In the days leading up to graduation, eighth grade students at Woodland School in Portola Valley, CA will present their findings and solutions on issues of global significance.
Middle School (5-8)
About Middle School
Courage to question, Confidence to speak up, Compassion to take action
In addition to strong academics, Woodland’s curriculum is designed to provide the skills our students will need to make their way in our increasingly interconnected world: the ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations, to find answers when they are not readily apparent, and to become independent learners and flexible problem solvers who can think critically, collaborate effectively, manage their time, and live ethically.
Here are just some of the programs and projects in middle school that support our students in developing these necessary life skills.
- Advisory + SEL
- Innovation Lab
- Physical Education
In grades five through eight, students regularly engage in thoughtful activities tied to their emerging capability to find and impose structure, question and verify, comprehend cause and effect, generalize, and synthesize abstract ideas. Emphasizing problem-solving skills at each grade level, the middle school math program supports students’ individual development as they grow into abstract thinkers.
With two levels of math offered per grade, students follow their own developmental timetable based on their readiness for abstract mathematical concepts.Math placement is determined by Mathematics and Diagnostic Testing Project, teacher observation/recommendation, and student interest.
The 5th and 6th-grade Humanities courses are comprised of Social Studies (American History, Ancient Civilizations, and Current Events) and English Language Arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). Combining disciplines allows students to explore topics deeply and engage in investigations and projects. Reading and writing skills are taught in Language Arts and applied to Social Studies content, allowing for a richer, more relevant and interdisciplinary experience.
Students will look at historical events through the lens of politics, economics, art, religion and social life in order to gain a deep understanding of circumstances and events that can then be reflected in a connection to current events. Students are expected to work individually, in pairs, cooperative groups, and in whole group activities.
The Language Arts component integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, organized into thematic units.
Science at Woodland School asks students to think like scientists while learning skills and content to perform like scientists too!
The curricula is inspired and developed with research-based techniques published by the National Science Teaching Association in mind, and caters to the many interests of our diverse student population. Woodland School understands that responsible global citizens need the skills not only to explain and explore scientific phenomena, but also to critically think and evaluate large amounts of data and information that can be applied to everyday life.
At Woodland school, teachers are no longer the keepers of knowledge but instead facilitate student-centered learning by engaging them in authentic scientific scholarship through fun and engaging real-world situations. Both inside and outside the classroom, our students explore their thinking and the world around them, develop their own experiments and procedures, present their findings to panels of Bay Area scientists, participate in Citizen Science projects, and continue to foster their love of learning through a range of ever-evolving lessons and activities.
Science students at Woodland recognize that their ideas are integral to class learning and are expected to challenge their own understandings together!
After choosing a topic of interest, each seventh grade student develops a working hypothesis and designs an experiment to test their theory. Students present their findings to a team of professional scientists and share their work with the Woodland community. Recent topics have included best techniques for food sanitation, antibiotic resistance, and model rocket fin designs and nose cone shapes.
AdvisoryThe middle school advisory program is designed to equip students with the self-knowledge necessary to develop their strengths, focus on goals, and be responsible decision-makers. Concepts of metacognition, decision-making, executive function, self-management, and personal advocacy are explored in a small group environment that is rooted in compassion, empathy, and awareness—both of one’s self and of others.
Social-Emotional LearningSocial-emotional learning recognizes that emotional health is at the heart of our children’s well being and that emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to understand and handle feelings, profoundly affects our happiness and success in life. At Woodland, the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Program is designed to teach students the skills they need to handle themselves, their relationships and their work effectively and ethically. At the Middle School level, SEL focuses largely on students’ social, relational, and leadership skills along with stress reduction techniques and team building. Students discuss current issues and proactively learn how to deal with new issues that may arise. Woodland faculty is actively involved in the social and emotional growth of the students while allowing them to use the skills they have been taught to resolve their issues autonomously.
Strong mentorship and leadership abilities are the backbone of the program as students are inspired to continually strive to be the best versions of themselves they can possibly be.
