A Tradition of Progressive Education: Student-Driven Research and Exploration in the Middle School

The Middle School started the New Year with a multi-grade, multi-disciplinary research project that focused on students’ curiosities around the central theme of food. When presented with this central theme, students were asked to brainstorm subtopics, which included transportation, climate and growing, labor, culture and traditions, nutrition and disease, fresh versus processed foods, and food insecurity. Students worked in small groups to learn about specific topics that interested them the most. “Our primary goal for this project was to encourage cross-grade collaboration amongst all of our middle school students while reinforcing essential 21st-century skills like research, data science, and public speaking and presentation,” explains Middle School Coordinator Julie Weeden.
In lieu of their traditional class schedule, students met in their small groups to focus on practical skills such as the selection of reliable sources, data interpretation, and presentation planning skills. Faculty encouraged, guided, and advised small groups as they designed their own theme-based projects. By devoting a full week to this project, students had an immersive opportunity to build collaboration skills, ask questions, critique, and reflect upon the work of all groups, including their own. At the end of the week, each small group presented to the full middle school community on topics that included climate’s effect on cuisine, traditional holiday foods from around the world, and marketing of processed foods to consumers. Students also engaged in peer evaluation of the presentations, learning how to provide constructive, professional feedback to others about collaboration and public speaking skills.
Charles River School is best known for this type of student-driven, thematic-based approach to education. With opportunities to explore a wealth of materials and resources, as well as to collaborate with their peers, students are actively involved in their learning. They explore primary sources, reflect, hypothesize, question and discuss, and document their learning, exchanging ideas and involvement in the decision-making process.
Charles River School is a PreKindergarten through Grade 8 independent school that honors the pursuit of academic excellence and the joy of childhood. We nurture each child by igniting curiosity, encouraging creativity, and cultivating intellectual engagement. Our graduates know themselves, understand others, and shape the future of our diverse world with confidence and compassion.

Charles River School admits students of any race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin in administration of its educational or admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.