Elementary Grades 2-5
Our approach at the Elementary level emphasizes intentionality and cross-curricular learning, thoughtful connections to the rich field resources of the Washington area, a growing understanding of self, and supporting students in taking personal responsibility for navigating healthy social interactions in their immediate community and beyond. Our goal is to develop life-long, self-reliant learners who can think critically, solve problems, and express themselves in a variety of ways. Here are some snapshots that provide a window into some of the ways these themes spiral from Second through Fifth Grade.
As students transition from Early Childhood to the Elementary grades, the concentric circles of their understanding of the world begin to widen. Using the Project Approach, the Second Grade study of the Capitol Hill neighborhood provides a tangible entryway for students to begin looking beyond themselves and their immediate surroundings of home and school to the larger community that surrounds them. Capitol Hill Day School’s unique setting within the historic neighborhood of Capitol Hill allows children to consider typical neighborhood elements such as homes, parks, transportation methods, and local businesses, while also giving them a glimpse into the roles of larger institutions that dot the landscape, such as the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress.
While many of our field education destinations remain constant, each year classes provide their own flavor as they select what they want to research in more depth. For example, one year, an interest in the military led to a visit to the Marine Barracks, while another class wondered about religion and investigated why there were many churches but no synagogues. Following a visit with the manager of Eastern Market, as well as conversations about families shopping at mainstream grocery stores, our social justice lens led one group to ask questions about food access for all neighborhood residents. This in turn prompted students to visit a local food bank, invite a social worker to answer questions about causes of homelessness, and explore their understanding and capacity for activism on these issues.
Over the course of each unit, students engage in field research designed to propel their thinking forward, to challenge assumptions, and to provide opportunities to find answers to questions from primary resources. Students learn how to take field notes, interview experts, record findings, and organize data, as they create posters in small, cooperative groups to showcase their findings. Social Studies, Writing, and Math are all integrated, and the resulting work includes authentic service learning opportunities, as well as a class book about Capitol Hill and hand-folded three-dimensional models of buildings, which we display and share with families at a celebratory event.
The overarching theme for Third Grade is the exploration of the New World, with a specific emphasis on Jamestown and Colonial America. Through mapping and orienteering activities and literature and writing projects, students learn about the pivotal influence of geography and the environment in the daily lives of Native Americans and Colonial settlers, and examine the reasons for and difficulties of colonization. Third Graders learn how the original 13 colonies became an independent country, and present the results of independent and group research with a Colonial Days celebration with each child explaining and demonstrating a chosen colonial occupation, including the products made, tools used, and the production process.
Another major Third Grade theme is the study of author Roald Dahl. Students learn how his life and childhood influenced his books, and read a variety of his books, comparing and contrasting the characters, plots and events in his stories. Math, art, writing, performing arts, and visual arts are integrated in this author study. In math, students solve addition and subtraction problems based on the story Matilda. In performing arts, students work together to develop an operetta centered around an experience from Roald Dahl’s childhood. Students decide on the direction they would like their writing to take: they might write poems about Roald Dahl’s characters, or craft presidential speeches from the perspective of his characters to learn about persuasive writing. In art, students create unique costumes for the operetta. Our integrated study is celebrated on Roald Dahl Day, at which children present their operetta through singing, dancing, playing instruments, and performing a series of tableaux.
Nine and ten year olds are increasingly independent, forging their own identity through reflection and self-expression. They are also beginning to see the bigger world and their place in it, including issues of justice and fairness. In Fourth Grade, we capitalize on those interests by focusing on the theme of identity, which becomes a major point of study in social studies, writing, and human development. Students examine their identities through primary source research, culminating in several projects over the course of the year. In the fall, Fourth Graders interview their families on the origin of their name and write a first-person essay on their name story. They also begin to examine their personal identity in the context of a wider culture, studying immigration, and how the movement of people has shaped their own lives as well as our society. These studies culminate in Family History Day - a much-anticipated and well-attended yearly event, as well as the students’ first overnight field education experience: a trip to New York City and Ellis Island to glean firsthand insights into the immigrant experience in America. In human development, students reflect on their identity as learners, studying the All Kinds of Minds curriculum to explore their learning profile. Finally, students exercise their growing independence by becoming “big” buddies for the first time, paired with new Early Childhood prekindergarten students throughout the year, a relationship that continues until the Fourth Graders graduate.
In Fifth Grade, students develop greater awareness of their greater global community. They recognize and take responsibility for the roles they play in and far beyond their classroom community. Taking on greater responsibility requires students to become more independent through self-awareness and skill-building. For example:
- In the Newbery Project, students evaluate and analyze text independently, determining the award-worthiness of Newbery candidate books.
- In student-led literature circles, students collaborate to assign their own tasks and discuss their novel with peers.
- Students explain their independent thinking through structured, multi-disciplinary writing assignments.
- In geography and science, students choose their curricular topics, based on interest.
- Students use planners as a tool for organizing, managing, and prioritizing their time.
- In mathematics, students approach multi-part mathematical tasks that require organization, as well as an explanation of their thinking.
- Students govern the operations of the classroom and cooperative play through students "councils."
Fifth Graders also learn about ancient China through an integrated humanities China studies curriculum. Students explore the impact of geography on culture, and the effects of man-made environmental modifications on people and the natural environment. They also investigate ancient Chinese inventions and artifacts, and experience examples of Chinese arts, holidays, festivals, and food.