Fourth grade starts the year with a unit on the house, inside and out. Reciting the French version of The House That Jack Built and other rhythmical poems is an example of how speech combined with movement enhances language acquisition. The children design and build their own miniature houses, with a special focus on a room of their choice and present their projects to the class. A weather unit follows, in which the students research a French ‘météo’ website for children to help them design the weather map of an imaginary country. Light homework and quizzes are given periodically. Grammar work focuses on the singular forms of the first conjugation.
The fourth grade year is a time to advance the handcrafts skills and understandings at which the students are already adept. This year’s projects are connected by the theme of ceremony and celebrations. Each child can use the insight they gain from their social studies curriculum about other world cultures to inform their individual handcrafts projects.
The fall semester begins with the reading of the West African tale, The Wedding Bowl. In the story, ideas and virtues are represented by a handmade bowl. Students elaborate on this topic during the study of Adinkra cloths of the Ashanti people (West Africa). The cloths, used ceremonially, tell stories and represent virtues through symbols printed in ink on the cloth in a continuous grid. Alongside the handwork, the fourth grade reads and interprets African proverbs. Some are Ashanti and the rest are from other regions of Africa. Students work individually and in groups to figure out which virtues might be hidden in the proverb. Once they clarify these ideas, the students share their interpretations with each other. With these concepts in mind, each student chooses a series of Adinkra symbols to narrate the Ashanti proverb. The children then carve a linoleum block of their chosen symbol(s). The students share symbols/blocks as well. After marking out the 2 x 2 grid on flour sacks, each child prints their proverb on the fabric within the grid in a pattern they designed.
To finish the project in the Ashanti tradition, the cloths are soaked in dye bath using native plants and hot water. By the end of the year, these striking cloths are sewn into drawstring bags for storing the instruments that they craft as the winter woodworking project. The bags are held closed by colorful braids that the children weave on Japanese braiding looms called Maru Dai.
Since music is universally an integral part of celebrations, the woodworking project for the fourth grade year is an African mbira, or thumb piano. This project utilizes a variety of woods and woodworking skills. Each student begins by making an inner frame of pine and then encasing the frame in a mahogany shell. The students revisit some of the tools that they mastered as young students, such as an egg beater drill and a light weight hammer. All of the pieces are glued and nailed together and finished with progressively finer grades of sand paper. The corners are eased with a rasp and the final piece is protected with a finish of mineral oil and beeswax.
By building their skills and observances throughout the five year handcrafts curriculum, the students are now ready to apply these understandings to the study of architecture in fifth grade.
In fourth grade, students work to develop reading and writing skills through authentic engagement. They practice comprehension strategies as they select and read various forms of literature including fiction, short stories, mythology, folktales, and poetry. Historical fiction selections reinforce multiple perspectives and the value of cultural diversity. Nonfiction selections aid the development of research skills, which fourth graders also expand on in social studies and science. In book club, students learn to build upon the ideas of others as they share passages of objective and subjective significance, offer interpretations, discuss and analyze information, ask questions, and comment on the author’s craft. Writing workshops are devoted to the essentials of writing: collecting ideas, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. The “small moment” story is developed as students align story elements into a cohesive whole using flow maps. Story arcs are utilized to create rising action, conflict, and resolution. Literary essay projects include writing into the story, character analysis, and writing from a character’s point of view. Sentence structure and analysis, parts of speech, writing conventions, spelling, and editing skills are practiced as each student improves his or her craft. Vocabulary study includes synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homonyms, homographs, prefixes, suffixes, derivatives, and classical roots. Development of verbal reasoning is supported through the identification and completion of different types of analogies.
Innovative technology is explored in fourth grade, giving students opportunities to creatively express their learning and share it with both the school and broader community. Ethical behaviors with regard to digital media are explained, modeled, and practiced throughout the year. Students learn the basics of our automated library catalog to conduct searches for books which they then locate independently. After listening to a biography and learning about the unique qualities and contributions of this genre, students participate in an independent biography study.
The fourth grade mathematics curriculum aims to help students develop the necessary math concepts and process skills for everyday life and to provide them with the ability to formulate, apply, and solve problems Through the Singapore Math program, fourth graders investigate place value, estimation and number theory, whole number multiplication and division, tables and line graphs, data and probability, fractions and decimals, area and perimeter, and geometry. In addition to Singapore Math, students use Contexts for Learning Mathematics, a key component of which is a math congress. Students work with partners or in small groups to solve real world mathematical problems, providing a forum for sharing mathematical thinking and fostering an ability to speak articulately about math. Different strategies are respected and appreciated. The Groundworks series, which develops critical reasoning, is also used in the fourth grade. Topics include reasoning with numbers, measurement, data and probability, algebra, and geometry. Montessori math materials are also used when appropriate.
