Middle School Curriculum

The Middle School curriculum stresses a core of language, literature, mathematics, history and science, enriched by art, dance, drama, music, health and physical education. The academic program builds on the strong foundation established in the Lower School, with an approach that values process as much as product, incorporating interactive classes, independent and collaborative projects and skill development.

Fine and Performing Arts

Recognizing that the arts help us to appreciate and express both the individuality and shared threads of the human experience, we believe that cultivating artistic expression is a central tenet in our quest for our students to construct and demonstrate understanding. As we work with each student to build her capacity for innovation and creativity, we seek to deepen each student's experience in the visual and performing arts.

Our strategic initiatives demand that we examine how the arts can more powerfully interact with other subjects of study. To support this important work, each division has a dedicated Arts Specialist who, in collaboration with grade-level teachers, creates an arts curriculum that focuses on literacy in the visual arts, dance, drama and music, as well as cultivates a synergy between the arts and other subject fields, all to serve the important purpose of "education in the arts and education through the arts."


The Middle School Dance curriculum focuses on technique, performance skills, and choreography. Proper alignment, consistent energy, musicality, confidence, and expressiveness are emphasized in each class. Classes begin with a warm-up of stretches, yoga poses, pliés, balances, and small jumps, followed by longer dances that include quick entrances and exits, chassés, jumps, leaps, and turns. Creative work is central to the curriculum.

Choreography projects explore a wide range of topics, many of which are aligned with the academic curriculum. Recent topics have included coral reefs, Italian Renaissance dance, the Indus River Valley, and the Harlem Renaissance. Through these projects, students learn how to explore ideas through movement, how to structure a dance, how to create movement phrases, and how to use elements such as level, dynamics, speed, theme and variation, and stillness effectively. Frequent in-class presentations of student choreography provide opportunities for detailed discussions, which help students revise their work. Additional performance opportunities include Middle School Dance Club (open to all Middle School students), the Middle School Musical (Classes 5 through 7), and the Holiday Concert Dance Ensemble (Class 7).


The Middle School music program provides opportunities for students to develop vocal skills, aural discrimination, and a deeper understanding of world music through singing, listening, improvising, and composing. The music curriculum continues to build upon the melodic and rhythmic concepts covered in the Lower School music classes. The program is a sequential and experienced-based approach and is based on the music education philosophies of Kodály, Orff, and Dalcroze.

A study of world music and music of the master composers (medieval through contemporary) in social, historical, and cultural contexts provides students with a greater understanding of musical forms, historical periods, and world cultures. Arts-integrated learning and creative exploration are important aspects of the Middle School music program. During arts-integrated projects, students engage in a creative process, which connects music to history and the humanities while creating deeper and meaningful connections within each discipline. Arts-integrated units of study include the Early Renaissance, Shakespeare, the Harlem Renaissance, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt and Nubia, and Ancient India and China.


In Middle School Drama, students continue to develop the actor's instrument -- body, voice and mind -- through ongoing exploration of the physical, vocal, characterization and staging elements of drama.

Text becomes a major focus in the Middle School Drama classroom. In Class 5, students gain skills as emergent playwrights by identifying and utilizing elements of dramatic text in writing, theatre exercises and activities. Original adaptations of Greek myths are written, staged and performed by Class 5 students in the Black Box Theater.

Class 6 places a focus on creating characters using various forms of inspiration, including contemporary texts. Students apply imagination and analysis to the creation of original characters, creating a backstory and deepening the process of becoming a character.

Heightened text is introduced in Class 7 with Shakespeare and his plays. Focusing on the performance of these plays not only provides students with clarity of meaning and development of character, but also gives clues to active acting choices that are embedded in Shakespeare's texts, making them more accessible and enjoyable.

