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Lower School (K-5)

Sometimes getting into the best colleges starts with six bottles of glue, seventy-four popsicle sticks, and two extremely invested teachers.

Nothing is more important to the academic development of a young student than the thoughtful guidance of experienced teachers and a mindfully constructed learning environment. To support each child individually at GUS, we employ two full-time lead teachers in grades K to 2 with a team teaching model in grades 3 to 5. This flexible model allows for learning and discovery in full-class, small-group, and individual configurations and is crucial to our experiential and cross-curricular learning philosophy.

Through collaboration, conversation, and hands-on experiences within a challenging curriculum, GUS students become active learners who understand the meaning and purpose of what they are doing. They also grow to understand their individual learning styles—their strengths, their weaknesses, what they are passionate about, and where they have the potential and opportunity to lead.

Kindergarten

What happens during a kindergarten day?

We plan our days so that kindergartners are busy, purposeful, and enthusiastic. Children are actively engaged in observation, exploration, problem solving, and creative self-expression. They acquire academic skills, and they also begin to understand their own cognitive processes. Our mornings begin with routines that introduce early literacy skills and important math concepts, and as the year progresses, we transfer responsibility for these routines to the students, fostering independence and self-confidence. We also share a story and a short lesson, often related to our theme, “The World Around Us.” Children engage in all areas of study: language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, Spanish, art, music, dance, physical education, technology, and community service, traveling to different parts of our campus for some of their classes.

Kindergartners engage in a wide range of activities on different days and at different times of the year. They play letter sounds games, write in their journals, tap maple trees, weave rugs, graph statistics, answer questions about probability, and work out math problems with small collections of objects. They do still life paintings, explore sequencing programs on the class computer, play theme-related board games, read quietly in the library corner or to a teacher, and play in the housekeeping corner, which has turned into a store, a castle, or a post office.

Students have recess periods daily. Research confirms that safe and supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. This time to play, during which much social and emotional growth happens, is crucial for all ages.

Afternoons give kindergartners the opportunity to focus on in-depth projects, which might include an element of drama, science, or art, to integrate these disciplines with their theme studies. Just as we plan for students to make connections across disciplines, so too, we encourage them to apply their understanding in imaginative and constructive ways. Our overarching theme provides a platform for integrated projects and deeper learning.

How do we guide children’s behavior in the classroom?

The kindergarten program is designed for students’ success. The daily schedule allows for a mixture of active learning and quiet listening time. Children engage in a variety of tasks at their tables, playing games, writing papers, completing projects, and learning concepts with manipulatives and hands-on activities.

Building community and developing interpersonal skills are priorities in kindergarten. When children have difficulty working out social problems or disagreements, we provide them with problem-solving skills by encouraging the children to listen to each other and negotiate solutions, initially, with our guidance and, increasingly, independently. The children decide on the rules that govern the class; these rules are revisited often and sometimes change as the year progresses. Importantly, we take time in the moment to sort out an issue, building each child’s individual ability to dialogue and find a positive solution. Having two teachers in the classroom affords us this opportunity to impart important social lessons as well as academic lessons.

How do we handle a wide range of skill levels in kindergarten?

In the first weeks of the kindergarten year, we spend a great deal of time assessing the children’s reading, writing, and math skills. We establish a level for each child so they are working at a “just right” pace, not rushing to keep up, nor waiting for others to finish. We present classroom instruction to large and small groups and also, intentionally, to students individually. Having two fully credentialed teachers in the classroom ensures that students receive differentiated, individualized, and small group instruction. Children work and learn in small, teacher-directed and independent groups. Sometimes, groups rotate so that each child experiences multiple activities. Other times, children engage for extended periods in small literacy or math groups, allowing us to guide and expand their thinking.

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Our theme in kindergarten, “The World Around Us,” engages the students’ innate enthusiasm for learning about and making sense of the world.  There are many opportunities for field trips and hands-on learning in our exploration of how we satisfy our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. We learn about multi-stepped processes (such as planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing) that satisfy these needs. We study kindergarten physics—motion in humans and animals, motion in nature (wind, water, and sound), gravity and friction. We learn about simple machines and seasonal weather. In our clothing unit, we spin, weave, knit, and sew.  Each child makes a winter hat to bring home. In the spring, we build a doll-sized house model from the foundation up, after exploring shelter here and around the world.

