Core academics overview
All Middle School students are expected to carry a full program of studies. Generally, this means core courses in English, mathematics, world languages, science, social studies and performing arts. Students in the SLD or EAL program may have to forgo the study of a world language.
In addition, physical education and health are required in all grades. Art and drama are required in Grades 5 and 6. In Grades 7 and 8, students may choose from a wide variety of special subject electives, which includes the visual arts, performing arts, technology and service learning.
- Social studies
- World languages and cultures
- Performing arts: music
- Special subjects
The Middle School English program focuses on developing skills that enable students to be successful and confident readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. Our curriculum is informed by the Common Core State Standards in ELA (CCSS). When appropriate, the curriculum integrates literature selections with units of study in the social studies program, particularly in Grades 5 and 6, when English and social studies are taught as a combined humanities course.
In our writing program, students work through a spiraled curriculum, which emphasizes narrative, informational, and opinion or argument writing at each grade level, with increasing levels of complexity. Teachers model effective writing skills and strategies through direct instruction, and feedback is provided to students in a variety of ways. Writing instruction is based on a writers' workshop model. The goals of writers' workshop are to increase students’ ownership and awareness of the process and craft of their writing. The principles that underpin the classroom program have been derived from research about how student and professional writers actually write. These principles, which are the basis of our classroom practice, suggest that writers need the following: regular blocks of time in which to think, write, confer, revise and edit; response or feedback on their writing; choice of topic and autonomy to make decisions about their written pieces; and time to read.
Another key principle of writers' workshop is that students learn about the mechanics of writing within the context of their own reading and writing work. Skills are introduced through direct instruction and reinforced through independent practice and application in students’ own writing. All students in Grade 5-8 use the online program No Red Ink to reinforce their grammar and conventions skills.
In reading, students are exposed to a variety of literary genres, with the aim of fostering growth in fluency, comprehension, critical thinking skills and insight. Our reading program builds class community and serves as a vehicle for developing students' understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Reading instruction is balanced between whole-class studies of a text and opportunities for students to explore texts in smaller groups or partnerships, incorporating student choice whenever possible. Classroom discussions and written responses to reading are core components of the curriculum. At all levels, students are expected to increase their reading stamina, and regular independent reading is a critical component of this goal.
Throughout our program, students learn to communicate their ideas and to participate effectively in class discussions. Teachers utilize a variety of classroom discussion protocols to ensure equity of student voice and to model different ways of participating. Students develop active listening skills such as paraphrasing, questioning, and summarizing, as they learn to reflect on and build upon the contributions of their classmates.
The Middle School mathematics program follows the Common Core Math Standards (CCSS) which were adopted by ASL in the 2012-13 school year. The U.S. Common Core Math Standards include content standards that are developmentally appropriate for each grade level and which build upon one another from year to year across the strands of: number system, ratio & proportional relationships, expressions and equations, geometry, statistics & probability, and functions. The standards also include a set of 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice which outline processes and proficiencies that students will develop as they become increasingly proficient mathematicians. These practices include: make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, model with mathematics, use appropriate tools strategically, attend to precision, look for and make use of structure, and look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
The sequence of units in each grade level, built using CCSS as the framework, are designed to create a story line of mathematics, which builds upon itself throughout the course of one year as well as across the four years of middle school. The middle school content standards provide an opportunity for students to go deeper with the content that was introduced in lower school so that they have a solid conceptual foundation in mathematics before they reach the more abstract content found in high school mathematics and beyond. The CCSS provide the vertical curricular coherence, mathematical rigor, and instructional focus necessary to build a strong foundation, develop student perseverance, and encourage love for the logic and creativity of mathematics. They push students to engage in mathematical practices that will equip them with the skills they need to persevere in solving problems, and pursue mathematics for as long as they are passionate about the field.
