On the last day in China, taking stock of a life-changing journey
The central theme of sixth grade is journeys. At the core of the curriculum is the idea that people’s connections to places are the result of many factors. Sixth graders study world cultures through lenses such as religion, geography, history, music and arts. At the beginning of the year, students take turns touching a spinning globe—the spots where their fingers land determines the countries they will investigate all year, culminating in a Festival of the World in May. In science, a comprehensive biology curriculum invites students on a different journey to investigate cells, consider ethical questions and learn about the human body. In every subject, students are encouraged to expand their thinking—through complex mathematical operations, through conversational nuances in their modern language classes and through discussions with advisors and peers.
During the first week of school, every student in the sixth grade Humanities course embarks on a personal journey of discovery. Without looking, each student takes a turn using a finger to stop a spinning globe; wherever they land determines the country they will study as part of a year-long research project. In addition to this individual geography study, sixth graders investigate journeys that change people and the world. They explore the world’s diverse religions, geography and countries through literature, nonfiction, periodicals, films, interviews, presentations from guest speakers and field trips. Creative projects and daily practice lead students to build their reading, writing, research, presentation and study skills. Students read for pleasure, discussion, fluency and information; they write to discover, develop and organize their ideas, to argue a point, and to move an audience. They study vocabulary, dictionary usage, parts of speech and basic sentence structure. Literature selections in past years have included Rules of the Road, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963, The Canterbury Tales, Shadow Spinner, Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road, The Real Vikings, Habibi, A Long Walk to Water, Zlata the Goat, Beowulf, To the Edge of the World, selected poems, folk tales and short stories. Students also build the skills essential to the study of history: understanding timelines and dates, recognizing cause-and-effect relationships and thinking critically. Throughout the course of the year, every student constructs a hand-drawn map of the world. Their country studies and the world maps are shared in a magnificent Foote tradition in the spring, the Festival of the World. Along the way, our sixth graders learn about geography, migrations, religious pilgrimages, the impact of international trade and the meaning of discovery.
Sixth grade life science aims to engage and excite students about the living world around them, expose them to fundamental concepts in biology and develop critical scientific, academic and personal skills. The course focuses on living systems from macro- and micro-levels and from multiple perspectives. Topics include the effects of stress on the human body, the essential role of genetics and the origin of life, cellular structures and human body systems, as well as social and contemporary issues related to the life sciences. Within these area of study, students gain experience with classification, data collection and documentation, and language for communicating about scientific subjects.
In order to guide each student in the most appropriate way, our teachers carefully consider the best placement for levels and sections as they move from Lower School to Middle School. In sixth grade, students’ thinking is stretched through an extension of the foundational skills they began to acquire in the Lower School. Through explorations of rates, ratios and proportions, as well as a significant unit about probability, students begin to engage in complex applications of a wide range of operations. Two-and three-dimensional geometry, the coordinate plane, positive and negative integers, two-step equations and an introduction to inequalities round out the year. A highlight of the year is the casino project, in which students create their own games of probability and chance to demonstrate the math behind dice, cards and calculating risks.
The sixth grade program reflects the global nature of the year-long study of the world. Projects include graphic design, travel posters, carving, print-making and explorations of influential artists from around the globe. The emphasis is on mastering specific techniques and learning to apply them. The course explores op-art, graphic design and three-dimensional construction. Students produce graphic design projects in color using eraser- and linoleum-carved prints, create a travel poster and a design in the style of M.C. Escher. They also study and emulate the artist Kandinsky, and create three-dimensional constructions using clay, Pariscraft and wood.
For the Festival of the World, celebrating the sixth graders' explorations of global cultures, the students' musical repertoire is expanded to include material from many continents. Songs, dances and traditions from a wide selection of countries are integrated into the curriculum to add cultural knowledge and expand students’ understanding of instrumentation, movement and language. Musical games from around the world, as well as unique vocabulary and accompaniment, add to the lessons. All sixth graders also learn to play the alto recorder.
Improvisation is one of the unifying themes of sixth grade drama. Students learn the basic rules of improvisation and discussion techniques. Class activities include creating characters using voice and body movements, problem solving, creating sets, using appropriate props and using costumes. Students begin writing plays that incorporate dialogue, stage directions, plot, conflict, characters and editing. They learn and implement rehearsal techniques and analyze their own work, as well as the performances of their classmates. The collaborative process involves respecting various perspectives and points of view.