Language Arts

Our kindergarten environment is rich in intentional literacy opportunities. We teach literacy skills in small-group lessons, devoting one day of each week to journal writing, with the goal of having the children write simple sentences and stories. The children learn about sounds in words and strengthen their skills in spelling and handwriting. On the other days, we focus on the multiple strands involved in reading acquisition, which include phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, phonics, sight vocabulary, attention to reading strategies through very simple text, and comprehension.

Mathematics

We teach math to both whole and small groups, dividing our focus equally among math concepts, procedures, and vocabulary. Children use concrete materials and problem-solving techniques to ensure understanding and develop number sense. Kindergarten math lays the foundation for math study in many areas, including patterns, geometry, measurement, and computation. Cuisenaire rods are a manipulative used by the math program at every grade level. In kindergarten, the rods introduce the children to place value and computation.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

In kindergarten, children begin to develop a sense of self and actively engage in their classroom environment. They become contributing group members and come to be valued for their unique qualities. They interact in ever expanding circles, starting with individual friendships, their classroom community, and the school community, and particularly, in their relationships with their fifth grade partners. Their community service projects expand the circle beyond the school community, reaching far into the world when they form a partnership with a school in Nevis, West Indies.

Twice a week we engage the kindergartners 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.

Spanish

Kindergartners begin their study of Spanish by learning their Spanish names and how to greet each other. They learn about where Spanish is spoken in the world and about Mexico and its culture, traditions, and holidays. They practice the sounds of the Spanish alphabet, learn the numbers 1–20, sing Spanish songs, and hear Spanish versions of familiar fairy tales. They also build a vocabulary of words related to their theme, including parts of the body, farm animals, fruits and vegetables, weather, and clothing.

Visual Arts

In art class, kindergartners explore the work of Vincent Van Gogh and create their own still life drawings. When they are learning about shapes in their math class, the children look at the cut-paper assemblages of Henri Matisse and Joan Miro and then draw, cut, and glue their own assemblages. They experiment with using materials and lines to create texture and with recognizing shapes in bird and animal figures, and they paint and draw animal and bird portraits. Kindergartners also engage in printmaking, 3-D animal sculptures, bird masks, and self-portraits.

Music

In music class, kindergartners consider the differences between speaking and singing voices and learn how to use their singing voices—by singing high and low, fast and slow, up and down. They learn how to listen to music through movement, echoing, and playing simple instruments. They prepare songs to perform at school events throughout the year.

Dance

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, kindergarteners begin their year of dance learning to use their body language to communicate a favorite experience from the summer. Then, they work in groups to collaboratively physicalize a story, spelling out words with their bodies.

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!

Community Service

For their community service project, kindergartners form a partnership with a school in Nevis, West Indies. Specifically, they sponsor a Bring Your Teddy Bear to School Day event to raise money to purchase supplies for the school. They create posters, announce their event at an all-school meeting, and collect donations from all the classrooms.

First Grade

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Our theme in first grade is “Who Am I?” Students learn about themselves and the living world around them. We engage in projects that focus on the five senses, the human body, and the life cycles of animals, plants, and humans. Hands-on projects integrate science, social studies, art, math, and language arts. To activate their thinking, first graders begin by illustrating what they think is inside their bodies on a small-scale outline.  Then they learn about the respiratory system, the nervous system, the skeletal system, the circulatory system, the muscular system, and the digestive system. As the students discover the complexity and function of each system, they record their understanding by building life-sized internal self-sculptures, using bubble wrap for lungs, streamers for veins and arteries, and buttons for teeth. This project encourages students to think beyond the facts and visualize the complexities of who they are as human beings. We turn from this self-exploration to the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly; we observe, care for, and record the progress of chrysalises in our classroom and set our hatched butterflies free. The unit ends with a much-anticipated visit to the Butterfly Place in Westford.

