Lower School Academics - Grades 4 & 5
Fourth and fifth grade teachers present material that excites and challenges boys. In fourth-grade science, for example, classes study tidepools and the ocean. In fourth and fifth grade Language Arts, they discuss character development, imagery, and writing style. Teachers use varied approaches to help boys maximize their intellectual growth and become more independent learners.
Boys are coached to develop the executive functioning skills they need to succeed, including time management. They learn what it means to be a good participant in class and a good sportsman on the playing field. They practice communicating effectively with their peers and teachers. These activities develop their confidence and help each boy better understand himself. Boys also work hard at understanding and internalizing Fenn’s core values of honesty, courage, respect, and empathy.
"The experience in the Lower School sets boys up to make that leap to more independence in the Middle School. We help each boy create a path toward being a more independent learner." –Jonathan E. Byrd '76, Grade 5 teacher
With small classes, teachers are able to give each boy individual attention. The homeroom teacher serves as the boy’s advisor and his Language Arts teacher. A boy may also have his advisor as his science or social studies teacher. Students move between classrooms for other subjects. The homeroom and the homeroom teacher serve as the boy’s anchors. They give each boy a feeling of security, while allowing for the movement between classes boys love and need.
Boys with intellectual potential and learning style differences can join the two-year Intensive Literacy Program for small group instruction in reading, writing, and spelling.
Lower School (4 & 5 Grades) Academic Curriculum
Lower School Language Arts
The Lower School language arts curriculum focuses on developing the reading, writing, and executive function skills of fourth and fifth graders. Lower School Language Arts classes are taught by Lower School advisors and meet ten times in a cycle. Through classroom texts, literature studies, and individualized guided choice, students are given ample time in class to build their reading stamina and understand how to use reading strategies to strengthen their comprehension. Reading strategies such as visualizing, making connections, annotating, and asking questions are practiced through in class read alouds, close reading analysis, and nightly reading assignments. A high importance is placed on building the reading lives of students and creating a vibrant reading community. Writing instruction focuses on building writing stamina and introducing boys to a variety of writing styles. Writing lessons emphasize capitalization rules, basic sentence formation, paragraph structure, parts of speech, the organization of ideas, and the writing process from pre-writing and drafting to publishing. Boys also gain practice in executive function skills such as organizational strategies, prioritizing, and study habits. In addition, a boy’s class engagement, preparation, and conduct are focus areas. Boys also work on vocabulary development, keyboarding, and word processing skills and have access to classroom iPads and laptops. Students have the opportunity to practice presentation skills and gain familiarity with apps such as Book Creator, iMovie, Google, and Google Presentations. Finally, Lower School boys attend a library class once a cycle where digital citizenship is further explored and information literacy skills are developed.
Fourth grade emphasizes reading and writing practice and a development of reading and writing skills. A main goal is to build comfortable and confident readers and writers. Emphasis is placed on meeting the boys where they are and allowing them space and practice to grow into independent and confident readers and writers. Shared texts and choice reading books are used to reinforce reading strategies and writing lessons stress capitalization rules, end punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph formation. Students are introduced to Google Docs and begin to create classroom folders to save and share their work. Boys are introduced to and use Kidblog in order to gain practice in being part of a writing community, and they use Lexia, an on-line reading program, to further strengthen their reading skills.
Fifth grade builds on the reading and writing skills introduced and reviewed in grade four. Exercises improve the practice and understanding of sentence/paragraph structure and vocabulary development. Active reading strategies are reinforced through all-class reads and implemented in personal-choice reading assignments. A variety of writing experiences advances the development of drafting, revising, and editing skills, and boys continue to explore and write responses to literature, creative pieces, analysis, poetry, and persuasive paragraphs. They use the digital tools introduced in fourth grade for writing and creating presentations such as Kidblog, iMovie, Book Creator, and Google Docs.
Lower School Mathematics
Lower School math classrooms tend to be very active. Boys are often directly engaged with the material, working individually or in groups, creating their own projects, gathering data to be studied, or learning by playing. Boys are encouraged to make conjectures, look for patterns, and connect this work to basic math principles. Lower School boys are often engaged in a variety of activities—sometimes within a single class period and certainly over the course of a week.
Mathematics classes are heterogeneously grouped in the fourth and fifth grades. We create four parallel classes. As we work through each unit, there is opportunity for the teachers to evaluate each individual student and the overall pace of his work. Teachers have the flexibility to create different groupings across sections at times for enrichment or skills reinforcement. Teachers use a variety of instructional methods within each topic to address multiple modes of student learning and differences in students’ previous mathematical backgrounds.
The fourth grade curriculum focuses on exploring arithmetic operations and developing standard algorithms. We also look at alternative procedures and varied strategies for problem solving. The concepts covered include: interpreting data, identifying patterns and relationships between numbers, and basic geometry and algebra concepts. Manipulatives and modeling are used to promote and enrich student comprehension. Students work with estimation to develop a better number sense and to help in computation. To help each boy organize his materials and synthesize classroom discussion, each student maintains a notebook that contains his homework, handouts with examples of algorithms, and other pertinent information.
