Curricular Overviews

The School employs a highly motivated and dedicated faculty who consistently hone the curriculum to best address the interests and needs of the students. Highly collaborative, Key's teachers work both cross-divisionally and cross-departmentally to create an engaging and ever-evolving learning experience for the students.

The following overviews provide a glimpse into the program but cannot convey the energy of Key's classroom experience—we hope you will come tour campus to see the curriculum in action.


Discovery learning, interdisciplinary learning, and rigor in learning - three hallmarks of a Key School education - are exemplified throughout the math program.

Key’s Key-Wee-through-Grade 12 math program is carefully constructed to develop mathematical concepts and to build skills in a coherent and logical manner, connecting ideas to each other and developing procedures with understanding. At every point in Key’s math curriculum, emphasis is placed on problem solving, the development of critical thinking, and applications to the real world.

Study skills and productive work habits are also essential to the learning of mathematics so great care is taken to foster and strengthen each student’s planning and organizational skills, persistence, written and oral communication, and collaborative work habits.

At all grade levels, and in age-appropriate ways, Key students explore mathematical ideas, form and investigate conjectures, discover relationships, analyze patterns, represent ideas, and justify answers—this active learning fosters flexible, creative and analytical thinking.

Attuned to the developmental readiness of students, Key’s math program provides differentiated instruction and curricular options to meet each student’s level of maturity and preparedness. The program is supported by Math Resource teachers, Learning Department specialists and Math Lab instructors who provide both opportunities for students to receive extra help and enrichment challenges as they are ready to move beyond the current class work.

The Key School math program adheres to the principles and standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which specifies focal points and instructional goals at each grade level as well as the integration of concepts across grade levels.

First School Overview

Mathematics instruction in Key’s First School uses purposeful hands-on exploration to develop foundational mathematical concepts with an emphasis on numeration, geometry, logic, spatial reasoning, and problem solving.

Students begin their day with opening routines that include counting patterns to build place value knowledge, data collection to develop meaning for numbers, and math stations to expand skills. With mathematical lessons integrated into their units of study as well, students apply mathematical reasoning to solve problems in their literature studies, engineering projects and science investigations.

As students dive into engaging challenges and expand their capacities to think quantitatively, they gain an appreciation for and love of mathematics. Key teachers draw resources from myriad external programs as well as lesson plans developed internally, ensuring students experience a rich and exciting program. All activities incorporate nationally recognized standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Lower School Overview

Lower School math instruction is organized around the fundamental principles of elementary mathematics. Students delve into place value, estimation, whole number computation, fractions and decimals. Students solve for unknowns, complete functions, measure in metric and U.S. Customary units, analyze graphs and data landmarks, and solve geometric problems. Emphasis is on number sense, computational strategies for mental and written arithmetic, and logical and spatial reasoning.

Carefully woven into instruction is the transition from physical materials that express math ideas concretely to numeric notations that represent ideas abstractly. As a part of this transition, first and second grade students practice the problem solving strategies of building models, drawing diagrams, creating lists/charts, and writing number sentences. Third and fourth grade students’ expanded problem solving repertoire includes Singapore bar model diagrams, logic matrixes, open number lines, and parentheses to express complex equations.

Mathematical learning extends beyond the six designated math classes each week. Students encounter math in their humanities, science and art units. For example:

  • First grade scientists use fraction notation to record the numbers of Amazon rainforest animals in their drawings;
  • Second grade historians outline the perimeter of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat to determine its area;
  • Third grade mathematicians use technology to study the polyhedron family and invent nets for new 3D shapes;
  • Fourth grade scientists measure birds caught in mist nets before banding and releasing them.

Interdisciplinary studies foster active learning and provides opportunities to apply math concepts and skills to other disciplines.

Middle School Overview

The Middle School curriculum is designed to guide our students as they develop mathematical skills and concepts. This is a transitional period, beginning at an elementary level and concluding with a high school Algebra I course, with homogenous math classes starting in sixth grade. The material spirals from year to year, adding developmentally appropriate topics and building on existing knowledge.

Teachers use many techniques to engage students and to provide differentiated instruction. This includes use of manipulatives, games, projects, and technology such as computer programs and Smartboards.

