Sixth grade

In sixth grade, students are in the center of Middle School life and cued up to engage with everything Gordon's oldest grades have to offer them. Even as their social lives and classroom work intensify, sixth graders begin to look beyond their day-to-day lives to see the tangible impact that their actions can have on the rest of the school —and on the world beyond Gordon.

As a yearlong service project, the sixth grade manages the schoolwide recycling program, collecting material from classrooms and offices every week, sorting it for processing, and advocating for correct use of recycling bins. When they begin this work, students experience it in the context of their work on ecology and sustainability. As the year progresses, they quickly come to realize that this is more than just a hands-on lesson; the school's buildings and grounds crew genuinely depends on them to do this work, and if one student can't complete their weekly rounds, one of their classmates will have to step up. 

That's just one example from a year that offers dozens of ways to make connections between academic disciplines, and between the classroom and the world beyond. Reading selections like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind bring issues of sustainability into conversations about literature, and the story comes alive when students work together to imagine and then build technological solutions to real world problems in science class. The study of poetry feeds students’ responses to fine art through a unit co-created with the RISD Museum that led to Gordon student work being exhibited in Washington DC. Spanish readings generate conversations about the economic relationship between the US and Central America, drawing on a long-running collaboration between Gordon and Equal Exchange. The high level of curriculum integration at the sixth grade level provides students with numerous opportunities to connect their year-long studies in across all subjects.

There are new on and off-campus connections in extracurricular opportunities, as well. League age requirements allow sixth grade athletes to participate fully in all of Gordon's sports offerings. Sixth graders can audition for Gordon's a cappella group, which is invited to perform at area venues throughout the year. And they are finally eligible to participate in Gordon's competitive robotics team. Every sixth grader participates in an in-school First Lego League robotics competition. This hands-on STEM experience allows all students to hone their critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity in the robotics lab before they have the opportunity to take on other schools as competitors on the seventh and eighth grade robotics team.

Having settled into the role of middle schoolers, sixth graders have a solid understanding of the routines of school and continue to gain skills and practice strategies that help them balance their academic work and extracurricular activities. At the same time that sixth graders are asked to reflect on their increasing rights and responsibilities, Gordon keeps its commitment to let children remain children in valuable ways all the way through eighth grade. As students move through Middle School, students continue to pass three year olds in the halls and often greet each other by name. Recesses still happen twice a day, sledding continues on the playground, student cell phone use is still not allowed, and relationships with teachers remain warm and playful. 


The sixth grade humanities curriculum focuses on expanding students’ understanding of community into a more global context, drawing in a number of science topics as well. The shared reading of nonfiction and fiction texts takes students to countries around the world like India (Ahimsa) and Malawi (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind). Students gain an understanding of how issues of power, voice, justice, identity, and access play out on a global stage. 

Sixth graders also read a variety of fiction and nonfiction, including memoirs by young people living in different countries and circumstances and articles on the impact of water security, sustainability, and climate change on different communities across the globe. 

Each sixth grader conducts research on a specific country in order to gain a deep understanding of that nation’s current strengths and challenges around water security. Students then investigate the predicted continued, increasing impacts of climate change and develop a plan of action for their assigned country. Students then prepare for a model UN where they write a position paper, engage in formal debate, and advocate for change to improve access to water for the global community. At the end of the unit, each student shares their research and plan of action by writing a letter to their assigned country’s permanent representative to the United Nations. 

The sixth grade experience at Gordon challenges students to think critically about building sustainable, equitable communities at the local, national, and global levels, and to develop student understanding of how geography and climate impact life experience and perspective across our planet.  


Sixth grade continues the Math in Focus curriculum which emphasizes concept mastery, a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract approach, metacognitive reasoning, and the use of model drawing to solve and justify problems. Emphasis is on students becoming independent, strategic and persistent mathematical problem solvers. Students learn the “why” and the “how” through instruction, hands-on or technology activities, and problem solving. Mathematical topics are consistently introduced in a concrete-visual-symbolic progression that allows students to focus and better understand abstract concepts. 

A typical lesson includes direct instruction, work in small groups and independent practice. Math In Focus also allows for flexible pacing to allow students to work at a pace that ensures mastery, as well as opportunities for more rigorous application of the material. Sixth grade math topics include number lines, factors and multiples, exponents, negative integers, absolute value, operations with fractions and decimals, ratios, unit rate, percents and their relationships to decimals and fractions, writing and simplifying algebraic expressions, solving inequalities, polygons (area and perimeter), circles (area and circumference), and plotting coordinates on a plane. 

Students are provided with differentiated material that gives them challenges that are appropriate to their mathematical development, with assessment happening every four or five weeks. Weekly games and activities help to reinforce skills. 