Language Arts

Literacy work is everywhere in first grade, from focused reading and writing time and journaling about interpersonal issues to recording scientific observations and acquiring vocabulary in mathematics.Theme units have a broader and deeper impact because they connect to other disciplines, such as literacy. For example, when first graders study the human body in theme, they reflect on losing a tooth and write stories chronicling their unique and often humorous experiences.

First graders spend at least 90 minutes each day on language arts. They practice phonics work and engage in such activities as writer’s workshop, author chair, and a nonfiction research paper and presentation. They create many written pieces to collect in their black books. Literacy work also includes daily direct reading and writing instruction in both individual and small groups. Having two skilled teachers in the classroom allows us to tailor individualized literacy instruction for each student.  In first grade, literacy work is engaging, dynamic, and appropriately challenging to build confidence and mastery and ensure continuous growth.

Small group instruction ensures that a range of learners is being challenged at their individual levels.

Reader’s Theater, taught in small groups, is one engaging way students learn fluency and expression.

Opinion, narrative, and informational writing are three genres the students explore.

Mathematics

Our goal in first grade math is to create mathematical thinkers who understand how numbers work and can apply that understanding throughout their lives. Our program goes far beyond the simple memorization of number facts and operations; instead, students build a strong foundation for solving complex mathematical problems. Cuisenaire rods, a math manipulative, form the basis of the program across all grades. The rods provide both a physical representation of quantities and operations and a common mathematical language that applies to basic addition as well as complex algebra.  

For an hour every day, first graders focus on mathematics challenges that require the manipulation of concrete materials to answer abstract questions. Using the Cuisenaire rods, we present addition and subtraction facts in multiple, concrete ways so that the concepts are accessible to all learners. Next, we present students with number models that match the rod examples. Children who benefit from visual support create number flashcards that are color-coded to match the Cuisenaire rods. Students move on to word problems and pictorial models and the task of creating number sentences that represent those problems. As children progress in their understanding, we challenge them to create their own addition and subtraction problems.

Visual models help students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of addition and subtraction.

First graders explore fractions, transformational geometry, and volume.

Math block is divided into whole group activities, small group stations, and individual practice.

We use the whole school campus for math—measuring tulip bulbs, hunting for symmetrical objects on the nature trail, counting leaves by tens—we encourage first graders to find uses for their math skills all around them.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the first 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 Beginning Together unit students learn that getting to know each other will help them work well together in their open circle. They talk about what makes them different and the same and hear the story Shades of People, by Shelley Rotner. They consider what it means to reflect—to pause and ask themselves questions about an experience. How am I doing? What did I learn? They work together to choose some rules they will follow in their open circle and they talk about the importance of being honest and how they communicate with body language and tone.

Spanish

First grade Spanish class emphasizes listening, acquiring vocabulary, and giving complete answers to basic questions. First graders learn Spanish words for introductions and greetings, shapes, colors, numbers 1–30, and also words related to their theme, including the five senses, animal features, parts of the human body, the life cycles of plants and animals, and hibernating and nocturnal animals. They listen to various stories, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (La Oruga Hambrienta), AHappy Day (Un Día Feliz), and La Historia del Coqui ( Coqui frog story).  The Spanish curriculum fosters cultural awareness and appreciation through the use of traditional literature, stories, music, songs, rhymes, and food.  Students learn about Puerto Rico, its flag, land, animal life, and El Carnaval celebration.  They learn how Mexican families celebrate La Navidad (Christmas), Three Kings Day, and Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May).  

First graders also participate in the Ambassador Butterfly Symbolic Migration project. They track the migration of monarch butterflies throughout the year and learn about Mexico. In the fall, as the monarchs make their journey south, students write notes in Spanish that are gathered in a large paper monarch butterfly and sent to Mexico. In the spring, as the monarchs make their journey north, the children receive notes in a large monarch sent by children from somewhere else in North America.

Visual Arts

Many first grade art projects relate to their theme and, particularly, to the unit in which students explore the places that make up their world. As they learn about themselves in the classroom, in the art room they paint self-portraits with tempera paints, create portraits of their families with oil pastels or watercolor resist, draw their bedrooms with colored pencils and markers, and help each other make full-size body portraits using tempera paint. As they consider their environment, they engage in place-based projects like drawing their house at night with oil pastels on black paper, making owl prints with ink and foam trays, collaborating to create a winter animals mural, using tracing paper and scissors to make snowflakes; building three-dimensional representations of shelters they invent for animals to live in in winter, and sketching flowers outside their classroom and then painting them in the style of Georgia O’Keefe. First graders use different media, such as pencils, tempera paint, watercolors, clay, pastels, glue, and tape, to engage in techniques of painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, ceramics, and printmaking.  

