The Ocean: middle Level 6-8

As adolescents work to understand their place in a complex world, they benefit most from problem-based curriculum: identifying questions and seeking solutions.

Welcome to our Ocean classrooms. In middle level, we extend the project- and play-based approach of the younger elementary grades into a problem-based approach for middle-level curriculum. This suits adolescents who are now concerned about questions such as "Who am I?" and "How do I relate to this world?"


The middle-level grades are organized around the distinct developmental needs of early adolescence.  Our middle schoolers define questions or problems that they deem important, and teachers help them craft a skill-based, content-rich response.  The response may include gathering and analyzing information (everything from a quick Internet search to interviewing an expert to doing original field work) and taking action (everything from sharing results informally with classmates to writing a poem to spearheading a community-wide public awareness campaign).  In this way children's learning unfolds as they engage in purposeful activity around topics and issues that have meaning for them.

Consistent with our K-5 grade approach, our 6-8 grade curriculum integrates subject matter and weaves in grade level skills and concepts, rather than separating out disciplines of knowledge and teaching skills in isolation.  We use a variety of teaching methods -- direct instruction, skills practice, demonstration, discussion, collaborative learning, role-playing and games, multimedia, and others -- to meet the unique needs of each learner.

As a school community that defines itself as grounded in the progressive tradition of education, we make high school readiness an overt goal of the program. We believe that our middle-level students are naturally already thinking ahead, imagining themselves in high school and preparing for that transition. Instead of passively hoping for the best transition from our school to high school possible, we take a proactive approach and openly discuss, plan with, and instruct students on how each can maximally enjoy and benefit from his or her high school experience.


Click the link below to read or download pdfs of our curricular goals in middle school:

Middle Level Curricular Goals (pdf)

Social Justice Curricular Goals (pdf)


"Pencil Museum" -- An Example of Project Work in an Ocean Classroom

Often, fascinating project work revolves around exploring the origins of everyday objects. Our 6th-grade class decided to do a project on the common pencil, culminating in the creation of a multi-faceted, walk-through Pencil Museum they erected on our stage. The project is a great example for highlighting how our teachers can weave multiple academic subjects into one project.


In their research, the students delved into geography, geology, environmental science, and economics while investigating where and how the materials for pencil wood, lead, and erasers are sourced. They learned where and how the materials are shipped for manufacture, and how the finished product is distributed for sale. They researched the chemistry behind the different colors and types of pencil lead. They uncovered the history of writing implements and the evolution of the pencil industry.


Math and construction principles came into play with their erection of an enormous pencil large enough for people to walk through and visit multiple displays inside. To create a pencil museum, the students also had to understand the goals and purposes of a museum, and the types of educational displays that normally comprise a museum's exhibits. Each student also authored their own presentation on a specific part of the museum and served as a docent for their display during the final presentation and opening of the museum for parents, other classes, and the entire school community. 

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An Eighth Grade Capstone Project

Goes Virtual!

A unique aspect of our Middle Level program at TCS is the eighth-grade "Capstone Project." Each student chooses and conceptualizes their own topic for a major independent work. They execute the planning, research, and project construction, which all culminate in a public presentation.

One student had planned an event in our Gym exploring the issue of "Equity in Education." Yet, just weeks prior to the event, our facility closed and we shifted to remote learning.

Ever adaptable and seeing a chance to learn, the student and their teacher converted the event to a virtual fair! The student lined up notable speakers from the Chicago community, promoted the event online, and incorporated learning how to host their own video-conference into the project plans!


Each day, our teachers write the class schedule on the board, making time for both project-work and instruction in academic subjects. Our teachers are also mindful of each individual student's personal and academic goals in addition to the group's goals. These are layered into a framework that meets all state academic standards, incorporates our social justice curricular goals, while allowing for recreation and free time, as well as weekly courses in art, music, library, and physical wellness.

Here's what your child might experience in a typical middle school day:

8:45 Morning Work

Students choose and complete an independent math task, which might be a skills-review exercise, problem or puzzle, or another challenge, depending on the student and the day.

9:00 Group Gathering

Students join the entire school for morning announcements led by a student.

9:15 Math Talk

Students engage in a whole-class conversation about mathematics. They might share their solution paths from morning work, notice and describe connections between different topics in mathematics, watch a demonstration, or begin work on a new problem together.

9:30 Content Blocks

Students join mixed grade-level groups for discipline-specific instruction in Science, Humanities, or Language Arts. Content block topics, taught by our middle school teachers, are completed in a trimester, and students rotate through each block. Depending on the class they have at that time, students might be completing an engineering challenge, investigating the history of human migration, or writing an argumentative essay about a topic of their choosing. 

10:30 Morning Meeting

Students return to their classroom for a snack and a brief meeting. This is a time to go over the day's agenda and decide together what needs to happen to keep project work moving forward. The morning meeting also serves social and emotional learning purposes as students share their ideas, experiences, and concerns informally with one another and their teacher.

10:45 Daily Mile

Students go for an energizing walk outside, to get their bodies and brains moving. As with morning meeting, this part of the day has social and emotional benefits, and it is also supported by research showing that people learn better after a period of physical activity.

11:00 Project Work

Students carry forward their own purposes in interdisciplinary, long-term projects. (For 8th graders, the second half of the year is spent on individual, self-chosen Capstone Projects that serve as a culminating learning experience for their time at The Children's School.)

12:00 Lunch

Students may choose to stay in their own classroom to eat lunch or to visit with friends in another classroom.

12:30 Recess

Students choose from different indoor and outdoor play or quiet spaces, or may elect to organize a club during recess with friends from 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. 

1:00 Independent Reading

Students have free-choice reading. They may bring a book from home or may choose from the thoughtfully developed collections in the classroom and the school library.

1:30 Writing

Students work on a writing assignment. Students share their works in progress with one another and learn to give and receive useful feedback to improve successive drafts of a piece.

2:00 Library (or other All-School classes or electives in Music, Art, or Physical Wellness. Electives are offered on a trimester basis, with new selections each trimester.)

Students work with the school librarian to develop the research skills they need in order to carry out their projects. They learn to use search engines effectively, evaluate and keep track of research sources, and create bibliographies.

2:55 Jobs and Checkout

Students help keep the classroom and school running smoothly by performing end-of-day jobs such as caring for plants and pets, tidying materials, and cleaning up. Next, they gather any school materials they will need to take home for homework, and check their planners to see what tasks need to be added or can be crossed off.

3:05 Journals

Students end their day with a quiet time for thinking and reflective journaling.

3:15 Dismissal

(Optional: TCS offers before and after-school programs. Learn more.)

A TYpical Day in an Ocean Classroom