Hewitt fifth graders tapped into their skills as mathematicians, problem solvers, coders, researchers, and writers to plan road trips across the United States. With only a few specific guidelines about budget and mileage, students were encouraged to make independent decisions about routes, finances, food, and lodging as they planned elaborate trip itineraries.
Exploration, Transformation, and Joy
Hewitt’s middle school invites girls to embrace early adolescence as a time of exploration, transformation, and joy. Our learning culture is rooted in empathy—the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes—and Hewitt girls cultivate this essential habit of mind as both an intellectual and emotional practice. Middle school girls learn to support each other during a time of significant individual change, and their teachers serve as coaches and mentors in resisting pressures to conform and developing a sense of purpose as they explore who they are as young people.
DR. MAUREEN BURGESS, HEAD OF MIDDLE SCHOOL
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Middle School Curriculum Overviews
- History and Social Sciences
- Educational Technology
- Modern and Classical Languages
With an appreciation for adolescent girls’ desire to hear many points of view, the middle school English program incorporates a diversity of texts from around the world and from different time periods. We study multiple genres closely over the course of four years, fostering an appreciation for different modes of expression, from poetry to prose to plays. We cover both the canon and the latest young adult literature, and a strong independent reading program celebrates the gift of lifelong leisure reading.
As students move beyond the reading workshop model of fifth grade into reading circles and class shared texts, the English department introduces them to writing-as-thinking practices. This pedagogy uses a host of freewriting prompts, reading approaches, and visual-to-text exercises to model critical thinking for students and to teach them how to look more deeply at a text or problem. The program incorporates a range of reflective, narrative, and critical analysis writing prompts that model ways to refine their interpretation of a text.
Every girl writes in class each day and has a chance to share her thinking. Girls learn how an understanding of a novel evolves through intentional dialogue and debate with their peers, and their writing reflects the original thinking developed in these classrooms. The writing done in class often feeds into the first drafts of an essay assignment, and girls learn the power of revision through a host of specific strategies that require them to revise deeply rather than superficially. In this way, girls learn not only to develop the skills needed to express their ideas effectively, but also learn first and foremost how to think so that they have ideas worth sharing.
Grammar and vocabulary instruction continue, primarily in the context of student reading and writing, and with an eye toward developing a distinct style and public voice by eighth grade.
English 5: Voicing Independence: Reading and Writing Workshop
English 6: Adventures in Finding Ourselves: Who am I?
English 7: Literature of Identity and Intersectionality: Who are We?
English 8: Mortals, Gods, Heroes: Choice and Fate in Ancient Myth
At Hewitt, history is an active study, not the passive acquisition and memorization of facts and details from long ago. By incorporating current events and contemporary connections, Hewitt girls learn to appreciate the importance of deep historical understanding as part of decision-making today and in the future.
The middle school history program emphasizes the exploration of primary sources in relation to the narrative arcs of various historical traditions. Core social science skills such as geography, topography, demographics, statistics, and archeology provide girls with an understanding of the wide range of investigations that are crucial to creating a history. Each course focuses on case studies of a particular period so that students achieve considerable depth in their learning, acting as historians who look at archives, maps, newspaper articles, diaries, photographs, archaeological data, and more.
As part of Hewitt’s writing across the curriculum program, history teachers incorporate writing as thinking skills as a methodology for teaching students to think like historians. This writing develops into formal analytic and research-based writing, as well as creative writing explorations that allow girls to empathize with those living in another time and place. Projects range from an exploration of a student’s family ancestry to a study of a female civil rights activist. Public speaking and debate lie at the core of the program, especially in grades 7 and 8, when students study aspects of twentieth-century American history and the democratic model (and its limitations) of Greece. We also incorporate an appreciation for geography and its role in history in each grade level course.
History 5: American Civilizations: Maya, Aztec, and Inca
History 6: Studies in US History 1492-1877: Democracy, Commerce, War, and Revolution
History 7: Twentieth Century America: Power and Responsibility
History 8: The Ancient World: In and Beyond the Mediterranean Basin
Hewitt’s mathematics department has developed a program rooted in a collaborative, problem-solving approach. While traditional math instruction relies on “I Do, We Do, You Do” steps and features endless memorization and rote exercises, Hewitt girls work independently and as groups each day to explore the conceptual beauty of math, right from the start of kindergarten.
