A year-and-a-half ago we were presented with the opportunity to create a new middle school where students could get ready for high school with the help of a unique mix of traditional and innovative educational techniques. My colleague Patti Cooper and I - along with nearly 30 of our colleagues – accepted the challenge and created a supportive and unique learning environment in which our middle school students explore their individual talents, develop good habits of reading and writing, practice analysis, reasoning and healthy living.
Here are 6 reasons your child should go to LAS middle school:
- An Agile mindset
All of us who teach in the middle school are learning to work like computer programs, who build software in collaborative teams, in small bursts of work, with frequent feedback. We are all increasing our familiarity with kanban boards (tools that enable us to optimize the flow of our work), working lean (eliminating wasted time and effort), and employing Scrum (an Agile framework for completing complex projects; think Apple, Google, IBM, Zalando, etc.). Our goal is for students to share the responsibility for their own learning and more easily meet the future challenge of LAS grades 9 and 10.
- A variety of classes
At LAS middle school, some classes only last five weeks. Students get a taste of an interesting subject (e.g. computer programming, music, introduction to engineering, visual arts, forest ecology, etc.) that broadens their experience in preparation for pursuing their own personal interests in greater depth. Students are introduced to a variety of subjects that change from one year to the next but each year we make sure our courses help them get new skills leading to stage presence, innovation, environmental awareness, working with one’s hands and more.
- Universal English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction
ESL teaching techniques are good teaching techniques, period. So, instead of creating special ESL courses for our non-native speakers of English, we made all English classes accessible to them. We use ESL techniques (e.g. small class sizes, revisiting work, using visuals, etc.) to reach all students at all levels of English ability without separating the native English speakers from the non-native ones.
- Unique grading
Unlike traditional middle schools, at LAS middle school we separate academic grades from behavior grades. Academic grades reflect students’ achievements in the academic content areas only. We expect students to redo any academic work that results in a low grade as we believe poor grades tell us that we assessed students too early, before they understood what we intended to teach. And behavior grades allow us to focus specifically on the student’s behavior, providing concrete feedback six times during the school year. This approach promotes positive classroom behavior through encouragement and creates a classroom environment that is conducive to learning.
- Team teaching
Several classes have two teachers, increasing individual attention for each student. Thanks to team teaching, our middle school students see how collaboration, compromise, and effective communication work in practice. They learn to see each problem from two perspectives, take advantage of the “to” and “fro” of thinking, and are offered an overall richer teaching experience.
What makes us different from most traditional middle schools is that we actually allow ourselves the right to cancel classes. Because we are small, we are nimble enough to capitalize on unique learning opportunities when they present themselves. And we go on excursions often - nearly once a week - to expand our learning far beyond the classroom walls and provide context for new ideas and skills.
Don’t you wish you were in the seventh or eighth grade?
Paul MagnusonLAS Middle School Director