The Middle School humanities and writing program aims to inspire a love of history, culture, literature, poetry, and drama while cultivating independent thinkers and writers. Students learn to respect others' thoughts and opinions while forming and defending their own. The program focuses on the interrelated experiences of reading and responding to literature, composing creative and expository pieces, and thinking critically.

The humanities focus utilizes interdisciplinary curricula in which students apply theories and concepts to material. Teachers incorporate history, geography, and language arts to explore a central theme, topic, or experience. Through studying archaeology, sociology, economics, and political science, students hone critical-thinking and communication skills.

In writing, teachers seek to expose students to a wide variety of language skills and compositional strategies to enable them to write more clearly, effectively, and creatively. Classes introduce a broad range of skills and methods, asking students to reflect on which best allows them to deepen their thinking, stretch their stylistic comfort zone, and facilitate the translation from thought to the written word. Coursework features structured discussions, writing exercises, and group activities designed to help students write with ease and better understand their writing process.

Through creative and analytical writing, fiction and nonfiction reading, planned presentations, and extemporaneous speaking, students have ample opportunities to grow as thinkers and communicators. Children engage with primary source texts and practice writing and reasoning skills. They also obtain public-speaking experience with many projects and papers followed by oral presentations in which pupils evaluate each other on content and presentation skills.

For specific information by grade, click on a tab.

Grade 5

Students in fifth-grade humanities read, gather information from, and analyze texts of various genres and formats (e.g., essays, articles, poetry, fiction, photographs, maps, and timelines) while using the writing process to develop well-organized, well-supported writing. They see topics and issues from multiple perspectives and compare and draw conclusions about cultures across time and place.

Children also respond factually, analytically, and creatively to materials and concepts. They learn to generate relevant and complex questions for inquiry and find and use multiple resources to support conclusions.

In the fall, fifth graders embark on research and writing while exploring universal cultural elements of modern life. Each child selects an area of interest to research in depth and gathers information from a variety of sources, including nonfiction, fiction, poetry, timelines, news articles, interviews, maps, photographs, and artifacts. Working together through the research process, they publish findings in a written expository paper and a creative presentation.

After examining how our own culture is expressed in the world around us, the class considers how other societies have articulated their beliefs. As they read Lois Lowry's The Giver, students imagine how a fictitious society's culture might develop. In addition to thinking about the novel's cultural elements, fifth graders apply literary analysis tools to dig into the story's meaning.

In the spring, the class begins to uncover North America's early cultures. Through the lens of archeology, students explore the civilizations that arose before Europeans came to the Americas. They focus particularly on Cahokia, a complex society centered on pyramid-like mounds located in Illinois, and on Chaco Canyon, a similarly complex society located in New Mexico.

Questions that guide the study include the following:

  • How does geography help shape culture?
  • How are cultural beliefs represented?
  • How and why do cultures change over time?
  • What are the ethical considerations researchers must make?

This study of Cahokia and Chaco Canyon helps prepare students for the culminating Southwest trip to the Crow Canyon Archeological Center, in Cortez, Colorado, where the class experiences firsthand the remains of the incredible civilization that arose in the Mesa Verde region during the same period as Cahokia and Chaco Canyon.

Grade 6

Sixth-grade humanities covers American history for the entire school year. Commencing with the early 1600s and the formation of colonies, and in conjunction with the overriding themes of the Jeffersonian ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the class focuses on the Revolutionary War period, formation of the original US government, and westward expansion in the early 1800s. The class then continues into issues of slavery and the Civil War.

Through research, creative writing, and class presentations (including debate, public speaking, and lecture), as well as analysis and dissemination of primary and secondary sources, students gain understanding of how the country developed socially, economically, politically, and geographically. Thereafter, the class continues to learn how the country grew and became a world power amid struggles of Reconstruction, industrialization, twentieth-century wars, and the turn of the millennium.