In all classes, Middle School Drama students participate in a variety of group and individual activities in process and performance, demonstrating self-discipline and the ability to collaborate. Collaboration is central to our work in arts integration, a key component of the Middle School curriculum. Integrated projects with other subjects create multiple opportunities for deep and experiential learning, as well as the chance for teachers to link learning objectives within the arts and core content subjects,

Visual Arts

Excitement and enthusiastic exploration permeate the Middle School art classrooms as students are exposed to a wide range of media, skills, and visual concepts. Challenged to solve creative problems as they learn visual language, the program is developmental in nature based on priority learning outcomes which are determined and reviewed annually. For example, by the end of Middle School, each student will have learned how to use hand tools to work with wood and how a three-dimensional illusion is created on a two-dimensional surface.

Projects are connected to the larger world through cultural references, and interdisciplinary work is a cornerstone of the program. Students learn how to discuss their work and that of fellow students through group critiques, and the constant immediate exchange that occurs with classmates and the teacher is a result of the open seating arrangement. Media literacy and technology are introduced where appropriate throughout the program as well.


"Science and technology can help us attain the life we want, but it cannot teach us what kind of life is worth wanting."
Andrew Delbanco
Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies, Columbia University

In Middle School Humanities, students focus on what kind of life is worth wanting. They do so by analyzing the stories and histories of our world, striving to understand the past that has given birth to the present and using that understanding to make choices for a better future. They investigate issues of identity and perspective, of cultures and community, seeking to locate themselves in the dazzling tapestry of humanity.

Class 4 and 5 students experience humanities as a single subject to immerse themselves in the essential connections between history and story, geography and culture, creative expression and the human condition, and even etymology and spelling. Class 6 and 7 students explore the humanities in separate English and history classes as they give specialized attention to the higher-level demands of the disciplines. Though divided into two distinct subjects, the unified nature of humanities pervades their experiences, as teachers coordinate themes such as how communities deal with conflict and skills such as how to decode complicated syntax in works such as Much Ado About Nothing and the U.S. Constitution.

Reading and Writing Workshops

In Classes 4 and 5, students engage nearly daily in workshops that allow them to apply skills modeled by their teachers that demystify critical reading and promote clear and confident communication.

In Classes 6 and 7, the workshop model evolves as book clubs leverage the longing for increased social interaction and independence that comes with budding adolescence, and as written products come in a variety of printed and digital forms, from traditional essays and blog posts to websites and podcasts.

In all grades, we seek to cultivate the unique voice of each student, and we celebrate their original works through in-class readings, performances in assemblies, and publication in COG, our Middle School literary magazine.

21st Century Texts and Media

In the information age, students must grapple with a variety of media, from the printed page to video. Further, they must explore a wide range of histories and stories to see themselves and others in the curriculum. Our students engage with these texts critically, whether researching for an oral presentation on Chinese history or judging the effectiveness of an iCivics game on the Bill of Rights. Throughout the Middle School program, students engage with primary sources, from a seal from the Dutch East India Trading Company in Class 4 and Harappan seals in Class 5 to Renaissance artifacts at the Met in Class 6 and Colonial broadsides in Class 7.

Inquiry and Mentor Texts and Media

Convinced by research, we believe that the fundamentals of communication—grammar, spelling, and the power of style—must be integrated meaningfully into the reading and writing experience. True understanding of the structural underpinnings of our language can only be relevant if they affect how students read, speak, and write.

True Interdisciplinary Learning

We seek to move beyond literacy, driving our students to a real passion for language and for our history that propels itself at home and out in the world. Toward that end, we provide our students with deep integration with the arts, where the texts they read and write come alive. Students work with faculty from our dance, music, drama, and visual arts departments, and they partner with performers such as those from The Juilliard School. Whether dancing the geological forces that forged the early river civilizations or setting a Langston Hughes poem to music and performing the piece in front of peers, our students learn with their senses to interpret and respond creatively as well as analytically. These projects are truly interdisciplinary as they meet the learning outcomes of both the humanities and arts departments.

Practicing Being Human

Finally, we believe that the study of humanities should be inseparable from the practice of it. Just as we ask our students to practice grammar techniques or reading strategies, we ask them to practice empathy. We incorporate elements of philosophies from organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves to turn what students learn into choices they make. These exercises take different form each year, but examples from 2016-201717 range from Class 4’s investigation into power, both in America’s past and in social groups in school, to Class 7’s creation of posters promoting ways to combat racism and other forms of injustice in 2017 based on models from the 20th century.

