Middle School Curriculum Overview
Our Grade 6-8 Curriculum
Besides getting to know their students well, teachers also design rich, innovative curricula and programs in the humanities, STEM, and arts to tap into a student’s natural curiosity, need to learn something relevant and the desire to direct her/his/their own learning.
A Wheeler Middle School classroom is often productively noisy as students wrestle with a problem or design a solution. Often there are more questions than answers and more talk time for students than for the teachers. Sometimes we employ technology; other times we don’t. Sometimes we read contemporary authors; other times the classics. And, sometimes the classroom is a theater such as Trinity Rep, or a multi-dimensional Providence neighborhood through Cityside for 8th Grade, the Wheeler Farm, a gallery on our own campus or at the Rhode Island School of Design, or science labs either at Brown University or our own “DIB Lab”, aka the Hirsch/Alperin Design-Innovate-Build Lab. Combined with the vigorous foundation of habits of mind and heart that we foster in our daily classroom instruction or the inquiry-based learning in our Middle School Information Commons, each student moves on to Upper School with an intellectual foundation for upper-level scholarship, adventures, and achievements.
Here is an overview of our Middle School curriculum in alphabetical order.
Some Middle Schoolers either choose to take or are recommended for the Academic Support program (included in your tuition.) These students require additional support in a small classroom environment to help them realize their potential.
The goals of the Academic Support Program in Middle School are:
- To identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses and teach study skills and strategies that best support the student’s learning style
- To foster the student’s metacognition (the ability to reflect on one’s thinking) in order to determine the most appropriate study skills and strategies for that student
- To develop solid advocacy skills.
Academic Support can be offered in place of modern language.
The Aerie Approach is Wheeler’s unique way (and, in fact, our ethos) of being a school that adapts to your child’s natural strengths and interests. Aerie is enrichment individualized to a student’s passion — whether that’s to learn Turkish or begin a podcast or business and offers school-wide enrichment through an extensive set of curricular and extracurricular offerings. Aerie teachers assist in classroom projects such as producing notepads from recycled paper, and bringing in guest speakers for classes on topics ranging from gun control to North American raptor behavior, to human rights in Burma, to State Department strategy in Afghanistan.
Aerie has designed advanced French and Spanish classes for native speakers, offered enrichment classes in math, supports the award-winning MathCounts Team, Mock Trial team, Literary Magazine, and Chess Team, as well as sponsoring geography and spelling bees.
Aerie also organizes the Electives program, mini-courses that meet twice weekly for six-to-eight-week sessions throughout the year. Recent offerings include Math Enrichment, Dance, and ‘Zines.
Visual Art classes meet twice a week for students in grades 6-8. Wheeler’s Middle School has two art studios that include a kiln and darkroom. Through a series of carefully designed projects using a variety of two and three-dimensional media, students learn to develop their problem-solving, organizational, and perceptual skills. Just as importantly, students use their art skills to explore their own creativity and imagination. Student work is displayed in an end-of-year Student Art Show.
“Core” develops a number of the essential skills we think middle schoolers need to know about and practice. The Core classes are Health, Unity & Diversity, and Technology. Sixth- and seventh-grade also have a community engagement class. Eighth grade’s community engagement class is subsumed under the Cityside Program.
The Language Arts and English classrooms are really workshops where students and teachers live as a community of readers and writers who are constantly digging in, inhaling, chewing on, pawing through, puzzling over, stretching, digesting, kneading, and playing with the English language.
In reading workshop, students read and discuss independent and shared texts, including poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and plays. In writing workshop, they approach a variety of genres by studying their elements, then implementing those elements in our own pieces.
All Language Arts and English teachers ask their students to practice and refine their skills. They encourage their students to be voracious readers, bold writers, confident speakers, and curious listeners.
Sixth-grade history is part of the Humanities curriculum. In it, we focus on social justice and activism enlivening the sixth-grade motto, “It’s not just what you learn, but what you choose to be.”
Seventh-grade history focuses on US history with an emphasis on how the nation’s history is manifest in the local environs of the School.
Eighth-grade history is part of the Cityside Program’s interdisciplinary approach to understanding how the city of Providence and its neighborhoods have evolved.
Throughout the history curriculum, students build skills in writing, research, public speaking, movie-making, collaborative, and project management.
The Middle School Library Information Commons is located within the Middle School in historic Hope Building. Its mission as part of the Prescott Library is to provide a safe, nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment for students, faculty, and staff, to take leadership in the academic program including but not limited to the literacies informed by digital access, and to ensure that students develop the essential skills needed to navigate the rapidly evolving information landscape of the 21st century.
