Learning at Brandeis

Middle School Academics

The middle school years are a time of significant changes, as students make the transition from childhood to adolescence. Ensuring that their school life is vibrant, imaginative, and supportive is key to helping them grow and learn.

Students build on their academic skills while deepening problem-solving abilities and executive functioning. They continue to explore various aspects of their identity, a process designed to help them mature into kind, confident, self-aware teenagers and young adults. 

An essential element of our middle school program is Advisory, where students are grouped into faculty-led cohorts of approximately 12 students who meet together each morning. Advisory serves as a framework for building students’ autonomy and independence, and a setting where faculty can observe (and assist with) individual progress and social integration. Advisors also serve as a reassuring source of information for parents seeking a link between school and home.

Our interdisciplinary curriculum promotes a deep understanding of how the past influences the present and future. Outside of the classroom middle school students can participate in our school chorus, band, musical theater, athletic teams, and school leadership. In addition, a broad choice of electives gives students the opportunity to try new activities such as improv, podcasting, coding, photography, woodworking, and more.


List of 9 items.

  • Language Arts

    In middle school, our mission is to produce strong and confident communicators. We focus on helping students expand their abilities to read and respond to a wide range of literature, from novels and short stories to memoirs and critical essays. Students step into the world of analysis and learn how to recognize larger themes and the effectiveness of detail throughout literature.
    Students use the wide range of genres they read and analyze as models for their diverse writing projects. They write lyric and narrative poetry with an emphasis on image and language, as well as short stories, vignettes, and memoirs. They engage in a wide variety of nonfiction writing, including personal essays, informational and persuasive articles, social justice pieces, and writings based on their own family stories.
    At Brandeis, we believe that a writer needs a comprehensive toolbox to communicate effectively. As a result, we help our students build a suite of writing fundamentals by studying Greek and Latin roots, analyzing words in context, examining sentence structures, and honing digital literacy skills.
  • Mathematics

    In middle school, we build on the strengths of the lower school program, increasing the amount and range of mathematics explored. Math is taught in smaller class sections, enabling students to study and master the material at a pace that is right for them. 

    A key component is the development of number sense through mental math. Calculators are used as tools, and students build mathematical concepts through cooperative hands-on activities. 

    Fifth and Sixth grade

    Students focus on understanding concepts while mastering basic skills learned in the lower school. The full mathematics spectrum is explored, focusing on how students learn and what they need to be prepared for in the future. 

    Seventh grade

    Problem-solving strategies and critical thinking skills are emphasized in seventh grade. Subjects include pre-algebra, integers, order of operations, probability and statistics, ratios and proportions, and geometry. Students study two- and three-dimensional geometry and build models that represent linear and exponential patterns of growth.

    Eighth grade
    Students learn the traditional algebraic concepts–linear equations, polynomials, quadratic equations–but encounter them in real-life situations to help them understand this area of math. We also offer geometry or Stanford University's individualized math program for those students far advanced in mathematics.
  • Science

    By mastering our middle school science curriculum, students develop their knowledge of the world around them. They learn how to ask and answer important questions, which may be related to a specific scientific problem or may focus on larger issues facing them and/or society.

    Students see science as a way to organize and understand their world and as a tool to use in caring for it.

    Study units begin with "essential questions," allowing students to approach topics with the big picture in mind and form enduring understanding about their topics. Students' work is presented in a wide array of formats, such as oral and written reports, map work, models, and debates. Units include dissections (of bullfrogs and cow eyes); designing, executing, and demonstrating Rube-Goldberg machines; DNA extraction and gel electrophoresis (part of the Innovation Grants); designing prototypes of ocean exploration vehicles; and much more.
  • Social Studies

    In middle school, students enrich their understanding of their place in the world with an exploration of the people and events that ushered in the major Western and non-Western civilizations. Their coursework is designed to help students gain the knowledge, skills, and civic values they need to become thoughtful and active citizens.