In addition to core curriculum, through a program sponsored by the University of Virginia, sixth graders participate in an exercise of creating their own bills for Congress as they study the workings of government in preparation for the culminating trip to Washington, DC. The trip includes a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, as the topic circles back to the Jeffersonian ideals that helped create the United States.

Grade 7

In humanities, the curricula for grades 7–8 rotates every other year between the themes "Megacities: From Space to Place" and "The Silk Road." With either theme, classes are focused on the following skills:

  • Public speaking and effective communication (rhetoric)
  • Reading nonfiction and primary source material to gather information
  • Map reading for information
  • Presenting visual information (information design)
  • Negotiating teamwork
  • Expository and persuasive writing
  • Creative writing and personal expression

In both themes, students investigate how humans turn space into place, whether these places are woodsy parks with duck ponds or sprawling slums in megacities. An understanding of both political and cultural geography (local/California and global/megacities) is a priority, and the class uses the language of these disciplines whenever possible.

Students use terms of depth and complexity throughout the semester to make sense of challenging material. Looking toward trends, patterns, ethical issues, and the big idea helps pupils use details in meaningful ways.

The second semester of seventh-grade humanities absorbs the writing program and becomes the Nueva Drama Conservatory. Now, in its fourteenth year, the program is a cornerstone of the Nueva experience. Local professional directors introduce students to a variety of exercises and acting skills (stage combat, improv acting and singing, physical comedy, playwriting, and textual analysis) before the group breaks up to rehearse and perform four to five plays.

Students examine and produce Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida, and Anton Chekov's The Seagull, as well as a Second City–like Improv Showcase. The term ends with culminating performances and a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see professional productions of the shows the class performed.

Simultaneously, students take a dramaturgy course in which they engage deeply with Shakespeare's language through analysis and discussion and learn the art of rhetoric using classical models of form and codified rhetorical strategies. In the end, students have owned Shakespeare's language and are able to speak eloquently about his work and words. They also gain tremendous confidence and presence over the semester, ready to be the leaders of the school when they return in eighth grade.

Grade 8

In humanities, the curricula for grades 7–8 rotates every other year between the themes "Megacities: From Space to Place" and "The Silk Road." This year, eighth-grade humanities content areas include California and World Geography, Bay Area and California History, Urban Planning and the Future of Cities, and Sustainable Development Issues. Course goals include development and strengthening of the following skills:

  • Public speaking and effective communication (rhetoric)
  • Reading nonfiction and primary source material to gather information
  • Map reading for information
  • Presenting visual information (information design)
  • Negotiating teamwork
  • Expository and persuasive writing

During the first semester of humanities, students investigate how humans turn space into place, whether these places are woodsy parks with duck ponds or sprawling slums in megacities. An understanding of both political and cultural geography (local/California and global/megacities) is a priority, and the class uses the language of these disciplines whenever possible.

Students use terms of depth and complexity throughout the semester to make sense of challenging material. Looking toward trends, patterns, ethical issues, and the big idea help pupils use details in meaningful ways.

Examining places over time, from different perspectives, and through the lenses of multiple disciplines engenders more holistic understandings of both big and small places in our world. Field trips to local historical archives (like the San Francisco Public Library or the San Mateo County History Museum) and guest speakers on urban planning and historical preservation enable the class to experience the immediacy of primary sources and the currency of experts in the field.

In preparation for students' overseas trips, for the second semester of eighth-grade humanities, the class uses critical inquiry to understand themselves in relation to the world. The exploration of cultural identity in the context of history, geography, literature, and the arts focuses work in annotation, research, and essay writing.

By completing projects ranging from a cultural-identity collage to an ethnography field study, students consider which influences shape the world and how beliefs are made visible. The class contemplates the relevance of various elements of cultural identity, including age, ethnicity, ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic stature.

The initial essay assignment links to the collage, which asks students to address elements of cultural diversity in relation to their own lives. To prepare, students read excerpts from Josh Waitzkin's The Art of Learning and watch the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, which chronicles Waitzkin's early years as a chess prodigy. The second essay asks students to compare and contrast two articles: "Questions of Culture," by Robert Brooks, and "The Case for Contamination," by Kwame A. Appiah. Both readings offer students material for rich discussion and push thinking and questioning into new dimensions.