Our goal in physical education at this level is to provide strenuous exercise, develop athletic skills and promote team cooperation. The sixth grade can be broken up in various ways depending on the activities chosen for the class. Activities include field hockey, soccer, Frisbee and football in the fall; basketball, volleyball, floor hockey, juggling and gymnastics in the winter; baseball, softball, lacrosse and badminton in the spring. The mile run is also done in the fall and spring. Many other modified games and large group games are played throughout the year. In addition, the sixth grade students have an opportunity to participate on most interscholastic sports teams.
In sixth-grade Chinese class, students learn to converse about topics in their everyday life, such as names, ages, nationalities, schools, families, pets, friends, languages, sports and foods. While all of the lessons are initiated through listening and speaking, students are expected to read all of the text, while writing only a subset of characters in each thematic unit. Students’ reading and writing fluencies increase considerably in the sixth grade. A major portion of each class period is spent on engaging interactive oral and aural practices. As students learn about each topic, they make cultural and linguistic comparisons between Chinese and their own lives and expressions. As in the Lower School, students help each other learn through paired or group activities.
A lively, youth-oriented text motivates students to use French in situations that focus on meaningful, daily-life topics. The skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking are studied more formally. Students are introduced to elementary French grammar: the present tense of many regular verbs, some irregular verbs and adjectives. Francophone culture and civilization around the world are emphasized, and the use of CDs, DVDs and computer games encourage active communication skills. Students memorize a short poem and short roles in self-designed skits during the year. Other special projects may include reading a simple book, creating a family tree and a “personality” crest.
Within the context of the contemporary Spanish-speaking world, students continue to work toward proficiency in the four language skills. Lessons include the present tense of regular and commonly used irregular verbs as well as stem-changing verbs, possessive and descriptive adjectives, noun-adjective agreement, comparatives, interrogatives and contractions. These grammatical concepts are presented within the context of situational dialogues and DVDs that depict the daily activities of young people from a variety of Spanish-speaking countries and cultures. Vocabulary exercises expand students' fluency as they facilitate the gradual transition toward reading and writing. Special projects may include creating a family tree, making a clothing catalog, presenting short skits and preparing a researched cooking project.
Sixth graders learn about the logic of programming and have access to Chromebooks through our one-to-one device program. They use graphic design tools to plan and print 3-D objects and engage in collaborative projects with classmates. In a multidisciplinary project with the art department, sixth graders create and print large-format posters to highlight the countries they are studying in humanities.
At Foote, our commitment to health and wellness involves support for the physical, social and emotional well-being of every child. These factors are integrated into all aspects of our students’ experience.
The formal curriculum includes several core elements that address health and wellness. In the Lower School, our teachers incorporate lessons about identity, feelings, community and self-care. The physical education program provides foundational skills for lifelong fitness, and our school counselor provides regular sessions to help children navigate social and emotional challenges.
In our Middle School, health and wellness programming expands to meet the needs of adolescents. The sixth grade program includes a 16-session series led by physical education teachers and the school nursing staff. The course includes workshops focused on nutrition, fitness, relationships, social media, and stress management. Sixth graders also engage in a biology unit about the physiology of stress and emotions in their science class. Seventh and ninth graders take part in a comprehensive program about drug and alcohol safety. We have recently introduced an eight-session program for eighth graders to address a broad range of issues related to social-emotional health.
These programmatic elements comprise only a portion of our commitment to supporting students' well-being, however. The first, and most important aspect of student wellness is simply being known. Teachers and advisors are attuned to subtle changes in behavior that might signal a need for extra attention. Weekly meetings of the faculty advisor teams at each grade level provide a regular opportunity for colleagues to share concerns as well as highlights of student achievement. In addition to the advisor cohort, the school's Health Team meets weekly to consider individual students and establish clear plans to support them.
One of the most powerful ways that we provide a release from stress at Foote is through the deliberate use of time. The 15-minute snack break every morning offers a chance for students to unwind between classes, to check in quickly with a teacher, or to take a quiet moment to re-charge. The recess block after lunch allows for an even bigger break to run, talk, play and connect. Study hall at the end of the day usually involves one-on-one time with teachers and students as well as a chance to start a homework assignment or meet with a club.
The sixth grade Festival of the World caps a yearlong study of global cultures, religions and geography. Each student studies a different country, creating a range of informational and artistic projects, including a model of a famous landmark.