Middle School Course of Study
The Birch Wathen Lenox Middle School consists of grades six through eight, and serves as a bridge between the self-contained classroom of the Lower School and the individualized schedules of the Upper School. Students in the Middle School are placed in different groupings throughout the day to allow for variations in teaching and learning styles in the various subject areas. Social dynamics are also taken into account when creating the groups. Our goal is to create an atmosphere where all students feel simultaneously challenged, yet supported, and comfortable taking risks in their learning. The same material is presented to each group; the degree of guidance through the material varies for each student, as do the supplementary challenges.
We have a traditional curriculum in The Birch Wathen Lenox Middle School and yet, innovation and dynamic classroom settings are at the core of student experience. The STEM Initiative coupled with the Service Initiative, Honor Code, House, Leadership, and Peer Relations programs promote critical thinking and problem solving skills essential to 21st century academic success while also reinforcing the emotional, ethical, and empathic maturation crucial to values- based learning and development. Emphasis is placed on student understanding and application of the content presented by our teachers in a conventional but engaging classroom setting. Students are assessed informally through class discussion, in-class writing assignments, laboratory experimentation, participation, and homework; and formally through quizzes, tests, presentations, and projects. While the content of each course is strongly emphasized, we also place a large value on the acquisition of essential academic and life skills during the students' time in the Middle School. This includes, but is not limited to, note-taking and test-taking skills, organization, time management, applied learning, self-advocacy, social tolerance and cues, civic responsibility, Internet safety and "netizenship," and effective communication with peers and adults. While many of these skills are taught formally through our Study Skills program, they are also inter woven into the curriculum of every class in the Middle School.
Explore BWL's Middle School Course of Study by grade level, subject, and program below.
- The 6th Grade
- The 7th Grade
- The 8th Grade
- World Language Program
- Middle School Skills
- Middle School Arts
- Middle School Computer Science
- Middle School Health
- Physical Education
- Service Learning and Leadership
- STEM Initiative
- Independent Study
- Field Trips
- Advisors and Homeroom
The Sixth Grade is a year of transition from the largely autonomous classrooms of the Lower School to the more departmentalized program of the Middle School. Students have different teachers and classrooms for each subject. A large focus is placed on the development of organizational skills and effective strategies for time management. The students are learning how to learn and how that process may vary from discipline to discipline.
In English 6, students begin to hone the reading, writing, and speaking skills that are essential throughout the Middle and Upper Schools. Literary selections challenge and engage students while laying a solid foundation in close reading and elements of fiction. Students also self-select literature for independent reading. They are encouraged to generate and respond to essential thematic questions, adding fresh perspectives and ideas as these questions are revisited. Students will better their understanding of expository and creative writing, by engaging in writing at home and in class; they will learn to manage working on longer projects. Along with building vocabulary, students will establish a foundation of grammatical skills, such as understanding parts of speech, sentence structure, issues of agreement, and punctuation. These skills are practiced through exercises and extensive creative writing.
The History 6 curriculum comprises the study of the ancient world, from prehistoric human development through a variety of classical civilizations. Beginning with basic skills in geography and mapping, students move on to the Old and New Stone Ages, touching upon the tools and skills used by historians and archeologists. The civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, and Rome are covered in considerable depth, emphasizing an understanding of the major trends influencing the growth of cultures. Close attention is also paid to the legacies of ancient societies and their echoes into the present. Ongoing attention is given to geography, study skills, and citizenship. Students participate in class discussion and lessons that include a great variety of both primary and secondary sources and that are applicable to a wide range of learning styles. Encouraging students to be critical thinkers and enabling them to form generalizations is accomplished through a variety of activities that includes reading and writing assignments, projects and presentations, and short research explorations. Time is also put aside for discussion of current events, particularly when they touch upon ideas or issues from the cultures under study.
The Math 6 curriculum helps students master the basic computational skills needed for everyday life and understand the process of problem solving. Students are expected to gain fluency in the use of whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percents. Students are introduced to statistics, where graphing data is developed. An integration of the metric system is incorporated into the curriculum throughout the year. Basic algebraic and geometrical concepts are also gradually introduced to the students. References are constantly made to the use of mathematics in all fields and to real-life situations.
