Middle School is known as an exceptional time for cognitive and emotional development. Paralleled only by toddlerhood, the human brain is growing and forming connections at an accelerated rate. Many of the connections made in this time period and habits of mind are so firmly entrenched that they become the foundation for cognition for the rest of a student’s life. Which is why Limor Dankner, Associate Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, and Dr. Leigh Fauber Division Head, Grades 6-8 have so thoughtfully crafted the middle school experience at Milken Community School.
A decade ago Dankner noticed that the nature of the middle school student was changing, with advances in technology educators were going to have to reimagine their craft. Milken coined the term “X-Learning”, a unique hybrid of progressive and conservative pedagogies unique to the school. Dankner sums up the thought process as, “Suffice to say, X-Learning is Milken’s commitment to innovation. We have defined it as four domains, identification, exploration, purposeful play, and connection.”
These domains are intertwined across every class and discipline at Milken. Students begin in the identification phase which is to identify areas of curiosity about a subject. From there students begin to explore a subject more in depth and rapidly see they are going to need certain skills to go deeper, Dr. Fauber stresses the importance of Milken’s superb faculty for this step “Our very talented teachers begin to teach key skills, investigation, interview research, critical thinking, creative problem, solving collaboration, teamwork.” This sequence helps students fundamentally understand the importance of these newfound skills because they are motivated by what is meaningful to them. Newly equipped with the mastery of these subjects and concepts our teachers build meaningful, rigorous, educationally sound ways to take calculated risks and iterate their thinking in purposeful play.
This approach, Dr. Fauber says, will be a key undergirding pillar of the new sixth grade beginning in fall of 2021, “One of the programs that students have to look forward to in the sixth grade is our X-lab. And this is a new program that works with our X-Learning pedagogy for students to explore challenges, create solutions, prototype iterate, through the design thinking process, students will work on teams to grapple with a challenge, each quarter, and it will really build the skills of research.”
The Class of 2028 will be our first cohort to enter in grade 6, in the past the middle school experience at Milken was only two years. Hardly enough time to get settled and develop a distinct culture. Building on the success of Camp Milken and the advisory program which have been instrumental in making a deeply rooted community of learners. Over the course of the middle school experience, students in grade 7 and 8 will have the chance to become culture bearers. Envisioning the future Dr. Fauber can see the three year program being a wholly transformed experience, “It really allows them to step up and mentor the younger students. It really allows the community to coalesce and gel together. I'm so excited about the future.”
Dr. Fauber notes enthusiastically “We're really excited about the curriculum that we are putting together. It's an integrated approach where we're taking science, our Jewish studies curriculum and our humanities curriculum and interweaving the threads, the concepts, the key ideas together. It's really looking at the totality of it and creating that unique, completely integrated problem-based approach to learning in the classroom.”
The new 6th grade is another step in creating a middle school experience that allows for full student development as a platform to pursue excellence as an individual. In this time of crucial development for the student, Milken will inculcate a love for learning that will last a lifetime.