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 may be more confusing for parents than it is for students. 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 to note unsatisfactory work, or a sudden change in habit or performance.
An overview of the academic curriculum and areas of focus in Grade 6 is below.
In Grade 6, advisories function as a homeroom for students. Advisors play a critical role in orienting the students to the new building, 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 work-study period, providing opportunities for students to interact socially under the guidance and support of an adult who knows them well. They also meet three times per week for structured lessons and exploration of community norms and themes.
Each advisory consists of approximately 10 students and one teacher/advisor. Using the Developmental Designs for Middle School model, advisories are a place where students are known, welcomed, included, and periodically given the responsibility of leading the group. 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 20–25 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 may meet with their teachers for assistance as needed.
If a student is spending a particularly long time on his or her 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 he or she is reading the assignment directions thoroughly, or if he or she needs additional help or clarifiction.
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.
In Grade 6, the Language Arts and Social Studies (LA/SS) curriculum is combined into a single interdisciplinary class that meets every day.
In the Language Arts component of the course, students read from a variety of genres, including historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, and mystery. Students are expected to read widely beyond the assigned literature, completing a minimum of one independent reading book a month. Related writing assignments include periodic journal entries, chapter summaries, reader responses, character sketches, and essays. Significant instruction in paragraph development occurs throughout the year. Students work on language structure and editing skills and revisions of first drafts to final products. Selected pieces of each student’s writing are collected in a permanent hardcover book which becomes a keepsake. Speaking opportunities include screenplay-style reading of texts, sharing personal experience, narrative, and creative writing, and presenting a formal speech.
In the Social Studies component, we concentrate on developing an ability to organize and synthesize information from a variety of historical sources. Our central textbook is Northern Lights, published by the Minnesota Historical Society. A number of other sources are used extensively throughout the year, including Cobblestone and Roots magazines, the Multi-Cultural Reader, as well as web-based resources. Students practice critical reading and skimming for information and using a variety of note-taking strategies. We build on the basic themes of culture, cultural interaction, trade, and treaties, and discuss these within the framework of major units on the traditional Dakota and Ojibwe cultures, the North American fur trade, and the Minnesota Territorial period. Students are also responsible for the preparation of a paper and speech on an American history topic that they each choose from a broad list of people, movements, and events. We work to develop study skills and give students practice in quiz and test taking. Participation in class discussions and activities, maintenance of notebooks, and comprehension of non-fiction are emphasized throughout the year.
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; effort; level of interest; grades; ERB scores; and placement tests and/or exam scores.
The focus of this class is on developing problem-solving techniques that focus on looking for and making connections to the concepts we learn in math and the everyday world. Students will be challenged to solve interesting problems and to develop an understanding of math ideas. They will be encouraged to ask good questions about data and to learn key math skills. Students explore rational numbers, their operations, and their algebraic representations. They will build their understanding of these concepts using various models. Students will also apply their skills to problem-solving situations and use estimation to check reasonableness. The number and variety of problems range from basic to challenging, giving students the practice they need to develop their math skills.
Math 6 Advanced
The focus of this class is on developing problem-solving techniques that focus on looking for and making connections to the concepts we learn in math and the everyday world. Students will be challenged to solve interesting problems and to develop an understanding of math ideas. They will be encouraged to ask good questions about data and to learn key math skills. Students explore rational numbers, their operations, and their algebraic representations. They will build their understanding of these concepts using various models. Students will also apply their skills to problem-solving situations and use estimation to check reasonableness. The number and variety of problems range from basic to challenging, giving students the practice they need to develop their math skills. The Math 6 Advanced course is similar to the Math 6 course in content. However, the students will cover that content in more depth including more advanced algebraic concepts.
In Science 6, the overarching theme of the year is homeostasis: the mechanisms by which living things maintain internal equilibrium despite changing external environmental factors. Students will learn about the geology, climate, and abiotic and biotic characteristics of Minnesota’s biomes and how living things adjust to changing climate within these biomes. Students will also learn about human body systems through the lens of homeostasis, investigating how the skeletal, digestive, and circulatory systems maintain equilibrium. At the end of the year, students will launch into a unit in astrobiology, investigating how humans maintain homeostasis during space travel. They will conclude the year by designing, building, testing, and launching rockets.
All students in Grade 6 take a music class every day, in a band or orchestra instrument of their choice or in the boys' or girls' choir.
The Beginning Strings course allows Grade 6 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. Students participating in this class are encouraged but not required to take private lessons to accelerate their skill development to make them more confident when they join the orchestra classes. All students perform in a Winter and Spring Concert each year. 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.
The Beginning Instruments course allows Grade 6 students to develop instrumental and musical skills so they can enter into the Middle School Band or Orchestra the following year.The following wind instruments are offered: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone horn, and tuba. These classes include both small-group instruction on similar instruments and beginning ensemble work as a band. Students participating in this class are encouraged but not required to take private lessons to accelerate their skill development to make them more confident when they join the band classes. All students perform in a Winter and Spring Concert each year. Note: Grade 6 students with more proficiency and experience in a band instrument may join the Middle School Band or Orchestra at the discretion of the Middle School music faculty.