Music

In music, first graders learn the difference between a steady beat and rhythm, they master simple percussion and barred instruments, they learn to listen to music, they sing and practice synchronized rhythmic movements, and they prepare and perform songs at all-school assemblies. The teacher presents music concepts aurally, visually, and kinesthetically and teaches the children songs and rhythms from around the world.

Dance

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, first graders devote a unit of study to learning about all the different muscles and joints in their feet and how they are used to bend and balance and move the body around.

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!

Physical Education

First grade physical education focuses on games that emphasize physical movement (running, skipping, hopping, leaping) and cooperation. Our goals are to encourage healthy habits of physical activity, develop strong motor skills, and foster respectful play. We add chase and tag games so students can begin to develop strategies for enhancing their own performance. All students participate in all games and activities. While many children at this age have already begun playing competitive town sports, we create a noncompetitive environment in the lower school community to cultivate good sportsmanship as the children mature.

Community Service

First graders sponsor an annual book drive for children in underserved areas as their primary community service project. The students create and hang posters around the school advertising their drive; they compose and rehearse requests for donations, which they present at all-school meetings; and they practice their math skills as they count, organize, and pack up the donated books.

Second Grade

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Our theme in second grade is “Where Do I Live?” Second graders begin the year investigating the natural environment, learning, for example, how local plants and animals attain their basic needs. Focusing on the temperate forest, students learn about the New England climate and how human and animal life adapts to survive in this environment. They move on to explore their own neighborhoods and houses and consider how buildings provide shelter. They discuss the features of and differences among houses around the world and how climate influences the way a house is built. As part of their cartography study, in our “Wabi-Sabi” makerspace, second graders program Bee-Bots to navigate 3-D town models.

Second graders learn about the colonists, who inhabited the North Shore before them, how they struggled to survive in their new environment and interacted with the Native Americans they met. They learn about the migration of their own ancestors to North America. Finally, the students travel back to the formation of the earth and consider how the earth’s gradual changes have supported new life forms. They learn how scientists have used a variety of discoveries to piece together the puzzle of prehistoric life. The students use books, videos, discussions, museum visits, visiting experts, projects, and scientific techniques to learn about their surroundings. They demonstrate their new knowledge through writing, drawing, model building, and a wide variety of other activities.

Language Arts

Second graders participate in a balanced language arts program of reading and writing workshops throughout the year. We introduce and practice skills that help students develop into thoughtful and engaged readers and writers. In addition to comprehension strategies, students engage in phonetics exercises, fluency practice, and vocabulary development. Students learn in small groups, one-on-one with teachers, and from each other when they partner for reading practice. Students practice writing skills in narrative, informational, and opinion forms. They learn to communicate ideas in their writing, revise their work, edit for publishing, and present their work with confidence.

Mathematics

Second graders build their foundational understanding of such key math concepts as number families, equations, and place value. They work to attain fluent knowledge of basic addition and subtraction facts so they can compute larger numbers with greater ease. Second grade marks the children’s first formal introduction to multiplication as well as to adding and subtracting two- and three-digit numbers with regrouping. The children use Cuisenaire rods, number lines, hundreds charts, and other tools to build their mathematical understanding. They also practice clearly communicating their thinking.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the second 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 Managing Ourselves unit students learn about what happens in their body and their brain when they get upset, and they practice calm-breathing techniques. They consider strategies for listening well to others and read The Blabber Report, by True Kelley. They talk about times when it might be helpful to talk to someone who can help.

