Middle School (Grades 6–8)
Middle school students are in the midst of significant physical, social, emotional and intellectual change and growth. The role of the adults in their lives is critical. Teachers are facilitators of learning as well as advisors and guides. The adults help to ensure growth toward both greater independence and healthy interdependence. Through leadership opportunities throughout the school, students are able to gain a greater understanding of responsibility beyond self, and what it means–and takes–to be in those roles.
Atrium culture is founded upon respect for self, respect for others, and respect for the environment. Students work cooperatively. The reality of and appreciation for our diversity continues to be integral to every aspect of our curriculum in middle school. Middle school students approach their academic, social, and emotional learning on a deeper level and gain new insights about the complexity of their roles in local and global communities. Atrium provides a safe environment where students are encouraged to explore how to integrate and internalize their ideas and their values into daily practice and being. Our goal is to help students be kind, conscientious, ethical, and proactive members of the communities they will join after their time at Atrium.
The themes and core subjects at Atrium Middle School are listed under the specific grades. In a commitment to educating the whole child, core studies are balanced with time dedicated to students’ social, emotional, physical, and artistic growth. Atrium Middle School is designed to engage and challenge. The learning is organized around the following themes:
- Grade 6: How Do We Make Choices?
- Grade 7: How Do We Make Connections?
- Grade 8: How Do We Transform?
In addition, we believe it is important for middle school students to have multiple opportunities for regular athletic activity; to experience different kinds of music, art, and performing arts; to explore technology; and to engage in service learning. Taking advantage of the vast resources available to us, the middle school program expands out of the building and into the community. Scroll down to learn more about Middle School "Common Studies" such as cross-grade opportunities, cluster learning and all specialties.
The sixth grade program is intended to support students as they transition into the new experiences of middle school. Their surroundings and routines change from the elementary level of having a main classroom with two teachers to having specific teachers for different subjects in different classrooms. Just as they are growing and changing, their relationships with peers and adults become very important as grounding mechanisms for their daily life. The sixth graders learn to think critically about their world and grow to see each other as resourceful members of their community. They investigate the thinking process through various strategies designed to review and strengthen their individual thinking patterns. As they move toward seventh grade, the students develop a sense of how they learn and how to make informed choices as confident individuals.
Sixth Grade Theme: “How Do We Make Choices?”
This question is a culmination of the thematic ideas studied throughout the previous grades at Atrium. They explore what choices are available to sixth graders in this community, and what elements contribute to the choices each student makes. As they develop their understanding of the meaning of choice, they begin to build an awareness of themselves and recognize the effects of their decisions. By doing so, they are being asked to stretch themselves developmentally and look at situations from another’s perspective. Likewise, by exploring various thinking strategies students will learn the value of sharing their thinking and discover that the way others think may be similar or different from their own way of thinking. These similarities and differences yield opportunities for them to stretch their thinking even further. Choice is woven into each core discipline as well, from investigating moments of choice in history and literature to choosing tools of discipline in math and science.
English Language Arts
The main goal in English language arts is to create a community of independent readers and writers who understand language as central to our human identities. Although we have separate readers’ and writers’ workshops scheduled throughout the week, our reading and writing instruction are necessarily intertwined.
Sixth graders practice active reading skills, asking questions of the text and analyzing the purposeful choices authors make in a variety of different genres; learning a range of writing strategies, methods and styles helps us critically to make sense of what we read as well as to make informed choices about how we express our thoughts on paper as situations demand. We read independently, work cooperatively in book groups, and listen as teachers and peers read aloud.
The sixth graders write formally and informally about what we read, experience, and question. Their writing takes many forms, including essays, pieces of expository non-fiction, literature circles, journaling, and creative writing assignments. Throughout the year, classroom authors have many opportunities to share work and receive constructive feedback in class, in small groups, and in one on one conferences with a peer and with a teacher. We use a range of organizational tools to help plan, manage, publish, and take ownership of our work as readers and writers. We emphasize writing and revising what we’ve written as a mindful act of thinking that develops our ideas. Informal and formal assessments allow teachers to design individual, group and whole class lessons to meet our students’ evolving needs.