In middle school math classes, students can be found solving rich problems, discussing mathematical ideas, debating solutions and methods of solving problems, and representing their thinking in a variety of ways. Middle school math classes at ASL prioritize conceptual understanding of mathematics over memorizing algorithms. Students develop fluency in their operations and in their thinking by learning first how to understand the mathematical concepts and then find ways to solve problems efficiently and fluently within those concepts. In line with best practices, much of the learning is based upon asking students to engage in authentic problem solving that requires them to synthesize their knowledge & understanding of the math concepts with their ability to implement the math practices. We work to help students develop a growth mindset around mathematics and celebrate mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth. We encourage students to recognize that there is more than one “right way” to solve a problem.
The course progression for mathematics is illustrated below:
Throughout the Middle School science program, students learn to think, act, and work as scientists and engineers through the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards. The science program aims to instill an awareness and understanding of the natural world and a love for scientific inquiry through the crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices. Based on real-world phenomena, students develop the critical and persistent problem solving skills necessary to work towards a more just and peaceful world. These experiences are introduced and investigated as students at each grade level explore the Physical, Life and Earth Sciences, and Engineering and Design.
The ASL middle school experience is designed to create global citizens who think critically, communicate clearly and act responsibly. The MS Social Studies curriculum builds a conceptual understanding using inquiry-based learning where the students are given increasing voice. The AERO Social Studies Standards that are used present students with the themes of:
- Time, continuity and change
- Connections and conflict
- Society and identity
- Production, distribution and consumption
- Science, technology and society
These standards are presented in a developmentally appropriate way using different content they will experience across Grades 5 to 8.
Students begin their study of Social Studies in Grade 5 learning about Ancient Cultures, including Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece. Grade 6 furthers the story by studying Ancient China and Rome and the Silk Road. In Grade 7, the story continues by analyzing Perspective and the deeper meanings of Power and Change in society through a study of the British Empire. The MS Social Studies experience culminates in Grade 8 with a study of Governance, Rights and Conflict through content including the creation of the US Bill of Rights and historical and modern day rights around the world including World Wars I and II.
At ASL we believe in standards based learning where students’ work in Social Studies is evaluated through three key standards: Inquiry and Research, Knowledge and Understanding, and Communication. In each standard there is a focus on the analytical elements of understanding sources and information. Throughout Middle School students work on key Social Studies reading and writing skills. As they progress through the grades they hone their reading skills such as nonfiction note taking, analyzing both primary and secondary historical sources, and analyzing sources for reliability and bias. As writers, students develop their writing skills for the content area of Social Studies, the art of the argument, and the communication of their learning in multiple formats. Another component of learning is Inquiry learning. Inquiry provides students with an opportunity to research key questions, often developing those questions and choosing topics themselves. Student voice and choice allow our students to feel they are valued as partners in their education.
World languages and cultures
The ability to communicate effectively with speakers of languages other than English is an essential skill in today's world, fostering greater cultural awareness and understanding. The team builds on and develops the student's confidence and enthusiasm for other languages and focuses on the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing through functions in culturally based discrete contexts.
The Middle School world languages program offers a range of courses in French, Spanish and Chinese for students in Grades 5-8. Classes are conducted in the target language, as appropriate to the students' level of proficiency, and are designed to develop listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
Beginners courses are aimed at students who were not in a yearlong world languages program during the previous school year. If a student successfully completes a beginners course, s/he will enter a continuers course the following year. Continuers courses are for students who have successfully completed at least one full year of an academic program in their chosen language.
Seven standards, established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and adopted by ASL K-12 world languages teachers, guide the program. Standards are addressed where appropriate in each grade level.
Students will engage in conversation, express feelings and emotions, and exchange information and opinions orally and in writing in the target language.
Students will understand and interpret written and spoken language on a number of topics presented through a variety of media in the target language.
Students will present information, concepts and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics in the target language.
Students will gain knowledge and demonstrate understanding of the relationships between practices, products and perspectives of cultures other than their own.
Students will develop insight into the nature of language and culture by comparing their own languages and cultures with those of others.
Students will acquire, reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through their world languages studies, and will recognize the ways information acquired in world languages classes, and in other classes, relate to and reinforce one another.