Spanish

Second graders continue to learn Spanish using techniques that help them develop their listening and speaking skills.  Students review old and amass new vocabulary, including words linked to their theme, “Where Do I Live?”: feelings, classroom commands, colors, the calendar, rainforest animals, family, and the parts of a house.  They read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Oso Pardo, Oso Pardo, Qué Ves Ahi?) and A Walk in the Jungle (Un Paseo en la Selva) and act out the stories in Spanish.  They learn about how Mexico has influenced the language, places, people, and architecture of southwestern United States. They also learn about Puerto Rico, El Yunque Rainforest, and the traditions of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), La Navidad (Christmas), Three Kings Day, El Carnaval, and Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May).  

Visual Arts

Second grade art emphasizes the elements of art and the principles of design. The children are introduced to the work of famous artists of the past and present. Art projects that are tied to the theme of “Where Do I Live?” include a class mural that is a map of houses around the world, created with watercolors and markers; oil pastel and watercolor paintings of trees on school grounds that students first sketch while outside; and oil pastel and watercolor paintings of houses of the world done from photographs. Place-based projects include making Native American corn husk dolls and sculpting and painting birds of New England from paper maché and tempera.

Music

In second grade music, the children continue to learn about rhythm and tone and keeping a steady beat with barred and percussion instruments. They also practice performing in small group ensembles. They learn about duple rhythms and to echo, decode, read, write, and create rhythms. The children listen to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Prokofiev and learn to identify symphonic selections and the instruments of the orchestra. They consider the anthem, vote for their favorite American anthem, and prepare a repertoire of school, state, and national anthems for a recital. They also prepare for other school performances throughout the year.

Dance

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, second graders learn about balance, off-balance, and counter-balance, finding examples of these conditions in the world around them. Then, working with a partner, they incorporate balance and counter-balance into a choreography project.

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!

Physical Education

Second graders continue to engage in games that emphasize movement (running, skipping, hopping, leaping, and so on) and cooperation.  Occasionally, students are given free time to choose their own group activities, so they can practice problem solving and conflict resolution. The goal remains to encourage healthy habits of physical activity and strong motor skills. Everyone participates in all games and activities. While many children at this age have already begun playing competitive town sports, we create a noncompetitive environment in the lower school community to cultivate good sportsmanship as the children mature.

Community Service

For their community service activity, twice a year second graders collect food for the Beverly Bootstraps food pantry. They create posters, announce their food drives at all-school meetings, and organize the donations for delivery.

Third Grade

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 the 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. 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.

Language Arts

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.

Mathematics

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.

Technology

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.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

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.

Spanish

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).

Visual Arts

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.

Music

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.

Dance

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!

Physical Education

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.

Community Service

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.

Fourth Grade

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Fourth graders are captivated by their theme “The Sea,” which is a favorite because of the memorable field trips and related arts activities. Our emphasis is on the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Maine, and ecosystems of the Northeast, but students learn about all of the world’s oceans and continents, as well as about the salt marshes, barrier reefs, rocky shores, tides, waves, and plant and animal life of these environments. Together, the students set up and maintain a saltwater aquarium in our classroom. We take trips to local beaches to gather mummichogs, dogwalks, sea stars, mussels, snails, shrimp, green crabs, Asian shore crabs, periwinkles, and barnacles. They experiment with water properties and densities, learn about fish anatomy, dissect a squid, chart the lines of longitude and latitude, and draw whales to scale.

We also explore how humans have learned to live with and use the resources of the sea. Our year begins with a visit from David Coffin, a Gloucester musician who specializes in sea shanties and early musical instruments. Students learn about the history of life on and alongside oceans, early whaling in New England, past and current fishing methods, and also the threats against and efforts to preserve oceans and the ecosystems they support. Students research and build models of actual lighthouses. Books we read include The Original Biography of Abbie Burgess: Lighthouse Heroine, by Ruth Sexton Sargent; Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus; Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist, by Peter Lourie; The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings, by Fran Hodgkins; and excerpts from Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick; and Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville.

Our year culminates in a three-day trip to Mystic Seaport, in Connecticut, where students sleep on a square rigger, the Joseph Conrad, and get a firsthand view into the lives of early sailors and a seashore community. Activities include climbing the rigging of the Joseph Conrad, creating keepsakes using traditional sailors’ tools, interacting with costumed roleplayers, singing songs with a chantyman, and touring the last remaining wooden whaling ship in the world.