The primary focus of Science 6 is to develop an understanding of the Earth, its environment, and sustainability. Topics covered include reducing waste, recycling, conserving water and energy, and using renewable resources. Students will examine the impacts of human activity on the environment, including pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and over-exploitation of resources. This course builds a strong foundation for future learning in biology, physical science, and chemistry. Students complete hands-on projects, such as building solar lamps and upcycling old clothing. Students also learn how to write laboratory reports by breaking down the process into manageable steps, allowing students to master this important component of the science curriculum. The course culminates in the Annual Sixth Grade Sustainability Fair.
In the Seventh Grade, students continue to take courses across all of the major disciplines. An emphasis is placed on inferential thinking skills, advancing student cognitive abilities toward the next phase of development, i.e. analytic reasoning. Proper notetaking skills become increasingly important during the Seventh Grade year, and the teaching of these skills is woven into the curriculum. As the students mature and yearn for more independence, we meet this need by placing a high value on their ability to effectively self-advocate and self-monitor in both their academic and personal lives.
English 7 is distinguished by an increase in the variety of reading and writing objectives, with a focus on developing more analytical readers and writers. Students delve more deeply into literary convention and form and derive a better understanding of genre and elements of fiction. Students also explore a variety of these literary genres through self-selected independent reading and reading responses. Through consistent and progressive writing practice, students will begin to understand structure and organization, textual support and detail selection, intent, and audience. Creative writing exercises in both prose and poetry help further develop vocabulary and descriptive writing skills. Fundamentals of grammar, usage, and mechanics are reinforced through the students' own writing, as well as through whole group focus lessons. Students also hone their skills in oral presentation and performance through project presentations, dramatizations of scenes, and poetry recitation.
The Seventh Grade studies the history of the United States from Pre-Colonial times through the Civil War. The students use both their textbooks and a wide variety of primary and secondary sources to trace the beginnings of our nation and to understand the ideas and motives that have driven our geographic expansion and our social, technological, and political growth. Particular attention is paid to the early explorers, the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, immigration, the Industrial Revolution, and the causes and events of the Civil War. Regular writing assignments put a premium on thoughtful analysis, and research skills are developed through papers, projects, and presentations. Map work is constantly reinforced, and time is put aside for the study of current events, particularly as they relate to the topics under study.
In Math 7, a pre-algebra course, students learn to work beyond the "how" of math to the "why" of math. Both courses continue the study of fractions, decimals, and percents. Problem-solving techniques are also integrated into every topic. Further algebraic and geometric connections are integrated throughout the year. Critical reasoning and analytical thinking take on crucial roles in the course, exploring numerical and algebraic expressions that require students to evaluate expressions and solve equations. Special emphasis is put on mathematical applications and writing and solving equations.
Students in Science 7 spend the year developing a foundation of biological literacy. The goal of the course is to help students learn biological science, while challenging them to push themselves beyond that which is easily comprehensible. The course focuses on investigative and hands-on scientific discoveries. The emphasis of the first trimester is on the scientific method, cellular components, cell processes, and cell reproduction. During the second trimester, genetics, evolution, and plants are investigated. The third trimester explores human body systems and ecology. Students use the scientific method and the metric system for precise measurements in their laboratory work, and they learn the correct use of citations. Students continue to develop and refine the process of writing laboratory reports.
In the final year of Middle School, the goal is to help students move away from concrete thinking and to begin to reason abstractly. The ability to think on this level demands both developmental readiness and environmental stimulation. With this goal in mind, individuals are encouraged to engage in inferential thought using techniques of comparative thinking, logic, and abstraction. In addition to the academic preparation is the focus upon the students' development of greater self-reliance, social maturity, study strategies, and time management that will be required of them in the Upper School.
In English 8, students intensify their examination of language and their development of reading, writing, and discussion skills through the study of a variety of complex literature including novels and plays. Students' exploration of character and reading for meaning is deepened, preparing them for further development in analytical writing. Isolated lessons on the development of thesis statements, introductions, body paragraphs, conclusions, and textual evidence stress the logical underpinnings of thoughtful writing. As students are guided in critically looking at their own work, they focus on the vocabulary and grammar skills essential to their own success. In small and large group discussions, students collaborate to construct meaning by listening actively, constructively disagreeing, and building on one another's ideas.