Students will use language and/or demonstrate cultural knowledge and understanding within and beyond the school setting for personal, educational, and professional growth and enrichment.
Performing arts: music
The primary goal of the department is to provide an experience through which students can consider themselves to be musicians: musically literate, technically secure, and confident in performance. The emphasis of the Middle School music program in grades 5-7 is on instrumental and choral ensembles; performing together, in a safe and mutually supportive environment is at the core of a student’s musical experience. Beginning in Grade 5, all students in these grades learn either a band or string orchestra instrument, and sing in the grade level choir. In Grade 8, and as a gateway to High School elective choices, students have the opportunity to add dance and drama to their existing musical experiences in a Performing Arts class.
In line with the rest of the Core Academic subjects, students in music are assessed against a set of Standards. The reporting standards below are derived from the four National Core Arts Standards of Perform, Create, Connect, and Respond.
- Develops and refines artistic ideas and work
- Brings to life artistic works and ideas through the process of interpretation, refinement, and presentation
- Applies criteria to analyze and evaluate artistic works and ideas, in order to deepen understanding
- Relates artistic works and ideas with personal experiences and a greater context
Additionally each student will receive a rating on their performance on the six ASL Approaches to Learning: Collaborative, Respectful, Responsible, Reflective, Engaged, and Resilient.
ASL is a member school of the Association for Music in International Schools (AMIS), and through this organization a number of extra curricular opportunities exist for our most advanced musicians.
Middle school special subject courses are designed to appeal to all students and to develop a well-rounded student body. Grade 5 and 6 students take a sampling of curriculum in each area, while Grade 7 and 8 students may choose one elective for each semester.
By providing relevant information, exploring personal attitudes and values and supporting healthy decision-making, the middle school encourages students to take responsibility for the choices they make. Lessons are designed to give students the practical tools they need to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors in their day-to-day lives.
Students contribute to the curriculum for the health class, which meets once per cycle, by raising those health issues which are important to them. Content and teaching methods also evolve based on regular student, teacher and program assessment.
Key curriculum components include: mindfulness, building respectful relationships, strengthening trust and cooperation, mastering communication and helping skills, drug education, human sexuality and relationship education, healthy eating, physical fitness, learning to use refusal and conflict resolution skills, media literacy and gender equity. Programs that reinforce the health curriculum include Advisory activities, and the Counseling Team.
Health is a pass/fail course that aligns with the 8 ASL Health Standards. Students are expected to:
- Understand concepts related to health-enhancing behaviors to maintain a safe and healthy environment for themselves and others.
- Develop a healthy sense of self through comprehending concepts related to mental, emotional, and social health and developing self-care and care for others.
- Develop a positive gender identity based on notions of equality and human rights.
- Understand the centrality of relationships to a meaningful life, comprehend there are different kinds of families and relationships and develop healthy interpersonal relationships.
- Understand stages of human development, including sexual development and develop a healthy sense of self, one’s rights and the rights of others.
- Understand and critically examine the influence of family, society, culture, and the environment on health behaviors and beliefs.
- Demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills, goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance their well-being and to advocate for themselves and others.
- Consider how their actions impact the well-being of others and the planet.
The PE program at ASL emphasizes the holistic well-being of every student. We strive to create a safe and inclusive environment for all, enabling children to develop healthy relationships, take ownership of their learning experience, and reflect on their actions. The PE program promotes growth by allowing students every possibility to learn and explore the diverse aspects of movement in a non-traditional, fun and engaging environment creating a community of learners with a growth mindset.
The Middle School physical education program is designed to encourage maximum participation during class time as well as the means to improve a student's learning in various (transferable)areas such as with the development of various movements, social and (inter)personal skills, problem solving and critical thinking skills. During each term, students in Grades 5-8 participate in a variety of sports and activities which meet three times each eight-day cycle. Classes take place indoors, outdoors and in our school pool throughout the year.
