Middle school is a time of substantial transition—academically and emotionally—for students as they leave the more nurturing elementary years and begin their preparation for high school and beyond. Because these years are filled with increasingly complex content, it is critical for students to build and fortify their foundational knowledge across a wide variety of disciplines.
This is the first in a three-part blog series that will provide an in-depth look into the BASIS Independent Middle School Program, which is designed to ready students with the knowledge, confidence, and independence needed to excel inside and outside the classroom, as well as provide them ample opportunity to discover their passions. This first blog post will focus specifically on the BASIS Curriculum in the middle school years, which has been honed and optimized to reflect today’s growing expectations in education.
Interdisciplinary Course Load
The middle school curriculum at BASIS Independent Schools is unparalleled in both depth and breadth and rooted in STEM and the liberal arts. Students take rotating subjects starting in grade 5 and up, and begin to dive into diverse coursework in three difference sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), as well as Latin, logic, economics, world history, advanced mathematics, the arts, English, Classics, and more.
The Middle School Program bridges the concrete thinking in the younger grades with abstract thinking thanks to this range of subject material, encouraging students to discover and make connections between their various classes organically. The interconnected nature of the curriculum supports content mastery and leads to firmer knowledge application.
For example, Latin study is required for students in starting in grade 5, where students will take Latin two days per week and Classics the other three days. “As a result,” says Latin Subject Expert Teacher Ms. Odell, “students are learning Roman culture and history together with the language. And from a more practical standpoint, Latin also confers benefits for English reading and writing. Learning Latin grammar helps students understand English constructions as well, and so many of our English words have roots in Latin that they can recognize.”
Middle school students also engage in multidisciplinary studies through their economics course. Mr. Biemesderfer, Curriculum Coordinator and Economics Subject Expert Teacher, shares how economics draws from many areas: “Students have seen many of the topics we cover—the effect of the money supply on prices, or the question of how governments should treat monopolies—in their history classes before. Economics also applies a level of mathematical rigor most students are used to only seeing in a science classroom.”
Logic is another course in the middle school curriculum that is designed for interdisciplinary learning; it frequently intersects with History through its philosophy material, as well as English through its writing work. Logic Subject Expert Teacher Ms. De Beus says the benefit here is that “learning these foundational logic skills helps [middle schoolers] become more analytical thinkers and writers.”
The Middle School Program not only helps students begin to really contextualize their learning, but also learn how to apply their new knowledge to fuel critical inquiry and problem-solving skills. The spiral of the BASIS Curriculum, highly apparent in the middle school grades, is essential to this application. The practice of reviewing and revisiting concepts or topics equips students with a concrete foundation from which they can tackle content that goes into greater depth with each passing year. This helps prepare students for entry into Honors or Advanced Placement® courses that start in grade 9.
This is especially evident in our math offerings. All students take high-level mathematics courses earlier than normal throughout our entire program, but according to Math Subject Expert Teacher Ms. Small, “Middle school is when math can become ‘hard’ for students. A spiraling curriculum works so well at cementing ideas into young minds. Some people will say ‘you've taught this before!’ but reviewing and elaborating each time we encounter a topic really gets it into the memory bank.”
The spiral is equally effective when students begin to take chemistry, biology, and physics in grade 6 after the Intro to Science course in grade 5. Chemistry Subject Expert Teacher Mr. Ryan notes the many benefits: “A course that is based entirely on a single science (chemistry, for example) allows the class to explore that science in far more detail over an academic year, as opposed to a general 'science' course that may only touch upon basic concepts of chemistry, biology, or physics over a couple of months. There is time to ask important questions, dig a little deeper, and really imbibe that student with passion for the subject.”
Accelerated Math Offerings
Often, grade-level mathematics are not challenging enough for our students, and we believe that if a student can work at a high level, they should have every opportunity to do so.
Ms. Small says, “It really is a raise-the-bar-and-come-meet-it kind of idea! Our students, after taking Intro to Pre-Algebra in grade 5, can be placed in Algebra I or Pre-Algebra for grade 6.” After that, there are multiple opportunities for students to be reassessed and accelerate further. This means BASIS Independent students could potentially take Algebra II by grade 7, whereas in other public and even private schools, students usually cannot take Algebra until grade 8.
Providing opportunities for differentiation in math gives our students the chance to challenge themselves in the classroom and hone the skills they will need in future STEM courses throughout high school.
Using Knowledge as a Tool
In middle school, students discover how powerful their knowledge really is. When they learn that they can use knowledge as a tool to fuel deeper understanding, to forge new interests, and to pursue their passions, school becomes a place filled with endless potential. Our students gain the skills and the confidence to be independently motivated in their education.
Stay tuned for two follow-up posts that dive into more key aspects of the Middle School Program at BASIS Independent Schools, including the subject expertise at the helm of our classrooms, and how we help students build essential autonomy and self-advocacy skills.
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