History 8 takes up where History 7 ends, covering topics in American history from Reconstruction to the present. Through the use of the textbook, primary and secondary sources, and multimedia, students analyze the main concepts and historic trends of the period. The course emphasizes analytic reasoning, and students are expected to evidence such skills in written and oral form. An ongoing aspect of the course is an inquiry into the richly pluralistic development of our nation and an examination of the causes and effects of various social, political, cultural, militaristic, and economic phenomena of America's past.
Two courses in mathematics are offered in Eighth Grade: Algebra I and Algebra I Part 1. Placement is recommended on an individual basis according to past achievement and readiness. Both courses place special emphasis on problem-solving, critical reasoning, and analytical thinking. Both courses require an in-depth study of properties, integers, rational numbers, absolute value, equations, inequalities, exponents, and linear equations and their graphs. In Upper School, the students in Algebra I will move on to take Geometry, and those students in Algebra I Part 1 will take the second half of Algebra.
In Science 8, students apply analytic skills to the investigation of the basic principles of physics and chemistry. Students are expected to apply the scientific method in hypothesizing, interpreting events, and predicting outcomes. The laboratory program focuses on classical physics and introductory chemistry. Some of the investigations the students pursue are accelerated motion, momentum, energy conservation, and single replacement reactions. The students engage in a colloquium after each investigation and write formal laboratory reports. Math skills and scientific skills are developed throughout the course.
Students select French, Spanish or Japanese in the Sixth Grade. Their study of one of these languages in the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grades comprises the first level of BWL's required three- year world language sequence. Classroom instruction is given in the target language.
World Language 6
Students in Sixth Grade choose to study French, Spanish or Japanese, and develop a foundation for continued language study in Middle and Upper School. Student Communication is emphasized as students learn vocabulary in thematic units. Basic elements of grammar including verb conjugation, gender agreement, and sentence construction are introduced. Dialogues, skits, songs, and games supplement the linguistic and cultural dimensions of the course.
World Language 7
French, Spanish, and Japanese stress a functional and communicative approach to language learning. Students develop more complex sentence structure and acquire vocabulary evocative of everyday life. Grammatical instruction is geared towards accurate expression. Video and audio technology are used in conjunction with the textbook. These, combined with authentic materials, allow students to further their language proficiency and develop an appreciation of many different people and cultures.
World Language 8
French, Spanish, and Japanese continue the development of the four language skill areas (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). Using text as well as audio and video technology, students learn an increasingly rich body of vocabulary, structure, and idioms, all linked to real-life situations. This course is designed to build solid written and oral communication skills to prepare for intermediate and advanced levels of language. The curriculum is supplemented by activities fostering a deeper understanding of culture and civilization.
The courses in the Skills Department reinforce and strengthen concepts taught in the Middle School curriculum. Sixth and Seventh Grade students take Skills, using the SMARTS program to explore a variety of strategies to improve executive functioning skills. Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade students may take Strategies for Learning, a project-based course that further enhances core academic abilities.
The Skills course in Sixth Grade has students focus on transitioning into the Middle School by learning about what executive functioning is and how their brains work through Metacognition, creating achievable and appropriate goals, learning research skills, practicing listening skills, following directions, and thinking about how to shift perspectives and think flexibly. The Seventh Grade students further develop their organizational skills and work on learning about time management, note taking techniques, and studying for tests to enhance their ability to complete the coursework in their classes.
Strategies for Learning
Strategies for Learning is an additional skills class available to Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade students who are not yet ready to study a world language, admitted in 7th or 8th grade without experience taking a world language, or have a world language waiver. Strategies supplements the other major subjects being studied and hones the skill sets required for success in these academic classes. The work focuses mainly on support with core academic courses and is project-based, demanding the use of a variety of skills as well as creativity. In Strategies 6, students use strategies and skills to enhance their independence as learners in educational and real world settings. In Strategies 7, students focus on further strengthening their critical thinking and reading skills as well as continuing to develop their skills in writing and test-taking. Students in Strategies 8 work on becoming more independent learners as they examine information in an increasingly analytical manner. The skills learned in this course will help prepare students for Upper School.
