Author Archive

Project Based Learning in the Middle School

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Education, Middle School

by Jillianne Steelman

This year, the Middle School transitioned from a Personalized Learning Plans to Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a content driven guided inquiry leading to a culminating project. Personalized Learning Plans/Project Based Learning is outlined in the Unity Charter School Charter, meets the core standards for 21st century skills, and addresses standards in the content areas.

Teachers of Language Arts, Science and Social Studies each used their Core Content Standards to develop an overarching question around which they based their inquiry process. Each learning group has been afforded two periods a week to focus on Project Based Learning. In those ninety minutes a week, teachers have the opportunity to teach skill based mini lessons and content driven lessons as well as provide students with time to engage in individualized and group work which will eventually result in a culminating project.

The New Jersey Department of Education defines Project Based Learning as “a teacher-guided learning activity designed to assist students in understanding self as the curriculum/lesson relates to the following:

(1) Applying self as a learner to the situation;
(2) Framing questions;
(3) Tackling a project;
(4) Working as part of a team;
(5) Monitoring individual programs;
(6) Selecting a career; and
(7) Developing his/her skills and knowledge in order to be successful in a career choice.” (

This year, students will work with their learning group teachers to explore questions developed around content area. Students will have the opportunity to explore the following questions over the course of the year:

1. How can we communicate the greatness of our school community to our local community? (Teresa, Language Arts)
2. If you could choose to be a child in any historical period (that we are studying), which period would you choose and why? (Karen, Social Studies)
3. How can we market a healthy snack? (Marie, Science)
4. What impact does an invasive species have on an ecosystem? (Chris, Fifth Grade)

It is through the lens of the inquiry question that teachers create the skill based mini-lessons which create a framework of study students use to navigate the project. Nearly two months into school, projects are beginning to develop around the content-based inquiry questions. We are seeing amazing thinking beginning to develop such as:

-Developing a class blog highlighting the unique aspects of our school
-Imaging life as a 12 -year old in ancient Greece
-Creation of a healthy snack for Unity students and how to market it to them
-Determine how can we humanely build a trap and relocate an invasive species back to their natural environment

We hope you will join us at the celebrations of learning where we will present our culminating projects at the end of each trimester.

Water, water everywhere! But do you know how we keep it safe to drink?

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Education, Sustainability, Uncategorized

by Jennifer Carcich
20141029_102400-EFFECTS 20141029_104222 20141029_104300 20141029_105226

As part of the science curriculum, Golden Tabby Tiger 2/3 class is studying the states of matter with a focus on water. To bring the unit to life and have the students look at the big picture, the children are not only learning the traditional water cycle, but how water is gets to and from our homes and all the effects that has. So far this year, the children have had free exploration in class with water using buckets, funnels, measuring cups, tubing, and siphons. They have visited a local waterway and observed water from the outside and the inside, as well as the plants and animals living in and around the waterway. They have read books about water, including The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, watched videos about the water cycle, and even watched a video about a waste water treatment center. The children have made connections with their study of energy and how electricity is essential for potable water to reach us in our homes. Did you know that running your tap while brushing your teeth is actually burning fossil fuels? Ask one of the golden tabby tigers about it!

Once the students were brimming with information, they took a walking field trip to see where our water goes when it goes down the various residential and commercial drains in Morristown. With a tour by Ray, the Golden Tabby Tigers got firsthand experience seeing the Morristown Waste Water Plant in action. The children climbed up to see every holding tank and the various states of cleanliness the water was in. From plastic waste to bacteria, the children learned that water that looks “clean” is not necessarily potable. The trip ended with a short stroll into nature to the edge of the Whippany River where the treated water enters back into the natural water supply. Along the way the children were able to see a buck and a king fisher who call the Whippany River area home. It was a very eye opening experience for the children, teachers and chaperones, and one that will help us keep conservation in the forefront of our lives.

20141029_095635 20141029_101458 20141029_100245 20141029_102105

Reflections on Team Building with Grades 6 and 8

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Uncategorized

by Susan Iilias and Michael Braverman

This year Middle School students will have a dedicated Education for Sustainability period once a week. Mike and Karen are teaching these EfS periods using units of study developed by Unity teachers as a result from a curriculum writing grant from the Dodge Foundation.

photo 1

Grades 6 and 8 began the year with a unit called Team Building. Team Building, taught in conjunction with the community building principles and guidelines of Positive Discipline, helped to foster connections and relationships between peers as well as between peers and teachers. Ultimately, the goal is to develop the foundations of a community in which all members connect to one another in a positive, respectful manner.

During this six-week unit students explored the Essential Questions: What is our concept of team? What makes a productive team? And why is a productive team important?

