Education for Life

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
— John Dewey

“Academics” traditionally refers to specific subjects of study, such as English, Math & Science. Mastering these areas of knowledge is fundamental to any educational mission, including ours.

Yet there is more to learning than the traditional gathering of facts. Not only are deeper skills possible, but they are essential in the world our children find themselves. Today’s students are Digital Natives. They’ve never known a world without smartphones. They not only must learn to acquire, synthesize and make meaning of exponentially more information each day–they must learn how to explore themselves in the midst of this.

The 21st century requires a 21st century model for academics–which means teaching in ways that integrate subjects, that relate material to real-world issues, and that develop self-awareness and self-mastery at the same time. We call this “Integrated Academics.”
 

 
 
integrated academics.png
 
 
 

Term Structure

The Millennium school year is divided into five Terms, each one lasting around six weeks. Each Term students are placed in different classes, depending on their personal path. They participate in two Interdisciplinary inquiry-based Quests, which integrate significant reading, writing, humanities and sciences. Students also select from a range of physical and creative expression electives, work with different classmates across grades, and master math and global languages based on their competency.

A typical term includes:

  • 2 Interdisciplinary Quests
    (Intensive writing, humanities & science projects)
  • Integrated Math
  • Spanish Language & Culture
  • 1 Creative Expression Elective
  • 1 Mind-Body Integration Elective
  • Life, Learning and Leadership
  • Harkness Club (Literature)
  • Various Workshops
    (Reading, Writing, Math, Test-Taking clinics)
  • Various Excursions
  • Forum
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Get to know Millennium School, a top middle school in San Francisco.jpg
 
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
— Mark Twain

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?

 

Interdisciplinary quests

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.

 

Humanities

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.

 

Science

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.

 

Integrated Mathematics

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.

 

Creative Expression

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.

 

spanish Language

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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 10.48.50 AM.jpg
 
And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
— Jalaluddin Rumi

Aristotle called self-discovery the beginning of all wisdom. So we figured that must be a good place to start. Fortunately for us, exploring themselves is a favorite pastime of adolescents, right up there with… “But enough about me, let’s talk about you… What do YOU think about me?”

We organize the self-discovery process into several different structures described below, each one designed to build self-awareness and self-management skills. We aim to provide an environment for adolescents to answer what may be their most fundamental question: “Who am I?”

 

Community Council 

Each morning we convene the entire community of students and teachers to begin our day. Following a moment of mindfulness, we share highlights and set personal intentions for the day to come. Once a week, this gathering extends into a longer, student-led period to introduce new tools, celebrate progress and explore any issues troubling us. In this space we collectively create shared community agreements, practice them, and evolve them as needed. If there’s been a breach of these agreements, we clear the fog to get back into alignment, whether 1:1 or using a shared restorative justice process.

Journaling

At the opening campfire on their first night in the wilderness, each Millennium student receives their first school journal. For the next three years, they write in it each day. We use journaling to practice self-reflection, uncovering deeper and deeper layers of thoughts, emotions, and insights… or just funny passing observations. Students surface goals for the day, lessons learned from last week, issues to clear with a friend, and how they themselves might be creating their own situations.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been described as simply paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgement. As it turns out, this is easier said than done. During adolescence, brains change rapidly as new capacities become available and must be integrated. Students can be awash in waves of conflicting thoughts and emotions, including the projection of what others think and feel about them. Together, this cacophony of voices can be distracting at best, and often is emotionally disturbing. So, when better to learn to gently quiet and observe our racing thoughts and feelings than in middle school. We practice every day, a few short times per day, and it makes all the difference.

21st Century Mindsets

As a compliment to SEL, 21st century mindsets generally refer to valuable skills and habits such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, complex problem-solving, and communications skills. As you can imagine, there’s no end to the number of attributes that might help each of us navigate in an accelerating world. We tend to focus the students’ development on mindsets that lead to our highest aspirations of authentic-level wisdom, love, and conscious action. We integrate this worldview into all that we do, and do our best to model it in daily practice... humbly failing and trying again each day.

Forum

All students are assigned to a Forum or small circle of peers: mixed gender, same grade, and facilitated by one Guide. This Guide serves as those students’ advisor for three years, and together this group meets weekly to learn new tools and explore themselves deeply. The Forum process is based on years of proven small group facilitation methods, and incorporates a wide range of social-emotional tools. Students provide the heart of the Forum experience, surfacing and working through whatever is real to them in each session. This can range from stress about some immediate drama to authentic curiosity about school, parents, friends and the world at large.

Self-Evaluations

In addition to learning objectives set by the Guide (teacher) for each class, students also determine personal learning objectives, and complete a self-assessment of their progress at the end of each term. Our aim is to help students learn to self-assess accurately, choosing thoughtful goals and tapping into their intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.”