Sixth grade mathematicians focus on the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percents. They review and deepen their understanding of computations with portions using manipulatives, visual models, and the standard algorithms for computation and conversions. They learn how to work with integer operations using a number line as well as algorithms. They derive the areas of basic shapes by relating them all to rectangles and the definition of area. They collect and analyze data using measures of central tendency. They begin their work with algebra by writing and solving simple equations. They study the relationship between volume and surface area. Exciting projects include: The Giant Candy Project, the Clock Angles Project, and a Survey Project.
The goal of the sixth grade science program is to introduce students to the skills of reading, writing, thinking, and doing science through topics in Earth Science. As students explore the processes of the terrasphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and exosphere, they build science literacy and inquiry skills. Students explore the idea of asking questions in a testable way through directed and free experimentation. Sixth grade scientists use scientific tools, construct physical or explanatory models to test and explain scientific phenomena, and communicate understanding through diagrams, science talks, and reasoned paragraphs. Throughout the year, case studies, debates, and engineering challenges highlight the effects of individual and societal choices on the processes of the Earth. Exciting projects include the Earth Truffle Project, the Fruitvale Groundwater Simulation, and the Weathered Objects Project.
Sixth grade students study U.S. History from the Pre-Columbian era to the beginning of the 20th century. They learn the geography of the U.S. and around the world, continent by continent, preparing them for studying early civilizations. The choices made by indigenous peoples, governments, colonists, and citizens are analyzed through various sources including how U.S. Supreme Court decisions shaped the evolution of our society. Students consider the reliability of various sources of history, analyzing primary and secondary sources and deciphering how personal bias in reporting history affects perspective.
Through Howard Zinn's text, A Young People's History of the United States, sixth graders investigate how America's dissident voices shaped our society. The seldom-heard voices of indigenous people, those enslaved or in servitude, the poor, the disenfranchised are brought out in text and film. In doing so, students investigate their own voices through exercises that reveal the different ways they process information. In addition to using their own words, students create visual dialogues without speaking words, dissect historical imagery, and make connections to and extensions from readings and discussions.
Seventh graders are ready to take on more autonomy and probe deeper in their classes and with their peers. They are on the path to becoming strong advocates for themselves and for others. They are learning more about how they learn and what tools and support they need in order to be successful students and supportive friends.
Seventh Grade Theme: "How Do We Make Connections?"
Through this question, students use a lens of “connection” to explore how things are linked–whether it be physically, scientifically, historically, culturally, or socially–and the significance of these connections. How did colonization impact connections? What is the role of technology in connection? What does it mean to be in community? Through history and current events students learn about the importance of connection, intersection, and consequences over time.
English Language Arts
Seventh grade language arts students work through connecting what they read to what they already know, thus forging new connections. We examine creative, expository, and creative reading, writing, and identity as fluid, contextual, and dynamic; we continue to understand both writing and reading as social processes and we coincide our audience and purpose for every writing situation. While 6th grade emphasizes basic sentences and types, and 8th grade essays, 7th grade paragraph development is directly and explicitly taught through the use of the six traits (content, word choice, organization, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions). Transitions, revision, and writing as a process are all heavily emphasized in seventh grade English classes. Seventh grade texts have included Levitations "Everyday."
Seventh grade mathematicians focus on generalizing their understanding of numerical operations using algebra. They work with percent change and scaling of geometric figures. They deepen their work with fractions by connecting it to probability of single and multiple events. They solidify their understanding of the real number system and look at the history of mathematics. They do intensive work with variables using manipulatives. These provide both access and challenge for students and allow them to see further connections between algebra and geometry. Students discover how to simplify expressions with variables and solve multi-step, one variable equations. Exciting projects include: the Mathematician Project, the Probability Carnival, and the Dream House Project.
In seventh grade science, students study life at multiple levels. From the interconnections between cell organelles to the complex relationships between populations in the environment, students ask questions about how things work together and about their own role as part of the web of life. Seventh grade scientists continue to develop scientific literacy and inquiry skills through experimental design and hands-on inquiry. They collect and analyze real world datasets, explore local ecosystems, and engage in debate. They learn the formal language of scientific writing, and develop the ability to support claims based on evidence. They investigate issues of sustainability and responsibility through citizen science projects and engineering design challenges. Highlights of seventh grade science include a multi-day field study at Cape Cod, the "Dragon Genetics" Project and the Dream House Project.
Seventh grade students study the evolution of modern society through investigations of ancient civilizations. Students distinguish historical knowledge based on myth and storytelling from that constructed from primary sources. Comparing and contrasting the ancient societies built in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Africa, as well as other empires around the Mediterranean, students connect how the religions, governments, trade and art of these cultures shaped the course of world history. The language of geography, economics, and politics are emphasized throughout the course, and students have opportunities to use their knowledge in presenting and discussing current events. Incorporating current event topics creates connections between the old world and the present. Students end the year with an exploration of the fall of the Roman Empire.
In eighth grade, students are approaching a milestone of transition and change. They are immersed in a developmental time of exploring self-identity and finding their place in the diverse identities of the world. It is a time of in-depth exploration of individual talents, skill-building, and application. Students engage in related questions around ethics and values. By the end of their eighth-grade year, Atrium students are independent, self-aware learners and leaders of their school and potential leaders of their global community. The Atrium Middle School family provides a safe and nurturing space in which this rich and joyful transformation can occur.
Eighth Grade Theme: "How Do We Transform?
Through this question, students discuss the notion of “becoming” to explore how things come to be–physically, mathematically, socially, emotionally, artistically, historically, culturally–and the significance of these transformations. What are the causes and implications of transformation? Where are they going to take their natural abilities and gifts, as they move out into the world, and how are they going to transform the world by the different life paths of their choosing? How are they going to carry forth their lived experiences as members of the Atrium community to the new communities they join and create?
English Language Arts
Independent ownership of one’s reading and writing process is the goal for each eighth grader. We critically analyze how we know and become ourselves through the acts of reading and writing, as well as when, how, and why writers break the 5-paragraph essay mold. The Essential Question we ask is how does literature help me understand myself, and how does it help me help others? Researching and developing complex, original main ideas, and practicing skills for establishing credibility and sustaining a single argument for a specific audience through multiple paragraphs are emphasized in 8th grade English class. Highlights include the study of "Macbeth" collaboration with Performing Arts and "TEAM" with Social Studies.
Eighth grade mathematicians focus on functions. They discover what makes a function and how to represent it graphically, numerically, algebraically, and contextually. They look at patterns as the basis for identifying types of functions, and work deeply with linear, exponential, and quadratic functions. They continue to examine the connections between algebra and geometry by looking at graphing on the coordinate plane. A graphing calculator program is an essential tool that is widely used throughout the course. Exciting projects include the Math and Social Justice Project, the Big Numbers Project, the Barbie Bungee Jump Project, and the Graphing Designs Project.
Students study chemistry and physics in eighth grade science. They refine their scientific lab and communication skills, and engage in deep explorations of the physical sciences. They experimentally test chemical and physical interactions of matter, apply Newton’s Laws of Motion through engineering design challenges, and investigate technological innovations harnessing energy transformations for sustainable development in worldwide communities. Highlights of the year include the Bottle Rocket Design Project, the Natural Pit Indicator Design Project, and the Water Hardness Chemistry Challenge.
8th graders explore perceptions of human rights by looking at the history of the Holocaust and other genocides. Utilizing curriculum developed by Facing History and Ourselves, students examine these events through the lens of human behavior. We look at the choices individuals made and attempt to understand how and why they acted as they did. The course examines social activism and provides students with the tools necessary to empower them to make change in their lives and in the world. Students build on this knowledge later in the year studying the desegregation efforts in Little Rock in 1957. Students also consider the morality issues presented in a literary analysis combined with an exploration of relevant historical context set in To Kill A Mockingbird. These investigations combine history, literature, philosophy, psychology, film, primary source documents, and interactive activities to allow students to engage deeply in the material.
Middle School Common Studies:
Specialists, Clusters and Cross-Grade Opportunities
Social Awareness, Wellness and Sexuality
Our curriculum focuses on making healthy choices–socially, emotionally and physically. Students come to know how their choices impact themselves and others. We teach a holistic view of sexuality providing facts about anatomy and human development as well as building interpersonal skills and understanding the emotional and social aspects of sexuality and relationships.
During the week, students have one general PE period and one extended double PE period, which allows for students to travel out of the building and take advantage of recreation activities and facilities in the community. As part of the double PE period, students will participate in rock climbing through Central Rock Gym in Watertown, rowing on the Charles River and yoga at Artemis Yoga.
Music + Music Integration
The Atrium Music + Music Integration Program is the product of fifteen years of research and curriculum development through the Music-in-Education National Consortium. Middle School students participate in chorus and may elect to continue with an instrument. The Atrium music program embodies an interdisciplinary approach. Students make extensive use of fundamental concepts and representations shared between music and other subject areas. Atrium music students explore the unique intersections between language and math each week. Composition and improvisation are also regular features in music classes.
Middle School has its own library nook that has been dubbed “The Annex.” A committee of sixth, seventh and eighth graders run The Annex, under the supervision of the school librarian and Middle School teachers. The “student librarians” are responsible for most aspects of running their library space, including shelving and carding books, creating displays, helping to process new books and to decide what new books are needed, and maintaining an informational bulletin board. Sixth graders meet with our librarian for a once a week library session, similar to our PreK - Grade 5 with added independence and responsibilities. Our 7th and 8th graders have the ongoing option to participate in "book club".
The Studio Art Program nurtures in each student a familiarity with tools and materials to creatively explore self-expression in visual art. The program equally values process and product, the joy of exploration, creative risk-taking, navigating mistakes, and artistic play. Students explore a variety of media and techniques by looking for inspiration in traditional and contemporary artists’ works. They then explore and develop their own ideas, either individually or collaboratively.
To become proficient in a language, you need exposure. You need to be given the time to listen, speak, read and write. We want our middle school students to be thinking in Spanish and not translating from English. As much as possible, Spanish instruction is conducted in Spanish. The curriculum includes study of geography, culture, and history of relevant countries.
At Atrium, we believe in judicious and purposeful use of technology. Each middle school student at Atrium is issued an iPad as a tool which they can use at home and at school in order to access, create, and disseminate information. Having a one-to-one iPad program allows students to have one device that organizes homework and student portfolios, allows access to documents and digital textbooks, provides tools such as graphing calculators, and facilitates online communication. We integrate digital literacy skills throughout all subjects. In addition, each classroom is equipped with interactive whiteboards for instruction and collaboration. Students also do extensive classroom on school-provided Chromebooks.
As intellectual challenges and academic demands expand and increase in complexity, we continue to have a responsibility to care for and meet the social and emotional needs of our students. Each middle school student is part of a small mixed-grade advisory group of peers facilitated by an advisor. Advisory groups meet briefly each morning and for a longer period once a week.
Middle School Leadership and Middle School Community Time
Our middle school students form their own school government, a forum for sharing and decision-making. Each grade takes on specific school responsibilities including, but not limited to, managing the school library and middle school budget, planning social justice projects and author conferences, organizing student government elections and middle school community meetings.
Three times a year, students take time away from their regular class schedule in order to dive deep into three content areas: Performing Arts, Service Learning, and STEM. For two weeks they spend each morning working in small clusters on a specific project tied to these content areas, taught by adjunct specialist faculty. Students rotate through all three clusters throughout the year.
Learning Lab and Flex Time
Learning Labs are periods each week for supplemental work on academic subjects. During Learning Lab students have an opportunity to meet with teachers to review, clarify, or expand their understanding of each subject. This time can also include special learning topics like study skills and wellness. Flex Time is a time for student-driven learning experiences beyond the curriculum such as yoga, robotics, knitting, or film editing.
Throughout the year, students collect work from each subject area, reflecting on their personal growth and progress on each assignment. They then present their work to their parents at the final conference in the spring.
Parent-Teacher Communication and Conferences
Communication with parents is of the utmost importance at Atrium. Teachers are always available via email and report to parents on a regular basis, including mid-term progress reports (November and March), end-of-term reports (January and July), and family conferences (3 times a year).