Walking in the Footsteps of Sunshine – MAMLE ‘22 Keynote

When walking in the woods, sunshine can illuminate a path that has been taken by others, making a journey a bit easier, and offering the opportunity for you to discover what they had discovered. Let’s shed a little light on those who created the Middle Level paths for us. Now is the time to reawaken, enliven, and celebrate early lessons from Middle Level Education.


10-14 Year olds can be mysterious creatures. But those who have gone before us can help see the path to reaching these students.

Watch the entire keynote here!

The Magic Formula for Young Adolescents

Answering these 4 questions in this order:

  • Who? (What are the developmental characteristics of young adolescents?)
  • What? (What does who these kids are today, societal expectations, and the disciplines of knowledge say about what these students should learn?)
  • How? (What does who these students are and what they should be learning say about how they should be learning?)
  • How to Structure School? (

Remember: “Who?” drives “What?” and “How?”, which in turn drive “School Structure”

Who? (Developmental Characteristics of Young Adolescents)

Physical Development

  • Undergoes more developmental change than any other time except birth to two – Accelerated and uneven
  • Bones grow faster than muscles – clumsiness, restlessness, and growing pains
  • Puberty and release of hormones (girls 1-2 yrs ahead of boys)
  • Brain has remarkable development – executive function developing

Intellectual Development

  • Tend to be curious and display wide-ranging interests
  • Eager to learn about topics they find interesting and useful – personally relevant
  • Favor active learning & interacting with peers when learning
  • Develop ability of abstract thought & complex reasoning

Moral Development

  • Lifetime attitudes, beliefs, & values develop now
  • Develop own personal values (but connected to values of parents and key adults)
  • Be idealistic and have a strong sense of fairness
  • Transition from self-centered perspective to considering the rights and feelings of others

Psychological Development

  • Identity formation and quest for independence
  • Seek own sense of individuality and uniqueness, while still striving to maintain peer approval
  • Tendency to be moody, restless, and demonstrate inconsistent behavior

Social-Emotional Development

  • Often lags behind physical and intellectual development
  • Strong need to belong to a group – peer approval become more important than adult approval
  • Often experiment with new behaviors
  • Torn between desire to conform and to be independent
  • Start to feel romantic/sexual attraction and develop sexual identity
  • Tend to emulate esteemed peers and non-parent adults

Responding to Young Adolescent Developmental Characteristics

Reaching 10-14 year olds depends on understanding their developmental characteristics and practices harmonious with those characteristics (cut with the grain, not against it).

Responding to Physical Development (more physical change than anytime except birth to two years):

  • Explain that these changes are natural and common – Respond to questions and provide accurate information
  • Health and science curricula that explain changes – Appropriate instruction in risks of alcohol, drug use, teen pregnancy & sexually transmitted diseases
  • Access to plenty of water and healthy food
  • Opportunities to move
  • Minimize peer competition 

Responding to Intellectual Development (curiousity; wanting to understand their world; growing into abstract thought):

  • Build upon their individual experiences and prior knowledge
  • Focus on experiential, active learning and authentic learning experiences
  • Provide a breadth of activities from concrete, structured experiences to challenging activities 
  • Help students understand how they think
  • Need to interact with their world

Responding to Moral Development (forming attitudes/beliefs; idealistic; beginning to consider other’s rights and feelings):

  • Organize learning activities that foster critical thinking and higher levels of moral reasoning
  • Activities that require consensus building & application of democratic principles
  • Design experiences to examine moral dilemmas and contemplate responses
  • Experiences to examine concepts of fairness, justice, and equity
  • Focus on societal issues such as environment, poverty, or racial discrimination

Responding to Psychological Development (seeking identity and independence; vulnerable; can be moody and restless):

  • Learning experiences that allow for exploration, and experiment with various roles – role-playing, drama, and reading
  • Opportunities for student choice and self-assessment
  • Help build student sense of self-esteem through opportunities to do esteem-able acts
  • Schools provide structures such as teaming and advisory programs
  • Activities to promote atmosphere of friendliness, concern and group cohesiveness and are free from harsh criticism, humiliation, and sarcasm

Responding to Social-Emotional Development (Want to belong to group; experiment with new behaviors; Starting to feel romantic/sexual attraction):

  • Recognize importance of peer relationships and friendship
  • Provide occasions for positive peer interactions, including cooperative learning & collaborative experiences
  • Opportunities for argumentation or debate in academic settings
  • Provide for teaming, service learning, student government, service clubs, etc.

What? & How? (Instructional Innovation)

  • Integrated Curriculum
  • Hands on Activities
  • Projects
  • Planning with Students
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Less Dependence on Textbooks

Curriculum Integration

Types of Curriculum Integration Boil Down to 3 Characteristics

  • Themes (yes or no)
  • Subject Area Boundaries (yes or no)
  • Planned with Students (yes or no)

James Beane Approach to Integrated Curriculum

  • Find themes at the intersection of 2 questions:
    • What are your questions and concerns about yourself?
    • What are your questions and concerns about the world?
  • Plan with students how to study those themes?
  • What to societal expectations and the disciplines of knowledge say about how to study those themes?
  • A Middle School Curriculum: From Rhetoric to Reality

The 8-Year Study – Proving the Effectiveness of Curriculum Integration

How to Structure School? (Middle Level School Organization)

  • Teaming
  • Common Planning Time
  • Teachers Looping
  • Advisory
  • Exploratory
  • Block Scheduling


Middle Level Legacy Project

Successful Schools for Young Adolescents:

Developmental Characteristics of Young Adolescents:

The Adolescent Brain:


Mike’s Sites:

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