At GUS, A student could know everything there is to know about a subject and it still wouldn’t be enough.
“As soon as I walked into our third grade classroom all my worries left me like thousands of tiny butterflies fluttering away.”—GUS student
Science and Social Studies (Theme)
In third grade, students turn outward from learning about themselves to explore the world around them. Their theme is “Where Am I Going?” Research, role-playing, and projects provide opportunities for deeper learning and accommodate different learning styles. The students begin by learning about communities—their school community, the communities they live in, and the qualities that make different communities similar and unique. They each research their town and create a report about the population, the local government, and historical happenings. They move on to cities and learn about state government, how a bill becomes a law, and transportation systems, and they discuss ideas about how to protect the environment and keep cities clean. They tour the North End and the State House in Boston, and they design and build 3-foot-tall skyscrapers.
Next, third graders learn about continents, countries, and oceans. They each choose a country, research the geographic and cultural characteristics, and create a travel pamphlet. They learn about mapping and different types of maps. We choose the Sonoran Desert as a focus and the students consider that very different climate and the plants and animals that survive there.
Our year concludes with the students learning about a community in a different historical period, the Middle Ages, and their culminating project is a Medieval Morning celebration for which each student is assigned a role. To prepare, the students work in small groups to draft scripts that describe their characters and roles in society. Some students narrate and perform in a group, as is appropriate for their station, while others, such as the king and queen, speak alone. In music class, students practice the recorder to perform medieval songs during the event; in dance class, they learn the stick dance they perform.
Third graders begin the year with a reading workshop. They create reading journals, learn about fiction and nonfiction genres, and practice strategies to select books that are “just right.” They learn to identify and use nonfiction text features to locate information efficiently. They consider the unique traits of the nonfiction genre biography. In our poetry unit, the students learn about and experiment with descriptive language, personification, rhyme schemes, and similes. When we read and talk about fairy tales, students identify the elements of this classic genre, consider how culture affects fairy tales and why there are different versions, and write their own version of a fairy tale.
We introduce third graders to a wide range of math concepts. They begin with a review of our base-ten number system and their addition and subtraction strategies and learn place values up to 1,000,000. They move on to multiplication, fractions, decimals, and percents. They practice measuring with rulers and scales and learn the relationship between an ounce, a cup, a pint, a quart, and a gallon. In a plane geometry unit, they identify points, lines, line segments, rays, angles, planes, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, and polygons. We look to events in our daily lives to create problems and experiments for our probability unit and engage in games that illustrate the concepts of likely, unlikely, certain, possible, and impossible. Students create their own survey, collect data, and create a graph with a title, labels, whole number intervals, and categories.
Beginning in third grade, students learn typing and word processing to enhance writing across the curriculum and to become proficient in using both MS Word and Google Docs. Student engage in projects in which they conduct research, collect data, and present their results to the whole school in colorful displays that include text, photos, and graphs. For their research, students use library resources, the Internet, video collections, and EBSCO databases. They cite resources with Easybib and create spreadsheets, graphs, digital photography, slideshows, and video presentations.
Twice a week we engage the third graders in a lesson from our Open Circle social/emotional curriculum. We gather in an open circle—open because we include one extra space to underscore that there is always room for another voice and no one is ever left out—for a short lesson and conversation and a story or an activity. As an example, in the Strengthening Relationships unit they practice giving compliments that are true, specific, and positive and receiving compliments with a thank you and a smile. They discuss how it feels to be excluded and why people sometimes exclude others, and they practice some ways to include or help others who are left out. The children also consider what it means to cooperate and identify the skills that are needed, such as sharing, taking turns, staying calm, and agreeing on roles. A Chair for My Mother, by Vera Williams, works well to generate a conversation about cooperation.
Third grade Spanish instruction continues to emphasize listening and speaking, and students are encouraged to provide one-word answers to questions. Students learn vocabulary related to their theme “Where Am I Going?” Vocabulary includes the calendar, parts of a city, transportation, prepositions and direction words, and desert animals. The curriculum fosters cultural awareness, appreciation for other cultures, and cultural diversity through the use of traditional literature, stories, music, songs, and rhymes. Third graders learn about important sights and city life in Madrid and other major cities in Spain, the symbolic importance of Spain’s flag, and they read the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha and Ferdinand the Bull. As in other years, they celebrate the holidays of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), La Navidad (Christmas), El Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), Carnaval, and Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May).
Third graders create many individual and collaborative pieces that compliment explorations prompted by our theme “Where Am I Going?” They construct 3D “dream towns,” which might be rural, suburban, or urban, using paper maché, recycled materials, and tempura. As a class, they create a mural that celebrates animals of the world. When they are finding palindromes using the hundred chart in math class, in art class they create symmetrical, intricate, and colorful visual palindromes. When they are learning about adjectives in language arts, in art class they draw monsters and the five adjectives that describe their monsters are part of the composition. Third graders explore depth of field by creating oil pastel landscapes in the manner of David Hockney. Finally, they work together to create art for our medieval morning.
In music, third graders continue to learn the rhythm and pitch notation of musical patterns in readiness for the more complex skill of reading musical notation in context in fourth grade. Music class incorporates world music, using songs and rhythms from different lands. Students learn about the pentatonic scale and listen to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. A big focus for third graders is learning to play recorders. They practice weekly repertoire selections as a small group, a large group, and as soloists, with accurate pitch and rhythm and beautiful tone, and they perform at assemblies and at Medieval Morning.
In dance class, students create, express, communicate, and secure confidence through the study of movement. They participate in exercises that foster creativity, challenge them physically and expressively, require teamwork, develop identity, promote problem solving, and require that they describe their creative process. Children gain body awareness, coordination, locomotor skills, musicality, and choreography techniques through formal and improvisational modern dance lessons. The K–5 dance curriculum spirals from year to year, increasing in complexity. As an example, when third graders are learning about maps and mapping, in dance they learn about the trail or pathway a dancer travels through space, and they create a pathway dance map, indicating beginning and end, patterns of movement, and visual cues so another person can perform their dance.
In addition to the modern dance curriculum, students are introduced to a variety of cultural dance styles. To broaden our global education and dance advocacy, the entire GUS school participates in Dance Anywhere, an annual worldwide simultaneous celebration of dance!
If the co-teachers assess that a class is ready in terms of their skill level and ability to follow rules, third graders begin to play team-oriented games, such as sideline soccer. As always, all students participate in all activities and we encourage them to strive for their own personal best and to measure their improvement against themselves and not others.
As their community service, third graders compost for the entire school. They begin the year by learning about the purpose and process of composting and what food items can and cannot be composted. They create posters and share this knowledge at an all school meeting. Then, every day, the third graders empty the compost bins in each classroom, the faculty room, and the kitchen and carry the food scraps to the school’s recycling area. When the refuse becomes viable compost, it is used in one of the gardens on the school’s campus.