The primary goal of language arts instruction in the lower school is to inspire students to read for pleasure, learn new information, share their thoughts and feelings, and speak confidently and dynamically. To meet those goals, teachers in grades K-3 focus on reading skills that include print knowledge, alphabet awareness, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and fluency. In grades 4 and 5, reading instruction focuses on vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. Students learn and practice three types of writing in grades K-5: opinion/argument writing, narrative writing, and informative writing using a workshop model where students are provided with clear goals, as well as responsive, assessment based feedback.
HISTORY & SOCIAL STUDIES
A strong understanding of social studies and history is the foundation of well-informed, civic-minded citizens. Our K-5 scope and sequence begins with exploring relationships that students have within their immediate circle of family, friends, teachers, and neighbors. Then students learn the basics of geography, economics, and citizenship in the context of expanding their view to include the local community. Learning broadens from there to an awareness of local and global communities, the exploration of different cultures, and public service roles. Finally, students begin to learn about American history from the first migration into the Americas to the 20th Century.
Just as children explore concentrically larger circles of community in social studies, the science curriculum teaches them to understand and appreciate the physical world around them. Students take part in engaging, hands-on investigation focused on the following four areas.
- Plants and animals- their impact on the environment, parts and functions, interdependence in ecosystems, variations of traits of different organisms, functions of internal and external structure in growth, reproduction, and information processing, role of decomposers, consumers, and producers in a healthy ecosystem.
- Matter & forces- properties and functions of different kinds of matter, how they effect the way objects move, how light and sound travels, effect of balanced and unbalanced forces, patterns in wave motion, how energy is transferred by sound, light, heat, and electric current, identify matter as particles of matter too small to be seen.
- Weather – how it changes over time in recognizable patterns, quantify and predict weather conditions, interaction among the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
- Sun, moon, and stars – patterns in the apparent movement, processes that shape Earth over long periods of time, weathering, erosion, and deposition in shaping Earth’s surface, patterns caused by the relative position of the Earth and sun.
K-5 math instruction and curriculum are carefully designed to allow students to connect with, build upon, and refine their mathematical understandings. Students use metacognitive strategies when they engage in solving mathematics problems to not only understand specific concepts, but also the process by which they learned them. Six content strands are at the core of instruction in all grade levels: number and numeration, operations and computation, data and chance, measurement and reference frames, geometry, patterns, and functions, and algebra. These six areas are broken down further into grade-level goals which are linked to formative assessments. Using a Professional Learning Community model, teachers analyze the assessment data and support each student’s developmental stage of understanding. They work closely in teams to design instruction of both remedial and enrichment needs allowing them to support students at all levels.
The goal of lower school German is for students to become effective and confident communicators in the German language. In the lower school German classroom, the teacher and students only speak German, forcing students to act out or circumlocute words they do not yet know. Using Organic World Languages (OWL) techniques as well as Total Physical Response (TPR) and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), students begin to feel comfortable exploring the world around them in a new language. In grades K-2, students focus on building vocabulary through stories, games, and the program ¡Hola Niños!. Third grade is a transitional year: students start off by reviewing and building upon the words learned in previous grades, and transition to chorally reading a chapter book and beginning to express themselves through writing. In fourth and fifth grade, we review the vocabulary and skills learned in grades K-3 and then transition to reading a level-appropriate chapter book in German. Students read chorally, in partners, and independently. They act out, draw, and write scenes from the book and use the book as a starting point for further discussion. Students will leave the lower school able to understand and speak German as well as reading and writing according to their level.
Lower school artists use paint, clay, collage, sculptural and digital media to explore artistic expression in a structured and supportive environment. One of the main goals of the art program is to familiarize students with an art studio setting and teach them to navigate safely and confidently through this space. In addition they learn about artists, art movements and how to move from concept to creation. Students learn the vernacular of art and build a vocabulary that grows with them as they progress from grades K-5.