In fourth grade, students strive for fluency in sight-singing pentatonic music using movable-do solfège. Fourth graders learn how to find their way around a vocal score (measure numbers, rehearsal letters, systems) as they sing in two-part harmony. They begin to work with eighth / sixteenth-note combinations. They learn to read, write, and recognize these new elements in their music. On the instruments, fourth graders continue to learn more complex music in three or more parts, using simple meters, eighth/sixteenth-note combinations, and the extended pentatonic scale. Students undertake a group composition project based on African models. They notate their pieces using African notational conventions as well conventional Western notation.
Fourth graders study geology through learning about the composition of the Earth, its layers, minerals, rocks, and rock cycles. Guided by the question “Is the Earth static or dynamic?”, students are introduced to an overview of Earth’s geologic eras and the kingdoms of life. With the purpose of understanding human evolution, students study of the evolution of the animal kingdom. The earliest organisms and the orders and classes of invertebrates are studied with particular focus on evolutionary developments and the contributions of different species. Students create anatomical drawings to facilitate the telling of each animal’s story and poetry to cultivate a sense of wonder and appreciation. Students retrace unique evolutionary developments from the Australopithecines to Homo sapiens and research a species of their choice. As part of the culminating project, students become Paleolithic artists, creating a hominid skull to represent their chosen hominid species. The study of the interactions of land and water relates directly to the social studies curriculum and the study of Africa. Movement of water and its effects on land are investigated through examining the components of soil, permeability, and filtration systems. A model aquifer and well are created as students study the types of aquifers present in Africa. Students identify, explore, and create simple machines that might be useful to the people of various African cultures. Through the discovery of connections, patterns, and trends in man’s evolutionary and cultural developments, fourth graders enjoy a sense of awe and fascination as they study science.
The essential question for fourth grade social studies is, “Why is it important to understand other cultures?” Students read creation myths from diverse cultures as they consider the creation and population of the Earth from different perspectives. Students examine the Earth’s relationship to the sun, creating diagrams that reflect first their suppositions, then their growing understanding of the relationship between the direction of the sun’s rays and climate zones. Through focusing on the biomes of the world, students delve into the adaptations of plants and animals. The relationship between environment and culture is explored as students question, “What is culture?” Students devote themselves to studying African indigenous peoples, world hunger, and human rights. Primary sources such as ethnographic films, photographs, art, music, and stories provide students with a meaningful understanding of an African culture. Students research many different components of culture, both material and nonmaterial. Emphasis is placed on finding connections as students consider how spiritual beliefs affect art and music, how gender roles affect social structure, and how social structure affects the physical orientation of a village. To understand current problems facing indigenous cultures, students examine root causes of world hunger. Issues of land rights, lack of self-determination, education, and discrimination are discussed, leading to awareness of the legacy of colonialism and the consequences of the modern land grabbing of Africa. Students read A Long Walk to Water and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. They create historical fiction based on extensive research. In conjunction with their work in science, students locate major aquifers in Africa. As the emphasis of the hunger program is on finding solutions, students immerse themselves in the work of Heifer International.
The fourth graders work on a series of projects designed around the themes of movement, energy, depth, observation, abstraction, and space. Students spend time working with concepts such as spatial depth, overlap, foreground, midground, background, and linear perspective, positive and negative space, and form by viewing, engaging, and discussing works of art from cultural and master artists such as Henri Rousseau, and Vincent van Gogh. Projects include mixed-media jungle compositions, pastel energy drawings, linear perspective environments and landscapes, negative space window paintings, and negative space sculptures. Every project is designed to enhance students’ artistic skills, craftsmanship, and understanding of art room concepts, while encouraging each student to develop his or her unique artistic voice.
In grade four, students focus on learning and practicing manipulation skills (e.g., kicking, throwing, striking), in particular using rackets and paddles to strike objects. They also learn about the correct technique for manipulative skills, such as body orientation when serving a ball, and to distinguish between similar skills (e.g., kicking and punting). They begin to learn individual defensive and offensive moves. They are introduced to the concept of perceived exertion. They learn about the value of muscular endurance/strength, aerobic and flexibility exercises, and the importance of water and healthy foods to improve physical performance. Students learn to include others in physical activity and to respect differences in skill levels. They also learn to accept responsibility for their own performance of physical activities and to both win and lose with dignity and respect.