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Middle School

Curriculum

COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

List of 22 frequently asked questions.

  • MIDDLE SCHOOL CORE

    Middle School Core is the integration of Language Arts and Social Studies based on the California State Frameworks for both of these disciplines.  Middle School students explore history and study English through and integrated approach.  The focus of the Core program is on developing reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.  Students read widely and extensively, tackling increasingly sophisticated texts independently and in class discussions.  The writing program hones students' skills through daily instruction and practice.  The Core program is designed to prepare students for the rigor of high school English and history classes.

    This year in 6th and 7th grade Core, we will utilize the Reading and Writing Workshops developed at Teachers College, Columbia University.  The goal of these workshops is to simply to create students who read and write, but students who are readers and writers.  To maximize their potential in these areas, students will critically read texts in a variety of genres and write everything from realistic fiction to research-based essays.  They will learn to tackle challenging material and assignments with a growth mindset and recognize that learning may be tough, but it is a rewarding process.
  • 6TH GRADE CORE

    Students investigate the ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, and Greece by comparing and contrasting different aspects—geography, religion, achievements, politics, and social roles—of each culture. Students will learn and explore how these cultures informed the contemporary American experience. Nonfiction texts, primary sources, and novels complement the study of history, and independently selected novels of assigned genres develop close reading skills. This year, we will collaborate via video exchange, with students from a different culture as we read The Giver. With the assistance of Level Up Village, an organization dedicated to global exchange, each week, our students will pose and answer discussion questions with the students in their Global Partner classroom.  We anticipate that these conversations will broaden our students’ understanding of the issues presented in this novel, as well as those within our world.



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  • 7TH GRADE CORE

    Students investigate world cultures, including Western Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and South Africa. Prior to the class trip to Memphis and Little Rock, students explore the American experience during the 1950’s and 1960’s, focusing on the Civil Rights Movement, music, and U.S. teenagers’ acquisition of economic and political viability. Each unit examines geography, religion, politics, and history, making use of various primary sources to enrich students’ understanding.


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  • 8TH GRADE CORE

    Students study American History from 1860 to 1965, with an emphasis on examining how the past relates to current events in terms of identity, race relations, and tolerance. The year begins with a unit on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, followed by an exploration of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the impact of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and Immigration, World War I, the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, and World War II. While practicing effective strategies for reading non-fiction and refining their note-taking and writing skills, students build a strong foundation for history and language arts courses that they will encounter in high school. In addition, students develop research skills through several short-term research assignments, including an independent research project in which students explore a topic of personal interest and create an in-depth research paper and presentation. In each unit of study, students read related literature in a variety of different genres. They explore issues of plot, theme, character development, and author style, while refining their writing skills with a continued focus on the thesis-driven essay. They also explore other writing formats, including historical fiction, letters, journals, and persuasive writing as well as the narrative and language of film.

    History Resource:  The Story of US, Volumes 6 – 10 by Joy Hakim
                                   Primary source documents detailing the units studied
    Summer Reading   Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper


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  • 8TH GRADE ADVANCED LIT

    Advanced Lit is an elective course offered on Fridays as a supplement to 8th grade Core. Participants explore the English curriculum in greater depth through additional reading and writing assignments that focus on critical thinking skills. Students are introduced to many authors who they will encounter later in their academic career, and while the material is challenging, the students work collaboratively in both discussion and writing to improve their ability to comprehend sophisticated literature.  Selections from the reading list include:
    Our Town by Thornton Wilder
    Maus by Art Spiegelman
    Short fiction by Charles Johnson, John Updike, Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, Frank Stockton, Jamaica Kincaid, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Shirley Jackson, Langston Hughes, O. Henry, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Ursula Le Guin, and Ernest Hemingway.

  • MATHMATICS

    The goals of the Middle School math program are to engage students in the study of mathematics, to help them develop a deep understanding of concepts and skills, and to foster discovery of efficient methods for solving problems. Boys and girls attend separate math classes. Research and our own experience have shown that adolescent boys and girls, in a general sense, benefit socially and academically from single-gender math learning environments.