    Fifth Grade
    Students focus on note-taking, managing assignments, and the building blocks of writing an essay. Topics and themes include the development of North America, indigenous peoples, colonization, and the Revolutionary War. 

    Sixth grade

    Students start their exploration with the early hominoids and then wend their way through the Ancients: Sumer, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, Rome, and the Israelites.

    Seventh Grade

    Students pick up the trail and move through the rise of Christianity and the Israelites under Roman rule, then travel through the Dark Ages, the rise of Islam, and the development of Africa, Japan, and the Americas, ending with the Renaissance/Reformation and Europe in the modern age.

    Eighth grade

    To complete their world tour, eighth graders bring their studies home, focusing on American history and government. The framework comprises five key eras: 1) the Revolutionary Period and the Constitutional Convention; 2) expansion, slavery, the Dred Scot Decision, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; 3) the Centennial year of 1876, the Gilded Age, Industrialization, Invention and Reform; 4) the Great Depression and World War II; and finally, 5) the Civil Rights Movement.

    This grand tour of human history is done through a variety of methods, including research, mapping, expository writing, forming and defending opinions using historical evidence, using and evaluating websites, writing persuasive essays, and more.
  • Judaic Studies

    In middle school, students deepen their knowledge of Jewish history throughout the ages. They explore, through a Jewish lens, the ways in which they can make a difference in the world including conflict resolution, volunteering, and philanthropy.
    Fifth Grade
    Students explore the personal and collective journeys that transform a people over time, focusing on Jewish and other immigration narratives. They also conduct a deep dive into a biblical parasha of their choice, with interpretations that they present to the class.  

    Sixth Grade
    Students participate in the Rodef Shalom (Pursuers of Peace) curriculum, in which they study rabbinic texts and apply those texts to their lives today. This program helps students understand conflicting needs and perspectives and learn to balance them in a constructive way. Sixth graders also explore Jewish history from settlement in the Land of Israel until the destruction of the Second Temple, and spend part of the year studying the origins and meaning of the weekday morning (Shacharit) service.
    Seventh Grade
    There are two main elements of the seventh grade Judaic studies curriculum: the Jewish Court of All Time (JCAT) simulation and the Tzedek Program. JCAT links Jewish schools from around North America as students assume the roles of key historical figures, using ancient and contemporary sources to investigate past and current events. 
    The Tzedek Program (written about in the New York Times) gives Brandeis seventh graders a deep understanding of their obligation to participate in tikkun olam, repairing the world. Through text study, students learn that Judaism has something to say about many needs facing the world, and that Judaism teaches that we have a duty to respond to these needs. Armed with this knowledge, students make educated philanthropic decisions after hearing presentations from nonprofit organizations from throughout the Bay Area. Students also work in pairs to investigative online research and conduct interviews with official organization representatives before coming together to allocate grants. They are able to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah in a way that feels right to them based on their understanding of the needs and priorities of their communities.
    Eighth Grade
    The Judaic studies curriculum in eighth grade uses three different lenses to guide student learning: Torah, history, and practice. Students study several famous but complicated bible stories and learn from the earliest Jewish texts that there are many ways to think of and relate to God and Judaism. Students examine the many ways to understand God’s role in Judaism and in their own lives. Eighth graders also participate in an in-depth study of the Holocaust, working with difficult and heavy subjects across race, class, and gender. They also explore the history of anti-Semitism. The eighth grade Israel trip is a highlight of the year and is the culmination of students’ years of learning at Brandeis. Eighth graders lead a school-wide tefillah service following their trip, where they integrate their experiences and insights from Israel with the themes of the core prayers of the morning (Shacharit) service.
  • Physical Education

    In middle school, our emphasis on team sports shifts towards tactical skills, with the majority of each lesson being devoted to playing specific games or sports. Physical fitness also becomes a larger focus as rigorous flexibility, strength, and endurance activities are built into each lesson.

