class, sixth grade students moved around the room to visit stations with images and bulleted points about important gods from Ancient Egypt. Students knew just where to record information on their graphic organizers, and were eager to learn of the next phase of the study in which they would analyze a piece of Ancient Egyptian art to identify important cultural beliefs.
  • Students in seventh grade immersive Chinese described pictures of the pets they had lovingly brought in and posted on the whiteboard. Then their teacher shared some news with them: “Oh no! The pet grooming salon has incomplete records on pets to be groomed today; You have half the information and your partner has the other half. You’ll have to share information to complete the schedule.” They took on this challenge and used their Chinese language skills to sort out the pet grooming salon schedule disaster.
  • Sixth grade English students watched and discussed a short video about the real-life character on which the book A Long Walk to Water is based. They had been studying the text as part of an interdisciplinary English and science unit called The Power of Water. Their teacher pushed them to imagine having to choose between helping yourself and helping another person when there’s just not enough water available. Their responses were impressively thoughtful and serious.


  • In eighth grade Geometry, I found every student working at the whiteboard preparing, and then presenting, solutions to proofs they had worked on for homework. They carefully considered how to make their arguments using diagrams, graphs, equations, and explanation. When the teacher asked, “Who proved it a different way?” the conversation heated up as they compared methods.
  • During sixth grade science, students used slinkies to simulate the motion of waves. They spilled out into the hall for extra space as they recorded data on the travel time of their waves. When they got to the discussion portion of the lab, they encountered a moment of disagreement and consulted their digital notes on their tablet PCs to help them settle the debate. As a group, they eventually decided to consult their teacher on the difference between energy traveling and matter traveling, and a lengthy discussion ensued!
  • Having moved their desks out of the way, students in eighth grade French class sat in a circle composing a comedic story together in French about a young boy in Australia who ate too much chocolate. With their teacher’s enthusiastic guidance, they each contributed in a meaningful way; some added details to the story, some created an artistic representation of the events, while others were responsible for acting out key moments.


When I stand at the door of a classroom just before going in, I ponder what I might find when I enter. I wonder about the ways in which I’ll witness students living GA’s mission to become ever more independent, more confident and collaborative, and more honorable and compassionate. With our creative teachers, I never know quite what I’ll encounter when I arrive at class, and I think that’s part of what makes it exciting for students too. They are challenged, certainly; but the vast variety of their daily learning experiences keeps it from feeling arduous. No matter a student’s interests or strengths, they find a teacher here to nudge them forward.