Language Arts

Fourth graders spend their year learning the components of writing and developing writing skills. In our comprehensive grammar and mechanics unit, students learn the basic parts of speech, the concepts of subject and predicate, how to use punctuation and capitalization, the difference between sentences and sentence fragments, and how to craft three-to-five-sentence paragraphs. The children write personal narratives, learning to generate ideas, use visualization to add detail and sequence, use descriptive language and emotion to add interest, revise for content, and edit for mechanics. In preparation for our Songs of the Sea performance, they write letters home, imagining themselves a member of the crew of whaling ship on a voyage. In our biography unit, students write a research paper about a person of interest, and they gather together props and a costume, write a brief monologue, and impersonate their subject at a Wax Museum event presented to the school community.

During their literacy block, fourth graders practice strategies that will help them become active, independent readers; they learn about the genres mystery, fantasy, adventure, realistic fiction, and historical fiction; they learn about the role of the narrator, point of view, and how to make predictions about what they are reading; they actively engage in literature discussions using Abbie Burgess and Number the Stars. The students learn about the features of nonfiction texts that help them access information—headings, captions, charts, a glossary, the index. They use this knowledge to research a sea mammal and create a Hyperstudio slideshow that they present to the class.

Mathematics

In keeping with the spiraling model of the school’s curriculum, fourth grade math students delve more deeply into concepts introduced in third grade. In our plane geometry unit, we move on to obtuse, acute, right, and straight angles. In problem-solving exercises, students begin learning to translate verbal ideas into the language of mathematics and to recognize cues that indicate which operation to use when solving a word problem. They learn the procedure for long division and the terms prime, composite, factors, multiples, square numbers, exponent, product, and quotient. In their measurement unit, they practice measuring by paces, decades, and centuries, and they learn the prefixes of the metric system. We revisit statistics and probability, fractions, and solid geometry. In a unit on transformational geometry, we introduce students to the concepts of translation, reflection, rotation, symmetry, glide reflection, and fundamental region. Incorporating their theme, students work in small groups on a whale-to-scale project. They draw graph lines and plot the points of a whale from 8½ x 11 inch paper onto a 4 x 20 foot sheet. Their result represents the average length of a baby whale for five different whale species.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the fourth 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 How to Sort Problems unit we work with students to define dangerous and destructive behaviors, and we talk about why it is always important to immediately talk to a teacher or responsible adult in such situations. We talk about strategies for responding to annoying behavior and teasing and read Thank you, Mr. Falkner. We define bullying and help students recognize that bullying behavior is dangerous and destructive and must be reported to a responsible adult right away, and we consider the roles of the bystander and the ally.

Spanish

Fourth grade Spanish students become more independent in their language learning. They write original scripts for presentations and speak Spanish in whole-group and partner activities. They learn vocabulary related to their theme, including ocean animals and sea life, the physical features of animals, and the physical features of land forms, such as the beach, as well as vocabulary for clothing and weather. They practice using the verb estar with feelings and location. We explore the Spanish-speaking island countries of Puerto Rico, La República Dominicana, and Cuba, and celebrate the holidays 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).

Visual Arts

In fourth grade art, we make art related to our theme of The Sea, taking advantage of the rich visual arts history of Cape Ann, and we also explore a wide range of art traditions and seminal artists in those disciplines, including botanical studies, self-portraits, Paul Klee and abstraction, Frank Stella and collage, Pablo Picasso and Cubism, using recycled materials and Haitian folk art, and African Senufo and Aboriginal animal design. Students practice mixing acrylic paints on a palette and paint Impressionist seascapes, learning from Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, and others about stippling, pointalism, and depicting the reflection of light. We visit the Cape Ann Museum, where students discover the myriad artists who found inspiration along Gloucester’s coast, among them Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Fitz Henry Lane, and Winslow Homer. Students draw landscapes or seascapes and practice the fundamentals of horizon line, perspective, foreground and background, and creating space and light by using line.

