Curriculum Overview – The Integrated Curriculum
The middle school program is a two-year cycle in which 7th and 8th graders are grouped together in multi-age classrooms. The central themes of the two-year curriculum are identity, personal responsibility, and action. Guiding questions are: “Who am I?”; “What are my responsibilities?”; and “How can I make a difference?” The content is guided by the Vermont Framework of Standards Grade Expectations and by The Common Core. The methods by which the content is delivered are guided by TSA’s Mission Statement, The Vermont Framework of Standards Vital Results, the Coalition of Essential Schools Ten Principles, and TSA’s Vision of a Graduate.
The curriculum is integrated in two ways. Using an interdisciplinary approach, language arts, science, social studies, and art collectively explore the central questions. Lessons in these classes are timed to re-enforce the materials learned in the other classes. In addition to integration between the disciplines, the curriculum is integrated within each discipline. The science curriculum draws from various branches of science such as earth science, physical science, and biology rather than treating each branch as a separate frame of reference. Social studies examines U.S. and world events throughout history rather than taking a linear and compartmentalized approach. Language arts draws on and augments the content material from science and social studies.
Reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills are practiced throughout the curriculum. Students read six or more assigned books each year and three more of their own choosing. Developmentally appropriate literature is selected for its value in terms of language, voice, and relevance. Students exercise analytical skills as they read and discuss writing style and themes. Reading of textbooks and other non-fiction (i.e. articles from current journals, news media, books) is regularly assigned in science and social studies and discussed both in terms of the content and the reading skills involved. Writing is intensive throughout the curriculum. Students are continually practicing the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. In longer pieces of writing, the emphasis is on research, the production of original work, and the mechanics and style of writing. Discussion-based classrooms give ample opportunity for listening and speaking. Students are required to deliver numerous oral presentations throughout the two years.
The Vital Results section of Vermont’s Framework of Standards is an important guide for the curriculum. Student learning is demonstrated through writing, presentations, speeches, plays, displays, art projects, research papers, journals, debates, experiments, simulations and model construction. Projects in the middle school are designed to help students consider their work using five essential questions: How do you know what you know? From whose viewpoint is this being presented? How is this event or work connected to others? What if things were different? Why is this important? In all components of the curriculum, we strive to create opportunities that meet the different learning styles and needs of all students.
The arts have a strong presence in our program. Students attend art class twice weekly. In addition art is well integrated into the core curriculum. For two weeks a year preparation for a circus replaces the regular routine. The circus interim under the direction of an artist in residence includes live music, circus skills, prop building, carnival games and much more. This show is a popular annual event in the community usually drawing a crowd over 300 spectators. In addition, a limited selection of “specials” is offered in the Middle School which include chorus, instruction using Photoshop software and movie making
The social-emotional curriculum is an important focus of the middle school years. Each spring the entire school spends four days at Hulbert Outdoor Center to build group interactive skills, and to strengthen community. We have an all-school meeting once a week to voice and solve community issues. “Connections” class meets for an hour a week in a small intimate group setting to foster social-emotional learning and to present the health curriculum. Students are assigned an advisor to monitor their academic success, their social/emotional well being and to keep communication open between parents, teachers and students. The school counselor meets with “at risk” individuals, and mentors the staff to competently address student behavioral and emotional issues. . The staff is committed to helping each student navigate middle school feeling safe and supported.
The middle school recognizes the need for middle level students to be active. Lunch/recess is forty-five minutes long and students are encouraged to go outside. In the winter, we make arrangements for students to ski or snow board at Suicide Six. Three dances and a semi-formal are held each year. Specials are offered that are centered on physical exercise. Field trips such as climbing a mountain, or spending days in the woods are integrated in the curriculum. All students are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular sports. The curriculum promotes exercise as a healthy life style choice.
Sustainability practices are steadily becoming part of our middle school culture. We recycle, compost, and reuse as much as possible. Each year we look for new ways to model and practice sustainable habits. Whenever possible we incorporate sustainability issues into the curriculum.
Our after school sports program includes soccer, basketball and baseball. For the past two years a middle school math team has competed in the Mathcounts regional competition. This past year a science team formed and competed in the Department of Energy sponsored National Science Bowl at both the regional and national levels.
The middle school cycles through a two-year curriculum. We believe that “less is more” and have limited our studies to six units throughout the two years.
In Year A, the middle school curriculum examines the themes of identity, responsibility, and action through three content themes: Human Rights, Food and Hunger, and Energy.
The year begins with the theme of Human Rights. From the Social Studies perspective, we explore our rights as citizens of the United States and of Vermont, and compare our rights to citizens of other countries. This includes a study of founding documents and their relevance to our lives. In Science we study cell structure and function, genetics, and human development from conception to birth. We use this information to stimulate and inform discussions about human rights issues such as the rights of the unborn child, stem cell research, and cloning controversies. In Language Arts, students read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Themes in these books deal with prejudice. The culminating writing project for this unit is a persuasive essay on a student-chosen topic involving civil liberties such as free speech or gun rights.
