In Grade 6, all students are new to the Randolph Campus at SPA. Middle School marks a significant transition for students as they prepare for greater engagement and challenge in their academic studies.
The Grade 6 curriculum includes significant emphasis on organizational skills, study skills, and time management. Under the guidance of their teachers and advisor, students begin the process of understanding their own personal strengths and challenges as learners. They are asked to reflect frequently on their work, on their role in the community, and on their personal goals for the school year.
The transition to Middle School in Grade 6 is also a time of change for parents. As students try new roles and seek more independence, parents move into a role that is more about support and guidance than direction. Advisors work closely with parents in Grade 6 to create open forums for communication between home and school, but unlike in the Lower School, the student is now involved in the conversation as well. In Grade 6, students become comfortable with the processes of reflection. Teachers will send home completed work periodically to have students review the work with their parents; parents use this opportunity to review teacher comments and feedback, reflect on the student’s preparation for the project or assessment, and jot down any questions for the teacher. Teachers may also send home academic progress reports through Veracross to note unsatisfactory or missing work, a sudden change in habit or performance, or to share a significant accomplishment or area of growth.
An overview of the academic curriculum and areas of focus in Grade 6 is to the right.
In Grade 6, advisories function as a homeroom for students. Advisors play a critical role in orienting the students to the new building, to the increasing expectations of Middle School, and to one another. They also serve as the primary liaison between home and school.
Advisories meet each morning for check-in and each afternoon for a Quiet Study period, providing opportunities for students to interact socially under the guidance and support of an adult who knows them well. They also meet 2-3 times per week for structured lessons and exploration of community norms and themes.
Each advisory typically consists of 10-12 students and one teacher/advisor. Using the Developmental Designs for Middle School model, advisories are a place where students are known, welcomed, and included. The advisor is responsible for overseeing the experience of the whole student at school; advisors track academic progress, encourage student growth, aid in the development of organizational strategies, and advocate for their advisees. They monitor and guide the social and emotional environment.
Grade 6 students are at the beginning of their journey towards autonomy on the Randolph Campus. This often means a series of trials and errors in both social and academic realms. They look to adults for guidance, but are ready to be responsible for their own learning.
Themes in sixth grade include:
- Who am I?
- Where do I fit in?
- How do I learn?
- How do I solve problems when presented with conflict?
Students are ready to discover their own voice, listen to the perspective of others, and begin to understand and respect perspectives that are different from their own.
Within the context of our six-day block schedule, students have two or three of their academic classes each day and can expect to have 25-30 minutes of homework in each of these classes. Students in Grade 6 will spend approximately 60–75 minutes each evening on homework; some students complete the homework more quickly, while others may take longer to complete their work. Students have a 30-minute quiet study time each day, during which they get started on their work and may meet with their teachers for assistance as needed.
If a student is spending a particularly long time on their homework, parents can assist by determining what the obstacle may be. It may be helpful to consult with the advisor to determine if the student is using study time effectively, if the student is reading the assignment directions thoroughly, or if the student needs additional help or clarification.
Homework as a process is multifaceted. Parents can assist by checking in with their child on a regular basis, limiting extraneous distractions for students while they are working, and arranging a consistent location for students to complete their work each evening.
SPA typically partners with the arts non-profit COMPAS to bring Minnesota artists to SPA for a series of residencies with students in Grade 6. In recent years, Hmong author and poet May Lee-Yang has joined the Grade 6 Language Arts faculty, leading students in an exploration of their own identities, families, and histories.
Heart of the Beast residency
The focus of the week-long work with Heart of the Beast is on identity: exploration of one's own identity and better understanding of the identities of others. Students work with the HOTB artists to understand how to portray character and create emotion through the use of movement and masks. Students create their own paper mache masks starting from a photograph of their own image. Over the course of the week, students also explore assumptions and stereotypes through advisory activities, encouraging each other to see beyond these generalizations and to better understand their classmates.
All Middle School students are issued a school-owned laptop which they use in all of their academic classes. Once laptops are issued to Grade 6 students, they participate in a range of mini lessons around technology skills, electronic communications, and decision-making in technology-rich environments. Additional lessons related to 3D design, 3D printing, and engineering are taught with support from technology faculty.