Music

Throughout the year, fourth graders prepare for their end-of-year “Songs and Tales of the Sea” performance. Their project begins with a visit from David Coffin, Gloucester-based specialist in sea chanties and early musical instruments. The students learn the role music played on whaling ships—to accompany the tasks of raising anchor, raising sail, to keep a steady rowing beat, to inspire workers and fill their leisure time—and they build their sea chanty repertoire, with songs that include “Once More to the Sea,” “Haul Away Joe,” “Cape Cod Girls,” and “Rolling Home.” They learn to play the ukulele. The students also share the letters they wrote home, imagining themselves a member of the crew of voyaging whaling ship, as part of the performance.

Fourth and fifth grade music students spend these two years singing as a chorus, and they prepare for several performances throughout the school year. They practice techniques to energize body, breath, voice, and song. They learn to sing rounds and multiple melodies together, to sing with a beautiful tone, and to follow a musical score. They prepare for performances at Grandfriends’ Day, Winter Solstice, a Valentine’s Day visit to a senior living facility, and a performance at the State House.

Dance

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, fourth graders engage in a series of mini master classes in square dance, African dance, tap, ballet, and hip hop, and they learn about the history of these styles, including shoes and costumes.

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!

Physical Education

In fourth grade we begin to focus on the skills students will need for the sports they play in upper school. We introduce games and activities that incorporate these skills and also small, in-class tournaments that promote good sportsmanship and teamwork. All students participate in all activities. Our goal is to help students work on the same skills but at the pace that is appropriate for them. We encourage them to seek their personal best and to measure themselves by their own improvement rather than the abilities of peers.

Community Service

Fourth graders travel to local beaches to gather sea flora and creatures for the aquarium they maintain throughout the year in their classroom. Students take from the local coast and they become stewards of the local coast, returning periodically to clean up the trash on a local beach as their community service activity.

Fifth Grade

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Fifth graders explore the theme of “The Land.” They start out by learning to observe and record information about the natural world around them on the school’s extensive nature trail. Then, they take these skills out into the diverse landscape and geological history of the North Shore. We visit Halibut Point State Park to explore glacial striations and granite and learn how quarry workers cut and transported granite in the 19th Century. We travel to Mt. Pawtuckaway and learn about geological events that created various landforms on the North Shore and in New England. We consider the properties of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, the effects of hot weathering, glaciers, and volcanoes, and how to interpret rock layers and index fossils to determine the relative ages of rock formations. We travel to the Fruitlands Museum, Saugus Iron Works, and Green Meadows Farm to learn about the history of how people have used the natural resources of New England. The students study plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, and seismic waves and construct earthquake-resistant building models.

Fifth graders’ hands-on exploration of “The Land” culminates in a three-day camping trip to the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine, that aptly extends their curriculum, placing them in a natural setting in which they must work as a team to satisfy their needs while remaining conscientious about their impact on the land. Students’ responsibilities start on day one with the challenge of “packing in” all their food and equipment to their campsites. Over the next days, they work in the fields and barns, chop and stack wood, cook over an open fire, wash dishes with seawater, and explore the woods and shoreline. They also participate in daily lessons on natural history, ecology, and sustainability, experiencing deep environmental awareness through appreciation and preservation of the natural environment.

Language Arts

Fifth graders begin their year with a novel that explores the tradition of living off the land, such as Sign of the Beaver or My Side of the Mountain. Our exploration of the elements of narrative—theme, character, setting, point of view, and so on—along with units on grammar and mechanics and on research techniques, foster deeper engagement in their work in the forms of personal essay, fiction, comic strip or graphic prose, poetry, and research paper and presentation. Also, at the beginning of the year, as they hone skills of observing and recording on the nature trail, the students begin to keep their nature journals. They find inspiration in the nature writing of Cynthia Rylant, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall. In a unit on tall tales, we meet such characters as Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan and consider how that tradition has a rich connection with the American landscape. We explore the beauty and diversity of the landscape and national parks of the United States. Each student chooses a state and prepares a report and slideshow to share with classmates. In a unit on civil rights, students begin by reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham and the poetry of Langston Hughes and move forward, considering civil rights issues that persist today with such texts as Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan, In Our Mothers’ House, and This Day in June. Students choose their own topic and step through the process of research, report writing, and presentation planning in anticipation of an event to which the lower school and parents are invited.