Middle School math goals are:

  • to develop thinking skills—an understanding and appreciation of the derivation and application of a process as well as facility using it;
  • to practice communications skills—using correct mathematical form and vocabulary while explaining mathematical ideas in different ways.
  • to discover productive work habits—finding the most efficient and personally compatible methods to accomplish objectives.
  • to improve study skills—making developmentally appropriate progress in integrating and increasing our academic knowledge.

Upper School Overview

The Upper School mathematics program at Key is sequential, with students progressing from Algebra I to Geometry and then to Algebra II. Upon departmental recommendation, following Algebra II, students enroll either in Trigonometry and Finite Math or Pre-Calculus. Advanced Calculus (AB or BC) is offered to students who have successfully completed the Pre-Calculus course. Statistics may be taken as an elective following Algebra II. In Intro to Computer Science, students apply fundamental concepts of a computer language to mathematical and scientific problems chosen by both teacher and students.

The program is supported by the Math Lab, providing opportunities for students to have added help in areas they find difficult and for moving students who have special interests and abilities beyond the mainstream work of a class.

Available Courses:
Algebra I
Geometry with Trigonometry
Algebra II
Algebra II with Trigonometry
Trigonometry and Finite Math
Advanced Calculus AB
Advanced Calculus BC
Introduction to Computer Science

Students sit for both the Advanced Calculus AB and BC AP exam and have the option to take the AP in Statistics.


Through discussions, experiments, and activities Key's science teachers help students at each grade level answer their questions, revise their misconceptions, and add depth to their understanding. Students learn to work collaboratively, with teachers often taking on the role of facilitator instead of lecturer.

The department structure affords the opportunity for cross-grade collaboration to support course offerings that feature a hands-on, active and experiential approach to concept development.

Through cross-divisional work, an integrated, spiral curriculum is maintained by revisiting concepts introduced in First or Lower Schools and in the Middle and Upper Schools. Students experience a variety of lesson styles. Class discussions and lectures address the needs of oral learners while stretching kinesthetic learners.

The scientific method is studied at all levels of the curriculum. Simple experiments and design challenges expose younger students to the types of questions scientists ask and the sorts of problems that engineers try to solve. Older students maintain a formal lab notebook, collaborate on investigations with peers, review each other’s work, discuss experimental errors, and use graphs to represent and analyze their quantitative data. Unexpected outcomes are used to generate questions that allow students to develop a more nuanced understanding of those theories.

Whereas the scientific method is essentially skills-based, the study of life cycles is a content-based topic that also runs throughout the curriculum, First School through Upper School, explored with increasing sophistication as age-appropriate.

First School Overview

The First School science curriculum presents a hands-on experimental approach to learning science that meets the developing needs of Key's youngest children. Access to materials and equipment in their daily schedule affords the children with many opportunities to experience science.

As children solve problems, they make decisions. They evaluate their own results and test their ideas. A sense of mastery over the environment is encouraged by allowing them to respond to materials at their own level. Science becomes an enjoyable, integrated part of their daily learning.

As the children progress through First School, the sequential program evolves to meet their developmental needs. In addition to their classroom work which is often related to a timely unit of study, students at each grade level work in the science classroom with a dedicated First School science teacher.

Lower School Overview

Science is a natural vehicle for children to ponder the world around them. Key's Lower School science curriculum builds on the students' curious nature and introduces them to the core concepts of life, physical, Earth and environmental sciences. Lessons begin with guided inquiry and concepts are applied and practiced through projects that emphasize solutions to real world problems. The science curriculum in grades one through four builds independent and collaborative habits that enhance the students’ ability to gain a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of scientific principles.

Engineering and technology skills are infused within the core science concepts. Our curriculum, engages students in design challenges which develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. We encourage our students to ask questions, share their observations and test their theories. The design process promotes the idea that solutions come from multiple efforts of which all might not be successful. Therefore, we make time for students to develop, test, and communicate their ideas.

Middle School Overview

Key’s inquiry based Middle School science curriculum encourages curiosity while providing carefully prepared activities and experiments to develop concepts.

