Acera BlogCourtney's Corner

Middle School for Gifted Learners

By January 11, 2024No Comments

How is Acera’s middle school similar and different from other programs? We know it is designed for gifted students: concretely, what does that mean?  

Most middle schools

Acera middle school

Have a content-driven, knowledge acquisition focus, defined by age and grade and guided by specific district mandated curriculum.

Use tests and grades for assessment, which can increase anxiety (and decrease joy!) in learning.

Has an inquiry-oriented approach to learning which taps intrinsic motivation, with concepts, reading and content at a high school level.

Leverages observations by teachers and culminating events for assessment (IMPposium, performances, presentations) to authentically showcase learning and foster confidence.

Have students move through a schedule with lots of teachers, usually 6 subjects each day, in standard timeblocks, with an emphasis on turning in work and following the schedule. Teachers are expected to focus on ensuring that students learn the subject.

Gives students some say in their path and the ability to work with lots of different teachers over a school year, with longer time blocks for deep engagement and adults that deeply know each student, typically with multi year rapport. Teachers emphasize the growth of each student as a whole person, including academics, social, emotional, content, and habits of mind like complex thinking

Offer math on grade level or one grade level ahead of what is typical. Hence, MS usually includes grade 6 math, pre algebra, algebra.  Additional math levels such as geometry and “above” are not typically offered.

Ability based math block which includes at, above, enriched, and substantially above grade level options, including discrete math, number theory, geometry, pre-calculus, calculus etc. built around the students enrolled each year.

Design learning around coverage, repetition, practice, and standardized student output.

Learning designed for engagement, higher level thinking, and broad application across disciplines in generative, creative ways.

Teach and cover essential skills, often in step-by-step chronological approaches to learning and use.  Repetition is emphasized to generate retention.  Student performance can be built on motivation to get good grades.

Teaches and coaches, in customized ways, essential skills which are woven into high engagement projects and discussions.  Application is emphasized to generate retention and internal motivation.  This type of learning – conceptually rich and complex –  is essential for gifted thinkers!

Teachers are generally told what to teach and what curriculum to use.  Curriculum is age based on common objective standards.  Typically, there is very little engineering, Maker Space, or above grade level STEM learning.  Discussions in classrooms use questions to elicit “answers” that are “right.”

Teachers are empowered to customize learning to fit their students, going above and substantially beyond grade level  Teachers can tap / adapt from any curriculum or invent anew based on their professional judgment and knowledge of kids’ capacities and interests. Robust inclusion of complex and above grade level STEM, in electives and IMPp/passion projects.  Discussions in classrooms use questions to engage higher order thinking and application which is expansive.

A student has a learning path that is based on their grade level, and typical for that age.

A student has a learning path which fits what they are ready for, based upon start of year assessment, parent listening conferences, and students’ interests and profile.

Please reach out if you are wondering more about any facet of our program, which is uniquely tuned and evolves for each stage in development. We often meet with parents of elementary aged students to ponder what a future at Acera will be like and how our program changes based on the middle years stages of development.

Wondering about Grade 9 Bonus Year? Reach out about that, too! We love to talk with parents about their child, learning, and student growth – in fact, this is our favorite topic!


All the best, 


Courtney Dickinson is Acera’s Founder & Head of School.