    Middle School math classes are: General Math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, and Geometry. Students are assigned to classes based on their mathematical understanding and readiness for a particular course as determined by teacher recommendations, previous class performance, and test scores.

    Math students use a variety of materials and methods to develop skill fluency, conceptual understanding, and efficient solution strategies. They engage in activities that incorporate physical and virtual models to represent mathematical ideas. Homework allows students to strengthen skills and reinforce new concepts, and regularly scheduled tests and quizzes assess ongoing skill development and fluency.
     
    Resources:
    Everyday Mathematics Grade 6, University of Chicago, publishers
    Mathematics Course 1, McDougal Littell, publishers
    Mathematics Course 2, McDougal Littell, publisher
    Algebra, McDougal Littell, publishers
    Geometry, McDougal Littell, publishers
    Common Core State Standards for Mathematic
    https://www.IXL.com
    https://www.youcubed.org
  • SCIENCE

    We believe that science is an essential tool for students to understand the world around them. Good scientists have active imaginations, ask meaningful questions, make careful observations, and design and conduct methodical investigations. They draw reasonable conclusions and make connections between science concepts and everyday phenomena. Science at The Willows is a hands-on, lab-based experience designed to make concepts accessible, relevant, and engaging.

    The Middle School science curriculum is based on the concepts and skills suggested by state and national standards. We want middle school students to enjoy science and find it meaningful; to that end, students spend about half of their class time conducting laboratory experiments. Class time is also spent interpreting data, drawing conclusions, discussing findings, and reading nonfiction science texts.

    We present science concepts in a manner designed to appeal to the varied interests and learning styles of the students. Students often create illustrations and build scientific models in order to solidify their understanding of concepts. Additionally, students have occasional opportunities to choose the manner in which they present their scientific reports. They are encouraged to demonstrate their understanding of science concepts through creative methods that highlight their particular strengths and interests.


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  • LATIN

    The Middle School Latin program is a three-year course of study that provides students with a standard high school Latin I curriculum, as well as a focus on ancient Roman history and culture.

    In the language component of the course, students study Latin grammar and vocabulary, which provides students with a better understanding of the English language and of the origin of many English words.  As they begin to tackle reading the stories, they develop valuable problem-solving skills, while also broadening their understanding of the structure and flow of both Latin and English. All students use the online version of The Cambridge Latin Course, Unit I and Unit II.

    Students have ample opportunities to put themselves in the sandals of an ancient Roman, be it through dramatic interpretation, artistic endeavors, writing, or projects involving the use of technology.  As students develop an understanding of the past, they are better able to understand and interpret current events.

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  • TECHNOLOGY

    At The Willows, we have long embraced technology as a tool for learning, promoting the idea that students use technology to be more creators than consumers. Our interdisciplinary, and often project-based, approach values integrating technology into all disciplines and classrooms. Furthermore, we strive to provide students with choices as they become more fluent with the equipment and applications.

    Through the school’s one-to-one laptop program, students use technology as an integral resource to enhance curricula at all levels. Instruction and exploration take place school-wide, and our technology specialists work closely with students and faculty members to ensure that our learning goals are achieved. Across the curriculum, students explore ways to create relevant, interactive and visually stimulating projects and presentations.

    Willows Middle School students learn and have the opportunity to participate in:
    Digital citizenship dialogues
    Communicating and analyzing with spreadsheets, databases, and discussion threads
    Group and individual projects, such as i-Search, project based learning, and Maker classes
    Computer programming through LOGO, JAVA script, HTML writing, Microworlds, Scratch, Snap, Picoboards, and LEGO, Thymio, Wink, and VEX Robotics
    Multimedia projects and presentations including: Animation, photography, songwriting, and movie making
    Research – finding, evaluating, analyzing, processing, and using information responsibly
    Language and grammar skills
    Mathematics extensions, enrichment, and practice
    Hands-on, digital science data collection through probe-ware and investigations

    Computers and peripheral equipment along with appropriate software support the subject areas of the Middle School. In addition, classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards, projectors, or TVs, which allow students to share their tech-based creations.  