Fifth and sixth grade general science is a two-year program designed to build upon Lower School experiences and covers topics in life, physical and Earth sciences. Seventh grade marks the beginning of the sequence of courses that focus on the life science. Eighth grader are engaged in the study of Earth science.

In the investigation of these topics, at each grade level, Middle School students develop critical thinking skills by observing, questioning, inferring, identifying patterns and relationships, developing and supporting conclusions, and employing models to illustrate abstract concepts. Students also learn a variety of laboratory skills such as working cooperatively with partners, working independently, following directions, time management, safety within the laboratory, and data collection.

Students design and conduct experiments, analyze data, graph findings, and write lab reports. Class discussions, use of pertinent internet sources, teacher-guided investigations, activities, and simulations are also used to convey specific information.

The students also produce and perform a variety of experiments based upon their own questions. To support student learning, a variety of teaching methods are incorporated into each class.

Upper School Overview

Key’s Upper School science program strengthens the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that enable students to make wise decisions about public issues and to function intelligently in an increasingly technological world.

In Fall of 2016, Key began to transition to an Integrated Science Program which incorporates aspects of chemistry, biology and physics into each of Key's required science classes in lieu of teaching them separately. Through purposeful integration, the meaning and relevance of abstract topics become evident because students are able to apply their learning as they explore topics traditionally found in other disciplines.

In one of many examples, Key’s Integrated Science Program enables students to immediately apply what they learn about the force of collisions (previously learned in ninth grade Conceptual Physics) to understand the behavior of gases (studied as gas laws in tenth grade Chemistry). Learn more about Key's Integrated Science Program.

Advanced science electives for juniors include Physics, Experimental Design, Astronomy and Chemistry. As seniors, students are able to add Advanced Biology to their options.

Key students also are able to take AP exams in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Language Arts/Language Arts & Social Studies/Humanities

Key School's language arts program evolves into an interdisciplinary program in second grade when Language Arts and Social Studies courses are combined. As students move into Middle and Upper Schools, Humanities classes combine the study of history, social studies and English.

Developing students’ abilities to examine their ideas critically, find evidence for or against them, and express them clearly is the heart of the School’s humanities program.

The overarching focus of the curriculum is developing independent reading, writing, research, speaking, and critical reasoning skills. Faculty members are focused on helping children become fluent, flexible, effective users of oral and written language at different stages of their development, as age-appropriate.

Through reading, writing, speaking, and listening, children come to understand the world. Curricular choices, at all grade levels, are made with these pedagogical goals in mind. The interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum supports students’ abilities to apply the skills they learn in a variety of ways and encourages discipline and creativity in problem-solving.

The goal is to engage each individual student’s curiosity and passion, so students will find their classes meaningful and enjoy reading, writing and thinking. The feedback the School gets from alumni shows that students are consistently well-prepared, in terms both of practical skills and curricular content.

First School Overview

The development of literacy and language skills in early childhood is of the utmost importance. Our children learn that the printed word provides access to vast sources of information and can provide great enjoyment. They also discover that the written and spoken word are a powerful means of self-expression.

In the First School, children are immersed in a print-rich environment where quality children’s books and other forms of writing such as signs, charts, letters and journals are used to find answers to questions, communicate ideas and provide enjoyment. Children are also given many opportunities to develop their ability to communicate through speech as they interact with classmates and share information and ideas during group discussions. The texts of songs, rhymes and books are also integrated into each thematic unit to reinforce reading, speaking and listening skills employing multi-sensory phonics techniques.

Social Studies begins to be integrated with Language Arts in Pre-Kindergarten. The curriculum is designed to create a community that values mutual respect, compassion and personal responsibility while keeping literacy and language skills a focus. Direct instruction about the alphabet, phonics and other reading skills is primarily done through use of the texts of the songs, rhymes and books that are integrated into each thematic unit.

Content rich thematic units expose children to a wide range of ideas that help them make sense of their world.

Lower School Overview

The Lower School Language Arts program is based on the latest neuroscience findings, which indicate that successful reading fluency requires students to have acquired spoken language skills, meaningful vocabulary skills, knowledge of the many sound patterns that are required for word reading and clear and concise articulation for reading and spelling. Students are carefully monitored in grades one, two and three for strengths and challenges within the neuroscience framework. The Lower School is highly cognizant that reading is a developmental skill that is acquired within this time frame.

