The first year of Middle School is an exciting time of adjustment, achievement, and discovery. The students move away from the traditional Lower School homeroom model and switch classes each period. Their life at school is anchored in an Advisory group that meets several times per week.
Responsibility is the theme of the academic year in Sixth Grade. Students are deepening their ability to complete extended assignments, collaborate on group projects, and engage in their schoolwork. Teachers are there to guide them along the way, fostering valuable study habits for the journey ahead.
During the first semester of Sixth Grade English, students explore various genres while developing their reading interests and writing habits. Using Jason Reynolds’ novel Ghost as a catalyst, students examine the ways in which decisions determine one’s character while honing their reading and critical thinking skills. Students implement active reading strategies, annotate their novels, and reinforce their understanding of literary devices. Sixth Graders develop their writing skills through a variety of expository and creative forms. They practice writing accurate and concise summaries as well as strong paragraphs that support their opinions with specific details. Class discussions challenge students to develop and express their ideas. A research-based online vocabulary application helps the Sixth Graders develop and broaden their vocabularies.
In the second semester, students read Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse, Ralph Fletcher’s Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, and Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. Class discussions, workshops, and presentations prompt students to generate, express, and defend their ideas. Working in the Membean program, students develop and broaden their vocabularies. The short story, poetry guide, and novel are the primary resources for developing students’ reading, writing, public speaking, and critical thinking skills.
Students practice each step of the writing process as they compose a memoir, plan and run a poetry workshop for their peers, create a poetry anthology, and compile a character analysis. Finally, students use what they have learned to write a final essay in response to the essential question: In what ways do one’s decisions determine one’s character?
As students enter Middle School, mathematical concepts become increasingly abstract, and classes are structured to ensure that each student has the ideal balance of support and challenge. In Sixth Grade, instructional time focuses on four critical areas: (1) connecting ratio and rate to whole number multiplication and division and using concepts of ratio and rate to solve problems; (2) completing understanding of division of fractions and extending the notion of number to the system of rational numbers, which includes negative numbers; (3) writing, interpreting, and using expressions and equations; and (4) improving mathematical practices.
Sixth Grade Earth Science focuses on learning about the Earth’s characteristics and processes. Students learn about the characteristics of each layer in the Earth, the history and theory of plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, and minerals. They connect knowledge of physical science concepts of density and viscosity to their understanding of processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism. During a plate boundaries group project, students grapple with the same data scientists use to determine the location and type of motion at each plate boundary. Students share their understanding of plate tectonics with their Third Grade buddies when they present and explain their plate boundaries 3-D models to them.
Sixth Graders also study water, including both freshwater and oceanic systems. The year concludes with an astronomy unit focused on movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon as related to seasons, moon phases, and eclipses. Students demonstrate their comprehension of concepts through class conversations, activities, projects, presentations, and a cumulative assessment.
History: Ancient Civilizations
Sixth Grade Social Studies focuses on the rise of civilization and the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, Ancient India, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Israelites, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. The civilization unit addresses the questions: how did civilization form? Why the first civilizations began in river valleys? And what components constitute a civilization? The study of Mesopotamia, including the Ancient Israelites, investigates culture, government systems, religious traditions, and important technologies that developed during these civilizations. Next the students study Ancient Egypt, gaining an understanding of the role geography played in the development of Egyptian society. When studying ancient China, students investigate Chinese philosophy and the role of technology in Chinese civilization. The Greek and Roman units focus on the cultural contributions of these societies, in particular, their systems of government.
Sixth Graders typically study French 1 or Spanish 1. Middle School students develop their understanding of culture through comparing and contrasting to their own experience, with a focus on creating an appreciation of how people from different cultures have helped shaped our culture. Students increase their comfort with reading and writing in the target language and are expected to converse in the language during a portion of each class.
Sixth Graders balance their time in the arts among drama, music, and studio art. Many new skills and materials are available to them, and they relish the opportunity to extend their creative expression. In one recent year, Sixth Graders were reluctant to give up the Shakespeare Festival they enjoyed in Lower School and decided, as a group, to workshop a performance of King Lear.
Each assignment in Sixth Grade Art class gives students an opportunity to explore the different concepts and benchmarks associated with their grade level. Students study color theory, line and shape in a Cubist-inspired chalk pastel portrait. They then take it a step further to create a 3D clay form inspired by their portrait. Sixth Grade artists also have the opportunity to work on costumes, props, and the set for the play.
