Supporting a child's natural curiosity through individualized education
First Graders are excited about learning to read and write. At our school, we stress the joy of these activities and help children to view themselves as readers and writers from the first day of school. We acknowledge children’s individuality as learners and help them work at their various developmental levels. A variety of teaching methods are employed to help meet the needs of children’s differing learning styles and intelligences. Children’s uniqueness is valued and celebrated as they are guided toward independence and responsibility in their own learning.
Children are respected as active learners who need to explore their environment and learn by doing. Brain research notes that children need many hands on experiences to help “grow” their brains. Through these concrete, “real” experiences, children discover and construct knowledge and make sense of their world. This “Constructivist” learning approach emerged from the works of Piaget, Dewey, Montessori, Bruner and Vygotsky.
At our school children are encouraged to be independent thinkers and to ask questions and investigate. They work on projects together and engage in problem solving. They listen to each others' ideas in an atmosphere of respect. Opportunities to talk with others, helps increase the rate and depth of understanding. Mistakes are valued as a means to learn by. Children learn how to learn.
Since learning is recognized as a social process, children have a variety of social experiences. Children work in whole groups, small groups, with partners, one-to-one with the teacher, or independently. Many cross-age/ multi-age experiences are provided at our school. Children may go on a bug hunt with middle school science student, read and write with 5th grade buddies, read to prekindergarten friends or put on plays for them. First graders do joint author studies with the second grade over the year.
The arts are infused throughout our curriculum as vehicles for teaching academics. We may create an apple syllable dance as we work with phonics and math patterning concepts/skills. We may illustrate math problems with pastels or paints. Number stories may be based on famous artists/dancers/music/theater…
Our classroom has different learning centers where children can explore, act on objects and practice reading, writing and math skills. Children may be inventors or use their creative thinking at our “creation station” (art area) or be a junior Monet at the easel exploring the use of line or color. They may play a game of chess or marbles. They may develop their mathematical thinking as they build with unit blocks, Legos, or pattern blocks. They may practice math or phonics skills at the computers. During writer’s workshop, they may publish their own stories.
Students have frequent opportunities to be outdoors for various activities during the different seasons. We may write spelling words on the sidewalks with chalk and then do dance steps on and around them to differing beats and rhythms. In the winter, we may create snow sculptures as we learn about the nature art of Andy Goldsworthy. Learning to appreciate, respect and steward the environment is evident in our program.
Our First Graders experience numerous authentic literacy opportunities throughout their day. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking as well as math, and social studies are integrated across the curriculum as we explore different themes. Integrating curriculum allows for the exploration of how things are connected. Helping children build connections in their world is a vital aspect of a sound education. It helps them build understanding and internalize what they learn.
Thematic units continue in First Grade. Themes we study may be in the form of a mini unit, which emerges from a child’s interest or experience. A found toad brought into class may lead to a mini unit on toads and frogs. This is “emerging curriculum”. Other themes may last over a month. A favorite theme is following the Iditarod Dogsled race across Alaska. We study geography as we work with maps of the race and Alaska. The work of Alaskan author, Shelley Gill, is studied and serves to inspire many stories in our writer’s workshop. Children bring in toy dogs and measure them in math…They explore native Inuit or Aleut art or music and tie it to academics. Value is placed on multi-cultural experiences. Children engage in math as they compare and contrast the daily weather in Anchorage and Traverse City. Running our own Kid Iditarod on campus is a highlight of the year. A theme may also be woven through the curriculum over the course of the entire year.
In First Grade, we use the Everyday Math program. It is supplemented with other approaches. Our program is based on the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) math standards and stresses hands-on experiences, mathematical thinking and problem-solving, talking and writing about math. Students study patterns and algebraic thinking, number and number relations, measurement, data analysis, graphing and geometry. Play-oriented activities, like setting up a class café or a store, provide opportunities to apply math concepts and skills in meaningful ways.
First Graders participate in co-curricular classes. They have French, art, music, science, computers, library, and P.E.
The arts are integrated into the curriculum by the classroom teacher. In addition, students meet twice a week with the art teacher. They are given the opportunity to become more proficient with the variety of media available. They work with clay, markers, tempera paint and watercolors, collage, printmaking (using Styrofoam plates and water based inks), colored pencils, and constructions. Students begin looking at the Art History timeline, covering artwork from Prehistoric through Modern times. They create works of art using natural found materials, clay and construction materials.
Throughout the elementary science program, our students will build an understanding of:
- How all things are connected
- How change affects all things
- How science connects to all we do
- What it means to “think like a scientist”
Each year topics are revisited in increasing depth, building upon understanding from prior years.
By the end of the school year, science concepts First Graders will understand include:
- There are causes for weather change and they can be measured and predicted
- Weather affects our lives in many ways and it’s important to know about it
- Tree leaves have parts
- Green leaves can make food for the tree but dead (brown or colored) leaves can’t
- Different kinds of trees have differently shaped leaves
- Tree leaves can be wide and flat, needle-like, or with many leaflets
- Objects in the sky move
- The moon appears to change and return to its original shape about once a month
- The sun and stars are giant balls of hot gases that appear small because of great distances
- The sun is the largest object in our solar system and there are nine planets that revolve around it
- Earth and its features look different depending on distance (from space, from a jet, or from the ground
- The properties of matter can be measured with scientific tools
- Measurements can be recorded on a graph or chart
- Matter can change forms (states.)
- Force is a kind of energy that causes a push or pull on an object
- Forces vary in strength and can change
- Mass (weight) and speed affect force
- Light, heat and sound are energy forms we can identify and measure using our senses
- The choices we make about food, exercise, hygiene and safety affect our health
- Our bodies grow and change throughout our lifetime
- Our bodies have different systems of organs for the processes of life
- Animals can be grouped by the traits they share, animals all need food, water, air and the right place to live
- Animals live in many different places, eat different things and get their food in a variety of ways
- Seeds need water and warmth to sprout, plants need air, water, sunlight and warmth to grow
- Plants change through the seasons and their life cycle
- Different parts do different things for the plant
- Plants can be grouped by the traits they share
- Plants are necessary and useful to our lives
- Living things live together in communities and depend on each other and their environment to survive
- We are surrounded by many small habitats within our larger habitat
- Our behaviors can cause changes in living communities
- The Earth’s crust is the hard outer shell on which we live
- Changes in the crust cause earthquakes and volcanoes
- There are many kinds of rocks
- Fossils are rock remains of living things that existed a long time ago
In our quest for scientific understanding, students participate in both independent and collaborative work. They generate reports, projects, journals, presentations and experiments. Learning happens both through demonstration and modeling of science skills and instruments, as well as through hands-on experiential learning, reading, open-ended questions and discussions, embracing mistakes as learning opportunities and appropriate use of technology. Children are encouraged to take intellectual risks and responsibilities. Assessment is through student-generated rubrics, reports, class participation, quizzes and tests.
In First Grade we have fun learning together in a supportive community with unique emphasis in the arts and life skills development that fosters academic excellence for children.