All Middle School students who are physically able are required to take PE. Attendance requirements for PE are the same as they are for other academic classes. Absence from PE for up to three days due to a small injury or convalescence is possible with a parent's note. For longer periods, a physician's statement is required. Students who are excused from participating in PE activities for health reasons are still expected to attend their PE classes.
Fostering new ways of seeing the world and encouraging self-expression through a wide range of media are the major aims of the Middle School art program. Grade 5 and 6 students take art throughout the year and explore a variety of media such as paint, pencil, chalk, ink and some three-dimensional media. Projects stress creativity and imagination, while heightening the students' awareness of concepts central to the fine arts, such as composition, color theory, design and perspective. Grade 7 and 8 students who wish to develop further their artistic talents may choose from several elective courses, such as Studio Art, Ceramics and Digital Photography.
Art is assessed against the following six standards. Students are expected to:
- Create artwork using the most appropriate techniques and processes
- Communicate ideas and experiences using chosen techniques and processes
- Demonstrate increasing technical ability and skill to complete assignments
- Apply known techniques in new and different ways
- Analyze artistic problems leading to resolution
- Reflect upon and assess characteristics and merits of their art work
The School recognizes the importance of technology in the modern world; information technology education is therefore an integral part of the Middle School curriculum. The work done by Middle School students is intended not only to expand students' knowledge of computing, but also to enhance the learning process by enabling students to access, organize and analyze information, improve communications skills and express ideas.
The Grade 5-6 information technology program is designed to introduce students to different software and the use of the Internet. Increasing word-processing skills is integrated into the Grade 5 and 6 curricula. A variety of semester-long electives are offered for students in Grades 7 or 8. These courses explore more advanced areas of information technology, such as design, publishing, and visual media. The emphasis of these courses is the use of the computer as a resource for study and for the presentation of information.
Students in Grades 5-8 to have their own ASL-provided laptop to participate in both the core subject and elective programs.
Middle School Laptop Program
The School provides each Grade 5-8 student with a specifically configured Apple laptop at the start of the school year. Students in Grades 6-8 take the laptops home during the school year, but laptops remain the property of ASL and are returned at the end of the school year. Students in Grade 5 keep their laptops in a cabinet in the Grade 5 pod when not in use and do not take them home.
The Middle School requires each Grade 6-8 student to have a backpack to protect and conceal the laptop when taken out of the building. It is also strongly advised that students have Internet connectivity at home from the first day of school.
The Middle School drama program engages students in a variety of cooperative activities designed to channel thoughts and emotions in a creative and productive manner. Through role-play, improvisation and puppetry, students experience and develop self-confidence, self-awareness and communication skills as well as an appreciation for the dramatic arts. All Grade 5 and 6 students participate in drama for the whole year, to develop imagination and creativity through theater games. Improvisation is used to create stories based on fairy tales, myths and personal experiences. Grade 7 and 8 students have the opportunity to continue their involvement by choosing drama as an elective for one semester. The Grade 7 and 8 drama program expands on the skills learned in Grades 5 and 6, with the focus on developing stories from personal experiences. Each year, there is a Middle School drama production, which is open to students in Grades 7 and 8. This is an extracurricular activity that takes place over a period of 10 weeks.
Library and media literacy skills have taken on a new dimension due to the information explosion and development of new technologies. In the Middle School, the classroom teacher and librarians work together to integrate the learning of library and information gathering skills into the instructional program, and the skills are taught and reinforced in the context of projects and assignments. The Mellon Library believes that a successful approach to research incorporates the best of traditional and technological methods, and that these paths are not mutually exclusive. The Mellon Library webpage serves as an information portal that assembles threads of research, whether they lead to print or electronic documents. Recommended research paths identify the best and most age-appropriate information available on a given topic, regardless of its format. The librarians encourage students to become effective lifelong users of library and information resources.
Other Grade 7 and 8 electives
Grade 7 and 8 students choose one elective each semester from a variety of subjects. Courses are offered in the following areas: Ceramics, Dance, Drama, Digital Animation, Art, Journalism, Psychology, Robotics, Service Learning, Math, Yearbook and Yoga.