Within that framework, students brainstormed what it means to be a part of a team before completing team-building tasks focused on the results of their brainstorming specifically cooperation, communication, trust, problem solving, conflict resolution, and leadership. This unit culminated in the Middle School students planning and leading a team building experience for lower school students. Middle School students were asked to choose a skill to practice with the younger students, choose a team building task to teach to the younger students, and reflect upon the process.

The Middle School students shined as leaders and teachers in this activity and are eager to continue to develop meaningful relationships with lower school students. Upon reflection, Middle School students expressed they wanted more opportunities to mentor the lower school students in teacher supported, student led activities.

Some student reflections about the Team Building unit:

photo 2
Unity Charter School is a community, therefore, teamwork is very important. …Teamwork and trust and patience are bringing everybody together. By working together, you make friends.
– Ella
I think the most beneficial thing about this experience was growing the trust between all the classmates and created better and stronger leaders in all of us.
– Abby
We learned team building expertise, then taught it.
– Peter
To be an effective problem solver, you need to have communication skills and compromising skills. You need to know what the problem is in order to know what to do. We need to reflect on what they did wrong and what they did right. You need to have compassion and feel for the person in order to be a good problem solver.
– Grace
I think that teaching the younger kids was the most beneficial thing because I met new faces, had some fun, and was a leader.
– Brandon
Being a part of a team means that you have people you can rely on and trust. People that care for you and will help you.
– Caseem

Some teacher observations:

– Students were asked to consider their individual role in the group – their talents and their challenges – and how they strengthened the team.
– Students were given the choice to participate in each team building experience and were encouraged to not justify their decision if they were uncomfortable participating in a task. Practice with trusting their own instincts and an understanding that their voice should be heard is an essential skill as student move into high school and early adult life.
– The team building exercises, along with the framework of Positive Discipline, helped to deepen peer relationships as well as teacher/student relationships creating a more integrated community.

Electives Offer a Unique Opportunities for Middle School Students

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Interest Groups, Uncategorized

by Karen Bloch
IMG_3652In our ongoing drive to provide a dynamic and student centered Middle School experience, we implemented Electives for students in the Middle School last year and they were so successful that we continued the program and enhanced it this year with even more choices for the students. This cycle, I am facilitating the Digital Photography elective and it has been a wonderful experience. Not only are the students eager to learn techniques and tips for good photography, but they are fully embracing their creative minds and learning to see the world in new and interesting ways.

In my experience, one of the very best aspects of Unity as a whole, but especially the Elective process, is the chance to help students to become fearless explorers who pursue their passions while gaining confidence and skill. When given the freedom to make their own choices, to value the process and not just the product, the creative floodgates open and what takes place is amazing.


The current group of Photographers have taken some amazing photos using perspective, lighting choices, action shots and portraiture. In addition, they decided to explore the creation of stop motion movies and the results have been fun, funny and very diverse! The excitement and enthusiasm on a student’s face when he or she catches “that shot” or races in to share their latest mini-movie is tangible and such a fantastic piece of what makes Unity Middle School such a special place.

In a world where testing and data collection can sometimes supersede the essential connection with students, I feel very privileged to be teaching Middle School at Unity, where Digital Photography is just one example of our unique way of connecting with and sharing the journey of learning with our students.

Students Inspired by Youth Empowerment Alliance Summit

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Education, Whole Child Education

photo 2 by Jillianne Steelman

On October 15th, 10 students in grades 7 and 8 attended the United Way Youth Empowerment Alliance Summit at the College of St Elizabeth. They came together with students from 4 other middle schools to explore the themes of hopefulness and how youth can impact change in their schools, communities and the world. They returned inspired and excited, with a plan to implement positive changes at the school level. Here are just a few of what the kids had to say about the experience:

My favorite part about Youth Summit is that instead of adults taking all the control, the students get to help and to do an awesome project for their school.
– Isadora T.

My favorite part of being a part of Youth Summit was being able to meet new people and discuss ways to make things better. I also liked presenting our ideas to the other people.
– Shamaya F.

My favorite part of Youth Summit was meeting and getting to know kids I didn’t know. I also really liked the lunch!
– Caseem A.
I found the experience to be very good and valuable.
– Justin S.
What I learned at Youth Summit was to never say ‘I can’t’.
– Resean S.
Youth Summit helped me to make friends and practice teamwork. I can’t wait to go back at the end of the year!
– Kira M.
Youth Summit was interesting, it really showed me that anyone can have the chance to change the world.
– Julia C.
At Youth Summit I learned that you should always go forwards, no matter what blocks your path.
– Nova R.
photo 2 photo 1 photo 4 photo 3