The Human Rights unit is followed by a study of issues surrounding the theme of Food and Hunger. In Social Studies we examine the cost of food in America in economic terms. We research hunger in Vermont, in the U.S., and worldwide. We look at the organizations and institutions that address hunger. We spend seventy- two hours in The Global Village at Heifer International to learn about poverty and world hunger. Nutrition and digestion are explored in Science. Students learn about the nutritional value of various food groups. Students build models of the digestive system, conduct calorie experiments, learn about chemical and physical digestion, and how cells get energy from food (﴾which builds upon our study of cells from the previous unit)﴿, analyze their personal diets, and learn what it means to be malnourished. In Language Arts, students read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. These books have themes that have to do with agrarian societies, the impact of food on history, and the relationships between those who have food and those who do not. In art class, students build ceramic meals coupled with a written analysis of the nutritional value of their model meal. Finally, students spend an intensive three-week period researching and writing Our Times, a twenty page newsletter dealing with a variety of food issues. The newsletter is printed at a local press and is widely distributed throughout the community. For a copy of the most recent issue of Our Times, please click here.
Next we move into the study of energy. The unit opens with a showing of the controversial documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, followed by a discussion of the movie to introduce students to the complex relationship between energy consumption and climate change. From the social studies perspective, we study the history of industrialization and energy use. This includes a study of the Industrial Revolution in Vermont and the US, and the ways that humans have harnessed electrical power. In Science, we study energy, energy transfers, and basic principles of electricity and electrical generators. We also look at the composition of the atmosphere to understand the term “carbon footprint” and to draw connections between climate change and energy use. In Language Arts, students read October Sky by Homer Hickam, a coming-of-age story about boys growing up in a coal mining town. To culminate this unit, students write a research paper and deliver an oral presentation about an energy related topic of their choosing. At the end of the year, students participate in a mock legislative session focused on the future electrical needs in Vermont.
Parents view the ceramic food students created in Art Class as a part of the Food and Hunger unit.
Year B’s curriculum examines the themes of identity, responsibility, and action from three content areas: Living in Vermont, This I Believe, and Origins.
The first theme, Living in Vermont, asks students to reflect on how Vermont’s cultural traditions, physical landscape, climate, and biome help to shape who they are as individuals. Students study the history of the settlement of Vermont as well as the culture, laws, and government of Vermont in order to discover the role of history, tradition, and government in their own lives. In Science students study the physical and biological landscape of Vermont comparing and contrasting this to other areas of the world. In this unit we spend a good deal of time outdoors, climbing a mountain, mapping using GPS, learning tree species and making observations in a nearby forest. In Language Arts we read literature that stimulates discussion about setting and identity. Students create picture books that describe themselves as Vermonters. Students study the artist Andy Goldsworthy and create art from the Vermont landscape.
The second theme of the year asks students to consider their identity through the lens of world beliefs. Students ask themselves how science, religion, and family values shape who they are and what they believe. The Social Studies curriculum focuses on major world religions and the traditions and cultures that have arisen from these religions. Book selections include Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic novel about the Iranian revolution through the eyes of an adolescent, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, the story of a young girl coming to terms with her family’s ordeal during the Holocaust, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding, an allegorical classic that questions the innate nature of man. Students write a personal essay entitled “This I Believe.” Based on a person belief or ideal, As a counterpoint to the study of religion, Science class examines how scientific theories develop from a body of evidence and are subject to change. Students explore the basic properties of matter, and study basic chemistry to look at life and the origin of the universe through a scientific lens.
The third theme of the year examines identity from the perspective of the origin of the human species. In Social Studies class students begin the unit by learning about the controversy surrounding the study of evolution. Students are introduced to the various viewpoints that explain the existence of humans. Students then study the evolution of man from early hominids through the emergence of modern man. In Science, we differentiate humans from other species by doing an in-depth study of the classification system of life and by comparing and contrasting the physical characteristics of species. We also introduce the theory of evolution and natural selection and look at the evolutionary relationships that humans have with other organisms. We look at the different ways that scientists gather evidence to infer that the earth and its inhabitants have changed over time. In Language Arts, students read A Bone from a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson, a fictional story that illustrates the work of paleontologists and the controversial theory of the “aquatic ape.” We read Eva,also by Peter Dickinson, a story that deals with the theme of human identity, and Inherit the Wind, a play based on the Scopes Trial, which deals with the teaching of evolution in public schools.
The two-year curriculum also includes projects that lie outside of our integrated units. Examples are an annual science fair project in which students develop their own scientific question, and with guidance, carry out the experiments. This culminates in a public poster session of their results held at night in early June. Other examples are the writing of poetry and short stories within the Language Arts curriculum.