Like all learning at MSR, the Middle School humanities curriculum is designed to guide students in developing subject content mastery, while also allowing students to dive deeply into areas of personal interest. In humanities, that means learning history content, developing research, writing, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, and looking forward to Humanities Night each year.
Humanities in the Middle School is organized into two components. The first, year-long component is focused on history content with a two-year rotation between world and U.S. history and, in keeping with the Montessori approach, is delivered through mixed-level classes that provide the seventh and eighth graders with context and meaning for the material being studied. “I often work to connect history to modern issues and emphasize history's relevance in our lives,” say humanities teacher Shelby Coury. “I do this because middle school level students are becoming aware that they are a part of a greater social reality. They want to understand the world and their place in it. It is my job to help them become informed, responsible global citizens.”
The second component of the Humanities curriculum is comprised of two large projects. The first project begins at the start of the school year when students choose a social issue about which they feel passionately. They spend the first two to three quarters of the school year researching this issue independently. Students choose topics as varied as racism, mental illness, private prisons, climate change, and HIV/AIDS, to name just a few. They collect over 200 pieces of information from dozens of sources while learning the process for writing a professional, well-formatted, well-researched, formal paper. Coury notes, “Honestly, doing this type of work in middle school, puts our students way ahead of their peers at other schools. I'm always impressed by how our students step it up for their research papers.”
The second project is Humanities Night. A popular tradition at MSR for many years, Humanities Night allows students to take what they have learned in class and more deeply explore a subject area that may not have covered in depth. Eighth grade leaders choose a theme for the night. In small groups, seventh and eighth grade students then select a specific topic within the selected theme and spend roughly eight weeks researching that topic before designing, writing, and preparing a performance piece illustrating what they have learned for the big Humanities Night presentation. Allowing for students to further explore new skills and interests, each student has a role to play in their group – leader, costume designer, researcher, script writer or any other role needed to successfully complete their project. From skits to living museums, news broadcasts, game shows and even creating a foreign marketplace, student interests and creativy are at the forefront. “All of this is completely student-driven; from the theme and topic selection all the way to the performance. Students learn to combine innumerable skills together, overcoming the challenges of group work to collaborate and successfully pull off this huge Humanities Night performance.”
Pre-COVID-19, MSR’s Middle School would be completely transformed into a new historical era with every room an embodiment of the theme. Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, Humanities Night cannot be the in-person event for lower and upper school students, teachers, and parents it has been in the past; however, in the spirit of innovation and creative problem-solving, this year’s Humanities Night will be held virtually on Thursday, April 29. With a World War II theme that at first felt “too common,” seventh and eighth graders have chosen to study lesser-known elements of the WWII era. “We've been preparing since the first of March,” says Coury, “and filming has just begun.” Next comes video editing, animation, and solving the problem of how best to introduce the project to a Zoom audience on April 29.