the philosophy and environment are very similar to what I would choose as the best approach to educating young (and older) people...
Curriculum in the Upper Elementary program is developed based upon the latest research on learning as well as Randolph School's progressive approach to education. The inquiry-based work and learning that children do is informed by teachers' knowledge about child development, and is also supported by research about effective learning environments. (Read more about characteristics of effective learning environments as described by the work of the National Research Council.) Our oldest children also benefit from working regularly with specialty teachers in Art, Music, Spanish, Fitness, and Philosophy for Children. Every aspect of their social-emotional, physical, intellectual, and artistic development is important here.
Children have an innate capacity for caring, kindness, and friendship. We expand and integrate this natural ability throughout our whole school. Respect and cooperation is integral to our social and emotional curriculum. By providing children the experience of a multi-age program, they are encouraged to develop independence and personal responsibility in a nurturing social and academic environment. Positive social and emotional roles are developed when older children develop leadership skills as they work with and help younger children. Individual differences are valued because children are given choices in activities. Competition is reduced while children work on many self-selected independent activities and progress at their own rate. The children grow socially with many opportunities to develop caring, close relationships with other children as well as their teachers.
At Randolph School, we help children become researchers who love asking questions, finding out new information and ideas, and sharing what they’ve learned. Our oldest children regularly experience the process of being a researcher - they engage in a cycle of research and inquiry repeatedly throughout the year. Our 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds learn to think by asking questions and actively doing the work themselves throughout this inquiry/research process... What do we want to learn? Where/how do we find out what we want to know? What did we learn and how do we share our new understandings? What new questions do we have?
In the Upper Elementary years, children are able to make more complex connections as they think and learn in increasingly abstract ways. Learning by doing continues to be an integral part of this experience for our oldest students who get to construct their own meaning, understanding, and knowledge. Integrated Studies focus on a specific topic, theme, or essential question as the means by which we can connect our explorations in literature, social studies, science, writing, art, music, and even math. While the various integrated studies or curricular units are developed and guided by the teachers, they are also typically influenced by students’ interests, questions, and needs. Each study often incorporates a related literature or author study and also a student-generated and student-written research report that is differentiated based on interest, age, and readiness. Creating an exhibition/museum gives children the opportunity to culminate and celebrate each study, as well as to assess what they’ve learned. The final study of the year is typically more open-ended and focused on independent research and work, and children share their learning by developing and teaching their own lessons to their classmates.
Some examples of past studies include:
While numeracy and mathematical thinking are sometimes incorporated into the Integrated Studies, math is also taught and learned in small groups each day. Using TERC’s Investigations, a constructivist and research-based math curriculum, children learn to understand the meaning involved in solving problems as a precursor to following the steps of an algorithm. The emphasis is on developing number sense and an understanding of complex mathematical concepts, in addition to learning specific strategies or skills. In our math classes, the primary focus is on the comprehension and application in everyday life of the concepts and skills being taught. Students are guided through the mathematical process of understanding the problem, determining the best way to resolve it, applying their method of solution, and then assessing the result. Emphasis is placed on the multiplicity of approaches to mathematical problems which can be developed by students. Larger, real-world problems are also addressed as a whole class in the context of our Integrated Studies. For example, we might study the production of maple syrup by our sugar maple trees. Within this project, students ask questions, such as “does the size of the tree affect how much sap it produces?” and “What do we mean by the size of the tree?” (height, girth, diameter, crown spread?). In such a project, connections are made to the rest of the curriculum; in this case we might examine the different types of trees, learn about what makes sap flow, study the ways people in the past have used trees, or investigate the maple syrup industry in New York. Math classes are a blend of skills-based learning, skill reinforcment and real world application of mathematics.
Home School Partnership
As with every age group at Randolph School, the home-school partnership is so important for our oldest elementary children. Teachers and parents engage in ongoing dialogue throughout the year, including email "snapshots" written by teachers, conversations on the porch or on the phone, parent-teacher conferences in November and March, and mid-year and end-of-year narrative reports. Read more about why we write narrative reports as one way to assess and share what we know about each child.