Students work collaboratively on long-term performance and recording projects. This is a “no experience required course” that asks students to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. At the heart of this course is a hands-on, active approach to getting students excited about playing instruments and performing and recording together as a group. All students will try out a variety of contemporary instruments including but not limited to drums, bass, guitar, piano, organ, percussion, and vocals. Students learn arrangement and rehearsal skills while also building vocabulary that will help them communicate in diverse musical situations. They will also cover the fundamentals of multi-track recording and learn about the processes involved in modern recording studios. Students are expected to be helpful and respectful of others in the room, engage in each project with a positive attitude, be flexible and adaptable if they’re asked to try something that new, participate in performances as required, and above all, enjoy making music.
From the 2020 fall course description:
Sixth Grade Drama starts the fall with a film class. Because sharing materials poses risks in the pandemic, we are working on a play: Shakespeare’s iconic King Lear, chosen by the students themselves in a landslide vote. Students are intrigued by this titular king who attempts to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. They understand the impulse to flatter the king with faux compliments, yet are perplexed as to how the king did not realize Cordelia was being honest and loyal to him from the beginning. Through our production of Lear, students develop skills fundamental in theater: memorization, literary analysis, acting basics, voice projection, film production, and improvisation.
From the 2021 spring course comment:
Sixth Graders participate in the creation of the All-School Play, learning multiple songs, dances, and lines, and offering their own ideas for the production. This semester was a busy one. When we found out that we would be doing a live performance but with a limited cast, we knew we needed to get creative. This Sixth Grade led the charge by jumping into any scene that needed the joy and energy that only this class can deliver. They learned multiple songs, dances, and lines. They also filled in to add a little fun to some of the Lower School scenes that had to be pre-recorded and then screened during the live performance. The live performance with its many restrictions and protocols was possible only with the help of this dynamic and talented class.
Sixth Graders join mixed-grade teams on the fall outdoor education trip. They explore the backcountry around Aspen with teachers and Seventh and Eighth Graders. As always, outdoor activities — whether on a trip, on campus, in PE class, or on ski days — are a primary way students learn the value of teamwork and of Aspen Country Day School’s core values of character, respect, responsibility, community, and perseverance.
Sixth Graders build their skills in traditional team sports: volleyball, basketball, soccer, handball, and hockey, with a focus on the development of strategy and fair play. They are also introduced to ultimate frisbee and other non-traditional sports and games. Sixth Graders canoe on the campus ponds in preparation for their spring multi-sport trip to the desert in Western Colorado. In Middle School, students have afternoon ski days in mixed-grade groups with teachers as chaperones.
Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade students participate in the fall backpacking trips in small groups that venture out into the backcountry for peak climbs or point-to-point expeditions. These multi-grade groups develop bonds among grade levels and build community in the Middle School. Eighth Graders play a special role as leaders of their teams. The fall trips give students essential lifetime skills in backpacking, the most accessible of mountain sports. Sixth Graders have a mutli-sport experience in Western Colorado in spring to solidify some of their important skills learned over the years, including rock climbing, rappelling, and desert hiking, along with an introduction to the rafting skills they will use in Eighth Grade.
Sixth Graders step into their first Middle School year with enthusiasm. They embrace some of the subtle changes that give them more independence and responsibility, such as skiing with their teachers (rather than parent chaperones) on ski afternoons, and having their own Chromebooks to take home each night for homework (and remember to recharge!).
Projects & traditions
Highlights of the Sixth Grade year include special academic projects like “World of Big & Small” in math class (when students scale up a common object using their knowledge of proportions). They experience their first final exams at the end of each semester. All main academic classes (except World Language) are in the Middle School building, a state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for this age group. The increased academic demands and independence of this grade foster tremendous growth over the Sixth Grade year.
The Aspen Country Day School Middle School Advisory Program matches each student with an advisor who serves as a mentor and advocate. This faculty member acts as the facilitator of communication between home and school for any issues related to a student’s Middle School experience. In addition to daily meetings, advisories meet throughout the week for academic coaching and relationship and community building. Advisors also serve as mentors as students prepare for the parent-teacher-student conversations held twice per year.
Working with a small group of approximately ten advisees throughout the year, advisors help students incorporate each of the Aspen Country Day School graduate outcomes into their daily lives. The advisory program promotes healthy relationships, academic progress, and solid communication between home and school. Overall student wellness is a team effort, and the intention at Aspen Country Day School is for all students to experience a supportive community where they are known and loved. With this foundation, they become prepared to foster and contribute to the common good.
One-to-one Chromebook program
Sixth Graders are issued a Chromebook, which serves as an academic tool throughout Middle School. Students access online text books, teacher blogs, videos, TED talks, primary sources, and other resources to curate the information necessary to participate in the curriculum in each class. They also use technology to create presentations which may include Lucidchart, films, blogs, podcasts, or original TED Talks.