In the Sixth and Seventh Grades, students experiment with a variety of media and techniques, ranging from acrylic painting, collage, and watercolor to sculpture and mixed media projects. Using group discussion and critiques, students strive toward developing the verbal and visual skills necessary to talk about their work and ideas. By working on group projects, students are given the opportunity to exchange ideas and share decision making in the creation of collaborative pieces. Several projects will be coordinated with information from other course studies so that students can better understand their relationship to art. Students are encouraged to explore, take risks, and express their own concepts and individuality.
The Illustration 8 course is designed to help perfect students' drawing skills by working in pencil, ink, and watercolors. Illustration projects will develop throughout the course and will be based on written works including students' original compositions and others assigned to the class. Students also keep a journal throughout the course.
Middle School Performing Arts
Music and drama hold an important place in the Middle School, giving students a showcase for their talent and providing them with opportunities to perform in front of an audience of their peers, parents, and other members of the community. The Middle School music program continues the music appreciation cultivated in the Lower School by offering required music courses across all three grades. Students choose between Vocal Ensemble and Instrumental (violin, viola, or cello) which they continue through the remainder of Middle School. Every year, the Vocal Ensemble and Instrumental classes perform at our Holiday and Spring Concerts. Middle School students also have various theatrical performance opportunities each year, ranging from a musical performed at an off-Broadway theater to a spring play or cabaret. Students may also choose to be a part of the tech team for these shows, contributing to set building, stage management, or lighting design.
The Middle School Computer Science course of study centers around building competence in the technical skills that will bring students into a world of endless opportunities. The goal of the program is to motivate students to use modern technology to their advantage by introducing them to a variety of useful applications. Topics of study include advanced word processing, audiovisual editing, computational thinking, Python programming, web development, 3-D modeling, and graphic design. Throughout the program, proper keyboarding techniques are reinforced along with guidelines on practicing safe online behavior and ?digital citizenship?aligned with our Honor Code and Code of Conduct. The Computer Science Department maintains an inquiry-based learning environment in which students are encouraged to ask thoughtful questions about what they watch, hear, and read in the media. Innovation and critical thinking are emphasized. Students will leave Middle School equipped with the problem-solving and technical skills required to be competitive in an increasingly digital world.
The Middle School Health curriculum provides students with the opportunity to develop an understanding of health concepts, including the intellectual, social, and emotional aspects of healthy living. Each class is a forum for discussion, providing students with an opportunity to identify their own attitudes and beliefs concerning critical health issues. In Health 6, topics taught include mental and emotional health, personal health, nutrition, tobacco, alcohol and drugs, family health, and sexuality. Health 7 topics include alcohol and drugs, peer pressure and refusal skills, family health and sexuality, the reproductive system, body systems, nutrition, and social, physical, and emotional health. Health 8 topics include family health and sexuality, gender and consent, STDs, first aid, fitness, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
The Physical Education and Athletics program provides students with opportunities to participate in a variety of activities through sequential instruction and movement. The foundational skills introduced in the program are practiced and strengthened through cooperative participation in group activities. Organized warm- ups, drills, and practice sessions help students attain proficiency in specific sports skills and the development of physical fitness. Students learn rules, skills, and strategies related to physical activities. The three main areas of activities for the Middle School program are health-related physical fitness, individual sports and activities, and team sports and activities. All Physical Education and athletic activities stress a sense of healthy competition, fair play, leadership, and sportsmanship.
