Middle School Curriculum

Just the Right Mix of Breadth and Depth

Throughout the Middle School experience, we believe that providing both a breadth of core classes and chances for girls to delve deeply into topics that are of interest to them builds foundational knowledge and mastery in key content areas while providing developmentally appropriate independence. In both their core and elective experiences, students are challenged to collaborate in teams, grapple with authentic problems, and listen to diverse perspectives.

Program of Study

Grade 5
Grade 6
Grade 7
Grade 8
Computer Science & Technology
Creative Programming I and Keyboarding
Creative Programming II and Robotics
Technology elective (once during grade 7 and 8)
English 5 and Reading/Writing Workshop
English 6 and Reading/Writing Workshop English 7 and Reading/Writing Workshop English 8 and Reading/Writing Workshop
Ancient History  Medieval History United States History Twentieth Century History
Integrated Studies Projects Ellis Entrepreneurs and Ellis Earthkeeping Experience (E3) Ellis Entrepreneurs and Medieval Faire Global Pittsburgh: Immigration Study and Feeding Ourselves and Others Engineering Design Challenge
Mathematics 5 and Math Workshop
Mathematics 6 or Pre-algebra and Math Workshop Pre-algebra or Algebra I and Math Workshop Introduction to Algebra or Algebra I or Geometry and Math Workshop
Performing Arts
General Music 5 and one performing arts elective
General Music 6 and one performing arts elective
General Music 7 and one performing arts elective
General Music 8 and one performing arts elective
Physical Education and Health
Physical Education and Health Physical Education Physical Education Physical Education
Integrated Science 5
Integrated Science 6 Integrated Science 7 Integrated Science 8
Visual Arts
Visual Art 5
Visual Art 6
Visual Art 7
Visual Art 8
World Languages
French 1A, Latin 1A, or Spanish 1A
French IB, Latin IB, or Spanish IB French IIA, Latin IIA, or Spanish IIA

Highlights in Middle School

List of 5 items.

  • Middle School Olympiad | Grades 5–8

    Ellis students flex their creative, intellectual, and physical muscles once a year when they take part in the annual Middle School Olympiad. The Olympiad brings together grades 5 through 8 for an event-packed day full of fun, friendly competition, and teamwork. For a full day, students participate in a rotation of challenges and tests that vary from trivia to design as they strive to take home the gold medal and bragging rights as Olympiad champions. Modeled on the real Olympics, complete with team names, banners, uniforms, opening and closing ceremonies, and awards, students enjoy a day of healthy competition. Olympiad unites students across grade levels and gives them a chance to meet new friends, exhibit different skill sets, and take on leadership responsibilities. This spirited pause from the normal routine lets students unleash their creative energy in a positive, joyful learning environment. The celebration of teamwork and sports(wo)manship encourages students to work together, compromise, and think outside the box.
  • Ellis Earthkeeping Experience | Grade 5

    In the Ellis Earthkeeping Experience, students develop an awareness of their importance to the environment. They explore the basic tenet of environmental sustainability: becoming more green and less wasteful. Grade 5 students combine current events, history, environmental science, and business in this unique experience. Trips include visits to an apple orchard and a water treatment facility. Students recognize their potential to better care for the environment through a personal commitment.
  • Medieval Faire | Grade 6

    To give students a taste of life during the middle ages, faculty present Medieval Faire, a two-day immersion that combines pieces of the history and English curricula in a unique, interdisciplinary way. Girls build and launch catapults; partake in a jousting competition; and hold an authentic Medieval feast complete with costumes, entertainment, and peasants who only get to eat if the nobility leave them leftovers.
  • Global Pittsburgh | Grade 7

    The seventh grade capstone project, Global Pittsburgh, is designed for students to explore how people are interconnected through neighborhoods, the city of Pittsburgh, and the larger world. The project highlights the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, Teeny Harris’ photography, and Pittsburgh’s attic at the Heinz History Center. Students work in small groups to research how immigration to Pittsburgh has shaped our city from the 1800s to current trends, and they hear from a variety of guest speakers, including refugee caseworkers. The culminating experience is attending the naturalization ceremony of new U.S. citizens.
  • Toy Car Challenge | Grade 8

    A culmination of the Middle School experience, this capstone project challenges grade 8 students to synthesize their skills across a multitude of disciplines to develop and deliver prototypes of electric gear-driven toys. In the final week of the school year, students apply the engineering design process to meet a specific set of design requirements. They conduct consumer interviews, draw sketches, work with models, calculate gear ratios, write proposals, and present their prototypes to a panel of judges. This deep dive assignment not only teaches students to manage their time and workload, but bolsters their presentation and public speaking skills as they prepare for the final project presentation. This interdisciplinary project strengthens the intellectual, technical, and social abilities students assimilate throughout Middle School. Grade 8 students research, analyze, and define challenges and work within constraints while honing leadership, collaboration, and communication skills.

Middle School Elective Examples

List of 20 items.

  • Band

  • Chorus

  • Creative Writing

  • Dance

  • FIRST LEGO League (Robotics)

  • Future City

  • Girls Who Code

  • Global Citizenship

  • Graphic Novel

  • Honors String Ensemble

  • Introduction to Podcasting

  • iOS Apps by Design

  • Maker Shop

  • Mix and Splice: A Creative Music Technology Course

  • Mobile Robotics

  • Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS)

  • Short Story Seminar

  • Strings

  • Theater Productions

  • Theater Tech

Jenn Moynihan

Head of Middle School

The Middle School curriculum at Ellis prioritizes authentic exploration and real-world connection in academic classes, while also ensuring a healthy balance of physical and social-emotional education as we foster the growth of the whole child. Students have their core academic classes—English, History, Math, Science, and World Language—in the morning, rounded out with performing and visual arts, electives, physical education, clubs, and opportunities for interdisciplinary connection and extension in the afternoon. We also have daily and weekly opportunities to meet in grade levels and as a whole middle school to build community and connection. Our daily schedule begins and ends with time in advisory groups to anchor the day in supportive cohorts to reflect on the prior day and preview the one to come.

Research tells us that girls learn best when they see real-world application in the content they’re covering, when they collaborate with their peers in meaningful ways, when they experience firsthand the concepts they’re investigating, and when they have choice in what they want to learn more about and how they wish to express their understanding. These factors drive our teachers’ instruction and create a rich incubator in which intellectual curiosity can thrive. Students are asked not just to share their answer to a question, but to explain how they arrived at that answer and why they believe it to be true. By practicing metacognition (the skill of thinking about their thinking), students get to know themselves better as learners and are able to articulate the ways they have applied class content in different contexts.
By working in highly collaborative environments, students learn about and from one another, helping each student grow into a more empathetic, understanding, and well-rounded individual. As we prepare our students to enter a truly globalized world, it’s essential that students have the competency and practice to appreciate and learn from those with differing backgrounds, beliefs, and skill levels. When everyone brings their authentic self to school, and recognizes and respects the same of her peers, it creates the positive learning environment that makes Ellis such a vibrant, inclusive place.

Our classrooms are safe environments for risk-taking, where mistakes are celebrated and asking questions is an essential part of the learning process. Student interest and inquiry drives classroom activities and discussions, and our schedule supports opportunities for further interdisciplinary projects and grade-wide initiatives throughout the year. The Ellis Middle School curriculum introduces a wide array of topics and modes of learning, granting our students the independence and autonomy to choose where they want to delve deeper and learn more.

Middle School Faculty Directory

Read More from Jenn Moynihan, Head of Middle School