Middle School Curriculum Overview
Each middle school student will be assessed early in the academic year and will be placed at the level of math appropriate for him or her to continue at an optimal rate of challenge. For example, we anticipate some seventh grade students taking Algebra 1 and some eighth graders taking Geometry – while other students may be taking seventh or eighth grade math.
Math classes proceed according to Prentice Hall curriculum but also include numerous forays into how math operates in the “real world” and how it links to art, music and the students’ lives. Sample projects include an exploration of the art of M.C. Escher and the building of scale models of the students’ rooms. Lessons include teacher presentation, student led practice, and activities where the students demonstrate their understanding. Math is taught with humor and space is given for students to excel or get extra help according to their needs and abilities.
The Middle School science curriculum is a three – year cycle including: Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, and yearly observations, data collection and analysis. Each year the students learn new content under each of these topics. There are 5 main goals to our studies: to explore our world with wonder and curiosity, to understand and participate in the scientific process, to do independent research and to present this research to the class, to learn about the fundamental processes and structures that make up our world, and, finally, to be a scientifically literate member of our global communities who can help shape the world around us with knowledge and wisdom.
Social Studies includes inquiry-based project learning, experiential education achieved through historic simulations, and weekly consideration of current events. Emphasis is on considering a variety of perspectives of historic events and the insights these perspectives give us into our culture and our selves. History is studied in three-year cycles.
Specific concentration will be put on the following concepts throughout the course of studies: discovery, colonization, imperialism, revolution, urbanization vis a vis immigration, modern day cultural comparisons, the United States: our country’s identity, how the past has affected that, and where we are headed.
As the foundation of learning and media of knowledge, print and non-print text propagates listening, speaking, writing, and reading skills in our language arts class. Reading is developed through self-selected, active, and independent reading blocks, as well as literature circles, which encourage collaborative comprehension.
Students practice their interpersonal listening and speaking skills every day in class through presentation, peer teaching, and thematic discussions. Our writing goals for the semester involve literary analysis, research methods, short fiction, memoir, narrative procedure, persuasive argumentation, journalism, poetry, and business writing. We cover parts of speech, editing and revision techniques, elements of grammar in context, word choice, spelling, transitions, introduction, conclusion, and paragraph writing in depth. In the past, our whole class novels have included: City of the Beasts, Toby Alone, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Fahrenheit 451, and The Hunger Games. Some upcoming novel choices include Life of Pi, The Apothecary, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and His Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Spanish at the middle school level is taught in a highly interactive mode. Students learn to listen, practice speaking, play games, work on projects, and study Spanish-speaking cultures in our community and in the world. Examples of field trips include visiting a Latino art exhibit and visiting a Taqueria.
All middle school students will have weekly instruction in music under the direction of well-known percussionist River Guerguerian. River has played at the White House, Carnegie Hall, in Turkey, India, and throughout the United States and the world. His style of instruction is fluid, instructing and then setting back to allow the students space for personal and collective creativity.
The emphasis is on an exploration of aesthetics, technique and personal style through artist studies, drawing, painting, and multimedia composition, integrated with cross-curricular content.
An introduction to dramatic art includes improvisation, set design, script writing, lighting and sound, as well as the production and presentation of a play.
While in the fall, all students take music, art, and drama, in the spring students have the opportunity to take different elective classes. In the past, these have included: personal P.E., primitive arts, ceramics, yoga, advanced music, and advanced art.
Physical education is scheduled twice each week. It emphasizes team building, familiarity with different sports, taking appropriate risks, and understanding proper care of the body.
Independent Research Projects
During the spring of each year each, middle school students are required to choose a subject of personal interest to research and to develop three different modes of communicating their research to the rest of the class, the parents, and even the school at large.
With parental support a student may replace his/her independent research project through a semester long apprenticeship with a local business person, artist, or tradesman. The school will work carefully with the mentor to establish clear perimeters of learning, working, and assessment. The student will perform some useful tasks for the mentor in exchange for the learning experience.
The mini-mester is a two-week period of time between first and second semester that allows a celebration to “coming of age” through creative implementation of a journey-based thematic unit of study. It provides an opportunity for students to journey in various ways, including outside of school to historical sites and outdoor learning centers or through creation of on-campus journeys through drama, music, or innovation. Our 2012 mini-mester was an educational experiment in entirely student-centered, self-directed learning in the form of an all-class collaborative project. Students created an all-original play centered around themes of deep ecology, perspectives, self-acceptance, acceptance of others, and the joy and strength of diversity. Our school day was loosely structured within the guidance of five main student-driven classes (Who Am I, Playwriting 101, Set & Costume Design, Music & Movement, and Reading & Reflection) that incorporated the aesthetic, mental, physical, moral, spiritual, and emotional strands and allowed students to thrive in their various multiple intelligences.
Students were guided in creating lesson plans in order to then take the lead in directing other students to work as a successful team to create the final product. They were encouraged to grow in self-organization and initiation by creating their own homework assignments; holding each other accountable; supporting, teaching one another and leading group activities; and keeping a mini-mester journal as a record of their reflections, homework, research, ideas, and contributions to the project. Their journals were a major part of their formative and summative assessments.
Major areas of growth occurred in interpersonal support and challenges, developing a sense of self through character development and centering, intensive moral, emotional, intrapersonal, and spiritual exploration. In addition, students shared their performance in service to the Veterans community as a form of social action, giving the gift of art to those who typically are deprived of the experience of intentional, integral theater.
Mysteries Council, Gender Mysteries, and Classroom Meetings
Each week the middle school students participate in Mysteries Council or Gender Mysteries, as well as a classroom meeting based on Positive Discipline. Mysteries Council is a total classroom meeting where each student participates in listening and talking from the heart on subjects relevant to the students. It is not as much solution oriented, as skills building in relating to one another carefully and compassionately.
Gender Mysteries takes the place of Mysteries Council every other week. The young men and women separate into two groups so they may carefully and more considerately discuss gender specific concerns.
Each week a classroom meeting is held, oriented around finding solutions to issues, concerns, and needs that the students or the teachers feel need resolution. This meeting is very much solution oriented and attends to a foundational understanding of responsible democratic process.
Goals Notebooks and Mentoring
Each student receives individual mentoring from a teacher on a regular basis. This reflective session attends to concerns/needs/desires the student is experiencing, and how best to attend them. Additionally, it supports each student in creating and attending to weekly, measurable goals they personally choose to create.
Essential Learning Skills and Behaviors
Each student is taught learning skills and behaviors essential to becoming successful life-long learners. Students create portfolios that underscore the six learning strands, and self-reflection is conducted throughout the year on how well they have mastered them with their mentor.
Assessment at Odyssey is core to the learning experiencing. As such, both teacher and student must be an integral part of both informal as well as formal assessment. Three parent conferences are offered each year. The second conference is student-led, rather than teacher-led, and is organized in portfolios based on the Essential Learning Skills.
We offer the Stanford 10 batteries at an entry level in September. This allows us a general understanding of how each student is performing in each subject and is scored on the basis of a national percentile. By giving this test early, we can get a general sense (third party) of a student’s strengths as well as areas that may need strengthening, and this supplements our teachers’ personal assessments.