Creating & Implementing a Curriculum for Middle School

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Developing a curriculum for middle school students requires looking through a variety of lenses. These include the typical focus of teachers, such as the content standards. However, it also requires considering the motivation of the middle school students from a physiological perspective.

Middle School

When people think of middle school, often, a variety of flashbacks from their own experience come to mind. For some, it may be hiding in the bathrooms from the bullies or even being the bully. Others may have lingering feelings of their awkward adolescence. Whatever the case, middle school students go through a huge range of changes, and that, in turn, impacts how teachers should approach their instruction.

The Middle School Student

Before you design a middle school curriculum, you have to understand the middle school child. Students in this age group experience a huge range of physical and emotional changes between entering the sixth grade and completing the eighth grade. These physical changes influence learning in a variety of ways. As middle school students progress into adolescence, they become more preoccupied with body image. A positive or negative body image, in turn, impacts self-image. As a result, students with low self-image may often, or sporadically, struggle with the confidence they need to succeed academically.

Development Changes in the Middle School Student
Middle School Development

During this same period of time, students are also typically moving from Piaget's concrete operation to the formal operational stage. In the concrete operational stage, students develop the ability to reason logically. However, they still need specific examples and experiences to be able to do so effectively. As they move into formal operational stage, they can reason logically using abstract examples. So, for example, a sixth grader would have a hard time grasping the concept of conservation of energy, while an eighth grader would more easily understand the concept.

Content Roadmap

After you have considered were your middle school student is physically and psychologically, it is time to consider exactly what you want your middle school students to learn. Students' physical/emotional developments serve as the roadmap for developing the rest of the curriculum. Deciding what you want your middle school students to learn is a complex task. Typically, you will start by reviewing your state standards. Using the standards, and considering the specific age of your students, develop a list of the specific content you want your students to know, such as the content-specific concepts or relationships. For example, if you were a science teacher you might include concepts such as the conservation of energy. If the course is social studies, it might be causes and effects of World War II.

Mapping Out the Content Roadmap
Content Roadmap

Once you have your list of concepts, brainstorm a list of vocabulary terms your students need to know that relate to the concepts. However, remember the age group of your students. Be sure to keep the concepts and vocabulary appropriate. Even though a gifted curriculum and on-level curriculum might have the same concepts for a set of standards, they should have different vocabulary.

Next, you should include the skills your students need to be successful in mastering the content. Each concept requires a different skill set. The skills required for your specific content are equally important to the content itself. For example, a social studies curriculum might require students to recall, compare information and make inferences based on the content they have learned. Meanwhile, a math course might focus more on the ability to estimate, formulate, and model. Again, be sure that the skills are appropriate to the middle school population you are teaching.

Authentic Work

Motivating middle school students is a challenge, regardless of whether you are dealing with students who may be working below, at, or beyond their current grade level. Regardless of their ability, you want to engage your students with authentic work. Ditch the worksheets, and create projects that emulate real-world experiences. To do this, you have to move toward a project-based curriculum.

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