In grades K-5, our Singapore math approach teaches girls to think both visually and numerically, and the emphasis is on mastering key mathematical concepts as a learner progresses. Middle school continues the workshop approach of lower school math using a problem-solving curriculum developed by our mathematics department. At this point, girls understand that they must do much more than simply memorizing their “math facts.” Middle school mathematicians learn to operate on numbers fluently (the difference between memorizing long lists of vocabulary words in a foreign language and being able to put the words together to form sentences and paragraphs). This approach allows girls to begin to see that math is far more than a set of formulae, as the conceptual scope and sequence follows the metacognitive development of young children. Girls can work at the pace they need depending on the concept, allowing teachers to provide both reinforcement and enrichment in the same classroom.
The joy in Hewitt math classrooms is palpable. Mistakes are not only welcomed, but celebrated and analyzed to determine “which is the best mistake.” By upper middle school, students study math through a series of problem sets, which consist of nonroutine problems. These problems stretch their knowledge, push them to think creatively, encourage collaboration and debate, and teach girls to develop methods they have not yet learned. In this way, mathematical methods and procedures come from the problem-solving process itself and not from the teacher. While this type of discovery often takes longer than simply giving the students the procedure, it is time well spent as the girls’ hard work leads to true conceptual understanding—yielding long-term retention and an increased ability to apply knowledge to novel situations.
Mathematics 5: Understanding and Manipulating Numbers
Mathematics 6: Number Sense, Patterns, and Reasoning
Mathematics 7: Foundations of Algebraic Thinking
Mathematics 8: Algebra I
Hewitt girls enter middle school classrooms knowing they are scientists. Immersed since lower school in an inquiry-based model of scientific investigation, our girls jump right into the design challenges and tough problems of the curriculum because they see themselves as potential difference-makers in areas of climate change, medical research, and scientific innovation.
Our science faculty members act as coaches—guides who model the scientific process of hypothesis, test, result, review, and often new hypothesis. They know the research that shows that girls enter middle school eager to feel engaged in science and other STEM fields. And they know research shows that by age 15, many girls no longer see themselves as adept or interested in these areas. Hewitt middle school faculty members combat this trend in a number of specific ways that are supported by recent studies, including the cultivation of growth mindset, contact with women scientists, and collaborative work environments that embrace failure as key to the scientific process. Girls see that most scientific experiments fail and that such failures are part of a productive process forward. We learn from what does not work as much as from what does work, especially in science.
We practice debate skills rooted in research throughout the middle school science curriculum, such as in “The Great Carbohydrate Debate” in grade 8, in which students act as a team of nutritional consultants working for a school. Each team must argue whether a diet that is high in carbohydrates is superior or inferior to a diet that is lower in carbohydrates (higher in protein or fat). Students can only use primary source articles to argue their case. Through the process, they learn to empathize with the world around them and apply their classroom learning to the problems and needs they see.
Science 5: Earth Science
Science 6: Ecological Systems and Functions
Science 7: Energy and Matter
Science 8: Atoms, Compounds, and Cells
Hewitt prepares girls to reverse the current statistics of women in STEM fields. With a one-to-one Chromebook program in middle school, girls use a range of educational apps in many classes, and our technologists often serve as coaches to teachers and students on sophisticated projects related to the course of study in a given subject. For example, as part of their study of Afghanistan, fifth grade students learn about the significance of architectural features of mosques, designing their own structures in 3D design software and printing small-scale versions on a 3D printer. In grade 8 science, students learn about the effect of micronutrients on bodily health and put that knowledge to use designing digital T-shirt graphics to educate younger students about micronutrients and their importance in a healthy diet. They design and program sensor-controlled circuitry to bring their T-shirts to life. The confidence cultivated by such varied daily applications leads our girls to want to learn programming and product design. Several of our technologists also have an art background, and girls study graphic design and digital imaging as part of our STEAM program. The scope of the program includes a series of integrated projects in which girls learn programming and design fundamentals in the context of a specific class. By working with such purpose, they master various technologies and experience how technology translates to meet different goals.