    Software used by Middle School students:

    • Animation-ish & Comic Life
    • Apple Productivity Apps (Pages, Keynote, & Numbers)
    • GarageBand
    • Geometer’s Sketchpad
    • Google Apps for Education
    • Google Earth & Sketchup
    • Inspiration & Inspire Data
    • iMovie / iDVD / Photos / iTunes
    • iStop Motion
    • Microsoft Office Professional
    • ProScope HR
    • Web, Cloud, and iPad based apps

    Some of the goals of the technology program are achieved through the participation in the Middle School Maker Curriculum. The designLab is our dedicated space for students to create sophisticated projects with many resources and tools beyond the computer. As part of the curriculum, this year’s 6th grade will focus on VEX Robotics building and programming; 7th grade will practice Arduino programming and woodworking; and 8th graders are encouraged to use the tools they’ve acquired for various integrated class projects and assignments. Students also have the opportunity to use the tools and space with teacher support outside classroom time to pursue long-term projects and personal passion projects, including during electives, lunch, recess and after school.
  • MUSIC

    The goal of the Middle School Music program is to develop students’ understanding of music so that it becomes an integral and enjoyable part of their lives. We provide students with choices to further expand the way they look at and are influenced by music.

    Advanced Electronic Music
    This is a song composition course where students create songs using the computer. Throughout the year curriculum will include lyrical analysis and writing, musical genre exploration, basic keyboarding skills, and advanced recording techniques. Using the software Logic Pro, students work separately or collaboratively to write and record a collection of songs culminating, at the end of the year, in a polished “radio-ready” album.

    Guitar
    This course is an exploration of music through guitar. Basic skills are taught by learning rock and pop songs, and students build a repertoire of open chords, power chords, scales, and riffs. Along with learning songs, ear training, theory, improvisation, and basic notation are covered throughout the year. Students are also given an opportunity to study independently, using online resources to guide them in learning to play their favorite songs.

    Choir with Kristie Toomath and Rina Schloss
    The focus of the choral program is to inspire the students to deepen their sense of musicianship by developing singing technique, music-reading skills, and by singing with a group. The pieces we choose are merely the tools used to reach the goal of improving individual skills and thereby improving the group’s ability to work as a successful whole. We also provide students with the opportunity to perform in the Honors Choir. In order to participate in Honors Choir, one must be a 7th or 8th Grade participant in the Middle School Choir. Middle School boys also have the option of participating in our Boys’ Choir (participation in Middle School Choir is not required to be in Boys’ Choir). The Choirs put on two choral concerts, one in December and one in May.
    They also have the opportunity to perform at Family Arts Night.

    Rock Band
    Open to all students of any instrument or level interested in learning how to play in a rock band. Each week we will assign a song to learn, and the following week students of various instruments and abilities will join forces to play the song during class.
  • VISUAL ARTS

    Our visual art classes aim to develop understanding and enjoyment of art, and to encourage students to observe, record and wonder about the world around them. Art is a way to process thinking about our world and students discover techniques and skills to express themselves visually. Projects often connect with other areas of the curriculum and we begin this year exploring the school-wide theme of “Reach.” We aim to develop students’ visual literacy through on-going discussion about their own work and that of others. Visiting art galleries and museums incorporates first-hand study of artwork from different cultures and time periods. A wide range of media is explored including, painting, drawing, textiles, digital media, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and photography. We place as much emphasis on the artistic and creative process as the final product. Whether working collaboratively or individually, our goal is to empower students to see, to feel, and to create. Students will have a double block of art for two trimesters.

  • DANCE

    Dance is a key component of the Middle School Performing Arts Program offering an opportunity for students to express themselves creatively through movement while boosting confidence. Dance performances are integrated into school life. Dancers often collaborate with music students who sing or play instruments and with arts students who create costumes. Willows dancers perform throughout the year at special school functions and community events such as Poetry Night, Family Arts Night, and Grandparents’ Day. The annual Celebration of Dance is a culmination of the year in dance.
     