|5/6 Intramural Soccer*||5/6 Intramural Basketball (Boys)||5/6 Badminton Intramurals*|
|5/6 Intramural Volleyball*||5/6 Intramural Basketball (Girls)||5/6 Mini-Tennis Intramurals*|
|7/8 Soccer*||7/8 Basketball (Boys)||7-12 Varsity Tennis*|
|7/8 Volleyball (Girls)||7/8 Basketball (Girls)||7/8 Track and Field*|
|7/8 Cross Country*||7-12 Swimming*||7-12 Varsity Golf*|
|7-12 Squash*||8-12 Varsity Baseball (Boys)|
Students in the Middle School are expected to reach out, in meaningful ways, to their communities and not only serve them but, in their service, learn the value of civic responsibility and the power of the individual to take part in strengthening these communities. The Middle School will help raise awareness of needs in our communities and offer many opportunities for students to work with, and learn from, different local and global organizations. Student preparation, action, and reflection lead to an enriched learning experience. Students are also expected to seek opportunities to serve on their own. While BWL does not require a set number of hours to be completed for the year, students are expected to participate in one school sponsored service project per trimester, a total of three for the year. The school expects that students will become global citizens who take an active role in shaping their world through consistent and willing participation in these projects.
Such civic responsibility culminates in 8th grade through our Leadership Course that meets twice a week. Building upon the premise that leadership and ethical decision-making are not innate but rather learned and cultivated, our 8th graders are challenged to become the everyday leaders of our middle school. Beginning with an exploration of the habits and qualities of what makes an effective leader, students then search out those qualities in themselves, asking not just what they value but why. The leadership journey then moves outward, first by aligning such discovery more profoundly to our BWL community and values, and then applying those values to the community beyond our walls - from New York to the United States to the world at large. Students ultimately collaborate on a capstone project they identify as an essential commitment and responsibility, which is completed and presented to our Middle School faculty, Administration, and student body.
The STEM Initiative at BWL was created to equip students with 21st century skills that enable them to thrive in and improve the world. Within and beyond the classroom, STEM programs, including classroom STEM challenges and interdisciplinary projects, empower students to engage the world and solve problems through inquiry and innovation. Programs, like the annual 6th Grade Sustainability Fair, highlight the importance of being a global citizen by using scientific and technological fluency to build a more sustainable world. In addition, students in Grades 4-8 may join the Lower and Middle School Robotics Team. This after school program has students competing in the FIRST Lego League Challenge. Friendly competition is at the heart of the Challenge, as teams of students engage in research, problem solving, coding, and engineering--building and programming a LEGO robot that navigates the missions of a robot game.
BWL's Independent Study Program provides opportunities for highly motivated 7th - 12th grade students to explore a particular subject or topic of interest, while developing the skills to produce high-level academic projects. The program is designed for students who are excelling in a specific subject area and want to expand their knowledge through independent study and mentorship, learning to produce high quality academic writing while presenting their ideas and research in a symposium setting. Eligible students are paired with a mentor teacher in their focused subject area, as well as an Independent Study advisor for weekly meetings. These faculty members provide direction, support, and the necessary skills for students to explore their passions and produce a final project of which they can be proud. Each Independent Study takes place over either the Fall or Spring term, with a culminating Independent Study Symposium where students present what they have learned and created.
The Middle School takes advantage of the richness of New York City by taking many field trips that supplement the curriculum. These may include visits to The Museum of Natural History, field observations at Central Park paleontological dig sites, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Tenement T Museum.
Middle School students are divided into advisory groups that meet every day for a short period of time with an advisor. The advisor oversees academic progress for these students and maintains contact with parents and the administration. During the advising period advisors touch base with advisees, make announcements, and often discuss issues of friendship, community, and ethics. Advisory groups may sponsor special service projects that might involve the entire grade or Middle School.
Each advisory group in the Middle School is part of a House System that works to celebrate our school values and to encourage school spirit and service. Houses are named for our school colors and values (Green-Integrity, White-Loyalty, and Blue-Civility) and are comprised of one homeroom from each grade level, 6th through 8th. Each House works as a team to earn House points through participation in school events, service opportunities, extracurricular activities, sports, and then displays of academic progress, and adherence to the Code of Conduct and Honor Code. Individuals also have opportunities, each day, to earn points for their Houses by demonstrating exemplary behaviors that show kindness, good manners, active participation, a positive attitude, service, motivation, and responsibility. The year culminates with the awarding of the House Cup to the House that has earned the highest number of points that school year.
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