Why Middle & High Schoolers Need Their Own Curriculum

The way middle schoolers & high schoolers process information is dramatically different. Here's why the curriculum you use should be different too.

If you have spent any time with middle schoolers and high schoolers, you know one thing is true. They are drastically different. 

How they spend their time is different.
What they are interested in is different.
The amount of freedom they have is different.
How much energy they have is different. 

AND how they process information is drastically different. 

Engineers and Philosophers

Through Orange’s extensive research and learning assembled in the Phase Project, two clear concepts have emerged to simplify how we view the learning process of middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Middle school students think like engineers, meaning they learn best when they personalize an idea by connecting pieces of information. Also, they personalize abstract concepts by connecting ideas.

High school students think like philosophers. They learn best through open debate, multiple perspectives, and applied reasoning. Teenagers in this age bracket want to discover meaning, understand how it applies to their current situation, and process out loud.

Essentially, WHAT and HOW you teach a sixth-grade boy is much different than WHAT and HOW you teach a twelfth-grade girl. That’s why XP3 Middle School and XP3 High School curriculum exist. Middle school and high school curriculum share the same components. But how those components are structured may vary depending on the age group it’s created for.

So, how do age differences show up in curriculum? 

1. Teaching Scripts

The biggest difference between XP3 Middle School and XP3 High School teaching scripts is how we break down big concepts and the amount of interactives. In the XP3 Middle School teaching scripts, we provide a lot of background context, especially in our Tension and Truth sections. Oftentimes, the tension sections for middle schoolers will feel longer than those of High School. That’s because we need to make more room for middle schoolers to be able to connect the dots. 

In the XP3 Middle School teaching scripts, you may notice that we define more words. Middle schoolers are capable of understanding big concepts, but they need them broken down in bite-size pieces that they can understand. This means using words that they know and are familiar with to help them understand bigger concepts. 

Middle schoolers need abstract concepts made more concrete. As a result, the Middle School Scripts include 1-3 interactives, while High School Scripts only have one. Interactives help keep the interest and attention of middle schoolers. When you capture their intersest, you capture them for segments that follow the interactives, as well.

2. Small Group Leader Guides

In our Small Group Leader Guides, middle school does not ask stacked questions, while high school does. This means questions in the middle school small group leader guide are numbered individually, with no follow-up questions. This is because middle schoolers have not yet developed the ability to process layered thinking, which asking stacked questions requires of them. High school students want to understand why and learn best through processing out loud. We will often ask stacked questions to help them understand not only their response to a particular question but also their reason for that response. 

3. Faith Skills Experience Kits and Games

Just like our Small Group Leader Guides, any Middle School component that includes instructions for students will not give stacked instructions, while High School will. Middle School will intentionally break down given directions into individual steps. For example, in high school, we might say, “Grab a journal page, find a partner, and discuss the first question.” But in middle school, we would break those directions down one-by-one. That way, they will be able to successfully process the directions.

4. XPs (Experience Pieces)

XP3 Middle School offers XPs every single week, while XP3 High School offers one XP per series. An XP might be an interactive journal page, designed scenario cards, a small group activity, taking a walk through nature, etc. In middle school, the XPs always happen during small group time. Sometimes, there can be multiple XPs in a single week. Students complete these experiences with their group so they can immediately apply the information they just heard during the large group message. When students do something with the information they’ve heard, they’re more likely to recall and retain the information later.

5. Graphics

XP3 Middle School graphics tend to include more movement and lean younger than XP3 High School Graphics. Especially on heavier topics or deeper theological concepts, like when talking about sex or our Easter series. For these series, Middle School graphics will lean more fun. Think brighter colors, upbeat bumper videos, etc. 

6. Worship Leader Guides

The worship songs that XP3 Middle School recommends in our Worship Leader Guides are usually two things. More upbeat in style and less abstract in concept than XP3 High School. Middle school songs are more upbeat because middle schoolers are more likely to engage in a song that’s higher energy. And if you can engage a middle schooler in worship, they will be more likely to engage on a deeper level during the large group message that follows. Middle School also selects songs that include less abstract language that may be confusing for those who are brand new to church. For example, lyrics like “blood of the Lamb who was slain,” or “blood of Christ” may be lyrics that are abstract and intense. So, we try to recommend songs that include lyrics that are more clear and less confusing for middle schoolers.  

7. Games

The main difference between Middle School and High School games is the type of stage games offered. Middle school offers stage games, small group games, and all-skate games. This is strategic. Middle schoolers aren’t always comfortable with getting in front of all of their peers, especially because of body changes. They might have sweaty armpits, not be wearing the right bra, or have on clothes that are too short or too small. You get the idea. So, we offer a wide range of types of games because we want to be as inclusive as possible to all middle schoolers. Middle school games also lean a little younger and higher-energy in an effort to capture their attention. We try to break down the walls to increase engagement in the segments of programming that follow the game. 

However, High School offers mostly stage games, as they are wired for adventure and freedom and often have less energy. By offering more stage games, we give students more freedom in how they engage and offer an adventure by being on stage. 

8. Series Bottom Line

For both XP3 Middle School and XP3 High School, there is a bottom line for each week of each series. In addition to those, we have started to provide an overarching bottom line for each series. The Middle School series bottom lines are written directed toward parents, since parents are generally the ones bringing their middle schoolers to church. High School series bottom lines are directed to High Schoolers and acknowledge their agency. That’s because the goal is to get high schoolers interested in coming to church since they have more freedom than middle schoolers in deciding to attend church.

9. Parent Cue (Parent Resources)

This difference in freedom and how students engage with their parents affects the resources we offer for engaging parents. The “times” that are used in Parent Cue are different for Middle School and High School. High School Parent Cues feature “Their Time,” where Middle School Parent Cues feature “Bed Time.”  

Finally, for both XP3 Middle School and XP3 High School, we involve real-life students who make contributions to various components. Students write daily devotionals for both XP3 MS and XP3 HS. Middle schoolers are also involved in creating videos to be featured in our Media Package and Teaching Videos whenever possible for XP3 Middle School. 

Clearly, there are a lot of ways Middle School and High School curriculum are similar. However, the differences between the two are strategic when it comes to meeting teenagers in each of their phases of development. We want to make sure important truths are packaged in the most age-appropriate ways to allow for the greatest possibility for understanding an application in their real lives. If you want to learn more about how our curriculum can work in a combined middle and high school environment, check out our blog How to Use  XP3 in a Combined Environment or try XP3 curriculum free today! 

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