Ages 9-12 / 4th – 6th grade
Our Upper Elementary program is a bridge program that combines elements of the Montessori philosophy and method with other teaching and learning modalities. Many children go on to more traditional schools after our program, and we want to provide them with a bridge from Montessori to those more traditional classrooms. Children are introduced to academic rigor with elements such as due dates, specific work requirements, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and regular homework. We all work together in a learning community that holds everyone accountable while supporting each other as the children learn how to be self-responsible, independent, communicative, and positive members of the community.
In keeping with Montessori philosophy, Upper Elementary students have the freedom to choose when they will do their assignments. The class works at group tables, and each table might have four students working on four different assignments, rather than everyone working on the same assignment at the same time. Children who consistently put in focused effort to complete their work earn more freedom in the classroom.
We do not have grades in Upper Elementary. Instead, children are required to correct mistakes in their work or re-do work that was done poorly, illegibly, or sloppily. This requirement encourages children to put in their best effort with the work and to seek help when they don’t understand how to do it. In addition to getting help from guides, students can sometimes be paired up with other students to get the help they need. Students also have the opportunity to evaluate each other with group work projects.
Lesson planning is done with the bridge concept in mind. State and national standards help determine benchmarks for lesson content and goals. We also have the freedom and time to let student interest drive lesson planning. Some students get individual lessons in their area of interest, and we sometimes have group lessons when enough are interested in a certain topic. Students learn to find their voice and advocate for their interests.
Writing is an important core component of the Upper Elementary language arts curriculum. Students generally have a grasp of the basics of punctuation and sentence structure by this age. Extensive time is spent teaching them how to organize their thoughts into essays and stories using outlines, mind maps, and other tools. This work carries over into spoken communication. Children learn how to prepare oral reports and speeches along with the basic life skill of organizing their thoughts so they may speak for themselves in a variety of everyday situations.
Students are also given direct instruction for grade-level grammar, with remediation for those who need it and advanced lessons for those who show interest and ability to go beyond their grade-level work. Lessons and work include punctuation and types of sentences. We use the Wordly Wise curriculum to help students learn new vocabulary along with practicing their basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling skills.
We use online SRA reading labs to help students improve their reading skills and expand their interests. Students start off by taking an online quiz to assess their reading level followed by an interest survey. Then they read short passages and answer questions about them along with practicing other language concepts. Students are given the opportunity to do their SRA assignments at school, and they can also log in at home. Reading novels and doing book reports are also part of our curriculum along with reading for research across content areas.
We have weekly theater arts lessons in addition to poetry work and lessons. Students are taught how to play a variety of theater games along with theater vocabulary and acting basics, such as voice projection and stage movement.
Maria Montessori observed four planes of development, and Upper Elementary students are in the second plane of development. A notable feature of this plane is that they are crossing the bridge from concrete thinking and learning to abstract thinking and learning. In mathematics, specifically, the upper elementary child is moving away from the need to learn with concrete materials and is able to learn about mathematical concepts through whiteboard lessons and pencil and paper work. They are better able to imagine what an equation or number represents in their mind instead of needing something tangible to model the equation or number.
Montessori materials are still used as often as possible in lessons and work, giving students the opportunity to decide whether they need them or not. Many manipulatives are also adapted to teach advanced mathematical concepts that may be hard to grasp in an abstract way. For example, our multiplication checkerboard can be used to teach students binary code or non base-ten number multiplication.
Students are responsible for mathematics homework each week, and parents are required to check the accuracy, completion, and progress with the work. Mathematics involves such a range of specific skills that asking for this parent involvement helps parents to see their student’s progress in lieu of a report card.
In addition to grade-level work and lessons, students who have advanced interest and mastery in mathematics have the opportunity to go beyond their grade level in both classwork and homework. All students are taught about advanced uses of mathematics with the intention that they’ll be inspired rather than the expectation that they master the advanced concept. For example, upper elementary students have been shown how the Pythagorean theorem can be used to understand time dilation in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. They might not completely understand the equations after such a lesson, but they get the impression that the subject of mathematics is pretty amazing!
Geography and history are intertwined in our social studies lessons and work. Students are given direct instruction on important components of geography such as terminology and using maps. As part of the Cosmic Curriculum, the idea of weaving subjects together, students learn about the geographical factors that drive historical events. For example, they’ll develop an understanding of why a civilization settled in one place instead of another based on the resources available. Students learn about and use several methods for historical research including “Big Picture” research questions that look at how geography and interaction with other cultures drive the development of a civilization or culture. We also learn about current events and how geography, science, and our government influence those events. We often have rich group projects in our social studies work. For example, students have made booklets detailing the history, geography, botany, zoology, and contemporary usage of our national parks. The student-made booklets are packed with useful information and beautiful illustrations.
Science is taught through a variety of whiteboard and hands-on lessons and work. An understanding of basic scientific principles such as states of matter and the rising of hot air help students understand the world around them. Work has included building simple machines, studying and drawing microbes seen through microscopes, looking at how quickly sand cools down compared to water, and constructing models of single-celled organisms.
We have a model rocketry program that is an important component of our science work. Each year, new students get hands-on lessons where they can experience Newton’s Laws of Motion. These lessons are followed by presentations on how those principles apply to rocket flight. The work culminates with students building and launching their own solid propellant model rockets. In addition to learning some great science, they learn about the importance of patient attentive work to build an amazing model that goes to impressive heights.
Physical activity is an important part of every day in the upper elementary program. We have traditional dedicated “PE” periods where students play competitive and coopeative games. We also have sprinting and hikes, as well as dance lessons. There are tremendous benefits for the brain that come from physical activity, and we make sure to have movement and activity every day.
Additionally, movement is incorporated into academic lessons on a regular basis. Students might become the bubbles on a mind map and have to move about the room to place themselves in the correct spot, or they might be electrons running in orbits around their friends who are protons vibrating in a nucleus.
Parkside students consistently perform well academically, as evidenced by our Iowa Basic Skills Test Results 2006-2016, and they have successfully transitioned to a wide variety of middle schools including:
Acton Academy; Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders; Austin Montessori School; Fulmore Middle School Humanities and Law Magnet; Girls’ School of Austin; Gorzycki Middle School; Headwaters School; Hill Country Middle School; Integrity Academy; Kealing Magnet Program at Kealing Middle School; KoSchool + Incubator; Lamar Middle School Fine Arts Academy; O. Henry Middle School; Skybridge Academy; Small Middle School Green Tech Academy; St. Andrew’s Episcopal School; St. Gabriel’s; St. Francis School; St. Stephens Episcopal School; Trinity Episcopal School; West Ridge Middle School.