Music theory, music history, and vocal or instrumental application play a critical role in music education. Students are expected to read music notation, grasp fundamental theoretical musical concepts and develop an understanding of the historical importance of music as a social tool.
Choral singing is woven into the middle school curriculum, where students strive to develop their aural skills, as well as their vocal abilities. Middle School students perform in choral concerts that feature a varied repertoire of music ranging from jazz standards, to classical pieces to world music selections. The aim is to emphasize the importance of music as a regular part of a well-rounded education.
Electives are offered for seventh and eighth grade Woodland students, who have the opportunity to compliment the main courses of the curriculum through participation. These fascinating mini-courses allow students to pursue subjects of personal interest while developing a specialized knowledge. Electives include subjects such as writing and illustrating graphic novels, technology, photography, bridge design, journalism, modern dance, and drama.
The principles of design thinking are intentionally woven into the technology curriculum at Woodland School. Students go through the iterative process of identifying a problem to designing, executing, and refining a solution.
Students expand their technology aptitude to include:
- 3-D CAD modeling and design.
Woodland School is equipped with an Innovation Lab that includes a 3-D printer, software, and materials to expand hands-on learning opportunities.
The Middle School Spanish program builds enthusiasm and courage for language learning with joyful and developmentally-appropriate activities. Spanish in California remains a key theme as well as student focus on pertinent culture and artifacts from Chile, Mexico, Spain and Puerto Rico and the greater Spanish-speaking world. The program draws upon the standards of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the California Language Teachers Association (CLTA) which focus on communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities, and emphasize 21st-century skills, global competency, emotional literacy, and California’s diverse population. The program helps students understand the many shared values and norms between the United States and many Spanish-speaking countries. Spanish instruction focuses on geography, history, customs, traditions, and cooking. Grammar and vocabulary are approached through song, dance, acting, role-playing, storytelling, videos, and integration of social studies, math, science, and art history. Furthermore, older students read both fictional and non-fictional pieces. Kinesthetic learning is valued through Total Physical Response strategies, communicative games and collaborative activities. The classes are taught in Spanish, and students are provided the tools to succeed in the target language.
Students are encouraged to continue with their study of foreign language and pursue Advanced Placement level courses in high school.
Visual Art in elementary and middle school is ripe with both possibility and opportunity. Expanding on these possibilities and opportunities is the freedom afforded the Visual Art Department by the administration here at Woodland.
This is now our fifth year studying the lives and works of an ever growing list of artists to drive our school wide art curriculum. Previously titled "Artist of the Month" and following a great deal of reflection and dissection of the student experience in the art studio, a far more accurate title, which will be used going forward, is something along the lines of "Inspiration Artist."
Each year Woodland students learn about and take inspiration from a handful of visual artists, typically five or six. These artists are arrived at toward the end of each school year and over the summer by looking back at the artists covered in years past and the media they work in. Taking this past list into consideration, art genres, media, periods not yet addressed are generated, and then artists--both past and contemporary--are researched to see which might cover the most of these bases. This larger list is then looked over for opportunities to address periods not yet explored as a school, as well as those from a variety of cultures/communities. The final filter this list is put through is looking for artists with the broadest body of work, that will ultimately allow for a broader range of grade level projects.
In using the work of established artists as our inspiration, students learn about the life, events and experiences of individuals they might otherwise never cross paths with. They are asked to consider historical circumstances that they may never experience, pose questions they have not yet taken the time to consider, look at a subject or situation from a perspective that is foreign to them. A changing set of artists allows for new material to be addressed each year, in a fashion appropriate for the grade level, and helps to engage students through the derived projects, supporting content, and the narrative used to communicate it all. In essence, each year students get the chance to view the world through five or six new lenses while building upon the exposure of past years.
To support students invest in their projects and the material covered in the art studio, this year we have selected artists whose work allows for cross curricular integration with other academic subjects. Presently we are just wrapping up our first major unit, ceramics, using the work of artist Katherine Dubé and her background in biology as our mutual starting point. Each grade level has been working on different projects based on Dubé's work each incorporating what our students have been working on this trimester in Science. This includes the conception of ideas, design, context framing, academic integration and reinforcement. Our curriculum has been laid out so that each project extends beyond the studio.