- Social Studies
- Visual and Performing Arts
- World Language
- Computer Science
- Physical Education and Wellness
English 6 prioritizes students’ development of rich, meaningful reading and writing habits, establishing the habits of mind and learning practices students will develop during their three years in the Middle School. Through a Reading-Writing workshop framework, this course creates the space for students to find, read, respond to, and develop literature that speaks to them, both in and out of class. Students see themselves not as assignment-doers but as people trusted to make literary choices as readers and writers. Consistent, individual, guided choice is punctuated by whole-group learning celebrations: a collaboration with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, an extended residency with a spoken-word poet, book-clubs, the Maud Hart Lovelace reading challenge, and more to establish class community. Frequent, focused instruction and practice of sentence types and parts pushes students to recognize and manipulate sentences with awareness, flexibility, and purpose. Students write in a variety of modes, from literature response to poetry to memoir. They bring pieces through full writing processes (pre-writing, drafting, conferencing, revision, reflection).
Understanding the world is knowing and appreciating the delicate balance between the past, present and future. That often starts locally and moves to the global and requires a careful deconstruction of historical events. The Social Studies 6 curriculum begins in Minnesota and aims to orient students to its complicated history and how that impacts our lives today. Toggling back and forth between the “then” and “now,” students begin to learn that the history, geography, society, and culture of Minnesota come together in a web of many elements. Throughout the year, students are introduced to and practice the skills of an historian, including critical reading skills, note taking, presenting, and thesis-driven writing, and use the following essential questions as guideposts.
- How do communities both embrace change and resist change?
- How has Minnesota been a place where people have achieved their dreams? How has it hindered these dreams?
- How do communities evolve and change while maintaining and creating new traditions and norms?
- How have Minnesota’s immigrant communities changed Minnesota and how has Minnesota changed them?
Mathematics Course Placement
Placement in all courses for both new and returning students is at the discretion of the mathematics department. Recommendations are based on past performance in mathematics; level of interest; ERB scores; and placement tests and/or exam scores.
In Math 6, students develop problem-solving techniques that involve making connections between mathematical concepts and the everyday world. Students are encouraged to ask questions about the information given in a problem and develop the mathematical skills that can be used to answer questions related to that information. Important topics covered in this course are operations with positive rational numbers, algebraic representations of numerical concepts, ratios, percentages, and two-dimensional geometry. Understanding of these concepts are developed using concrete and pictorial models (e.g., bar models, algebra tiles, and geometric manipulatives). Students will also practice problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts and learn to use estimation to check the reasonableness of their results. The problems considered will vary in levels of difficulty, giving the students ample opportunity to develop the math skills essential for subsequent courses.
Textbook: Math in Focus 2020, Course 1
Honors Math 6
In Honors Math 6, students will explore and develop advanced problem-solving techniques that involve making connections between mathematical concepts and the everyday world. Students will be encouraged to ask good questions about the information given in a problem and develop the mathematical skills that can be used to answer questions related to that information. Important topics covered in this course are operations with positive rational numbers, algebraic representations of numerical concepts, ratios, percentages, two-dimensional and three-dimensional geometry and/or statistics. Understanding of these concepts will be developed using concrete, pictorial and abstract models (e.g., bar models, algebra tiles, and geometric manipulatives). Students will also practice problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts and learn to use estimation to check the reasonableness of their results. They will progress through the material at an accelerated pace and use enrichment materials to explore advanced problem-solving strategies.
Textbook: Math in Focus 2020, Course 1
Science 6 is an integrated course, tying together topics in geology, biology, and physical science. The year begins with a focus on Minnesota geology and the effects of glaciers on the landscape. From there the course moves to an inward focus on human bodies, exploring cell biology and how several organ systems work together to maintain homeostasis. The year ends with Newton’s Laws of Motion and rocket building engineering challenges. Throughout the year, there is intentional scaffolding of student skills and science laboratory and communication skills. Students practice observing, recording, and analyzing data. Students develop presentation and writing skills as they communicate results. Each unit has hands-on lab activities and engineering challenges.
All students in Grade 6 take a music class every day, in a band or orchestra instrument of their choice or in the choir.
Beginning instrumental classes are designed for students who are interested in starting an ensemble instrument. These classes allow the students to develop instrumental and musical skills so they can enter into the Middle School Orchestra the following year. The following string instruments are offered: violin, viola, cello, bass. Home practice is optional unless individually needed to ensure group success—students will practice together in class on a daily basis. Students participating in this class are encouraged but not required to take private lessons to accelerate their skill development to prepare them for more advanced ensembles.
