Curriculum

Overview

While at Lowell, students gain a strong foundation of academic skills and content-area knowledge. In addition, they learn how to communicate, collaborate, and lead with respect and empathy for others. We prepare students to succeed, not only in competitive high school programs, but also in our rapidly changing world.

Core Classes by Grade Level

List of 6 items.

  • Humanities—English + History

    The goal of the humanities program is to nurture students’ innate curiosity, encourage them to formulate questions and guide their quest for answers. Through instruction and practice, students hone their analytical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and technology skills, so they are equipped to evaluate information from a wide range of sources.

    By exploring a rich array of literature from different cultures and genres, as well as studying selected historical topics, students gain an understanding and appreciation of the people who populate our world and of past and present events. This knowledge helps them embrace their own identities as well as assume leadership roles in their communities.
    6th Grade
    Social Studies
    Students investigate the history of climate on Earth and the complex social effects of climate change. They analyze and evaluate proposed solutions to global climate challenges. Units of instruction include Climate Change in Early History, The Agricultural Revolution, The Industrial Revolution, and The Environmental Movement. Students also have opportunities to work with non-profit partner organizations like Schools 4 Climate Action and Mobile Climate Science Labs to educate the public and advocate for climate action in the broader community.
    Language Arts
    Reading and comprehending non-fiction texts and conducting inquiry-based research are key skills developed in 6th grade language arts. Students select their climate-related topics for writing within units of instruction on research, fiction, and persuasive writing. Students also read climate-related fiction, including Same Sun Here, A Long Walk to Water, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and The Giver, as well as selections from a wide variety of non-fiction, including Drawdown, Climate Change: What You Need to Know, and Buried Sunlight.

    7th Grade
    Social Studies
    Students tackle the challenging and complex topic of human rights around the world as they examine the Jewish Holocaust, African American Civil Rights, and Modern China. Emphasis is placed on constructing evidence-based arguments and developing organizational skills needed for long-term research projects.

    Language Arts
    Students systematically investigate the meaning and spelling of roots, prefixes, and suffixes commonly used in English through the Word Roots program, dramatically improving spelling and decoding skills for rigorous texts. Students choose their topics for writing within the framework of three units: realistic fiction, writing about reading, and research-based arguments. They explore the interplay between characters and setting, advanced character traits such as hubris and self-sacrifice, and themes of human rights through novel studies of The Devil’s Arithmetic, The Rock and the River, and Caminar.

    8th Grade
    Social Studies
    In-depth and evolving knowledge of world events is an essential part of global citizenship. Through a Model-UN structure, students will gain an awareness and understanding of global health issues, peacekeeping and security, migration, and the world economic system.

    Language Arts

    8th graders continue to expand and refine their word knowledge through the Word Roots program, adding greater depth to their thinking and writing. Students choose their topics for writing within the framework of three units: fantasy, literary essay, and position papers. They explore literary archetypes, the distinction between dreams and reality, and writing techniques such as juxtaposition, irony, and aptonyms through novels studies of A Monster Calls, Diamond Boy, and The Alchemist.
     
  • Mathematics

    The math program provides appropriate and challenging math classes for all students. Courses promote strong foundations in procedural skills, conceptual understanding, critical thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and written and oral communication. Teachers use various instructional models to maximize student learning and interest in the subject.

    All 6th graders take 6th Grade Math. Toward the end of 6th grade math, students take the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test (IAAT). This test is considered the best indicator for identifying students whose abstract reasoning skills are sufficiently developed to begin formal algebra studies. Based on the results of this test, 6th grade performance, other testing available, and teacher feedback, students are placed into one of three tracks for 7th and 8th grade math.  
    6th Grade Math
    Students are introduced to various topics needed to successfully move on to Pre-Algebra and Algebra I. Teachers focus on strengthening understanding of basic math concepts and computational skills necessary for further study of mathematics and relevant real-life situations. Topics include operations with whole numbers, decimals and fractions, measurement, ratios and proportions, percents, elementary geometry, statistics, and probability. Supplementary projects support learning throughout the year.
     
    Flexible groupings in the first two trimesters of the year ensure students receive appropriate challenges and supports. In the third trimester, students are placed in groups where they will be most appropriately challenged.
     
