At the heart of our curriculum is a commitment to interdisciplinary learning. Traditional academics often create “silos” in which students experience content in a way disconnected from reality: math in this period, science in the next, humanities from 1-2pm. In contrast, recent research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology confirms that humans learn faster and retain subjects longer when the material is taught (i) in context to reality; (ii) with some personal relevance; and (iii) by engaging the body, mind, and emotions together.
To do that, learning must be interdisciplinary. In a class project on earthquakes, for example, students might read a first-person historical narrative of the event, explore its implications on society, and then apply math and science to design seismically resilient buildings. Across all subjects, Millennium Guides always relate the learning back to the student’s primary questions… How do YOU relate to this material? How could you see this from ANOTHER’s perspective? What could we DO to contribute to a better outcome for all people?
Each term, students participate in two interdisciplinary “Quests”, the foundation for our academics. Students work in small teams to explore real-world issues by exploring important questions with no simple answers. These questions can range from “Are we alone in the universe?” to “How do I learn?”, “Do our voices matter?” and “How do we transcend limits?”. Students draw from daily lessons in humanities, science and math as needed to explore answers to these questions together. Students test hypothesis, gather data, and produce final papers and presentations with their suggestions for social impact.
The essence of this work is two-fold: to develop means of skillful communication, and to appreciate the essential stories, patterns, and trajectories of human experience in past and present. Our humanities curriculum integrates history, social science, and English language arts. In every project or seminar, we aim for this content to shed light on the world around and within each student, seeing their own beliefs and experiences reflected back in characters from fiction and reality. Developing excellence in written and oral communication is a core goal, woven not only into this curriculum but also into expectations in every other academic discipline, with frequent oral presentations and written proficiency required.
We engage with science through a dual lens of applied engineering and the natural world, as both provide highly relevant contexts in which to learn. Our aim is always to connect the theoretical study of science with real-life applications. A project may begin with building a robot, or studying an intricate ecosystem, and from there broaden to include the theoretical study of relevant branches of science. Our aim is to develop empirical thinking, a spirit of inquiry and investigation, and savvy use of data. We place emphasis on the development of systems thinking, a fundamental “habit of mind” which appreciates the interconnectedness of systems as varied as a forest, a city water system, or a cell within our bodies.
Our mathematics program balances the development of technical skill with real-world application. We believe that math is far more than a purely logical, abstract line of study. It's equally about building what Jo Boaler calls “Math Mindsets”: cognitive flexibility, creativity, recognizing and appreciating patterns, generating multiple solutions to complex problems, and revealing how one actually thinks.
To do this, we've designed an integrated math program that combines "pure math" and project-based math. Project-based math embeds concepts in real-world, interdisciplinary projects, like designing a seismically-sound building or a robot that can navigate through a room. This approach develops problem-solving ability, collaboration skills, and increases student motivation by making math problems more relevant. To complement this, the "pure math" element of our program integrates algebra, geometry, trigonometry and analysis. It helps students hone core skills and computational ability, building their number sense and their appreciation for math as a language of patterns. For more on our approach to math, visit Millennium's Hybrid Approach to Math Education.
Making space for the focused expression of creativity can take many forms at Millennium. Each term we offer new electives, often led by professionals in their field. Across them all, we introduce students to what Robert Sternberg calls the “science of creativity”, comprised of several different aspects: (a) abilities, (b) knowledge, (c) styles of thinking, (d) personality attributes, (e) motivation, and especially intrinsic motivation, and (f) environment. For example, a person can have the creative ability that would allow for creativity. Yet without a willingness to take sensible risks or an environment that provides minimal support for creativity, that individual’s potential creativity may be suppressed. At the same time, a student can have a creative attitude, but without the applied skills of creativity—such as looking for reconciliation of opposing ideas and dialectical thinking—may not reach his or her full creative potential. We seek to foster an environment that invites the healthy development and expression of creativity in all that we do, but particularly in subjects such as Art, Dance, Music, Making, Coding, Woodworking, Sewing, Photography, Video/Media, among others.
Mind Body Integration
MBI is Millennium’s approach to “physical education”. Each course is grounded in somatic awareness, where students not only learn to master a physical practice, but explore how the body works as a vehicle for their Self expression. Students participate in a range of activities each year, varying from term to term. The foundation for our MBI program is the practice of Aikido, where Millennium students learn the art of peace in motion, advancing to higher belts over time. Other practices include Capoeira, Yoga, Swimming, and Field Sports like soccer, kickball, and softball.
Millennium offers Spanish for its foreign language program. It is estimated that 45 million people speak Spanish in the US, and 400 million worldwide, making it the second most spoken language globally behind Chinese (1.2B). Our program is based on the Comprehensible Input model of language acquisition, which mirrors the way that a new learner immersed in a foreign country would learn. Instead of focusing early on grammatical structure, students begin with a small set of real-world, frequently repeated situations and words, often offered slightly above their current language level. Students develop comfort speaking earlier, relative to traditional instruction, and build grammatical understanding after developing an innate sense of what "sounds right," in ways similar to how we acquire our native language.
Beyond our conversational and comprehension goals, we aim to use foreign language to access cultural understanding, and to develop the skills and mindset of global citizenship. Middle school is a pivotal time for the formation of worldview, and the opportunity exists for students to evolve from seeing the world through only one lens, with its stark “right and wrong” perspectives, to the worldview and intellectual practice of seeing many cultural perspectives. Using language to engage with new cultures is a powerful, personal way to develop a more inclusive worldview.
Food & Nutrition
According to the CDC, about half of all American adults (117 Million) have one or more chronic diseases preventable by eating a healthy diet and exercising. Numerous studies have related poor diet to obesity, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and some cancers. Students who eat poorly score lower on standardized tests. Millennium introduces its students to the science of food, nutrition and conscious eating through an integrated program of study, field trips, and hands-on grocery shopping and food preparation. How better to engage students in the exploration of healthy food and their bodies than by visiting organic farms, selecting our own produce, and preparing meals together as a community once a week. Additionally, we provide an organic, locally-grown meal plan for students the rest of the week through our partnership with Green Tiffin.
Life, Learning & Leadership
All Millennium students participate in a weekly action-learning program designed to teach real-world life skills. Over the course of three years, student explore a wide range of topics often called “21st century habits of mind” and beyond, including: the neuroscience of how to learn; how to develop executive functioning capacity for concentration, self-regulation and working memory; organization and time-management skills; self-leadership; team effectiveness, and more. Student then apply and reinforce these lessons through personal hands-on experience throughout the week. Applied learning projects that are tied to the L3 program include: running a small business where we make and sell products (micro-economy), providing community service through local organizations in need, taking on a leadership role in the community, and working as an apprentice in a local business. Our goal is to connect our young teens to the world around them in a constructive way, where they feel confident being a leader and seeing first-hand the difference they can make through conscious action.