Note: Grade 6 students with more proficiency and experience in a string instrument may join the Middle School Orchestra at the discretion of the Middle School music faculty.
Beginning Wind Instruments and Percussion
Beginning instrumental classes are designed for students who are interested in starting an ensemble instrument. These classes allow the students to develop instrumental and musical skills so they can enter into ensemble groups the following year. The following wind instruments are offered to beginners: flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, and percussion. These classes include both small-group instruction on similar instruments and beginning ensemble work as a band. Students are expected to practice as necessary outside of class to achieve group success. Students participating in this class are encouraged but not required to take private lessons to accelerate their skill development and prepare them for more advanced ensembles.
Note: Grade 6 students with more proficiency and experience in a wind or percussion instrument may join the Middle School Orchestra or Middle School Jazz Band at the discretion of the Middle School music faculty.
Middle School Choirs: Treble, Beginning Voices, and Cambiata
The Middle School Choir program is designed to teach students how to sing with healthy vocal technique through age-appropriate choral literature and pop arrangements. Middle School Choir is split into three sections: SSA Treble Choir, Beginning Voices for new singers who need a jump start, and Cambiata for students who are singing tenor or bass or whose voices are in the middle of dropping. Alongside the choral curriculum, students will engage in a music theory and fundamentals curriculum including note-reading, sight-singing, basic keyboard skills, and audio recording and mixing.
Middle School Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble
The Middle School Orchestra is open to players of string, wind (including flute, clarinet, oboe, and french horn), percussion, and keyboard instruments at intermediate to advanced levels. A wide variety of high quality literature from classical to pop to music from popular movies is played while the students develop musical and ensemble skills and technical proficiency. High emphasis is placed on team spirit and an awareness of others within the ensemble. The orchestra will give two concerts during the year. In addition, the most advanced string students have the opportunity to participate in the Chamber Ensemble.
The Middle School Chamber Ensemble is a sectional group of the Middle School Orchestra. It is open to players of string and keyboard instruments at the advanced level. Participation is by recommendation only and students new to the orchestra program need to audition. Students will perform a wide variety of challenging literature in addition to participating in the Middle School Orchestra curriculum and ensemble. High emphasis is placed on individual responsibility, organization, and motivation. The Chamber Ensemble will participate in two concerts during the year. Students are expected to practice as necessary outside of class to achieve group success. Students participating in this class are encouraged but not required to take private lessons to accelerate their skill development.
Middle School Jazz Band
The Middle School Jazz Band is open to saxophone, trumpet, trombone and drum set players who have successfully passed beyond the beginner level. In addition, a limited number of guitar, bass guitar, and keyboard players who have demonstrated the ability to play at this intermediate level may participate in MS Jazz Band. A wide variety of age-appropriate literature from jazz classics, to swing, blues, pop and rock is used for students to develop musical and ensemble skills as well as technical proficiency. Students are expected to practice as necessary outside of class to achieve group success. The Middle School Jazz Band plays a winter concert along with the MS Orchestra and a spring concert that is jazz only, along with the Upper School Jazz Band.
Grade 6 students rotate through two trimester-long visual and performing arts classes over the course of the year.
In Art 6 the foundational applications to using present-day art techniques while investigating art in contemporary and historical context will be explored. Art 6 continues to build on the foundations of art shared with students in the lower school art classes. Students will learn and discover a visual vocabulary and language that builds on the elements of composition. Projects will focus on sequential investigations while utilizing the elements of art-making. Current events and cultural awareness will be highlighted through artistic expression and individual modes of working. An inclusive and diverse selection of artists will be featured with each project. Students will be guided through best practices in art, learning to find their individual voices, while expressing their creativity. Students will study the following units: photography, drawing, ceramics, and digital art.
In Theatre 6, students focus on the conventions of theater, such as understanding the actor’s job, the role of the audience, stage directions, and the importance of collaboration. Our units include body movement and mime, improvisation, and script interpretation/performance. The students will participate in a variety of theatre games and improvisations, rehearse/perform a mime routine and their scripted scenes will be shared with the class. Each student is assessed by their willingness to keep an open mind, personal commitment to doing their best, active participation in class, and taking part in the creative process.