This mission reflects the value of the teaching library in the intellectual life of the School, and the essential role each Library faculty member contributes in helping students become lifelong readers, enthusiastic inquiry-based learners, and competent researchers who know how to find the information they need and use it ethically.
The Middle School uses the College Preparatory Mathematics curriculum as the basis for its math program. This award-winning curriculum emphasizes constructive mathematical thinking and allows us to demonstrate the departmental belief that students learn best by meaningful, structured discourse about mathematical ideas.
A combination of individual skill development, team problem solving and articulation of mathematical understanding are part of every lesson in middle school math classrooms. As teachers, our belief is that students should be engaged in “doing” mathematics, not watching teachers “do math” and listening to them talk about it.
Middle School modern language teachers emphasize oral proficiency, active learning of everything from grammar to vocabulary, and employ different technologies to enhance the language learning process for their students. The Middle School offers three modern language options: Chinese, French, and Spanish. Students can start their language studies in 6th grade. Students who come to our program having learned Spanish in their elementary education can continue in a special section of Spanish. The Aerie Program also offers tutorials in many different languages.
The performing arts curriculum strives to nurture each student’s special talent and enthusiasm, provide the opportunity for students to explore and develop a passion for performing arts, and through performance, raise the community’s awareness of the performing arts. The curricula focus on:
- skills development (technique, vocabulary, and theory)
- composition and improvisation (creativity)
- ensemble and communication skills (the ability to work within a group)
- self-esteem gained through performance (sharing artistic achievement)
- a broad global and historical perspectives (exploring cultures through teaching materials)
- critical analysis (becoming a discerning and knowledgeable audience)
In the sixth-grade, the students are introduced to theatre terms, history and performance with an emphasis on Greek Theatre. In the seventh-grade, the students are introduced to improvisation, speech, and beginning scene study. Building on the seventh-grade studies, eighth graders are introduced to the written text and scene design. Students in the seventh and eighth grades may take part in the main stage spring production. The Wheeler Theatre Program has been recognized 10 times through the American High School Theatre Festival.
In Middle School music, students build upon the fundamentals of music learned in the Lower School program. By the end of their Middle School experience, students will have had the opportunity to study guitar, wind and brass instruments, music composition, music theory, and improvisation. Interested students can join the Middle School Chorus or an instrumental ensemble. These groups perform at Middle School assemblies, Wheeler events, and in the Providence community as individual performance groups or as combined ensembles.
Our Middle School physical education program in sixth- and seventh-grade offers our students a wide range of activities from team sports to ‘lifetime’ individual activities. It is an elective process where the students have the opportunity to choose an activity and remain in that unit for a 2-3 week period. Each grade meets 50 minutes twice per week. We feel strongly that decision making, commitment, fitness, fun, sportsmanship, and cooperation are integral components of the well-rounded Wheeler student. Eighth-grade students can satisfy the PE requirement by participating in after-school and outside-of-school athletics, early morning workouts with their Lower School workout partners, and in athletic options during Electives.
Sixth-grade science is primarily a life science curriculum emphasizing hands-on investigations. The course focuses on life processes, classification, human body systems, and biodiversity with particular attention to the plant and animal kingdoms. In seventh- grade science, students investigate forces, motion, and energy. Along with planning and carrying out scientific investigations where data is collected, analyzed and interpreted, students also participate in several related engineering design challenges. Earth Science is the focus of the second half of the year. The eighth-grade science curriculum consists of one semester of chemistry, focusing on metric units, matter, and the periodic table. The second semester goes into cell biology, genetics, and evolution. Students enjoy classes in the DIB Lab and the Library Information Commons to enhance what they do in their classes.
Wheeler Middle Schoolers have seamless access to technology on a completely wireless campus. Sixth- and seventh-graders are provided a school-owned Chromebook. Eighth-graders bring their own device. Besides this seamless access, the technology program includes coding, and audio-video production in the DIB Lab and in Wheeler’s Digital Production Studio which has radio and video editing software and a green screen.
The faculty promotes the wise and effective use of devices and information. In classes and advisor periods, students learn about:
- organization of documents, images, and other files in Google Drive;
- writing conventions for email and other e-communications;
- ethical use of information found on the Web; and
- best and safe practices in social networking.
Most importantly, the Middle School faculty promote a level of technology integration where student devices are integral tools and means, but not ends, in the educational process.