    Intro to Pre-Algebra
    Students in Intro to Pre-Algebra solidify foundations such as place value, number theory, computation of whole numbers, fractions and decimals, ratio, proportion, percent, and basic geometry. Students are also introduced to pre-algebra concepts such as variables, expressions, equations, integers, and the coordinate plane.
     
    Pre-Algebra
    Students in Pre-Algebra use variables and expressions to solve equations and inequalities, use factors, fractions, and exponents to simplify and evaluate expressions; use ratios, proportions, and percents; analyze data; begin to analyze geometry with algebra; study right triangles and angle relationships, and explore linear functions and related graphs.
     
    Intro to Algebra I
    Students in Intro to Algebra I solidify their skills using variables, simplifying expressions, and solving equations. They are also introduced to algebra I concepts, including linear functions and graphing, exponents and powers, and polynomial expressions. These skills help students build a stronger foundation in anticipation of high school math.
     
    Algebra I
    In Algebra I, students solve multi-step equations and inequalities, represent real-life situations with linear functions, graph functions, perform operations with polynomials, solve quadratic equations, and model exponential functions. The class will also be introduced to rational and radical expressions and equations.
     
    Advanced Algebra I
    Advanced Algebra is a two-year program in 7th and 8th grades. Students solve multi-step equations and inequalities, represent real-life situations with linear functions, graph functions, perform operations with polynomials, solve quadratic equations, and model exponential functions. They also analyze radical and rational expressions and solve radical and rational equations, with a thorough look at the related functions. Students are introduced to geometry concepts toward the end of the course.
  • Science

    Students explore real-world issues through research, experimentation, and problem solving as they master concepts from the disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, space science, geosciences, and connections to engineering. Students engage in inquiry-based units of study that build key skills and a deep understanding of the scientific method and the engineering design process. Topics connect to grade-level themes, and projects emphasize humanities and STEM integration.
    6th Grade
    Heredity and evolution, weather and climate, and sustainability and biodiversity form the core areas of study for 6th graders. Students learn to identify cause-and-effect relationships and engage in labs that demonstrate scientific principles and theories. Students are introduced to different types of models—mathematical, conceptual, and graphic—and practice using these models. Observation and research skills are a focus throughout the year. Communication skills, including creating arguments based on evidence, lab report writing, and showing accurate data, are also emphasized. Labs and design projects are selected to help students develop fundamental skills in scientific investigation and engineering design.
    7th Grade 
    Students continue to develop scientific skills learned in 6th grade as they explore properties and uses of waves, the solar system and universe, and anatomy and physiology. Lab work becomes more experimental and, by the end of the year, students are selecting their procedures to find answers and solve problems. Dissections are also a significant part of the laboratory experience, and students compare and contrast the structures and systems of their bodies with those of other organisms. Lab report writing is increasingly essential, as students develop their communication skills and their ability to analyze data and draw conclusions. Highlights include the instrument engineering project, safely landing a lunar crater model, and talks from visiting experts on a range of topics.
     
    8th Grade 
    Growing independence marks the 8th grade year in science. As students study the physics of force and motion, chemistry, robotics, and engineering, they improve their ability to define problems, design their procedures and experiments, apply their skills, iterate solutions, and give and receive feedback. Analysis and interpretation of data using mathematical computation and measurement are emphasized, and students are expected to draw data-based conclusions. Robotics challenges and the dirty water test are popular projects, along with the construction of bio-char stoves as part of the preparation for the 8th grade capstone service-learning trip to Costa Rica.
     
  • Spanish

    The Middle School Spanish program fosters students' confidence and enjoyment of learning a second language. Students are encouraged to use Spanish as often as possible in classroom activities and conversation. As their skills develop, increasing emphasis is placed on grammar, reading, and writing skills. Students develop their knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures and become equipped to participate in a society characterized by linguistic and cultural diversity. We aim to prepare all students to enter Spanish II (or above) when they make the transition to high school.
    6th grade
    In 6th grade we offer two levels of Spanish, depending on student readiness, exposure to the language, and learning style. Students continue to review and build on language skills developed previously with more emphasis on writing and reading. Dialogues, skits, songs, pairing and sharing, and group activities are used to develop mastery of grammar and syntax in thematic-based units. Students also create short narratives, web pages, videos, and brochures. While oral communication is emphasized in the classroom, reading comprehension, written pieces, and cultural studies round out the coursework.