In Middle School, all students have the opportunity to start a new language of their choosing in French, Spanish, Chinese, or German. Students who enter sixth grade from the SPA Lower School can also continue their study of Spanish. Students with prior experience in a language, or who are a heritage speaker, will be assessed in order to properly place them within our program. Middle School World Language study emphasizes communication, culture, and personal using core practices from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
Students typically complete Level II in their chosen language by the end of Middle School, enabling them to enter Level III in the Upper School.
By the end of this level, students can communicate about and identify the main idea and a few supporting details of short written and spoken messages on highly predictable, everyday topics on familiar themes involving personal identity, family, and daily life. They can use simple sentences that have been encountered, memorized, and recalled. Radicals, the principles of stroke order, the Pinyin romanization system, and tones are introduced in studying simplified Mandarin Chinese. Chinese IA is for beginners with no previous exposure to Chinese or students with limited exposure to reading and writing. Most teaching materials consist of authentic and contemporary resources (interviews, news articles, videos, songs); however, themes and grammatical structures align with the Zhen Bang I (真棒) textbook.
By the end of this level, students can communicate about and identify the main idea and a few supporting details of short written and spoken messages on highly predictable, everyday topics on familiar themes involving personal identity, family, school and daily life. They can use simple sentences that have been encountered, memorized, and recalled. Most teaching materials consist of authentic and contemporary resources (interviews, news articles, videos, songs). The themes and grammatical structures align with the Voces Français Level 1 series.
By the end of this level, students can communicate about and identify the main idea and a few supporting details of short written and spoken messages on highly predictable, everyday topics on familiar themes involving personal identity, family, and daily life. They can use simple sentences that have been encountered, memorized, and recalled. Most teaching materials consist of authentic and contemporary resources (interviews, news articles, videos, songs); however, themes and grammatical structures align with the Deutsch Aktuell series.
Students in Spanish 1A start communicating their needs in Spanish from Day 1 by learning how to ask how to go to the bathroom, sharpen their pencil, go to their lockers, and so on. After learning classroom vocabulary, numbers, and other basic information, students learn how to talk about themselves and their family members--who they are, their personalities and their interests. They learn how to talk about school, classes, and what they like most and least about the school day. They also study foods and typical meals from a variety of Spanish-speaking countries. Grammar-wise, students learn to conjugate regular verbs and use them in their speaking and writing. By the end of this level, students can communicate about and identify the main idea and a few supporting details of short written and spoken messages. Students in 1A converse, create presentations, interpret authentic materials and play language games in Spanish. Most teaching materials consist of authentic and contemporary resources (interviews, news articles, videos, songs).
Students in Spanish 1B learn to communicate about leisure activities, spending habits and clothing, homes and chores, and fitness and athletes in the Spanish-speaking world. They read a short beginning level novel. The grammar centers on present tense verb conjugation, including stem-changing and irregular yo verbs as well as ser v. estar. Students completing this level typically demonstrate proficiency in Novice Mid to Intermediate Low range in all modes of communication based on ACTFL guidelines. Students in 1B converse, create presentations, interpret authentic materials and play language games in Spanish, building on the information and vocabulary that they acquired in 1A. Most teaching materials consist of authentic and contemporary resources (interviews, news articles, videos, songs).
Based on concepts in the CSTA Standards for grades 6-8, Computer Science 6 is a trimester-long course taken by all sixth graders. In this course, students explore introductory concepts in computational thinking as they design animations and computer games in MIT StarLogo Nova.
Physical Education 6
The Middle School Physical Education program is designed to expose students to a wide range of individual and team sports as well as fitness and athleticism activities. Skills, strategies, and safety are taught while instilling self-discipline, cooperation, and sportsmanship as life skills in sport. A positive self-image is nourished by developing students’ full range of physical attributes to include: muscular strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility, grace, and agility.
The purpose of 6th grade Compass is to explore and practice skills that lead to personal and academic growth throughout middle school. With a dual focus on social skills and academic strategies, students gain a better understanding of what constitutes healthy balance. Our time together is playful and interactive, and the students are challenged to examine how they can thrive in both work and play. With no take-home assignments or tests, the evaluation of a student's performance in Compass depends on class involvement and effort to support an atmosphere of mutual learning.