Summers-Knoll affirms middle school students as emergent citizens with a drive to learn, a capacity to work, and a need to be taken seriously. Middle school students are in a period of intense and exciting development, both physically and cognitively. They have a strong desire for increased self-reliance and autonomy, while at the same time are looking for support, affirmation and sophisticated social interactions with teachers and classmates. Summers-Knoll middle school empowers students to take ownership of their education and allows each student to see just how far they can go.
Our curriculum of project-based learning animates the questions, hypotheses, and passions of these student-investigators. Every two months, a new theme is introduced. Students use these bimestrial themes as a starting point for developing their own exploration. Engaging topics through interdisciplinary learning across our areas of study, they develop an understanding of the interrelatedness between what are typically taught as separate disciplines. Consistent with the Summers-Knoll approach for lower grade levels, students engage in the exciting process of becoming self-directed learners with a passion for knowledge, a growing awareness of our diverse and complex world, and a sense of responsibility for the larger community.
Based on the current theme, students collaborate in small groups to propose a project for a self-directed, school supported, two-month-long intensive study that culminates in a tangible, real-life application. If the theme is “architecture,” students might decide to pursue green building design. They develop a project proposal, including a plan and budget, and apply for a school funded grant to support the project. Middle school students become increasingly proficient in the use of technology as a tool for budgeting, researching, and presenting their projects. (Technology always complements, never supplants, other forms of learning.) Their project might include interviews with architects, collaboration with green design experts in the community, and utilization of multiple additional modes of research and experimentation. Having a tangible and beneficial result emerge from students’ projects helps them connect their education to their lives. Learning isn’t abstract for our students; every month, they see how their ideas and actions can change their world for the better.
As they explore their topic, middle school students also learn by teaching and mentoring younger students. This “learning by teaching” reinforces and deepens their own understanding of topics and furthers their sense of civic engagement.