Learning Resources

The Middle School Learning Resources team provides a hybrid approach to student support. In Classes 4 through 6, support is provided as a push-in model, providing elbow-to-elbow support to all students. Students with documented needs in Class 7 receive a strategy-based Academic Workshop class designed to establish literal and virtual tool-kits to support each individual learner. An after-school study skills class is available to Middle School students as needed. In addition, the Learning Resources team provides professional development to the Middle School Faculty on learning styles and intervention strategies. Our partnership and collaboration with families is an essential part of our core work and creates a solid foundation for open and transparent communication.


The Middle School Math curriculum is designed to allow students to discover the beauty of mathematics by making connections within mathematics, between other subjects, and to the real world. Classroom activities are intentionally inquiry-based, meaning that questions are posed for students to explore. The students are encouraged to explore creatively and courageously, and they are empowered by taking responsibility for their own learning. Investigations are carefully designed to guide discovery within mathematics. Through these discoveries students learn how to be creative problem solvers who enjoy being challenged. In the classroom, a large emphasis is placed upon reflection. Students learn how to reflect upon their own thinking, and how to use communication, both verbal and written, to learn new strategies and modes of thought. In Classes 4 and 5, a large part of the curriculum is based upon developing students' number sense. Through discussions, hands-on activities and group work, students learn how to become fluid and flexible with all kinds of numbers. In Classes 6 and 7 they develop this even further while also combining these skills with algebra, data, and geometry. Learning and discovering math in the Middle School provides opportunities for math to be accessible, enjoyable and challenging for all students.

Physical Education

The physical education program in Middle School provides a sports-specific setting in which students expand on the skills learned in Lower School. They are exposed to numerous sports and activities and taught more complex and specialized skills to reach a more advanced level of play. These skills include moving into open space to create pathways, and understanding how time, force and flow affect how the body moves. Units currently include: soccer, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, badminton, track, swimming, fencing, handball, floor hockey, pickleball, and ultimate Frisbee. In addition, through competitive game play, the program strives to increase each student’s knowledge of rules and concepts, strategic thinking, and ability to move, adapt, and react. Cooperative game experiences and team-building challenges are also incorporated into the curriculum to enhance teamwork, communication, critical thinking, leadership, respect, and problem solving. Fitness is a component of each class; promoting cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength to educate and motivate the students to become lifelong active learners. Throughout Middle School, the emphasis in PE is on instilling a passion for play, and building confidence and competence to pursue physical activities and athletic team opportunities.


Middle School students work both collaboratively and independently as they perform experiments to support their study of life, earth and space, and physical sciences in order to enhance their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) skills. Through hands-on, real-life explorations and investigations, they become familiar with the scientific method and engineering design cycle while becoming increasingly proficient with metric measurement. Interactive notebooks and digital portfolios are integral to both the design and evaluation of all classwork and special projects. All grades focus on the integration and development of the Science and Engineering Practices in the Next Generation Science Standards. To this end, our students develop their inquiry and problem-solving skills while they explore a variety of topics over the course of their Middle School years.

Science in Action: Classes 4&5

For example, Class 4 students creatively design and construct their own versions of a water filter and then test their efficacy by attempting to clean "dirty water." After experimenting with their filters, they are charged with the task of designing original 3D solutions for pressing water issues in a developing country. Class 4 and 5 students also have the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in chemistry and ecology as they perform various water quality tests and oyster measurements during their yearlong involvement in the Billion Oyster Project, which aims to restore oyster reefs in New York’s waterways in order to improve the local marine environment. The oysters are located in the East River a few minutes walk from the school.

Science in Action: Classes 6&7

Class 6 students begin the school year with an exploration of Cape Cod ecology that builds on concepts learned in early grades. The unit culminates in a weeklong trip to Cape Cod, where students visit a salt marsh and tidal flats and use their arts and humanities skills to create stories and drawings inspired by the natural landscape. Likewise, the older Middle School students participate in the Hudson Data Jam with the goal to develop new and innovative ways to present published data from the Hudson River and its watershed. The students examine and interpret their chosen data, scrutinize trends (or changes over time), develop hypotheses, and write formal lab reports with bibliographies. The last requirement of the competition is to translate the scientific data into creative art projects that general audiences can understand. Class 6 and Class 7 students work closely with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, where they participate in cutting-edge techniques, such as using restriction enzymes to insert “glowing” genes into bacteria.