    Students of all skill level and experience participate in dance through weekly P.E. classes, Middle School electives, and Honors Dance. Students audition during the 7th grade year to participate in our Honors Dance Program, which is open to all interested 8th grade dancers.
  • DRAMA

    Drama is an art form through which students develop awareness and empathy, heighten their perception and cognition, learn to manipulate language and movement, and improve their ability to function comfortably in front of others. The Middle School drama program is both process and performance oriented. Students have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of theatrical production and creative dramatics.

    All Middle School students have the option of taking part in musical theater productions through electives. During the third trimester, all 8th grade students participate in a theatrical production as either cast or crew.
  • POETRY

    For three weeks in the fall, the Middle School Art Studio becomes an Art/Poetry Studio.  Art and poetry fit together organically. Both disciplines invite students to notice and interpret the details of their world using common elements of image, line, rhythm, texture and space.
     
    In this creative laboratory, middle school students warm up with movement activities to inspire the flow of ideas. They brainstorm during free-writing/sketchbook time, tackle prompted writing challenges, and listen, read and respond to the work of influential poets and artists. Discussions are typically thoughtful and lively!
     
    After capturing their original ideas on paper or laptop, students have an opportunity to share their words with others in the classroom. Students will also have dedicated revision time, and individual attention during the editing process. While the work of all students is reflected in the school poetry anthology, some students may also choose to participate in our annual Poetry Night presentation.

  • FRIDAY ELECTIVES

    Electives provide Middle School students with an opportunity to choose classes that coincide with personal interests. Whether a student enjoys drama, science, writing, reading, foreign languages, computers or art, there are related elective courses. A major goal of the Middle School is to prepare students for upcoming challenges both socially and academically. Allowing students to determine, in part, their own course of study provides them with increased feelings of independence and accountability. The Willows understands the myriad interests of our student body. Our goal is to create a place for individuals to explore what excites them most. Recent course offerings include:


    Robotics
    Junior Classical League
    Dance

    Sports and Games
    Drama
    Photography
    Mathletics
    Art Portfolio
    Rock Band
  • SCHOOL-WIDE THEME

    Each school year since 2000-2001, our faculty and students come together across grade levels to explore a school-wide theme. Launched each fall, the annual theme is incorporated into curriculum through classroom projects, the arts, and athletics. Reach is the 2017-2018 school-wide theme.
  • MIDDLE SCHOOL INTERSESSION

    Cross-curricular connections and flexibility are key components of a Willows’ education. Intersession is an inter-disciplinary, multi-age exploration of a single topic that takes place upon return from Winter Break in January. Intersession provides an opportunity to explore a new thematic idea throughout the Middle School. For one week, the middle school students choose one project-based class that incorporates the school wide theme. The theme is applied to the central academic subjects of Core, Math, Latin, and Science; in addition, the school-wide theme is explored during Intersession. This year’s theme, Reach, will provide a rich basis for Intersession in January.
  • THE LIFE SKILLS PROGRAM

    Objective
    The Willows Life Skills program helps students develop skills in communication, problem solving, and
    decision-making. Students meet regularly to explore the issues of making good behavioral choices in school, off campus, and online. We address issues of peer relationships, drug and alcohol use, and human development. In addition, we incorporate RULER skills from Yale’s Center of Emotional Intelligence to enhance students’ social emotional wellbeing and strengthen their ability to regulate emotions using RULER tools.

    Many of our activities focus on developing students’ communication skills. We believe that children should learn to be their own advocates in their relationships with peers, parents, and teachers.

    Nuts and Bolts
    Life skills classes meet weekly for 50 minutes. We divide students within a grade level by gender so girls and boys can address specific issues. Additionally, students have guest speakers as well as special assemblies and workshops throughout the year, such as Miles To Go, specialists in drug education, and Esteem, an organization that conducts a weeklong self-defense.