Daniel Mendelsohn's review of Herodotus's Histories, "What Was Herodotus Trying to Tell Us?" helps focus questions concerning the shape of Eastern and Western cultures. Herodotus is identified as the first ethnographer, and students read brief passages of his writings on Egypt and Persia. After reading and discussing mapping cultural identities, from the book Human Geography, students write a third essay, this one regarding the impact of geography on history and culture.

Writing is integrated into the course, and each essay follows lessons on creating a strong thesis statement and identifying parts of speech to strengthen sentence structure and avoiding passive tense. Students learn that they can deconstruct the logic of sentence structure and syntax by diagramming sentences.

In preparation for a research paper on the cultural identity of a city, students participate in a workshop with a professional researcher on learning to research effectively and refine their search. A glossary of useful terms and tips on gathering information provide valuable material as students plunge into their ten-page research paper.

Students embark on an intense period of research on a Chinese, Japanese, or Spanish city of their choice during an assigned period of history. The required topics are science, technology, architecture, religion, philosophy, the arts, and politics. For each topic, students address the research question "How are beliefs made visible?"

The paper requires students to prove a complex thesis through argumentation. Students go to the San Francisco Public Library and have time in class to research online. At the completion of their paper, students must consider the interrelation of the topics and how their cities functioned as an interdisciplinary system. Teachers also ask the question "How did China, Japan, and Spain change and develop over time?"

For the literature component, students choose books based on their language study. In April, Lit Club is devoted to discussion of their literature in small groups. Each student posts a review of the reading to the Literature Discussion Group Blog.

Acting as an ethnographer, each student conducts an independent field study focused on one particular aspect of the culture while in China, Japan, or Spain. As a model for their field study, students look at gardens and high-speed rail in all three countries.

Students also consider how and where people make their beliefs visible and how dominant values in their host countries are revealed. In addition, everyone will keep a travel journal with specific writing assignments designed to deepen their understanding and experience while overseas.

Writing

Writing is a significant part of the Middle School humanities program. In the sixth grade, overarching themes of the American experience provide the foundation, and course literature includes historical fiction, poetry, folktales, personal narratives, and nonfiction writing.

In the fall, the class uses literature as a basis for writing. Students examine elements of character, setting, genre and point of view while considering ways historical events impact individuals. Writing pieces include analytical reader responses to literature, quote responses, original folktales, descriptive writing, and research on a specific historical period. Texts include Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, a variety of American folktales, and a historical-fiction text.

The spring semester's writing includes historical fiction, dialogue, responses to literature, poetry, a passion project, research pieces in preparation for the trip to Washington, DC, and a Washington-themed scrapbook. The class also reads poetry and works with personal narratives and reflections on civil rights.

The first-semester seventh-grade course, The Evolution Revolution, uses Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle's famous voyage as a metaphor for the writing process. The father of evolutionary biology was himself an observer, an artist, and a writer with a keen scientific curiosity; his notes and drawings, and his letters and journals, eventually allowed him to unpack and articulate his theory. As writers exploring new territory, students uses this curious adventurer and his processes as their inspiration for creative nonfiction, environmental debate and speech writing, and flash fiction.

The second semester of seventh grade is focused on language: poetic, persuasive, dramatic, and improvisatory. Before students begin the intensive Drama Conservatory, students spend the month of January steeped in poetry. They read selected works to survey examples of fine writing and write (through exercises in class and at home) poetry of their own. Etymology also becomes a focus as students study and manipulate Greek and Latin word stems.

GRADES PK-8

HILLSBOROUGH
CAMPUS

6565 Skyline Blvd.
Hillsborough, CA 94010

650-350-4600

GRADES 9-12

BMMiniMap

BAY MEADOWS
CAMPUS

131 E. 28th Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94403

650-235-7100