To help guide and structure our approach to visual art education, the department uses the National Core Art Standards for reference. We look to this set of standards first and foremost because they are already quite in line with our program goals: broadening students' perspectives, appreciation, and understanding as it relates to the arts and the broader world. These standards stress creating, producing, responding and connecting across grade levels with developmentally appropriate goals. Something that I personally appreciate is the way we focus on "producing" art versus the "end product". The true student work and learning occurs in the process of producing artwork.
These learning goals and projects reflect the student learning all the more for having them occur in a shared space alongside their peers. Sharing a creative learning space with others presents a natural opportunity to weave elements of social-emotional learning into both the curriculum as well as weekly classes. Skills that are discussed, practiced and encouraged include various forms of communication, social and self awareness, not to mention self management. Creating art in a classroom setting is a wonderful opportunity for students to balance their own wants and needs with that of the larger group; it's not that "no one leaves happy from a good compromise" and more of "how can I be successful and true to myself in this shared space?"The more we work to develop these skills--both in art as well as across campus--the more comfortable and secure our students will feel, and with time, encourage students to take an idea further or to take a creative risk.
Process has been mentioned several times thus far and for good reason. Process is where the learning is happening, the product is merely the results. Students are assessed on the processes they participate in and work through over the course of a given project. In this way students are not being assessed on "good" art versus "bad" art. The process they went through to get to the resulting work is:
- What was their understanding of the content?
- Where did they attempt to include this in their initial ideas?
- In the final product, can they point out where they included elements of project criteria?
To support students in reaching this end goal of investing in the process of a project, a given unit is deliberately structured so the "making" follows preparation. Over the course of a given unit the first 2 classes are spent on:
- Information, context, background
- Necessary skills and technique practiced
- More fully informed, projects are planned out (typically in sketchbooks) to streamline success
The following (~2) classes are spent executing this informed plan:
- Some basic/general review of project and work thus far
- Bulk of class spent executing the plan
Each unit concludes with a constructive feedback process at an appropriate level
- Feedback possibilities include:
- Whole group presentation
- Small group critique
- Partner sharing
- On project
- On original idea
- On resulting work
- Adjustments if attempting again
- Self-assessment (in middle school)
- Uses single point rubric
- Reviewed and adjusted by teacher
- Added opportunity for students and teacher to clarify and communicate their understanding
At the start of eighth grade, students identify an issue of global or local significance that they are curious or passionate about and create an interdisciplinary project to make a difference or have impact at some level. These “Capstone” projects mark the culmination of middle school and prepare students for more in-depth research in high school and beyond. Guided by a faculty advisor, they conduct research, interview experts in the field, write an expository paper and design an action piece, and present their work by year’s end.
Service Learning Trip
To complement their Capstone, students have the opportunity to participate in a service learning trip, where they work and live alongside members of the community they visit
My topic is the cycle of poverty among physically disabled youth in the Middle East – specifically in Iraq as a case study.
My topic is poverty in the Congo, and its causes. I got interested when my advisor was mentioning the Congo, and go interested in the numbers of people in poverty.
My topic is girls' education in Sierra Leone. Girls there don't have access to education because of poverty circumstances in their lives.
My topic is postnatal or post-partum depression in women. I wanted to focus on the health pillar, and since most people concentrate on the physical part of health.
Physical education in the Middle School focuses on mastery of sports skills and strategies and provides opportunity for students to apply these skills in authentic game situations. Emphasis is placed on developing sportsmanship and personal goal setting. Every student is expected to cultivate and implement leadership skills in the physical education context. Students develop an understanding of how physical activities and good nutrition enhance emotional and social growth, academic achievement, and intellectual development. Each of these elements is taught in a progression that allows students to achieve success at each step. The goal of Middle School physical education is to instill an appreciation of the vital role physical activity has on one’s overall existence and to cultivate healthy fitness and exercise habits in each student.