At Moravia Middle School, each aspect of our program is
designed to meet not only our students’ unique academic
needs, but their social and emotional issues as well.
Our goals could only be achieved by teaming, and we are
a testament to the positive difference teams make. This is
how we do it.
Grade-level teams meet daily for one period during the
school day to plan interdisciplinary units, analyze data,
discuss student concerns, meet with students and parents,
plan extracurricular trips, discuss opportunities for student
recognition, and work on a host of other tasks that benefit
our students academically and socially.
These meetings ensure we are not teaching on an island.
The daily communication provides us with support and
ensures we maintain a shared vision. Daily discussion
among colleagues promotes creative thinking and planning
that would not happen otherwise.
Meet You at the Forum
We begin our day at Forum. Students meet in the
auditorium before their first period classes. Teachers make
important announcements and recognize students in a
large group setting. The students also are encouraged to
make announcements about recent sporting events and
When teachers and students recognize accomplishments,
everyone cheers. Forum creates a sense of community and
establishes a positive tone for the school day.
One of our goals is to make sure each student has at least
one positive interaction with an adult every day. Forum is a
great place to start.
We use a house system to group our students. This system
is based loosely on the Harry Potter novels. Each of the
students is assigned to a teacher’s “house.” They begin
the day sitting with that house at Forum and end the day
in the house leader’s classroom. Teachers try to establish
camaraderie within the groups so the students have social
and academic support.
The house program provides each student with a
“home” at the end of the day. Students work with
their peers on the day’s assignments, and the teacher
helps when they run into problems. House leaders are
advocates for their students and are the first contact
Teaming adds to the effectiveness of the house system.
Because team members meet immediately before students
come to their houses, they are able to mentor students
based on the perspectives of multiple team members.
Team members often bring up student concerns that can
be addressed with the student during house. House leaders
know their students well enough to know how to work
effectively with their students when they are together.
At the beginning of the year, all houses work on
team-building activities via a ropes course. The groups
also compete against each other in a house competition
throughout the year. Teams accumulate points for positive
behavior and successes, and at the end of the year one team
wins the house cup.
This time is especially important to establish a climate
of open communication and trust. If students don’t feel
comfortable talking with adults, no anti-bullying program in
the world will be effective.
Across the Curriculum
Students at Moravia are involved in many interdisciplinary
activities based on books. These activities establish themes
across the grade level. For example, the students in seventh
grade read the novel My Brother Sam Is Dead in their English
classes. At the same time they are reading the novel in
English, the students are learning about its Revolutionary
War setting in social studies. Each teacher on the team
develops a content-specific topic for a “mini-class,” and the
students choose the class in which they are most interested.
The home and careers teacher, for example, instructs the
students about the preparation and preservation of food
from the time period. The science teacher leads a mini-class
on sound waves, linking that instruction to Ben Franklin’s
invention of the armonica.
Students study in depth a specific part of the
interdisciplinary unit’s theme. They work together
in groups to develop a diverse understanding of the
American Revolution and make connections from the
different disciplines and presentations, fostering a
deeper understanding of the content.
Not only are high-achieving students enriched by these
units, struggling students often engage for the first time
when they get to choose their interests, make connections,
and see the purpose for their learning.
Some of our interdisciplinary units involve all grade levels
in the middle school. For example, to teach the culture of
Mexico, we open a Mexican restaurant for the community in
Sixth grade students learn Mexican dances in PE classes
and make Mexican decorations in art classes. In seventh
grade, students prepare the food in home and careers
classes. Eighth grade students create murals based on their
study of Mexican muralists in art classes. Some students
perform songs at the restaurant and others are trained
as servers. These types of units bring the whole school
together, and students excitedly anticipate what the next
year will bring.
Teachers on the teams control the scheduling of six periods
of each day. No classes are taught in those six periods other
than classes taught by teachers on the team. This allows
teachers to adjust the schedule daily based on student
needs, mini-classes, blocking, and content needs. Teachers
group, regroup, and regroup students again to differentiate
instruction and gain perspective.
Each seventh and eighth grade-level team established
unifying themes to which all the teachers make
interdisciplinary connections throughout the year.
The seventh grade team created a unifying theme of
Awareness. Because seventh graders are often influenced
by peers, media, and parents, the Awareness theme is
structured to motivate students to do original thinking
about self, community, and world.
Eighth grade students begin the year by reading the
book Seedfolks in English class. The story teaches the
lesson that individuals can make a difference in the world,
so throughout the year, all eighth grade teachers make
connections to the theme The Power of One.
Work on unifying themes reaches a crescendo in June.
We change the daily schedule to include time to work on
Each mini-class in seventh grade is a variation on the
theme of Awareness. For example, one mini-class designed
to create global awareness investigated world hunger.
Students inevitably learned that awareness sparks action.
In this mini-class, students planned a 30-hour famine
fundraiser. In another mini-class, students explored
self-awareness. Through activities such as scrapbooking,
journaling, and yoga, students became more aware of who
they are as individuals.
Each mini-class helps students discover things about
themselves and prepares them to act on their new
awareness when they get to eighth grade and the theme
of The Power of One. Eighth graders learn about the power
that an individual can have to make the world better. They
form the Moravia Kid Corps, where they work on projects to
improve the community.
Four years ago, students built a Memory Park, and
subsequent classes became the caretakers of the park.
A ceremony is held on the last day of school to honor
community members who have displayed The Power of One
by having a positive influence in the community.
If you’d like to implement these programs, we suggest
that you establish your core values, start small, and build
layers to the program every year. Our goal was to establish
an invigorating curriculum through interdisciplinary
connections and establish relationships that ensured
students had a positive interaction with an adult every day.
From there, we created a flexible schedule that supported
those values, which included teaming every day. After that
basic structure was set, we added more and more to the
program as the years went by.
The outstanding result of this program is the well-rounded,
thoughtful, intelligent, curious, and passionate leaders of
tomorrow who graduate from the middle school.
Bruce MacBain is principal (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jeff Green is a seventh grade ELA teacher (email@example.com), and Rebecca Burtram is an eighth grade Spanish teacher (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Moravia Middle School in Moravia, New York.
Moravia Middle School was recognized as a School-to-Watch in 2006 and re-designated in 2009. The seventh grade team was honored as a 2010 Pearson/AMLE Teams That Make a Difference.