    Christina Kim, Director of Student Life, oversees and co-teaches our middle school Life Skills program alongside faculty members. We also bring in outside experts to enhance our program. This year, we have invited Miles to Go, specialists in drug education, to conduct workshops for 7th and 8th graders. Our resident Mindfulness teachers, Andrea Passerella and Richard Vishnevsky, educate students about mindfulness practices through exercises and activities. Later this spring, the Esteem organization will be conducting a weeklong self-defense workshop for 8th grade boys and girls.

    Curriculum
    Some of our Life Skills curriculum springs from the day-to-day needs of the student body. More often, however, we follow a curriculum that we have designed to be age-appropriate for each grade level. In addition to covering current events, some of the major topics addressed in each grade are listed below.

    6th grade:
    independence, digital citizenship, online safety, peer relations, personal goals and self-esteem, nutrition and body image, RULER skills and mindfulness, managing stress, and puberty education

    7th grade:
    organization and study skills, digital footprint, online ethics and social media, social groups and cliques, RULER skills and mindfulness, human development and reproduction

    8th grade:
    leadership, high school admission application support and interview skills, drug and alcohol education, decision-making and the media, gender issues, reproduction and sex education, making good choices after leaving The Willows
  • DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

    The Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence RULER Approach

    We are excited to continue our implementation of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER program, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that helps school communities integrate the teaching of emotional intelligence into daily life. RULER teaches five key emotional intelligence skills:

        Recognizing emotions in one’s self and others.
        Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions.
        Labeling emotions accurately.
        Expressing emotions appropriately.
        Regulating emotions effectively.

    RULER integrates these skills into the academic curriculum and provides opportunities for students and all the key adults involved in their education—teachers, administrators, and family members—to learn and apply these skills.

    Decades of research shows that emotional intelligence is essential to effective teaching and learning, sound decision making, physical and mental health, and success in school and beyond. Research also shows that when schools and homes partner to support children’s emotional development, children not only feel better, but they do better.

    We partner with our parents to continually share more about the RULER approach and RULER resources.  We also offer RULER workshops to help parents practice the skills of emotional intelligence at home and learn about how it’s being implemented in the classrooms.

    During the Middle School Retreat in September, students will create a Middle School Charter. The charter is a mission statement for learning that students pledge to maintain. It focuses on how students want to feel, what needs to happen for those feelings to be consistently present, guidelines for handling uncomfortable feelings and conflict, and methods for creating and sustaining a positive learning environment.

    We’re proud to be a school community who understands that “emotions matter” and that how children feel has profound implications for learning, success, and wellbeing.  Our goal is to equip The Willows’ children for success today, and for life.

    New Student Group
    Students new to the MS have the opportunity to participate in a support group led by the Director of Student Life. The group meets weekly for the first few weeks of school during lunch time. Students get to know other new students, ask questions about The Willows, and discuss the transition process and other aspects of beginning life at a new school.
  • PHYSICAL EDUCATION

    The Physical Education program at The Willows is designed to develop and strengthen students’ athletic skills while promoting self-confidence and sportsmanship. Four times a week, students participate in P.E. class, receiving a combination of whole group, small group, and individual instruction so as to best meet each individual’s needs.

    The Middle School’s physical education classes are separated by gender. This allows both boys and girls the space and freedom to take risks in class, to build confidence, and to participate in new activities in a supportive environment that is tailored to their specific developmental needs. Female students also have the option to take dance once a week, and male students have the option to participate in boys’ choir.

    Throughout the year, students participate in activities that strengthen motor skills and foster team spirit. We emphasize the importance of personal health and encourage students to focus on lifetime activity skills. Our goal is for students to develop both skill and confidence – important tools that students need to remain physically active and healthy throughout their lives. Students also participate in martial arts once a week for two trimesters and
    yoga once a week for the remaining trimester.

    The Middle School Physical Education program reinforces skills learned in prior grades and incorporates refined development of specialized skills and sport instruction. Students practice correct techniques and learn the fundamental strategies of offense and defense. They participate in activities designed to improve hand-eye and foot-eye coordination. They also apply problem solving skills within a team environment, exploring conflict resolution techniques and cooperative activities.