The fourth grade program highlights problem solving from everyday situations, facility with basic number facts, arithmetic skills, and practice through mathematical games and technology. Teachers use multiple methods for basic skill practice and review of whole number concepts include rounding, place value, and all four operations. Two-dimensional spatial concepts are explored with tangrams, puzzles, and games. Concepts in fractions and decimals include comparing and ordering, equivalence, addition, subtraction, and the relationship between fractions and decimals. Problem solving skills focus on using information, data, and mathematical concepts from the curriculum. Throughout the academic year, there is ongoing review and repeated exposure to key mathematical ideas in different contexts to improve comprehension and mastery.
The fifth grade program explores the relationship among numbers by the study of place value, multiples and factors, prime and composite numbers, divisibility rules, exponents, and integers. Concepts include all operations with whole numbers, decimals, fractions, and percents. The curriculum also encompasses a study of area and perimeter of rectangles, circles, and triangles. The curriculum incorporates graphing and statistics in various forms. Each student maintains a strategy notebook to organize and synthesize his learning. Students explore a variety of mathematical concepts through “Challenge Problems,” write reflections on their strategies, and use a variety of hands-on materials to help them develop a sound conceptual understanding of the mathematical ideas.
Heterogeneous grouping is continued in the fifth grade sections.
Lower School mathematics texts and additional resources include:
Fourth grade: McMillan/McGraw Hill Math
Fifth grade: McMillan/McGraw Hill Math and Pearson Education Connections series
Continental Math League contests
Lower School mathematics software includes:
Math Facts in a Flash
Online websites for games, practice, models, and reinforcement
Lower School Science
In Lower School, students work individually and in cooperative groups to conduct scientific investigations and to begin to appreciate the awe and wonder of the scientific process. Students are introduced to essential science skills and have many opportunities to practice and develop those skills as they apply what they are learning to their surroundings. The Lower School science curriculum integrates all the domains of science and prepares observant and skilled students for the enhanced rigors of Middle School science.
Fourth-grade science focuses on developing observing, classifying, and measuring skills in applying those skills to aspects of life science, earth science, and physical science. One of the most memorable examples of the hands-on learning typical for the course is the fall field trip to investigate ocean tide pools and collect specimens. Students record observations and supplement those observations through research projects. Units later in the year introduce measuring via the metric system. Students then apply the skills they have acquired to understanding their bodies, in units centered on nutrition and the skeletal system. The domain of physical science is also introduced, as students apply basic physics concepts to the task of designing simple machines.
Fifth-grade science continues to integrate the domains of physical science, earth and space science, and life science. Students build proficiency in measuring length, mass, volume, and temperature as preparation for exploring the concept of density. In addition to standard lab apparatus—balances, beakers, thermometers—students are also introduced to Vernier data collection software and probes. Additional emphasis is also placed on student record keeping of observations and data via tables, prose, and diagrams. Students combine expression, measuring, and observing skills to units about the earth—investigating rocks, minerals, and volcanoes—and to space—in units about the solar system and universe. Students then must distinguish living things from non-living things as they investigate the characteristics of life, and the class culminates with a study of the human brain.
Resources and texts used in Lower School science:
Prentice Hall Science Explorer Series (Nature of Science, Interior of the Earth, Astronomy, From Bacteria to Plants)
Vernier: Elementary Science with Computers
Lower School Social Studies
In the Lower School, Fenn students begin to explore the geographic and historic forces that have shaped the world around them. They delve into units that give them hands-on opportunities to research, organize and synthesize information, and build reading comprehension, note-taking, and writing skills. Each unit is grounded in essential questions to which students develop iterative answers over the course the unit and the year as a whole. Many units include hands-on projects that provide students with a variety of ways to demonstrate their understanding of a given topic. Creativity, accuracy, and presentation skills are emphasized throughout each project-based assessment.
Fourth-grade social studies is a hands-on curriculum develops in students an understanding of culture and an awareness of the relationship between culture and geography. In general, the course focuses on ancient civilizations. Students learn about the earliest hunter/gatherers and how they evolved from a nomadic way of life into settled communities. Then, through the study of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, students learn and appreciate differences and similarities between people groups as they begin to explore how historical forces shape the cultures of today. While immersed in engaging, research-based projects, students build map skills and improve their research abilities, utilizing two-column note taking and active reading strategies; they sharpen their writing skills through expository paragraph writing; and they practice a variety of presentation skills to improve their ability to communicate clearly and succinctly.
Resources for fourth grade social studies include:
Rand McNally classroom atlases
Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Mehta-Jones
Life in Ancient Egypt, Challen
Life in Ancient China, Challen
Fifth-grade social studies continues the focus on ancient civilizations by turning to Greece and Rome, using the throughlines of geography, religion, roles of people, government, and legacies. In their study of Ancient Greece, students read Greek mythology and learn about the rise of democracy, the development of Western artistic traditions, and the legacy of this civilization in the modern world. The year concludes with a similar examination of the culture of Ancient Rome and its legacy in the modern world. Skills addressed in fourth-grade social studies are reinforced: reading for main idea and supporting details, underlining key information, two-column note taking, paraphrasing, expository writing, report writing, research, critical thinking, multi-media presentation skills, internet searches, map skills, and oral presentations. Students also deepen their understanding of research using primary source materials.
Resources for fifth grade social studies include:
The Ancient World, Peck, Bauman, and Johnson
The Ancient World, Jacobs
Early Times: The Story of Ancient Greece, Art
The Ancient World (Prentice Hall World Studies)