5th– 6th GRADE CURRICULUM 2019-20
Our day starts at 8:20, with a class meeting, run by each of the children in turn. By taking responsibility for the meeting, the children learn how to lead a meeting and how to listen to each other’s reports and opinions. Meetings begin with a minute or so of silence in which the children (and teacher) visualize the day ahead. Every week we have a ‘questions session’ in which the children can ask about any topic that interests them. We also have regular confidential whole-class discussions, using the ‘dialogue’ technique or a more formal council meeting, in which children can talk to each other about any problems that arise within the class.
This year’s theme is the American West. We will be focusing on the westward expansion of the United States, beginning with the Northwest Territory in the late 18th century, and moving on to the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. We will consider why farmers moved west from our own state, and we’ll read stories of westward migration along the Oregon Trail. We will study the experience of Native Americans – including the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Trail of Tears – and we have already looked at what happened to Indians in the Northwest Territory.
Among other topics, we’ll cover homesteading, immigration, the California Gold Rush and slavery. We will learn about the role of the railroads in the development of the west, and in particular, the building of the first transcontinental railroad. There will be a strong geography element in the theme, and the children will engage in various mapping projects as we track the United States’ acquisition of new territory, and the accession of new states throughout the 19th century.
We will also be looking at the West as a myth. As part of our ‘painting of the week’ series we have already begun looking at works by Bierstadt and Remington, among others, and we’ll read novels and watch movies that typify the mythology of the West. These will include Shane (which we will first study as a whole-class reader), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and High Noon. We will consider what effect Western myths have had on American society as a whole.
Our annual play draws together various aspects of the children’s understanding of the year’s theme. This is a major cross-curricular activity, involving theme, writing, art, performance and music. The children write the play together and everyone has a speaking role. We begin writing the play in late March, and the performances will be on May 15th
Our reading program has three main strands: individual books, group readers and whole-class books. Each child develops fluency by choosing individual reading books from a selection that is ‘just right’ for his or her reading level. Comprehension is developed by discussion of the individual book with the class teacher, and through group and whole-class conversations about our various class readers. Everyone has a reading/writing notebook in which to record aspects of their reading, and makes notes of specific mini-lessons to do with both reading and writing. Non-fiction reading is largely covered in reading about the theme, but we will also introduce it in other areas. The aim is for each child to spend at least twenty minutes reading every evening.
The daily schedule ends with the children listening to a read-aloud book. This is always a special part of the day, in which students and teachers enjoy a wide variety of books together, both fiction and non-fiction.
Writing projects include a memoir and a non-fiction report based on children’s individual research on a theme topic that interests them. We have begun the year with a poetry project, in which the children read and hear a wide variety of poems bbefore writing poetry of their own. The play is also a major writing project in which the children work both individually and collaboratively.
We will also study aspects of grammar, including basic parts of speech and conventions of syntax and punctuation, but we will study these as part of the writing process, rather than as stand-alone subjects. There will be regular grammar exercises to reinforce the children’s learning. Children learn various general spelling rules in class and will be taking home a weekly list of words to learn. These will sometimes be related to the spelling rule of the week, and at other times the words will be taken from the list of words each grade should be able to spell. In this case, weekly tests cover the ten words, plus four more from previous lists. Children will be grouped according to the spelling rules they need to be learning, rather than by grade.
In general, we expect that all 5th and 6th-graders will use cursive script as a matter of course for all their written work, from note-taking to final drafts, and this year we are devoting more class time to handwriting practice.
Math is the only subject taught by grade. Our updated 5th grade Investigations curriculum conforms to the Common Core State Standards. Investigations offers students opportunities for varied experiences with mathematical concepts, through games and other hands-on activities. Children are encouraged to use multiple strategies to solve problems and engage with peers to stretch their thinking. The Investigations curriculum fosters an intuitive and collaborative approach to math, in which children often arrive at solutions because they recognize mathematical patterns, while at the same time learning a range of math skills. In 6th grade we work with the Connected Math curriculum, which is based on the same principles as Investigations, and our current curriculum also follows the Common Core standards.
Our focus in science lessons is to connect children with the natural world and explore major scientific concepts with hands-on activities. We develop connections with the theme whenever possible. We will develop familiarity with the scientific method through independent science projects. This year we will explore the changes of our landscape over time, with a trip to the Fisher Museum at Harvard Forest. We will study trees, photosynthesis, ecological succession, and prepare a tree leaf collection. Later in the year we will study the main biomes of the American west.
Our annual Science Night – a non-competitive event – plays an important part in the curriculum, and is the climax of ten weeks’ independent work by the students. The focus is on the scientific method, in which children find a topic to explore, formulate a hypothesis, and then carry out experiments to test it. We hold a scientific conference after two weeks of testing in the classroom, in which children report their methods and findings to the rest of the class. After further experiments informed by conference discussions, the children write a report using lab report format, prepare a poster explaining the experiment’s findings, and show their project to parents and fellow students – including those from the 3rd-4th grade – at Science Night.
In art, the students will use their imagination, add to their visual repertoire, grow in confidence, and communicate in a non-verbal way. All the while they will be learning about art history and trying new techniques and concepts. This year’s theme lends itself to students doing art work inspired by American artists. Projects will include marbleizing, portraiture, observational drawings and print making. We will continue to study a ‘painting of the week’ using posters displayed in class, ranging from 15th century to late 20th century works.
Spanish is taught through movement, stories, games and songs and is based on the TPR (Total Physical Response) system. Students actively participate in each class, learning basic conversational skills and telling simple stories, aided by movement and acting as they learn to understand and respond to the language.
In music this year we will include a focus on traditional American folk songs. Students will learn rounds and harmonies, with an emphasis on singing in parts. Students will also develop their understanding of rhythm and math in musical notation. Recorder lessons include learning to read music and play by ear on both soprano and alto recorders. Students should practice for 5-15 minutes a day at home.
The 5th-6th grade class has a weekly yoga class and, with the rest of the school, engages in a variety of physical activities on Friday afternoons, according to the season. These include hiking, soccer, skiing and swimming. The 5th-6th grade also works at ‘movements’, rhythmic dances and exercises performed to music, which involve a combination of physical and mental attention.
The core of our homework is daily reading. We expect every child to read at home for at least twenty minutes a day, seven days a week, and we consider this assignment to be of paramount importance.