Neuroscience

We apply our emerging knowledge of neuroscience to the intentional development of cognitive and non-cognitive capacities. Students practice increasing aspects of their individual executive functioning such as concentration, self-regulation, and working memory. Using bio-feedback devices, students study their own influence on brain waves and notice the differences in various states of awareness. Embracing a growth mindset, learning to learn, and understanding how we develop beliefs and behaviors helps students form an understanding and take agency in their own human development.

Social Emotional Development  

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has become an important catch-all phrase for a range of internal competencies and outputs that include: Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making (CASEL). Each of these categories in turn includes several micro-skills which students can develop to increase their level of social-emotional health and awareness. Research indicates that higher SEL development leads to higher academic performance, college and career readiness, and lower levels of cortisol (stress), in addition to the benefit of knowing how to relate to yourself and others in a more productive way. Millennium weaves SEL throughout its curriculum and methodologies, as a core component of whole-student development.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 10.49.08 AM.jpg
 
 
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
— Albert Einstein

The third leg of Millennium’s Integrated Academics is the active study and participation in the “real” world. We get outside of our building and into our “Classroom Beyond Walls” whenever we can. For us, this most often involves exploring the broader San Francisco community and all that it has to offer. Sometimes we venture further. Wherever we go, we’re working, studying, learning, testing, failing, and practicing again. It’s amazing what adolescents see when invited to turn-off (media, smartphones, expectations) and drop-in to the world they will soon inherit.

 
 
 
San Francisco excursion
 

Weekly Excursions

One day each week Millennium students venture out into their San Francisco community, our classroom beyond walls. Excursions range from scientific studies, to cultural field trips, technology company tours, and more. The students connect their academics to the real world with immersive first-hand experience, and begin to learn their place in it.

 
 

 

Village Leadership Roles

At Millennium the students play an active role in the “Village” aspects of our community. When we go camping the students set-up their tents, gather wood, build camp fires, construct shelters and rafts, and work together to make the week a success. Back at home, the same ideas apply. Students take turns completing chores, preparing meals, overseeing recess, maintaining our Chromebooks, and keeping the student supply room stocked and organized. As they get older, they take on even more meaningful leadership roles, such helping to plan class trips, running micro economy projects, serving as ambassador to host school guests, facilitating conflict interventions, and more. 

 
_DSC0027.JPG
 
 
technology and media
 

 

Technology & Media

We live in the epicenter of an emerging new age of creativity and technology. This brings with it both enormous opportunities for learning and innovation, as well as challenges to maintain life balance and a moral compass. Millennium teaches Technology & Media Literacy by exploring the conscious application of different tools for different objectives. Students are assigned individual Chromebooks and access a full suite of online software to conduct research, produce reports, learn to code, and create media of all kinds. Media and technology are integrated into all that we do, so long as students use them responsibly and respectfully as digital citizens.

 
 

 

Micro Economy Projects

The best way to learn about leadership is to lead others. The best way to learn how a business works is to run one. Millennium’s micro economy projects allow students to do both. Students identify products they can build, source materials, construct finished goods, market and sell them, account for the financial profits (or losses), and learn what it takes to produce a viable offering and sustainable business. You’d be surprised how quickly they connect the dots back to the relevant value of authentic leadership and a solid education. Hint: Study Math. 

 
business projects in school
 
 
_DSC0083.JPG
 

 

Community Service

One aspect of acting consciously is understanding how we can be of service to others. We each have different gifts, and are touched by different human needs. When we align those two, we can feel a sense of meaning and make a difference at the same time. At Millennium, we explore a range ways to provide service in our local community as part of our ongoing curriculum. Students rotate through different venues, from urban gardens to homeless shelters, and learn to see the world through the eyes others. We don’t see victims, but we do see humanity, and we practice being a part of it together.

 
 

 

Apprenticeships

Students are fascinated by what adults do all day, not their parents or teachers but the rest of the world. How do they find interesting careers? How do people make money? What’s the difference between working at City Hall, Google, or the local bakery? At Millennium, students learn to prepare a resume, interview for a position, and apprentice in a range of local businesses. They learn to appreciate the value of mentorship, and actively seek out adults who will guide them in the selection and support of their experiment with work. The best part is the relevant context apprenticing establishes for the kids, as they return to school more motivated to apply what they’re learning.

 
Middle school apprentinceships
 
 
wilderness expeditions for middle schoolers
 

 

 

Wilderness Expeditions

Nature provides an excellent classroom. With our team of adventure leaders from Back to Earth, students actively explore the northern California wilderness throughout the year. From camping in the woods to backpacking, building fires, and sleeping under the stars. Kids return more mature, more connected, and more grounded from their experience together.