The middle-school program at the River Farm Cooperative School (RFC) offers a unique and challenging academic experience for students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades who are entering a developmental stage where they are equally interested in learning about their own identity and the world around them. Some key features of the RFC program include:
Program: Dimensions Math
Dimensions math is the follow-on program to the elementary-level Singapore math program at RFC. Both of these programs employ a wonderful scaffolding method of adding new skills, slowly and intuitively, while also circling back to review old skills.
Students in the same classroom may learn the concepts at different paces, but, ultimately, they all learn them and this helps to develop a solid foundation for further math learning in later grades. For this reason, at RFC, math is one of the few subject areas in which students are taught in smaller groups, based on individual ability.
Homework: May include finishing work that did not get fully completed in class.
Program: R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey (RSO)
Middle school science will be based on a three-year cycle, allowing all RFC middle school students who complete our program to learn biology (year one), astronomy (year two), and earth and environmental sciences (year three). The three-year cycle is designed so that it will not matter which theme incoming 6th grade students happen to begin in the cycle. These themes are common to traditional middle schools and should set our students up for success in whatever high-school environment they end up choosing.
We love the RSO program because of its use of scientific method and reliance on real-world materials that take the kids out of a book and into real life.
Read, Explore, Absorb, and Learn (R.E.A.L.) Science (from the website):
Children benefit from using scientific method and creating science models at an early age. RSO infuses scientific method, modeling, and age-appropriate mathematics. Students learn how to speculate, hypothesize, experiment, and conclude. Observation skills are developed through sketch drawings and written descriptions. Analytical skills are encouraged through comparing, forming questions, and interpretations. Students make age-appropriate calculations, plot results, make graphs, diagram information, and create science models.
Science will also be used in some of our field units, in order to provide our students with hands-on science experience, as well as the opportunity to learn from professionals in the field.
Homework: May include finishing work that did not get fully completed in class, and/or tying in at-home research or writing assignments (more on this in the Language Arts section).
Program: History Odyssey study guides
Middle school history will be based on a three-year cycle, allowing all RFC middle school students who complete our program to learn Ancient Civ and Middle Ages (year one), Early Modern (year two), and Modern Times (year three). The three-year cycle is designed so that it will not matter which theme incoming 6th grade students happen to begin in the cycle. These themes are common to traditional middle schools, and should set our students up for success in whatever high-school environment they end up choosing.
We love the History Odyssey program because it provides a study guide of resources to discovering and understanding history and other cultures, rather than a textbook. Beyond making history more interesting and relevant for students, this method also consciously seeks to remove much of the inherent bias that comes along when viewing history through the (often dry) lens of a textbook (many textbooks are not written by historians and offer a very whitewashed, Eurocentric version of history).
History Odyssey also complements the RFC emphasis on holistic learning, as it offers opportunities to learn about culture and ethnicity (not just history) and also ties in relevant, powerful literature connected to the topic at hand. For instance, when the students are learning about ancient Egypt, they will be also reading The Golden Goblet, a Newbery-Honor novel set in ancient Egypt.
History Odyssey study guides are written based on these principles:
History is best learned through studying multiple resources and a variety of interpretations.
History is exciting when presented as a story.
History is best studied through the reading of great books.
History is best taught through a world view with an opportunity to learn about different cultures and how they interact, inﬂuence, and connect.
Homework: Once each semester, students will work on projects offering them the chance to learn more about a topic of interest discussed during class, and then present it to the class. This project will be primarily an outside study, where students would go to library, read, research, and prepare outside of class or during the weekly resource period. At-home writing assignments might also occasionally occur.
Current Events, Cultural Studies, and Social Justice
RFC middle-school students will be spending dedicated academic time to explore current events and cultural studies, including politics, advocacy, social justice, climate change, and more. Students at this age are fascinated and passionate about these topics, and they also comprise a key RFC value. Although some of this will occur organically during our other studies, and our teachers look for ways to incorporate social justice throughout the day, we have also built in dedicated time into the schedule for these topics:
“IMPACT” is a short weekly time reserved for advocacy on a topic of importance to the students – something they continue to revisit and build upon each week. On the field unit weeks, it can also be a time to discuss how field units are going, and whether they are impacting our views for the topic we are advocating for. The ultimate goal is to have our students put their ideas and passions into action – by preparing for a Capitol Hill visit to speak to legislators or by creating another group action… thereby creating an “impact.”
