The sea

An exploration of the ocean locally, in a different geography, and from a time long ago.

Our Curriculum

+ Science + Social Studies

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.

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 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

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

The fourth grade clase de español provides students an opportunity to speak mostly or entirely en español for 45 minutes twice a week. Students should be able to choose greetings and perform self-directed greetings in a variety of ways. They should be able to map out the Spanish classroom with bilingual labels for all classroom materials and places. They should also be able to discuss their likes and dislikes, their weekend activities, the weather, their families and homes, and their appearance and personality with little to no support. They spend the first few months of class reviewing and deepening understanding of this vocabulary, and identifying weaknesses to be targeted with flashcards and independent practice.

In fourth grade students also begin using Big Universe, an online education tool that has a collection of over 11,000 books (over 1,000 of which are in Spanish). Students will be expected to use this resource on their own time and occasionally in class to learn more about Latin American cultural topics and to practice reading assigned Spanish language texts. Additionally, once student email accounts are set up, they will be invited to use the online study and practice resource, Quizlet. On Quizlet students will sign into their class and have access to all their vocabulary lists, flashcard practice with correct Spanish pronunciation, and a variety of games and practice tools.

By the end of fourth grade, students should be able to understand spoken Spanish on familiar topics. They should be able to respond to questions in full sentences and produce questions and answers in discussion with little to no support (on known topics). They should recognize common Spanish language patterns and be comfortable assuming the meaning of cognates and new vocabulary in context.

+ 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

In music class at GUS, fourth graders: learn basic technique for playing the ukulele; relate pitch and rhythm notation to the playing of an instrument; sing, read, and play root melodies (the bass line which provides the harmonic outline for a song) and simple chords on the ukulele; perform the pentatonic scale and the C major scale on the ukulele; accompany folk tunes with simple ukulele chords or root melodies while singing; listen to and study classical selections inspired by the sea, as well as music performed at a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert; collaboratively create musical accompaniments to original poems of the sea; learn about the role of sea shanties aboard a whaling ship, and learn and perform a collection of sea songs and shanties; and build a repertoire of seasonal and community songs.

The “Sea” theme is expressed through the study of music inspired by the sea, the creation of music to accompany sea poems, and the learning and performing of sea songs and shanties.

Fourth graders perform in all-school Grand Friends’ Day, Solstice, and May Day celebrations. In addition, the class performs a full program of sea songs and shanties in their culminating “Songs and Tales of the Sea” performance.

+ 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.

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.

+ 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. Students will also continue to play many of the games they have been playing in past years but with added rules and greater intricacy.

+ 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.