Students are enticed to read by integrating acquired reading skills with rich, meaningful content. Each grade reads, discusses, researches, and writes about the varying traditions, values and character traits that are admired by different cultures. They then compare and analyze similarities and differences with their own culture.

Written, oral and digital communication skills as well as critical thinking and problem solving skills are highly emphasized by the tasks, activities, projects, and performances that students complete.

Middle School Overview

English and Social Studies are integrated into a rich Humanities program in Middle School that immerses students in learning about themselves as citizens of their local community, their country and the world. Students are engaged in a discussion-based and project-based curriculum in which they learn about their family origins and the founding and development of colonial America and the United States through the reading of primary source documents and historical fiction. Learning is enriched as real-world connections are made through role play simulations and field trips to St. Mary’s City, Williamsburg, historic Annapolis, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Harpers Ferry, the National Archives, the Newseum, and the Holocaust Museum.

Through a focus on foundations of government and civic responsibility, they are also actively involved in discussing current political events and issues. With this foundation in their own society and culture, students expand their world view through studying all of the global regions, focusing on the cultures of each area.

Throughout the curriculum, students read novels and poetry from various literary genres, accompanied by a weekly independent reading class where they are able to read a book of their own choice.

The Middle School Humanities program emphasizes the spiraling development of skills such as critical thinking, literary analysis and reading comprehension, research using digital and print sources, analytical and creative writing, and public speaking.

Upper School Overview

The core English and history courses are team-taught, interdisciplinary studies of the significant developments in Western thought, culture, history, and literary tradition. Elective courses, such as Cultures In Conflict, Japan and the West, and Current World Issues augment this study by introducing students to a more diverse range of experience.

Seminar discussion, which requires students to think on their feet and to make creative use of evidence from course readings and elsewhere, is at the heart of the humanities program.

The ninth and tenth grade courses, Ancient Civilizations and European Civilization, use influential sources in literature and history to immerse students in a study of philosophy, society, history, literature, and art from the beginnings of civilization to contemporary Europe. The eleventh grade American Civilization course examines the ways American culture, history, institutions, literature, and society have developed. The three English 12 courses draw upon this same framework to deepen students’ understanding of literature.

A central focus of the humanities program is the development of essential skills. Students and teachers work together closely in a process that helps students develop their essays from evidence through structure to a well-written final project. A primary goal of this collaboration is to maintain consistency in coaching students to cultivate the clarity of students’ expression, the precision of their thought, and the originality of their voices.

Humanities courses also emphasize collaborative skills, through structured group projects.

Students have the option to sit for the AP exam in Government and English Literature and Composition.

Foreign Language

The Key School has been committed to the study of classical languages since its founding in 1958. Foreign language instruction begins with the introduction of French in first grade, and progresses to provide additional options for students to study Spanish, Arabic and Latin.

Through the study of foreign language at Key, students are in the company of some of the world’s best writers and thinkers and a body of literature that has profoundly influenced Western culture.

In modern languages, Key's curriculum is designed to develop the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. In Latin, the focus is primarily on reading and writing.

In support of these objectives, Key faculty have developed a spiraling curriculum which builds across grade and division levels. Material is learned through a variety of activities, projects and experiences comprising relevant lessons and authentic experiences including: pen pals, field trips (domestic and international), guest speakers, nature walks, cooking lessons and demonstrations, current events (through primary source readings), music, and cultural celebrations.

French Overview

In the Lower School, French is offered in grades one through four.

In the Middle School, French continues in grades five through eight. At the end of fifth grade, students are given the option of continuing in French or beginning Spanish.

For students new to Key in grades 6 through 8, an individual discussion with a member of the foreign language department regarding background and interest allows students the flexibility to transition into their language of choice.

Students who have successfully completed their eighth grade French course are ready to start French III in Upper School.

In Upper School, Key offers French I/II through French V with an option to take AP French Language and Culture exam; French Literature and Film is an additional elective.

Students in the upper level courses are encouraged to converse fluently, present orally, read ambitiously, and write in creative and expository modes in the target language. Cultural studies and activities, along with periodic travel opportunities, add enrichment to all levels of the modern language study.