    Our curriculum is gleaned from National Standards and encourages students to participate in both traditional and nontraditional sports. Various team sports encourage collaboration, social skill and individual skill development, teamwork, and the process of long-term goal setting through fitness assessments.

    As a complement to the physical aspects of P.E., students also take part in a health, fitness, and wellness unit that includes the practice of yoga and pilates. Our wellness program seeks to find a mindful space for our students, providing them with powerful tools to manage the various stresses adolescence presents.

  • Languages

    Students who choose to continue their Hebrew studies in middle school have the opportunity to work in leveled groups to obtain a more advanced language proficiency level. Studying in small groups in an immersive environment, students engage every day in the four language acquisition skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing, with a strong emphasis on speaking. The Hebrew program in middle school combines two cutting edge curricular programs, Bishvil Ha’Ivrit and Ulplan Or—along with students-driven projects—to ensure a diverse, rigorous, and effective learning experience.


    Our middle school Spanish program offers a strong introduction to the fundamentals of the language while exposing students to it through art, song, dance, documentaries, and geography. Students progress from learning how to listen, speak, read, and write basic vocabulary, grammar, and verb tenses to acquiring more complex language skills. To expand their cultural understanding, students read novels and articles and watch movies in Spanish. Our goal is that students develop a curiosity and love for learning a new language and a passion for a foreign language that goes far beyond the textbook. For many of our students, Spanish affords an opportunity to acquire a third language throughout high school and beyond.
  • Art, Drama & Music

    Our middle art classes expose our students to rich content in a collaborative and creative setting. The approach our faculty takes encourages students to reach beyond their traditional expressions of thought, and incorporate kinesthetic, symbolic, musical, verbal, interpersonal, and intrapersonal activities. Our students participate in either a semester-long or year-long art class that meets twice a week. Elective art courses include ceramics, a capella singing, 2D animation, musical performances, choir, band, theater, mural design, photography, improv, yearbook design, cooking, dance, collage, and multimedia art. 
  • Electives

    Middle school students have the opportunity to select both a Friday elective and an arts elective (which meets twice per week) each semseter. Our program offers a wide range of electives, designed as extended courses that expose students to experiences outside the core curriculum. 

    Most elective classes culminate in a final presentation, performance, or project at the end of each semester.

    Sample Electives

    • Virtual Robotics - Students learn how to code virtual robots. They explore the types of tasks robots much perform and how to code the robots to complete those missions.
    • Public Speaking/Speech Writing/Debate - In this elective, students are introduced to public speaking and debate as an important aspect of their academic and social lives. Students read and listen to different models of speeches and research different speaking topics to better prepare for their own arguments.
    • Graphic Novel & Storytelling - Students learn how to create illustrated stories using digital technologies, including Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Students take their drawings, creative writings, and ideas and bring them to life!
    • Get Your Zen On - Each week, students in this elective discover new ways to practice self care: from meditation to creating personal mantras, watercolor painting to mandala coloring, uplifting Ted Talks to setting goals for the week.
    • Beginning Filmmaking - Students learn the basic components of filmmaking, from cinematography to storyboarding and set design. Students then create their own short films to share with the community.
    • Fitness & Health - This elective is designed to teach students how to properly perform a variety of exercises, how to assess proper form, and how to design a workout plan to achive fitness goals.
    • Choir - The major emphasis of this course is on singing activities, vocal technique, and building a choral ensemble. In addition to learning proper vocal production and technique, students learn music-reading skills, sight-singing skills, and performance skills. 
    • Woodworking & Fabrication - Students design, engineer, and make in BUILD, our woodshop and fabrication lab. Students work with CAD programs to create designs for 3D printing, learn about sourcing materials and using up-cycled materials, and practice hands-on tool skills including woodworking, carpentry, and CNC carving.
    • Middle School Jazz Band - Students learn how to develop their musicianship on their instruments and the fundamentals of how popular music is put together. They learn how to improvise and also how to play together in a band.