Middle School Girls’ Choir and Middle School Boys’ Choir
The Middle School Choir Program is designed to teach students how to sing with healthy vocal technique through age-appropriate choral literature for both Middle School Choirs. The Middle School Boys’ Choir and the Middle School Girls’ Choir both study and perform music from various genres, learn about music theory and vocal terminology connected with the choral curriculum, and perform in a Winter and Spring Concert each year.
Middle School Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble
The Middle School Orchestra is open to players of string, woodwind, brass, percussion, and keyboard instruments at intermediate to advanced levels. A wide variety of high quality literature from classical to pop to movie music 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 most advanced woodwind players will be given the opportunity to play in the Chamber Winds ensemble.
Middle School Band and Jazz Band
The Middle School Band is open to woodwind, brass, and percussion players of intermediate to advanced skill. In addition, bass, guitar and keyboard players may participate in Jazz Band. A wide variety of high quality literature from classical to pop to movie music 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 Middle School Band plays two concerts during the year. In addition, the most advanced players have the opportunity to participate in the Jazz Band.
Grade 6 students rotate through two trimester-long fine arts classes over the course of the year.
Art 6 is a visual arts course that sixth grade students take for one trimester. The course focuses on giving students a range of experiences and techniques that are age appropriate. Included in this course are projects in collage, drawing, copper tooling, water color painting and hand-built ceramics. The goal of the course is to give students a broad range of experiences to further their technical, aesthetic, and creative abilities. All projects are introduced with step by step demonstrations of techniques and processes.
In Drama 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 and performance.
This introductory course includes topics such as the alphabet, numbers, colors, greetings, school subjects, classroom objects, school supplies, sports, weather, seasons, days of the week, months of the year, time and voyageurs. The basics of learning a new language are covered throughout the year, such as pronunciation, speaking, listening, reading and writing. The grammar includes present tense conjugation of –er verbs, and the irregular verbs “to have” and “to do.” In addition, the students learn the definite articles, common adverbs and adjectives. Students learn about the French-speaking world, the geography of France, formal and informal forms of address and the school system in France.
The curriculum covered in this introductory course includes thematic topics such as the alphabet, numbers, colors and animals, school-life, making plans, and the geography of Germany and the German-speaking countries. The basics of learning a new language are covered throughout the year, such as pronunciation, listening, reading and writing comprehension. The grammar covered this year includes verb conjugation, definite articles, personal pronouns, the irregular verbs “to be” and “to have”, formation of questions, sentence structure, and direct objects. We also do research projects related to German cultural topics.
Chinese at SPA teaches students to communicate in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), the standard dialect spoken in China and Taiwan. Students also learn to read and write in simplified characters. An understanding of Chinese character writing begins early on. Students are taught radicals and the principles of stroke order. Students also learn the Pinyin Romanization system and are required to spell vocabulary correctly and to memorize tones. Chinese 6 is for beginners with no previous exposure to Chinese or for students with some exposure but who need to learn characters, pinyin, or basic grammar. Topics covered include: Chinese geography, language foundations, self-introduction, family, pets, Chinese New Year and numbers.
Note: Students with no prior Spanish experience may begin their study of the language with Spanish IA. Most students who come from the Lower School have completed the equivalent of Spanish IA, so they typically enter Spanish IB in Grade 6. The Spanish program in Middle School moves more rapidly than does the sequence for the other languages, enabling students to enter Spanish III in Grade 9.
Spanish IA: Beginning Spanish
This introductory course includes topics such as the alphabet, geography, numbers, colors, greetings, school subjects, classroom objects, school supplies, sports, weather, seasons, days of the week, months of the year, and time. Students are evaluated for pronunciation, speaking, listening, reading and writing. Spanish grammar is introduced and covered throughout the year. Emphases include articles, and interrogative expressions. In addition, the students learn common adverbs and adjectives. Students learn about the Spanish speaking world, the geography of South America, formal and informal forms of address.
Spanish IB: Advanced Beginning Spanish
By the end of Spanish IB, students will be proficient in the following skill areas:
• Grammar: Conjugation of regular present tense verbs, conjugation of irregular verbs and stem-changing verbs in the present tense, formation of affirmative informal commands, agreement in number and gender, and use of descriptive and possessive adjectives.
• Vocabulary: Themes include family, numbers 200 to 1,000,000, clothes, shopping, places and events, getting around town, in a restaurant, the house and household items, planning a party, chores, sports, staying healthy, and parts of the body.
• Culture: Topics related to the thematic focus of each chapter presented through the study of specific Spanish-speaking regions: Puerto Rico, Spain, Ecuador and The Dominican Republic. Students will examine facets of daily life as well as significant linguistic, historical, geographic and artistic phenomena in these areas.
• Functions: Students will be able to talk about, describe, discuss, and express opinions using the vocabulary and cultural contexts mentioned above. Students will speak with novice proficiency regarding pronunciation, rhythm and intonation to the degree that most errors will not affect comprehensibility.
All students in Grade 6 have and bring home their own laptops which they use in all of their academic classes. The Technology 6 course focuses on three areas: care and use of the technology, technology skill development, and personal responsibility and digital citizenship (“Wellnology”). In addition to the formal technology course, instruction in these three areas is integrated throughout the academic and advisory program at each grade level.
The purpose of the Grade 6 Compass course 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.