The sixth grade science curriculum stresses hands-on, inquiry based learning, exposing students to topics in earth science, life science, physical science, engineering and robotics. 

The curriculum is designed to foster and celebrate creativity and curiosity, learning through mistakes, persevering, working as a team, and authentic questioning. It includes explorations such as: hurricanes and the water cycle; recycling and renewable resources; extensive LEGO robotics work; humans' impact on ecosystems; the greenhouse effect and global warming; and an in-depth inquiry project on the future of food. Discussion, collaboration, and exploration are always encouraged as students investigate and learn about the scientific world around them and how they can impact society on a local and global scale. Sixth graders will also have ample opportunities to make cross curricular connections as the theme of sustainability is explored in both humanities and science.  


In Middle School, students build their literacy skills as well as their understanding of cultural and social justice issues that impact Hispanic communities in the United States and globally. Topics include urban community gardens, environmental racism, fair trade, immigration and human rights. Students further develop their cultural and linguistic proficiencies through classroom activities that include literature circles, role-play, debate and writing workshops. Partnerships with nonprofit organizations and leaders in the local Spanish-speaking communities provide authentic ways for students to practice their Spanish and connect with the local community. 

Spanish Language Arts Strand
Beginning in fifth grade, Gordon offers a Spanish Language Arts Strand to meet the needs of Spanish speakers who demonstrate advanced Spanish proficiency on the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix assessment. 
In this fast-paced program, students read and discuss more complex text and practice using more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary.

Health and wellness

The National Wellness Institute explains wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.” This definition of wellness anchors and guides Gordon’s Middle School health curriculum. 

Using several visual models including a wellness wheel that highlights six dimensions of personal wellness (social, emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and environmental health) students consider their personal experiences with a wide range of topics such as communication, stress management, nutritional choices, media literacy, digital literacy and citizenship, gender and sexuality diversity, and risk behaviors including drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use.  

Classes emphasize student participation and generate conversations around issues that directly impact the lives of middle school students. Reading, journaling, hands-on activities, group games, role-plays, research, and class discussions encourage continuous self-reflection, emphasize a growth mindset, and provide opportunities for students to listen to one another, build skills of empathy, think critically, and practice healthy decision making. By raising awareness, equipping students with tools, and reinforcing self-reflection, health and wellness class helps students get to know themselves better and prepares them to express how they feel and determine how to respond to the crossroads that they inevitably face throughout adolescence.

Physical education

The Gordon Middle School physical education program gives students opportunities to experience the joys of being physically active in both competitive and noncompetitive settings. The goal of the program is to instill in students a love of exercise, respect of their bodies, and an awareness of the power of the choices they make in their lives.

Throughout the school year students focus on the concept of wellness and explore their personal relationship with sports and physical activity. Physical education classes are a rich environment in which students are empowered to shape their own experience with health and physical activity.


Sixth grade students review, practice, and demonstrate foundational elements that lead toward music literacy. Rhythmic fluency, with the number and “takadimi” systems, and melodic note-reading, with letter names (A, B, C, etc.) and solfeggio (do, re, mi, etc.) are used to report on music already heard as well as for sight-reading unfamiliar music. Students have multiple opportunities to gain confidence in navigating these elements with their work in music dictation, Orff instrumental performance, and score study. 

Students delve deeper into music theory by exploring harmony, triads, Roman numeral analysis, and phrase structures. They discover common chord progressions that are frequently used in popular music, and they gain experience in playing progressions on handbells and ukulele. Students gain experience in singing songs, rounds, ostinatos, and improvisations with attention to vocal technique. 

They engage in discussions of text, discovering that music frequently lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Cultural connections are emphasized, whether in traditional American folk songs or in songs from other countries. The final project uses a web-based composition program as a tool to compose a vocal melody over a chord progression template with specific criteria relating to question and answer phrases. 

Visual arts

The Middle School visual arts program develops aesthetic awareness, creative expression, technical skills, and cultural awareness in each student. Studio habits of mind, including developing craft, engaging and persisting, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, exploring, and appreciating, are cultivated as students engage in artistic experiences. Student skills mature as they progress through the curriculum. The complexity of projects, cognitively and artistically, also increases as students mature.

In sixth grade, a printmaking assignment requires students to develop a non-objective design and complete a series of variations by exploring color combinations, overprinting and collaging. Students learn how to make patterned paste papers and use them to construct handmade books. Using glue, bone folders and binder’s thread and needles, they learn to construct book covers and sew pages. Students complete their books by mounting their prints sequentially in order to create a visual narrative. 

A textile unit introduces the resist technique of batik. Students develop preparatory drawings, transfer their images to cloth, and complete complex and colorful designs by applying multiple layers of dye and hot wax resist. Students complete the process by removing wax with a hot iron. Every student has their artwork presented in the annual art show.