Spanish Overview

In Middle School, Spanish is an option beginning in sixth grade. Students who successfully complete eighth grade Spanish are ready to start Spanish II in the Upper School.

In Upper School, Key offers Spanish I, Spanish II, Spanish III, Spanish Language and Literature, and Advanced Spanish Literature. Students sit for the Spanish Literature and Culture AP exam, and may elect to sit for the Spanish Language and Culture AP.

Students in the upper level courses are encouraged to converse fluently, present orally, read ambitiously, and write in creative and expository modes in the target language. Cultural studies and activities, along with periodic travel opportunities, add enrichment to all levels of the modern language study.

Arabic Overview

In Upper School, students may elect to take Arabic I, Arabic II or Arabic III.

Students in the upper level courses are encouraged to converse fluently, present orally, read ambitiously, and write in creative and expository modes in the target language. Cultural studies and activities, along with periodic travel opportunities, add enrichment to all levels of the modern language study.

Latin Overview

A four-year progression of Latin is offered in the Upper School, culminating in the Advanced Latin course that prepares students for the Advanced Latin AP exam.

Key’s Latin program stresses reading and translation with less emphasis on the conversational elements central to modern language courses. Particular focus is placed on gaining an understanding of Latin grammar, syntax and morphology, along with vocabulary building. Aspects of Roman history and culture are included in every level. The program is intentional in using Latin to better understand English.


Key School believes the visual arts are an integral part of every child’s learning and cognitive development.

The Key School Visual Arts program engages student artists Kindergarten through grade twelve in a wide breadth of creative experiences. It provides avenues for self-expression, cultivating artistic behaviors, and the development of critical and divergent thinking strategies.

Lower School and Middle School programs provide year-long, interdisciplinary art curricula with specialized art teachers working with students in art studio spaces. The Upper School program offers a wide range of immersive studio experiences beginning with a year of Art I foundational concepts, and branches out to include studio concentrations and independent studies. Courses include: ceramics, digital photography, digital video, drawing and painting, and printmaking and design. Studio Art students have the option to sit for the Studio Art AP exam.

Orff Schulwerk - Performing Arts

Key School's nationally recognized Orff Schulwerk music program begins in Lower School and continues through the Middle School involving all students in a daily study of speech, rhythm, instruments, singing, creative movement and dance, drama, and improvisation.
The Key School recognizes the importance of music and performing arts education and believes that the development of each student is dependent on intellectual endeavors in the performing arts.
Lower School, the children play xylophones, glockenspiels, metallophones, soprano recorder, and unpitched percussion instruments. They also learn to read music and understand basic theoretical concepts.

In Middle School Orff Schulwerk, an increasing emphasis is placed on music theory and composition. Students are introduced to modes, triads and asymmetrical meters. The study of recorder progresses during the Middle School years to include alto, tenor, sopranino, and bass.

The study of music and dance in the Upper School involves students in a number of academic classes as well as a variety of activities. Upper School students may choose courses in Music Theory, Chamber Choir, Dance Technique, Theater Design, Acting, Multimedia Storytelling, and Playwriting. These students can also participate in activities such as the Upper School Chorus, Jazz Ensemble, Classical Ensemble, and the Renaissance Consort.

Key School also offers all Lower, Middle and Upper School students private lessons in voice, string and wind instruments, piano, and guitar.

Physical Education

Physical Education is an invaluable part of a Key School education from First School through Upper School.
Because Key emphasizes self-improvement, inclusion, and cooperation, each child can participate at his or her own skill level and thereby gain the confidence and pride that accompanies achievement.

Coeducational classes are structured to develop physical fitness, agility, self-esteem, and good sportsmanship. Experience with athletic competition and teamwork is an important aspect of the program. Students learn and apply the skills and concepts of individual and team sports by participating in a variety of athletic activities.

Through a developmentally appropriate program, children strengthen skills, build endurance, enhance coordination, enjoy a sense of camaraderie, and build the foundation for a lifetime of physical activity and fitness.

Physical education is required of all students through the junior year. Upper School students who play on an interscholastic team may elect to be excused from physical education for that season.