Hands-on & Collaborative - Midland School

Hands-on & Collaborative Curriculum

Midland's thoughtful approach to student course offerings

As a leader in experiential and place-based learning, Midland uses our 2,860-acre campus as our classroom, offering a vibrant and challenging exploration of place, from environment to history and culture. In the words of one of our alum, “We are doing what everybody else is learning about in the classroom.”

Founded on the belief that we learn best in community, Midland’s curriculum is hands-on and collaborative. Our teachers — drawing from extensive content knowledge and diverse life experiences — work alongside our students in a guided exploration of subject matter, helping them develop college-ready academic competencies and make authentic connections between their learning and the world beyond.

At Midland, our curriculum prioritizes seven core competencies:

Connection to Place and Environment

  • Observe and engage with natural and physical world
  • Understand natural resources and human interactions on the environment
  • Care for place and its inhabitants

Being of Use

  • Practice self-care, self-advocacy, and self-management
  • Be an active follower, team member, and leader
  • Demonstrate integrity, initiative, and volunteerism

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

  • Develop self-awareness and identity
  • Show compassion, kindness, respect for self and one another
  • Understand and appreciate a diversity of cultures, identities, and ideas
  • Engage with complexities of social justice to enrich communities

Craftsmanship

  • Build work ethic
  • Work through multiple drafts/iterations
  • Select proper tools and/or resources for a job and use them effectively

Literacy and Voice

  • Communicate effectively (listening, speaking, and writing)
  • Cultivate discipline-specific fluency
  • Convey meaning in creative ways

Critical Thinking and Analysis

  • Read closely, analyze, and synthesize
  • Reason quantitatively and scientifically
  • Formulate questions and conduct research
  • Use evidence to craft arguments

Problem Solving

  • Identify problems that need solving
  • Plan, execute, and adapt with appropriate available resources
  • Evaluate successes and failures

When you believe that what you do matters the entire framework of learning changes, especially when guided by our core competencies and an emphasis on learning through experience.

Four students sit next to each other at a clear dry-erase board–topped table. The three students furthest from the camera each scribble with black dry erase markers while the student closest to the camera manipulates slips of paper on a larger piece of paper, glue sticks at the ready for pasting the slips down when answers are acertained.

Students work on math on dry erase tables that were built in a geometry class.

In Midland 101, students aren’t just reading about field ecology and local history — they are learning the local wildflowers and geology on hikes in our backyard, and engaging with the vibrant local Chumash history and culture in this valley. Our classes bring texts to life. Our campus is dotted with functional Geometry class projects, from our geodesic dome to trapezoidal desks to the foosball table. In World History, don’t be surprised if you find yourself on our farm as the starting point in a research paper on how certain plants changed history. Our curriculum empowers students to think deeply about critical issues. In Statistics this election year, students used published data from a California ballot initiative to investigate margins of error in polling. In U.S. Literature, students discuss the complexities of post-colonial indigenous identities and the power of oral traditions in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.

Whether in Algebra 1 or Calculus 3, Midland 101 or Cultural Anthropology, we meet our students where they are and challenge them to push beyond their comfort zones. When it comes to elective courses, our students can be found at the potter’s wheel in Ceramics, and in the metal shop crafting jewelry for Design. Some students participate in internships for academic credit, harvesting homegrown broccoli and tomatoes for our lunch in Farm or moving the Midland cattle herd in Natural Horsemanship. People sometimes ask why we do offer honors courses, but not standardized AP courses. The answer is simple: We believe in inspiring students to be life-long learners through place-based, rigorous academics that prepare them for life, not simply a particular test.

The academic experience at Midland culminates in the Senior Project or Thesis, where students choose a topic of personal intrigue and write a college-level research paper or complete a long term investigatory project. Our students have worked to gentle wild mustangs, researched the effects of social media on teenagers, built computers from scratch using 3D printers, harvested honey from campus beehives, crafted incredible ceramic vases in our studio, and written and illustrated guides to wildflowers on campus — just to name a few.

And the cherry on top: colleges love Midland. Our rigorous courses center students, challenging, supporting, and inspiring them to grow as scholars, with the essential skills and autonomy necessary to thrive in college. Our students enter college equipped with the hard skills they need — ready to analyze texts and ideas deeply, write essays on nuanced topics, tackle complex math problems, engage authentically in scientific inquiry — in addition to the soft skills of time management, organization, collaboration, independence, and self-advocacy, skills that will benefit our students well beyond their academic careers.

In a science lab, two groups of students gather around tables. The table further from the camera has three students, all hunched over their table, its contents obscured by the students. At the table closer to the camera, topped with an empty bottle, a jar full of amber liquid, and a large silver cooking pot, one student holds an mason jar while another has an arm in the pot, presumably scooping a jar full of kombucha.

Students fill jars with kombucha they made in a science class.

Continue exploring Midland stories View all

Read more about academics at Midland