    7th grade
    We continue to offer two levels of Spanish in 7th grade. The four language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are emphasized. Students communicate with one another in Spanish from the beginning of the year and write in their journals every day. Students practice using more advanced grammatical structures and learn how to listen and comprehend without focusing on word-for-word translation. Literature studies begin.

    8th grade
    8th grade Spanish covers complex grammatical structures such as commands, the preterit tense, and reflexive verbs. Coverage varies depending on the levels of the two groups. Students continue to build their vocabularies, write longer essays, and explore Spanish literature. The course prepares students to participate in the Spanish language and service trip to Costa Rica by building conversational skills needed for travel and emphasizing correct intonation and expression. Students who successfully complete this course will be prepared to gain placement in a Spanish II or Spanish III high school course.
  • Music

    We aim to develop musicianship through a variety of mediums, historical perspectives, and cultural lenses. Students explore both the artistic and technical sides of music by learning to sing and play instruments in ensembles. Our after school music program offers further opportunities for students to pursue their passions through individual lessons, pop bands, the recorder ensemble, and jazz band.
    Band (Grades 6–8)
    This class teaches students how to play instruments, read standard music notation in a range of genres, listen to each other, and work as team. Students choose between four instruments—trumpet, alto sax, trombone, and percussion. These instruments maximize the range of music that the band can perform, including rock, soul, funk, pop, and jazz music, as well as concert band standards. Bands will perform at least twice a year as students' experience and ability allows. Students in band will leave the program with skills in sight reading and improvising, as well as the ability to play in a range of styles.

    Chorus (Grades 6–8)
    In chorus, students explore their own voices and develop the skills necessary to sing in a variety of genres. Sight reading, pronunciation, singing in different languages, breathing, and projection are among the skills covered. Practical arranging and composition are also part of the chorus program; students choose songs and work with the teacher to create unique arrangements. Concert repertoire also includes vocal works chosen by the teacher to build skills and explore musical diversity. Choruses will perform at least three times per year as students’ experience and ability allows. Students will leave the program with sight reading skills and will be adept at using their voices in a number of genres and styles.

    Guitar (6-8)
    Students will learn to be independent guitar players. Beginners will learn the basics of playing chords, singing, and improvising on the guitar. As they progress, students will gain confidence as performers and will write, record, and arrange music of their choice. This course welcomes students with previous experience. Independent study is a key component within the curriculum, and this can be tailored to individuals who already excel at the instrument.

  • Visual Arts

    Creative problem solving, mastery of visual media, and effective communication skills are the cornerstones of the Middle School visual arts program. Students are challenged to work with a wide variety of materials and processes and are encouraged to create work that is personally, historically, and culturally relevant. Both individual expression and collaboration skills are emphasized. Rubrics are provided to clarify expectations, and students are invited to participate in the assessment of their work.
    6th grade 

    The 6th grade art curriculum varies per trimester with an over-arching emphasis on personal expression and the basic elements and principles of design. The first trimester is dedicated to drawing projects. Students are challenged to explore varied media and techniques for drawing. Projects ranging from controlled scribbling to focused drawing from observation provide students opportunities to expand their comfort and skill. The second trimester emphasizes painting and printmaking. Tools and strategies for creating original work are offered, including watercolor and acrylic painting and relief printmaking with mixed media and linoleum. The third trimester focuses on three-dimensional media, including additive sculpture, ceramics, and architecture. Content often reflects the school-wide themes of diversity, identity, and community.

    7th grade 

    The school-wide theme of identity is a touchstone for 7th grade art. Identity mask assemblages and personal logo designs are hallmark examples of identity-themed projects. Additionally, a variety of projects challenge students to develop personal expression and confidence with design through media including drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, and sculpture. 

    8th grade

    Eighth grade art offers students a variety of opportunities to be self-expressive, as well as use art media to comment on society, influence others, and express opinions. Students are asked to reflect on the school-wide theme of community and to work collaboratively to create legacy art for the school. Through research and studio work, students are challenged to consider artist communities such as those established within the great modern art movements of the 20th century. They are invited to employ ideas and strategies of contemporary art communities such as Hip Hop and graffiti artists. Effective self-expression through drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and ceramics continues to underpin the program. Increased emphasis on familiarity with design elements and principles encourages students to deepen their comfort with forging a design-sensitive lifestyle beyond Middle School.