Each grade focuses on a specific theme as follows:
- Kindergarten: Art Exploration
- First grade: Artist Studies
- Second grade: Community and Art
- Third grade: Art Around the World
- Fourth Grade: Storytelling Through Art
- Fifth Grade: Principles and Elements of Design Study
In grades K-3, lower school students develop musical expression through movement, singing, and playing instruments. Using the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education, which integrates these three areas, students use the spoken word with rhymes, games, songs, and dances as learning tools, and encouraged to improvise, compose, and interact musically as a group. In fourth grade, play recorders to learn about wind instruments while continuing to build their knowledge of written music and improvisation. Fifth grade beginning band is a continuation of the skills learned the previous year, applied to an instrument of the student’s choice. Students will leave Lower School with a strong knowledge of the written mechanics of music and a greater sense of the community, character, and creativity that are built by singing, playing, and creating music together.
Physical education helps children develop physical as well as social-emotional skills to become healthier young people through different sports and games. Sportsmanship, work ethic, communication, and inclusion are daily lessons woven into each activity. Classes use a number of facilities including our gymnasium, climbing wall, synthetic turf soccer field, and exercise room. The end goal is building confidence, self-worth, and problem solving through a physically active lifestyle that will enable children to enjoy traditional sports as well those that define our mountain lifestyle.
In addition, taking full advantage of our unique cross-age learning environment, lower school students may elect to participate in seasonal development clinics in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse. The clinics, which are held after school, are led by VMS varsity athletes who teach fundamental skills and introduce the basic rules of each game.
MIDDLE SCHOOL CURRICULUM
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…'”―Isaac Asimov
In 6th grade science, students explore the Earth’s structure and its effect on organisms through group and individual inquiry, research projects, and modeling. They look at landscapes, geology, weather phenomena, energy resources, and space utilizing the context of local places, experts in the field, and 21st century skills. Students in 6th grade are introduced to the processes of analyzing scientific papers and formal scientific writing.
7th grade science focuses on Life Sciences and introduces the concept of scientific inquiry. With our own backyard as our classroom, students explore different ecosystems including how plants and animals have adapted to high mountain living. Following this, students look at how organisms use natural selection to evolve into what we see today. Science Fair provides an opportunity for each student to find their inner scientist, and projects are judged by local scientists from partner organizations including Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Walking Mountains Science Center, Eagle River Watershed Council, and the US Forest Service. 7th grade closes out the year with the study body systems through hands-on labs, dissections and guest speakers.
8th grade science covers chemical and physical changes, properties of light and matter, and atomic structure. A Snow Science and Safety unit connects students to the science behind their recreation, travel, and personal interests. Students reinforce their observation and analytic skills through in-class and outdoor labs, and continue to write formal lab reports. Their skills are put on display at the Annual Science Fair judged by local scientists from partner organizations including Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Walking Mountains Science Center, Eagle River Watershed Council, and the US Forest Service.
On Reading: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ―Neil Gaiman
On Writing: “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”―Neil Gaiman
On History: “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” ―Winston Churchill
Note: In 6th grade, Literature and History are taught together. In the 7th and 8th grades, Literature and History are taught separately.
In 6th grade Humanities (a combination of Literature and History), students explore the history and development of ancient civilizations and the contributions they have made to modern western society. Our journey begins in Mesopotamia, travels through time to ancient Egypt, continues to Greece, and concludes in Rome. We focus on universal themes shared by these cultures, including social rules, politics and characteristics of a civilization. In addition, we examine the everyday life of people living in these early societies. In Literature, we read short stories, novels, and non-fiction articles that tie directly to the History we are learning. We also study the process of becoming a good writer and practice writing for a variety of audiences. Along the way, we study vocabulary, spelling, and grammar to aid in our pursuit of becoming better readers and writers.
In 7th grade Literature, students explore texts concerning marginalized groups in U.S. history, including Native Americans, African Americans, and women. Throughout this course, the class is challenged to analyze and compare various forms of literature including The Diary of Anne Frank, Touching Spirit Bear, The Outsiders, and Monster. Student writers focus on grammatical skills and applying them to a variety of genres of writing. Class discussions are a frequent occurrence.
In 7th grade History, students explore history through the eyes of marginalized groups. We focus on Native Americans, African Americans, and women, which takes us from the colonial period to the present day. Throughout this course, students hone their independent research skills and make connections with geography, and current events and literature. Toward the end of the year, we use the lens of history to investigate the state of human rights in the world today. During this class, students focus on the following skills: composing expository, persuasive, and creative pieces, as well as building websites and creating videos.