Technology instruction in the Middle School consists of three pillars: digital citizenship, responsible use of technology tools and devices, and technology skills needed for academic support and creative design. We currently have a 2:1 MacBook laptop ratio in Classes 4 and 5 and a 1:1 MacBook Air Laptop Integration Program (LIP) beginning in Class 6 and continuing through Upper School. Students also periodically use school-owned iPads in various courses.

Each year, our Middle School students read and discuss the Middle School Responsible Use of Technology Policy. This encourages developmentally appropriate conversations, both at school and at home, about appropriate technology use, digital footprints, online communication, and cyberbullying, and encourages our students to recognize opportunities to use technology “for good.”

Technology in Classes 4&5

In Classes 4 and 5, technology lessons are integrated into the curriculum. For example, students in Class 4 learn to make presentations and websites to communicate information they have gathered during their nonfiction reading unit in humanities class. In Class 5, students create podcasts to demonstrate what they have learned about ancient civilizations in social studies. As keyboarding skills are important across the curriculum, all students in the Middle School are provided with a Typing Pal account to be used for ongoing typing practice.

Class 6 Laptop Integration Program (LIP)

As part of our 1:1 MacBook Air Laptop Integration Program, students in Class 6 have a separate technology and design course several days each cycle. The course is designed to support the students’ use of their new laptops in each of their classes. After an introduction to laptop care and the responsible use policy for their take-home machines, they learn to understand the world of the laptop by investigating file extensions and sizes, the operating system, export options in all programs and troubleshooting techniques. Students share tech tips and learn to analyze and solve problems when things go wrong. Each unit is also intended to help students recognize the opportunities for using technology “for good,” such as making a stop-motion public service announcement on a topic of their choice, using Excel to analyze data sets about the environment, or designing a device to help people with physical disabilities. Students in Class 6 are introduced to several maker tools, such as the 3D printer, vinyl cutter, and inkjet printer, as well as low-tech design tools and techniques.

Technology in Class 7

In Class 7, technology instruction and discussion is once again integrated into the broader curriculum with greater independent use of various applications to support academic work and projects. Special attention is given to the use of online communication, social media, and the concept of the digital footprint through an integration initiative with Class 7 Health.

World Languanges

Middle School students in Classes 4 and 5 build upon their study of Spanish from the Lower School. Collaboration among teachers and integration are essential to the curriculum in these two grades, as the units taught in Spanish class run parallel to those in other subjects, such as the study of animal classification and adaptation, the study of the solar system, and, in Class 5, the study of our community and of Spanish Harlem or "El Barrio." The study of immigration is also introduced in both grades as we look to find answers related to the immigration of Spanish speakers and to the essential questions of "Why do people move?" and "Why do people stay?" iPads are used for individualized assessment of oral proficiency and to create digital portfolios.

In Class 6, students choose which language they will study for the rest of their career at Chapin: whether to continue with Spanish or to switch to French or Mandarin Chinese. While reading and writing are core components of the modern-language program, greater emphasis is now given to speaking communication. Technology allows language teachers to bring authentic materials that promote listening comprehension skills, pronunciation, and cultural understanding into the classroom. These resources allow students to experience and connect with the diversity – cultural and linguistic - that is essential to second-language learning. Students maintain digital portfolios with projects that range from skits and presentations to poetry and essay writing, and they self-reflect on their growth throughout their Middle School years. Integration with the arts, humanities, and sciences is the foundation to the methodology employed by the World Languages department in the Middle School.

Class 7 is the first year of a two-year mandatory curriculum in Latin, which students pursue while also studying their modern language. The curriculum follows the Oxford Latin Course. Students develop a strong foundation in reading competence in Latin, while at the same time they gain greater understanding of Latin derivatives in English. The culture of Ancient Rome is also studied in each chapter.