Students continue to develop a wide range of technology skills throughout middle school, including, starting in grade 5, the use of Web 2.0 tools to collaborate and communicate with peers. At each grade, as they grow into more sophisticated users of technology, the girls learn to manage their personal data to ensure digital privacy and to be aware of data-collection technology that may track online navigation choices. Drawing on their study of empathy and purpose, they learn to engage in positive, safe, legal, and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online and when using networked devices. As they are immersed in the cyclical nature of the design process, middle school students develop facility with basic computer programming language and design short computer programs. By seventh grade, our girls employ a variety of media tools to present information; regularly evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility, and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources; and enhance their spatial thinking skills by solving design problems in 3D modeling software and physical materials. In 8th grade, they learn to identify and describe the function of the major components of a computer system, curate information and construct interpretive adaptations of knowledge with a variety of media sources, tools, and methods; use a variety of hand tools and machines to change materials into new forms; and apply generative approaches to programs (random processes) to express creative ideas.
We also teach digital literacies and modes of effective communication, from blog writing to designing a visual brand, each year in middle school. Our highly integrated approach to technology education models for girls the host of possibilities they might pursue as they move into upper school and beyond. In addition, elective courses in robotics allow girls to pursue a year-long challenge as part of the annual Vex Robotics competition program, and our students have competed at both the national and world championship levels.
Hewitt students continue study of either French or Spanish in middle school, with the courses becoming high school level in grade 7. Language classes come alive with dynamic conversations about the everyday lives of students as well as the music, art, and culture of Francophone and Spanish-language communities. We teach classes almost entirely in the target language, so students gain a good ear for the spoken word and grow confident in their own ability to communicate. Grammar and vocabulary instruction occur daily and we expect students to review work at home not only on paper but using apps that allow them to practice listening and speaking.
Our modern language faculty members take advantage of the many neighborhoods in the city that speak French and Spanish, as well as the many cultural institutions that provide educational programming, often in the target language. An optional home-stay trip for French speaking students in grades 7 and 8 takes girls to Quebec City each year. Beginning in grade 7, students add Latin I to their schedule, a half-credit course that covers the first book of the Cambridge Latin series. Grade 8 sees the completion of the Latin I course, and many students continue to take Latin as an elective in the upper school. Through their study of Latin, students explore the relationship of Latin words to English derivatives, patterns of word endings and syntax, and the culture and history preserved in the archaeology of Pompeii.
French 5; French 6; French I (upper school sequence begins); French II
Spanish 5; Spanish 6; Spanish I (upper school sequence begins); Spanish II
Latin 1A; Latin 1B
- Visual Arts
- Performing Arts
- Physical Education
- Public Speaking
- Service Learning and Community Purpose
Hewitt educates girls to see the world through multiple lenses. Our visual arts program in middle school exposes them to a wide range of media as they work on 2D, 3D, and digital projects. As part of the Independence theme in grade 5, girls learn the power of their voice in artistic expression while also working as a team on set design and costuming. They handle materials responsibly and keep the workroom orderly and calm. In sixth grade, they collaborate on claymation animations, rendering an original written narrative into visual form using clay and video.
A sequence of semester-long courses exposes students in seventh and eighth grades to the kinds of ceramics, painting and drawing, and graphic and digital design courses they would like to pursue in upper school. Learning to manipulate clay, to sketch from a live model, and to design for the multi-dimensional spaces of online worlds inspires girls to bring their emerging sense of purpose to bear not only on personal expression but also as voices for the community, in politics, and as entrepreneurs. Visual arts courses inspire students to grapple with important questions about themselves and the world using a different lexicon, teaching them new ways to think critically and find voice.
Visual Art 5: Theatrical Design Visual Art 6: Animation
Semester Courses (Students take all four over the course of 7th and 8th grade)
3D Art and Fabrication Art and Coding
With a founding head of school who grew up on the cobbled streets of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and whose infectious passion for performance inspired her to establish a school where theatre and drama would enhance and enrich the entire curriculum, Hewitt has long celebrated the role of the performing arts. They play a central role in keeping vital traditions alive while also bringing the best research on music, drama, and dance education to bear on the curriculum.
In middle school, we introduce students to the instrumentation of handbell choir, taking one semester of vocal choir and one semester of handbells in both grades 5 and 6. In grades 7 and 8, they choose one or the other. In addition, the middle school stages three productions a year for girls who can rehearse after school. Our drama program forms an important cog in the wheel of our public speaking program, as girls gain confidence on the stage and learn various modes of speaking and acting.
Dance also provides a resource for our girls in movement and positive body image just as they enter puberty. Middle school dance combines dance foundation, technique, and strengthening with compositional work aimed at expanding creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The department also offers electives in instrumental music, a cappella singing, and choreography.