“Snapshot” time will be a short mini-lesson based either around a topic we are discussing in class (i.e. an extension lesson), something that was brought up in class that the students are interested in, a time for students to teach the class, an object talk or facilitation of something we will be visiting or seeing, a current event/discussion that is immediate and needs to be discussed as a group, etc. It will be a brief lesson/time where we can zoom in and focus on one thing for a brief time related to what we are working with or interested in discussing as a whole. For Fridays, it will be focused around our daily current-event recap. The recap will come out Thursday evening, with students looking forward to it on Friday mornings.
Homework: May include finding and/or reading articles, or writing assignments (more on this in the Language Arts section below).
Literature and Reading
Program: History Odyssey guides and current events
Literature and reading in the middle-school program will be guided both by History Odyssey and by current events (newspapers and magazines). As mentioned above, we chose History Odyssey partly because of its reliance on real texts, including literature. For instance, when the students are learning about ancient Egypt, they will be also reading The Golden Goblet, a Newbery-Honor novel set in ancient Egypt. Then, using techniques from The Writing Revolution program, writing exercises will be integrated and assigned to complement history, lit, and science.
Homework: Much of the students’ reading will be assigned to be done at home.
Program: The Writing Revolution
The Writing Revolution (TWR) is an instructional method that complements RFC’s holistic learning by allowing teachers to weave writing instruction into the rest of the curriculum (even math!), very organically. For more information, please visit www.thewritingrevolution.org, or read this informative article: https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2017/hochman-wexler
Homework: Students will complete monthly at-home writing assignments. Such assignments will be designed to complement their other work in science, history, culture, current events, or field studies. Short, nightly writing assignments might also be assigned, based on the students’ emerging needs.
Learning to speak in public has lifelong benefits, and there will be many opportunities for our students to practice this skill in the middle-school program. As noted previously, semester-long history/cultural studies projects will culminate in formal student presentations. Public speaking will also be practiced in other parts of the curriculum as students express their views in class discussions; read aloud from literature, current events, or personal writing; or practice going to Capitol Hill to make their viewpoints heard to legislators.
RFC field units are 4- to 5-week sessions of half-days where our middle-school class will be returning to the same location in order to conduct a longer-term study on a specific topic under the guidance of an expert. Field units could take place in a laboratory, a business, a soup kitchen, an airplane hangar, a newspaper office, a hospital, a farmer's field – or anywhere that can offer our students a deep look at a specific type of expertise. They offer our students an insider's look at various vocations or career paths – perhaps spurring new interest in a topic never before considered. Since research shows that many students develop strong ideas about their career aspirations before age 14, this offers important exposure during a critical time of development.
Spanish: Middle-school students will be learning Spanish via a hybrid program of in-person lessons and digital learning apps. Students will work on Spanish daily via their digital learning tool, and will meet twice a week, as a group, with RFC's Spanish teacher for hourly conversational lessons and check-ins on homework and digital learning.
Movement and Exploration
On-the-Go days allow RFC middle school students to take learning out of the classroom and into the outside world. An On-the-Go day might find students spending the entire day on the DC Mall, visiting a museum while also moving through their regular academic blocks. Another day might find them in Huntley meadows, doing a nature hike while again moving through their academic blocks. The idea is to show students that learning can take place anywhere, to promote student maturity, flexibility, and autonomy, and to be able to take advantage of specific events or programs that pop up in DMV area
Continuing the RFC elementary tradition, middle-school students start each day with a short yoga and mindfulness session (outdoors or indoors, weather dependent) under the instruction of our certified yoga teacher.
Free Movement Periods
A key RFC value is the ability for every child to have time and space to move their body and interact with peers outdoors. For this reason, we are preserving recess time for the middle school program – unlike traditional schools, which remove recess for middle and high schools. Students will have a 15-minute outdoor snack break at 11:00AM, and then a 45-minute lunch/recess/free period at 12:10PM. Students will also have five minutes at the end of each academic block to use the bathroom, talk with friends, etc.