Required Seminar Classes

List of 14 items.

  • Academic Technology (6–8)

    Students develop proficiency with the hardware and software platforms that the school provides. Typing, photo editing, and digital video production skills are also covered. Digital citizenship is a focus each year, and students learn about the lasting impact of their digital footprints.
  • Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies (7)

    In this seminar, students engage in a multi-disciplinary discourse that crosses cultural, racial, ethnic, political, religious, and geographical lines. While they scrutinize the differences between the terms, “Arab,” “Muslim,” and “Middle Easterner,” they also learn about the geography, topography, and history that are associated with the Middle East.
  • Costa Rican Culture and Society (8)

    Through this course students gain introductory knowledge of the sociology and historical dynamics that shape contemporary Costa Rican society, as well as current social issues that define Costa Rican life. In the final trimester of the school year, students learn anthropological and sociological research methods. They develop their own research questions that they then explore during their stay in Costa Rica. They conclude the trimester by creating a report of their findings, which will be archived and used by subsequent student
    cohorts studying Costa Rica.
  • Creative Writing (6)

    Creative writing is a year-long seminar designed to strengthen the imagination and writing ability of each 6th grader. Throughout the year students write fiction, plays, and scripts and learn to critique both their own work and the work of their peers in constructive and creative ways. They will read popular works, continue learning how to play with words, and develop their voices as writers.
  • The Road to Justice (7)

    In this two-trimester discussion-based class, students look at the historical and legal underpinnings of the United States. By examining our founding documents, the 13th Amendment, and the ongoing legacy of enslavement, including Jim Crow, lynchings, and mass incarceration, students will gain an understanding of the impact of the past on our present and future, the necessity of gaining multiple perspectives, and the importance of knowing who is telling the story so that they can better parse it.
  • Sexuality Education and More (6–8)

    Sexuality is the study of an individual’s biological, psychological, and social development throughout a person’s lifespan. The class is taught by the Middle School counselor,
    who provides developmentally appropriate guidance and insight on how to navigate this development through adolescence.
    • 6th Grade: Friendships, upstanding, identity, independence, confidence
    • 7th Grade: Mental health, anxiety, reproduction and puberty, human sexuality
    • 8th Grade: Relationships, consent, STIs, drugs and alcohol, decision-making/ethics
  • STEAM (6–7)

    Teachers in science, technology, engineering design, art, and mathematics (STEAM) come together to guide students in project-based learning. Past projects have included building rollercoasters, hydroponic gardening, coding, a play based on systems of the human body, and currency design.
  • Theater Arts (6–8)

    Teachers in music, art, drama, and dance collaborate to engage students in project-based learning. Each year, the class tackles a different theatrical form: dramatic play, musical, or
    film.
  • Cultural Affairs and Current Events (6)

    This class uses a variety of discussion formats—including the Socratic method, think-pair-share, and fishbowl—to engage students in an exploration of social identifiers and current events. Students develop communication and metacognition skills as they study and discuss multiple perspectives on complex news topics. The class is led by the director of diversity, inclusion,
    and equity initiatives.
  • Service Learning (6)

    A pre-requisite of ATSL, this course explores the different forms of service and community outreach. Students develop an understanding of direct service, indirect service, advocacy, and research. After assessing their interests, students choose a topic, issue, or cause to research and make a presentation to classmates.
  • Activism Through Service-Learning (8)

    Students review the difference between direct and indirect service and collaborate on projects in support of a social or cultural issue. Students also learn strategies for moving beyond individual action and working for systemic change.
  • Constitutional Law (8)

    Students analyze and dissect several Supreme Court cases to explore the lasting impacts of the decisions. Students are challenged to push aside their biases and blind spots to discuss the meaning of social justice, equity, and equality in the context of the law. Guest speakers share their experiences and practices.
  • Project of Discovery (8)

    In this two-term independent study course, students learn how to design, plan, and complete a long-term project of their choosing. This is a capstone class and is required for all 8th graders.
  • Yoga, Meditation, and Wellness (8)

    This seminar course gives students tools to relieve stress. Students learn special breaths, yoga poses, and meditation techniques.
Lowell School is a private PK-8th grade school located in NW Washington, DC. At Lowell students gain the knowledge, skills, and social-emotional literacy to be the bold leaders and creative problem solvers our world needs.