In 8th grade Literature, students explore texts concerning identity and one’s place in society. Throughout this course, the class is challenged to analyze and compare various forms of literature including The Book Thief, Of Mice and Men, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, To Kill A Mockingbird, Inherit The Wind and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Student writers focus on grammatical skills and applying them to a variety of different genres of writing. Class discussions are a frequent occurrence.
8th grade History focuses on American government, history, politics, and current events, which culminates in a trip to Washington, DC. The core skills students learn in this class are research-driven formal writing, documentary filmmaking, note taking, debate, and oral presentation. Major projects include: producing a documentary on current events for the C-SPAN Student Cam competition, creating websites on local and DC public history, and writing formal research papers.
“If I were again beginning my studies, I would follow the advice of Plato and start with mathematics.”―Galileo
6th grade math combines the practice of foundational math skills with an exploration of basic Pre-Algebraic and Geometric concepts. Topics include: whole number operations, decimal, and fraction computation; variables and variable expressions; data displays; probability; integers; congruence; similarity; and geometric figures.
In 7th grade, students begin Pre-Algebra by reviewing negative numbers and variables. The focus of the course then shifts to solving equations, beginning with simple one-step equations and building to more complex, multi-step equations. Additional topics include fractions, rates, ratios, proportions, and percentages, with an emphasis on the inclusion of variables. To prepare students for Algebra, we cover linear equations and basic graphing techniques.
In 8th grade, Algebra I builds on the work accomplished in Pre-Algebra. Students explore increasingly complex linear functions and equation manipulation. Students also explore exponential and quadratic equations, FOILing and factoring, properties of exponents, some basics in trigonometry.
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” ―Picasso
The goal of the middle school visual arts program is to continue exploring materials while beginning to focus on making art with intention. Students use a self-evaluation process and final critique method to enhance their ability to speak publicly and confidently about the work they are developing. Students’ time is split between taking digital art courses and continuing to learn traditional methods of art making.
The digital art course is designed to complement the hands-on studio experience, facilitating the integration of new media and artistic self-expression. Using a variety of software, students learn the basic tools and techniques for creating and manipulating images and transforming ideas into artwork, along with overall concepts of scanning and digitizing images. Painting and drawing software are utilized and classes stress individual growth. Throughout these classes the computer acts as a tool to create multiple forms of art.
The 3D and 2D classes’ primary goal is the development of an awareness and appreciation of the arts. Students are introduced to the materials, techniques, concepts, and processes essential to understanding the visual arts and the role of the artist, through a series of projects, class critiques, videos, slide presentations, and various kinds of method studies.
The goal of the middle school music program is to build upon the knowledge learned in lower school, while beginning to delve into more in-depth vocal and instrumental materials. As part of their music performance classes, middle school students are introduced to elements of music theory, harmony, and history, and are given the opportunity to engage in creative projects as well. Each middle school student participates in a performance class three times a week . Sixth grade students may choose between Sixth Grade Choir or Sixth Grade Band (or a combination of both). In seventh and eighth grade, students may choose from Concert Choir or Concert Band, and also have the option of taking a theatre elective, described below. All seventh and eighth grade performance classes combine the two grades.
The goal of Middle School German class is to create a fun and safe environment that encourages students to speak in the target language as much as possible. The class is driven by the proven teaching methods of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and OWL (Organic World Languages). These techniques are implemented through storytelling, reenactments, listening comprehension, role play, free reading and games, all done in German. In additional to vocabulary, students read 2-3 novels per year. By the end of 8th grade, students are able to enter the upper school with the ability and confidence to express themselves in the target language on a wide variety of everyday topics.
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
The middle school physical education program gives our students a physical outlet during the school day and teaches them foundational skills for participation in competitive and recreational athletics at VMS including soccer, volleyball, basketball, track and field, tennis and lacrosse. Students also use our fitness room in order to learn more about strength training by taking part in body weight and TRX workouts, stationary spin bike workouts and yoga. Classes are held in the school gymnasium, outdoor turf field and the fitness room at VMS. The goal of the middle school PE program is to create an inclusive atmosphere where students can participate in new sports and build the confidence to take part in VMS sports at a competitive level.