How: Learning Methods

By the time Millennium School launches, our team will have spent three years scouring the US and other countries for the best examples of middle school education. Our research has focused on learning methods that support the progressive Academic Philosophy we describe here. We’ve chosen to focus on three core methods:

  • Socratic seminars offer an intensive academic experience, with a layer of social and emotional learning as students discover how to carry on an authentic, intellectual discussion. 
  • Project-based learning engages students in a team and in work with real-world applications, whether in a "maker" project to build a robot, or a service project designed to change a dangerous intersection in the community through organizing and advocacy. 
  • Personal Quests challenge students to design a high-quality project that explores an area of personal interest. Students learn to manage their own time, design a project with detailed goals, and present both regular progress reports and a final “presentation of learning” to their faculty guide and experts in the field. These personal quests may involve an apprenticeship in a local workplace, a solo or team project, service learning, travel, the development of a product, or many other possibilities.

We’ve designed a unique Schedule and Calendar that provides time for students to go deep into these projects, with only three courses per term, but five terms (each 6-7 weeks long) throughout the year to provide a breadth of exposure to many disciplines. See this page for full details on our schedule and calendar.

Underlying these individual approaches is a close relationship between each student and his or her Faculty Guide. Each full-time faculty member at Millennium has weekly time available to focus on a small advisory group of 8-10 students, who they remain with for all three years. The Guide’s role is to know each student deeply, integrating information from all of their courses and experiences at Millennium School, and providing holistic advising to continually find the right degree of challenge and growth for each student. Students have time each day to check-in with their Guide, as needed, as well as an Advisory Forum each week. It’s essential that each student is seen and supported by a caring adult during middle school.

How We Assess Learning

Assessment is often where the rubber meets the road in education, and while it can seem like a separate task from the learning itself, in reality it powerfully influences how students learn, and whether they are motivated by curiosity and personal drive, or by the need to please an adult or score a certain grade. 

Our assessments follow three general principles:

  • Assessment should help a student in the future (not only measure what has already happened and won’t be revisited).
  • Assessment should contribute to a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn.
  • Assessment should provide deep insight into a student - more than what a subjective “B+”, for example, can tell you.

This means that instead of a report card, with grades that can often be both subjective and superficial, students develop a rich digital portfolio documenting their learning. Students curate “presentations of learning,” in which they demonstrate how they’ve achieved mastery in given areas of learning. These presentations can be in the form of an essay, a video of a student performance, or feedback from an apprenticeship mentor or an expert reviewing a student’s project, etc. For a longer description of what this means in practice, please read our blog post, “Our Take on Assessment.”