Mathematics

Fifth grade math students delve deeper into problem-solving strategies so they can begin to solve higher-level, complex problems in mathematics and logic. They practice the strategies for performing operations with decimals, fractions, mixed numbers, and ratios. In units on measurement, they calculate the perimeter, area, and volume of rectangles, squares, triangles, and parallelograms; the radius, diameter, and circumference of circles; and the mean, mode, median, and range of sets of numbers. We introduce fifth graders to the concept of percent and they learn to calculate 5%, 10%, 15%, and 75% of a number. We also introduce the students to integers and they learn to add and subtract positive and negative numbers. In a unit on number theory, students learn about prime factorization, exponential notation, operation order, and Venn diagramming.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the fifth 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 Problem Solving unit students identify the first two steps of problem solving: calm down and identify the problem, and they practice these strategies by filling out “I feel __________ because __________________” statements. We step through the problem solving process: brainstorming, deciding on a positive goal, making a plan and trying it, and overcoming obstacles. We consider the characteristics of positive and negative leaders and define what it means to be a positive leader in the classroom and on the playground.

Spanish

In keeping with their theme of “The Land,” fifth grade Spanish students master vocabulary related to geography, and they learn about the countries in South America. Each student chooses a South American country and prepares a short report about that country, identifying its location, capital, interesting facts, and notable sights, which they present to the class. Students also learn about the different regions of Argentina, focusing on weather patterns, seasons, geography, and history; they discover the differences among foods from Mexico, Spain, and Puerto Rico; and they explore the Incan, Aztec, and Mayan civilizations. Our celebration of the holidays 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) give fifth graders some perspective on the culture, religion, and customs of countries in the Spanish-speaking world.

Visual Arts

For much of the year, the fifth grade art class becomes a global studio. The students explore Mexican culture, ritual, and popular arts, and create art objects for the school’s El Día de los Muertos altar. They use weaving and wrapping techniques to create 3-D yarn “God’s Eyes” and embossing techniques to create milagros, metal-tooled religious folk charms used as votive offerings. Students also learn about Tibetan culture and employ resist techniques, using cray-pas oil pastels and water color paint, to create floral mandelas. They explore Indian ritual art and Mehandi, or traditional henna body art design. They create a work on paper, drawing a Mehandi hand design using balance, repetition, and alteration. Other folk art projects include mosaic tiles, found object masks, and tissue paper collage candles.

Fifth graders also practice the fundamentals of drawing the human body and expand their knowledge of the elements of composition. They practice gesture drawing—sketching the human figure in quick intervals to create movement and action; they draw hands communicating in sign language; and they complete self-portraits. They study how Georgia O’Keefe used enlargement and selective cropping as composition tools and create their own large-scale pastel floral drawings. They explore the work of Wayne Thiebault and experiment with techniques for creating positive and negative space, achieving depth of value, and drawing 3-D forms.

Music

In their music class, fifth graders continue to learn to read musical notation in context, building on skills they have acquired in recognizing the rhythm and pitch notation of musical patterns. The fifth grade students also learn songs about social justice and diversity and prepare for an end-of-year performance. Specifically, students consider the role of music in the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements and learn such songs as “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Overcome,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Thula Sizwe,” “Shosholoza,” and “N’kosi Sikeleli Afrika.”

Fourth and fifth grade music students spend these two years singing as a chorus, and they prepare for several performances throughout the school year. They practice techniques to energize body, breath, voice, and song. They learn to sing rounds and multiple melodies together, to sing with a beautiful tone, and to follow a musical score. They prepare for performances at Grandfriends’ Day, Winter Solstice, a Valentine’s Day visit to a senior living facility, and a performance at the State House.

Dance

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 fifth graders study poetry in their language arts class, in dance they choreograph spoken word dances.

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!

Physical Education

In fifth grade we continue to focus on the skills students will need for the sports they play in upper school. We engage in games and activities that incorporate these skills and also small, in-class tournaments that promote good sportsmanship and teamwork. All students participate in all activities. Our goal is to help students work on the same skills but at the pace that is appropriate for them. We encourage them to seek their personal best and to measure themselves by their own improvement rather than the abilities of peers.

Community Service

For their community service, fifth graders work with fourth graders to keep a local beach clean and free of trash. They are also the official paper recyclers for the school.