5th Grade Choir (one semester)
6th Grade Choir (one semester)
7th Grade Choir (year-long)
8th Grade Choir (year-long)
5th Grade Handbell Choir (one semester)
6th Grade Handbell Choir (one semester)
7th Grade Handbell Choir (year-long)
8th Grade Handbell Choir (year-long)
Drama 5 (semester course): Performance Lab
Drama 6 (semester course): Improvisation
Drama 7 (year-long course): Playwriting and Directing Lab
Drama 8 (elective—year-long): Greek Theater
Dance (year-long elective)
Dance 5 : Dance Lab I
Dance 6: Dance Lab II
Dance Elective: Choreography
Middle School Theater Productions
Fall: Shakespeare Workshop (7th and 8th grades)
Winter: Winter Musical (7th through 12 grades)
Spring: Middle School Musical (6th, 7th, 8th grades)
In middle school, the physical education curriculum focuses on each student’s continuous development of physical fitness attributes, movement skills, and physical literacy. The program features a strengthening curriculum, with important development standards. The program involves the application of concepts, skills, and strategies to the ability to perform in-class exercises like fitness, group activities, and fundamentals of sports.
We also provide students with opportunities to develop leadership skills and work in small groups to solve problems or accomplish tasks. This fosters diverse capabilities and meets the social needs of individual students. Through purposeful learning activities, students refine motor, social, and intellectual skills while expanding physical knowledge, embracing a fit and active lifestyle.
Along with their study of drama, middle school girls follow a public speaking track woven into the curriculum. In grade 5, girls present their memoirs as a celebration of authorship at the end of the first semester. They practice making eye contact, enunciation, pausing for effect, and pacing their reading well. Students also prepare and present their findings for the spring Science Symposium, where their audience is not only fifth graders and teachers, but their eighth grade buddies as well.
In sixth grade, girls practice formal debate skills in their history classes, which include stating a position clearly and concisely and then responding with a rebuttal. Seventh graders learn how to present a mathematical solution to their peers by working through the steps on the board, making good eye contact, pausing for questions, and summarizing results. They also draft and present a formal proposal for their eighth grade “Passion and Purpose” project. The theme of grade 8, “Choice: Women and Leadership,” incorporates a number of public speaking expectations, including research presentations on a woman whose choices made a positive impact on her community.
In middle school, we incorporate service learning into both the advisory program and the academic program. Students experience a personal sense of purpose and think about what it means to be of service to a community through activities such as Family Service Day, Central Park Clean-up, and service trips. Each grade participates in projects that connect to the curriculum so that students learn that service opportunities arise in all areas of study. For example, in grade 6, girls extend their learning about ecology to hands-on activities that teach environmental stewardship, such as tree planting in the New York watershed. In grade 8, as part of leadership learning, girls participate in activities with older adults at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging. Girls also learn to be of service in the Hewitt student community through our cross-divisional buddies program.
Each year, Hewitt’s world languages department offers opportunities for middle and upper school students to travel abroad to Spanish- and French-speaking countries. These trips, filled with new experiences and discoveries, provide students with the chance to immerse themselves in the language, culture, history, and culinary traditions of different cities.
This October, three upper school Graphic Design students attended the 12th annual Teen Design Fair, where they caught the attention of graphic designers from Sesame Workshop. Impressed with Hewitt students’ design knowledge and excited about their work on cartoon characters, the Sesame Workshop designers invited the girls to tour their art department.
On any given day, visitors to Hewitt’s O’Hara Family Innovation Lab might smell the burnt wood of the laser cutter, see traces of sawdust left over from a woodworking project, or hear the hum of a 3D printer bringing student designs to life.
This fall, Hewitt’s athletes hit the ground running in volleyball, soccer, and cross country. Our varsity and JV teams were complemented by a record number of middle school student athletes, and the season was characterized by talent, skill, determination, and teamwork.
In its second year, Hewitt’s summer grant program supported faculty experiences that align with the school’s four academic pillars - presence, empathy, research, and purpose.
This summer, several Hewitt faculty members participated in mindfulness training designed specifically for educators. Read their personal reflections to learn how they are incorporating mindfulness practices into their classrooms.
Spurred by questions based on both hypothetical and actual situations, fifth and sixth students utilize classical philosophies and political theories like those of Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls to guide their critical reasoning as they consider dilemmas in law and justice.
On the first day of school, the entire first grade participated in a team building activity designed to encourage planning, collaboration, problem-solving, and creative expression.
Faculty member Elise Figa presented at an August workshop for fellow music educators hosted by the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA).