The NIS Middle School
The ages between 11 and 14 are a time of profound transition. Students at this age seek to move away from the nurturing environment of the self-contained elementary classroom, while still needing support and guidance from adults. As a result, these middle school years require a careful balance between subject area learning and the development of personal and social identities. Helping middle school students feel empowered while at the same time connected to their community is very much at the heart of what we provide at NIS.
In their academic studies, NIS middle school students find a balance between the acquisition of essential knowledge and skills and the development of conceptual understandings. It is our belief that students need to do more than simply learn the facts. Essential to their future success is the ability to analyze what they know, evaluate what they learn, formulate deeper understandings and create new ideas. This model best prepares our middle school students for their entry into a successful high school career, one that will allow them to envision and reach toward their dreams. To balance their academics, middle school students are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities, including sports, student government, National Junior Honor Society, of drama or musical productions. Middle school students also have access to later buses in order to make sure they get home safely.
Students in middle school study a wide range of subjects in a well-rounded and well-balanced course of study taught using approaches set out by the IB Middle Years Program (MYP). In all subjects, the courses are designed to go beyond just the acquisition of knowledge and skills, as learning is linked through key concepts that bring real-world perspectives to the classroom. Learning is inquiry-based, meaning students are encouraged to ask questions and to pursue learning because they want to find the answers. Students then use what they learn by applying it to other subjects and other situations.
The focus of the middle years at NIS is on the growth of the whole child, encompassing not only the academic needs of the students, but also their social, emotional, physical and cultural development. We want middle school students to stretch their limits, but we also want them to feel safe and supported at the same time. Small class sizes enable teachers to keep a close eye on the students’ academic, social and personal development. Since classes are taught almost exclusively in the middle school area and away from older students, middle school students can feel safe, and teachers are able to keep careful watch over them. The teachers work closely together so they are able to share academic and social development insights about the students. Teachers encourage close contact with parents to gain further insight into their growth and concerns as they mature into young adults. If any student is struggling, in any way, the middle school team works together with the counselor, nurse, Pastoral Advocates and others to help provide support.
The Middle School Curriculum
The middle school curriculum is designed to be engaging, relevant, and challenging. Students acquire conceptual understanding by skillfully manipulating, interpreting and evaluating knowledge. Once successful in understanding their world at a conceptual level, students can begin to develop the attitudes of social responsibility necessary to make contributions and have an impact on the world we share. At NIS, the curriculum therefore stresses these five essential elements of learning (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) and, through guided, collaborative and personal inquiry, the program helps student grow holistically as learners and global citizens.
Knowledge: What do we want students to know?
Knowledge is the term educators give to ‘the things we know’. Knowledge typically reflects the ‘facts’ of the curriculum – such as dates, definitions, theories, cause and effect relationships, formulas, and vocabulary and grammar rules. But we now understand that knowledge, in isolation, is not sufficient. Since knowledge does not exist in isolation, the human brain interprets and connects knowledge based on what it already understands to be ‘true’, and so how one student interprets ‘knowledge’ may be different to how others perceive the same ‘facts’. Therefore while knowledge has always been important to schools – and always will be – it is not, in and of itself, sufficient for today’s learners.
Skills: What do we want students to be able to do?
In order for students to make meaning from the knowledge they are exposed to, they need to have the skills necessary to evaluate, interpret and assimilate that knowledge into a broader conceptual understanding. Furthermore, since knowledge exists in a social context, students need to be taught the skills necessary to engage with others in evaluating, interpreting and acting upon the ‘knowledge’ they have learned.
Concepts: What do we want students to understand?
Understanding is an over-used word. How many of us can truly say we understand something? If we are deeply honest, the better we think we know, the more we realize that we do not yet understand. The middle school curriculum recognizes this, and so in the classroom understanding is always something we encourage students to strive towards, and is rarely a destination at which we can state we have arrived.
Teachers encourage this ‘striving’ by embedding within the units of enquiry key ‘concepts’. These concepts enable students to forge connections across subjects and contexts, and begin to piece together knowledge and skills in the pursuit of ‘understanding’.
AESTHETICS deals with the characteristics, creation, meaning and perception of beauty and taste. The study of aesthetics develops skills for the critical appreciation and analysis of art, culture and nature.
CHANGE is a conversion, transformation or movement from one form, state or value to another. Inquiry into the concept of change involves understanding and evaluating causes, processes and consequences.
COMMUNICATION is the exchange or transfer of signals, facts, ideas and symbols. It requires a sender, a message and an intended receiver. Communication involves the activity of conveying information or meaning. Effective communication requires a common “language” (which may be written, spoken or non-verbal).
COMMUNITIES are groups that exist in proximity defined by space, time or relationship. Communities include, for example, groups of people sharing particular characteristics, beliefs or values as well as groups of interdependent organisms living together in a specific habitat.
CONNECTIONS are links, bonds and relationships among people, objects, organisms or ideas.
CREATIVITY is the process of generating novel ideas and considering existing ideas from new perspectives. Creativity includes the ability to recognize the value of ideas when developing innovative responses to problems; it may be evident in process as well as outcomes, products or solutions.
CULTURE encompasses a range of learned and shared beliefs, values, interests, attitudes, products, ways of knowing and patterns of behavior created by human communities. The concept of culture is dynamic and organic.
DEVELOPMENT is the act or process of growth, progress or evolution, sometimes through iterative improvements.
FORM is the shape and underlying structure of an entity or piece of work, including its organization, essential nature and external appearance.
GLOBAL INTERACTIONS, as a concept, focuses on the connections among individuals and communities, as well as their relationships with built and natural environments, from the perspective of the world as a whole.
IDENTITY is the state or fact of being the same. It refers to the particular features that define individuals, groups, things, eras, places, symbols and styles. Identity can be observed, or it can be constructed, asserted and shaped by external and internal influences.
LOGIC is a method of reasoning and a system of principles used to build arguments and reach conclusions.
PERSPECTIVE is the position from which we observe situations, objects, facts, ideas and opinions. Perspective may be associated with individuals, groups, cultures or disciplines. Different perspectives often lead to multiple representations and interpretations.
RELATIONSHIPS are the connections and associations between properties, objects, people and ideas—including the human community’s connections with the world in which we live. Any change in relationship brings consequences—some of which may occur on a small scale, while others may be far reaching, affecting large networks and systems such as human societies and the planetary ecosystem.
TIME, SPACE AND PLACE refers to the absolute or relative position of people, objects and ideas. Time, place and space focuses on how we construct and use our understanding of location (“where” and “when”).
SYSTEMS are sets of interacting or interdependent components. Systems provide structure and order in human, natural and built environments. Systems can be static or dynamic, simple or complex.
In addition to the above key concepts, students will inquire into related concepts in all curriculum subject areas. For example, instead of simply gaining knowledge and skills in mathematics, they will deepen their understanding of concepts such as patterns, multiplication, place value and bias.
Attitudes: What do we want students to feel, value and demonstrate?
Attitudes both shape learning and are shaped by learning, and the development of appropriate attitudes are essential if students are to be successful in acquiring knowledge, skills and understanding. We therefore encourage the development of attitudes that contribute to the learning and well-being of self, others, and the environment.
Action: How do we want the students to act?
Students at NIS are encouraged to take action as a result of their learning. Student action can be a demonstration of a sense of responsibility and respect for self, others and the environment, and usually begins in a small way, arising from genuine concern and commitment.
Since learning happens in a real world context, students retain and expand on new information and concepts if they are able to act upon this new knowledge in a tangible way. If learning is relevant to them and can be applied to their lives, action becomes an intuitive process. As such, action cements and advances the cycle of learning – inspiring students to seek new knowledge and further growth.
Action as a result of learning often happens beyond the classroom so parents are encouraged to share information about action students take outside of school.