Academics at Fieldston Lower
Core Curriculum: Social Studies and Science
Social Studies and Science serve as the core of children’s studies throughout their years at Fieldston Lower. In the lower grades the curriculum centers around the individual, family, and community, as well as the easily observable components of the natural world around us: seeds and seasons, birds and butterflies. In the upper grades the core is centered around history and more complex natural phenomena such as ecosystems and severe weather systems. The objectives of teaching social studies and science include expanding the children’s knowledge of their surroundings and encouraging critical thinking about the social and natural worlds. The study of a community is the foundation for looking at the broader society, while the study of a specific species or class of animals and its relation to people, is the foundation for an understanding of the concept of ecology. This knowledge, gained through firsthand experience and information from a wide variety of sources, combined with many opportunities to discuss, recreate, and express their questions and understanding, leads children to both wisdom and responsibility. Our goal is to develop in children a strong sense of what it means to be a positive member of an inclusive and diverse democratic society, where care for the community and care for the environment go hand in hand.
The social studies curriculum is supported by our Social Studies Workshop program, as well as by integration with the arts and our computer program. Science becomes a special subject in fourth and fifth grade and is taught by a math/science specialist.
While society and nature serve as the core content of a child's school research, mastering the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic is absolutely essential for each child to enable him or her to investigate, understand, and describe the world successfully. Again, moving in each of these areas from concrete and familiar experiences towards higher expectations and abstract thinking is a natural path that will create fine readers, articulate writers, and skilled problem solvers in most of our children.
Reading and Writing
Children at Fieldston Lower are surrounded by language and literature at all ages. Starting with the wonderfully natural and uninhibited expression of our prekindergarten class and continuing through to the sophisticated, thoughtful, and articulate words of our fifth graders, students at our school are continually encouraged and challenged to put their ideas, feelings, information and experiences into words, both spoken and written. While firsthand experience of the world is one of our founding principles (and this certainly includes primary documents), it is, of course, an essential goal that we open up our students to the world by giving them all the skills they need to navigate the world of books and print. Learning to read is perhaps the largest of all milestones in elementary school, and at Fieldston Lower we give a great deal of thought and commit many resources to making sure that all our children succeed. Reading and writing specialists work in all classrooms from prekindergarten through fifth grade, and this enables us to have four teachers working with each class in first grade, and then three teachers working with each class in second and third grades every time children have reading instruction. We also offer free extra support after school for children who need it.
Our very carefully designed and exciting core curriculum helps to engage children very early on with the written word. Our reading and writing program makes great use of the children’s enthusiasm about butterflies, for example, in kindergarten, or birds in first grade, to draw them to written sources that are accessible to children their age, and some of the first words they learn to decode are science or social studies related. The children’s engagement with each study also gives them all kinds of experience and information to share, and so they are highly motivated to start writing. Our pedagogical approach uses a combination of strong instruction in phonics, at the same as we emphasize using context, common sense and a strong sight word vocabulary in developing reading and writing skills. By the time our students are in the upper grades at Fieldston Lower, they are accomplished readers, prolific writers, and very comfortable working with a variety of genres and media. Our extensive laptop program enables children in the upper grades to do a significant amount of their writing with a word processor, and they develop excellent research skills in using both traditional texts as well as online resources.
Since math often involves creativity and imagination, from the earliest grades we place a strong emphasis on imagery so that the "mind's eye" becomes an integral part of the child's tools. Strong mental math skills are essential for success in mathematics, and our curriculum emphasizes the development of number sense, logic, arithmetic, and geometry at all grade levels. Organization, orderliness, and self-discipline help to ensure success in mathematics and are a significant part of our program. Children at Fieldston Lower develop strong problem-solving skills and effective analytical/critical thinking skills so that they can solve non-routine problems both in and out of school settings. They engage in reflective thinking about their own performance and approach to learning and take appropriate responsibility for their success or lack thereof. Although math is sometimes a private affair, it is often best done in a shared, collaborative manner, and we work to make sure that the children can also learn from each other. The learning of math involves many different approaches and flexibility of thought, and so we encourage children to develop their own math intuition and to trust their instincts, not always being required to detail the process. In such an environment, children learn that getting the right answer is not always the most important part of math. Strategy, process, and mental exercise are equally valid and profitable. Mathematics has many branches. Some call for only one answer, while others may have multiple solutions. Yet others deal in shapes, patterns, logic, and common sense. A student can have difficulty in one area while excelling in another. We believe in the integration of subject matter and, towards that end, strive to connect as many different content areas as possible.
It is especially important for a child to develop a positive attitude towards math at the very beginning of his/her education. We are therefore acutely sensitive to sex role stereotyping and make every effort to encourage both boys and girls to assert themselves as math students. We recognize the wide range of learning styles and abilities that exist within every classroom, and we work to support all children. Our classrooms are designed to create an atmosphere where children accept themselves and others for the kind of learner and mathematician they are, and they should be comfortable with both their strengths and weaknesses.
Math specialists work in all classrooms from first through fifth grades, and they plan and teach the math curriculum along with the classroom teachers and our assistant principal, Rosemarie Buzzeo.