    Twice yearly, students participate in personal fitness assessments and compare their scores to health related standards. They test areas of muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, speed, and agility. Students evaluate their skills, monitor their progress, and set goals for future improvement.

    Middle school students also:
    • Examine those activities that strengthen the heart muscle
    • Perform activities which help them to understand how different muscles are required to perform a wide
    range of physical activities
    • Use different conditioning exercises to improve the amount of force a muscle can exert
    • Understand the function of the major muscles of the body through a stretching and conditioning program
    • Have fun and develop fundamental skills in a variety of team and individual sports
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND GRADING

    The faculty strives to foster a sense of responsibility in middle school students. We encourage students to seek help as often as necessary and to communicate their successes as well as their frustrations.

    It is also important that parents feel able to communicate with teachers.  Parents may call or send an email to any of their child’s teachers, indicating any questions or concerns for the teacher to consider before contacting the parent. Parents may also call the school and leave a message. Teachers will call or email a response at their earliest convenience within a 24- hour period, except in the case of an emergency.

    We hold parent-teacher conferences in November, March, and June, and send home information about conference schedules one month before their date. The March conference is student led. If we feel that a conference is necessary prior to November, we will contact you. We also make an effort to call when we can share good news about child’s successes.

    The academic year is divided into two semesters. Parents receive written evaluations from teachers at the close of each semester, in December and in June. Each evaluation is comprised of a short descriptive narrative as well as a percentage grade.
  • STUDENT LIFE

    A variety of programs enrich a students’ Middle School experience at The Willows.

    Overnight Trips

    6th grade Trip to Simi Valley
    We partner with WOLF, (Wilderness Outdoor Leadership Foundation) for 3 days of great outdoor adventure in Simi Valley, approximately one hour northwest of The Willows. Students stay in cabins and enjoy group activities that build teamwork and cover topics such as outdoor science, character education, primitive living skills, and ropes courses.
     
    7th grade Trip to Memphis, Tennessee & Little Rock, Arkansas
    As a complement to their study of the Civil Rights Movement and the history, the politics, music and pop culture of that time, students see history come to life as they visit the National Civil Rights Museum, Graceland, Sun Studios, Central High, and the Clinton Presidential Library.

    8th grade Trip to Washington D.C.
    The 8th grade students spend a week each fall exploring monuments, museums, and institutions to enhance their study of American history from 1860 to the present.

    Leadership Opportunities

    Student Ambassadors – Our 7th and 8th grade students lead and engage with younger students and our extended community by providing tours to prospective families. They also share their experiences by speaking at Open Houses and various school events. To be a volunteer, students complete a questionnaire and meet with a teacher for volunteer training.

    Community Service Projects – Middle School students participate in projects to serve our local and global community either by grade or through elective courses. They collect items to benefit Good Shepherd Shelter, read to preschool students at Westside Children’s Center and host a collaborative literacy project with them, bag lunches weekly to feed the homeless through the OPCC program, an organization that helps people struggling to make ends meet, providing shelter, food and job counseling. In addition, over an eight-week elective course, students participated in the “Memory Project” drawing detailed portraits of 32 children in Peru from photographs of children in residential care.

    The Willows Service Learning Trip is a voluntary trip offered to Middle School students and 9th and 10th grade alumni through a partnership with student travel experts, EF Explore America, during the first week of Spring break.  Two Willows faculty also chaperone the trip. Students stay in the foothills of the Patagonia Mountains in Arizona at the Windsong Peace and Leadership Center. The 6-day trip focuses on cross-cultural encounters, learning how surrounding border towns address environmental and immigration issues and the hardships each face; sustainability in discovering responsible ways to live off the land, build survival skills, and address the intersection of environmental and social issues with hands-on projects; and community service in action, focusing on projects to give back to the world.

The Willows  |  A DK-8 independent school serving greater Los Angeles.
8509 HIGUERA STREET
CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA 90232
PHONE 310 815 0411 FAX 310 815 0425