At our private elementary school in Brooklyn, the children are taught to read using a blended program which helps them master the mechanics of reading while also learning to understand and connect deeply with texts. All of our classrooms are literature- and print-rich environments, and reading is a part of each Lower School student’s day. In addition to word study and development of vocabulary, children are exposed to many different genres of literature through class read-alouds as they become engaged in reading for information and pleasure. The children learn to infer meaning, make connections and examine authors’ motives in class discussions, readers workshop and book clubs. Beginning in kindergarten, students work in small groups that target specific phonetic and comprehension skills.
Children’s initial attempts at writing in journals with invented spelling are supported and encouraged. Our students see themselves as authors from the beginning and they work hard to improve their craft and to communicate clearly and engagingly with their audience. Gradually, they learn standard spelling through a structured program and are also taught to organize their writing in increasingly sophisticated ways. Children participate in genre studies where, using “mentor texts,” they try their hands at a variety of types of writing, including “how-to,” narrative and persuasive pieces. Through our Visiting Speakers Program, children in all grade levels have the chance to talk to and learn from a variety of professional authors, including a poet-in-residence who works with our third grade students. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project informs much of our work in language arts.
The ability to speak in front of a group with confidence and clarity remains an essential 21st century skill. At each grade level throughout Berkeley Carroll, students are provided with opportunities to find their voices and express their opinions in developmentally appropriate ways. The Responsive Classroom approach used throughout the Lower School emphasizes the skills of listening, posing clarifying questions and building on others’ suggestions and ideas. Lower School students are encouraged to participate by sharing their ideas in all areas of the curriculum.
The essential goals of our math program include building children’s number sense, expanding their understanding of place value and operations and developing computational fluency for accurate, efficient and flexible problem solving. Our math curriculum draws from two programs — TERC Investigations and Contexts for Learning — and uses a variety of best practices to teach right to children’s needs. Students explore concepts, share strategies and apply their skills to solve real-life problems. For example, third graders work in teams to run a fictitious factory and use their math skills to track inventory and orders and keep the books. Teachers take the time to make sure concepts are grasped and add extension activities when they see the opportunity. Algorithms are taught as reinforcement to understanding concepts and students master their use at appropriate age levels. This approach enables children to be confident enough to experiment and play with numbers, while having the tools they need to find accurate, efficient solutions to problems.
In the Lower School, children develop an ever expanding concept of community, starting close to home and moving gradually outward.
PreK children begin with a study of themselves and their families as they learn what it is to be part of a classroom community. Other studies emerge throughout the year, based on the students’ interests; at various times the classroom may become a veterinarian’s office, a construction site, or a robotics lab!
Kindergarten students do an expansive study of the five senses, which connects with the science curriculum and also gives them the opportunity to learn about people who are differently-abled. Each class also develops a service-based project which is shared with the school community; for example, one class created a student-run post office.
First graders continue thinking about meeting the needs of people of all abilities in their study of playgrounds. They then study our own school community and end the year with a unit focusing on recycling in our school and the larger community.
Second graders build on their understanding of community through a study of the city, which includes looking at the needs of New Yorkers. Learning about transportation and the distribution of food begins to develop students’ understanding of resources and (in)equity.
Third grade looks back in history to focus on the original New Yorkers: the Lenape and other local Native American people who inhabited this region. They consider different perspectives as they learn about the effects of European exploration and life in colonial New Amsterdam.
Fourth graders focus on the movement of people throughout the history of our country. They first learn how our nation was formed and give particular consideration to the role enslaved people played. They then consider several major movements: the Great Migration of African Americans to Northern cities, the Great Wave of immigration through Ellis Island and Angel Island, and, finally, they focus on modern day immigration.
Many aspects of our curriculum are taught in the context of social studies and our approach is interdisciplinary. Questions of diversity and social justice are addressed at all grade levels throughout the year. Selected books for read-alouds offer opportunities for thoughtful discourse. A common thread is the theme of changemaking; all students study individuals who have made a difference in the world and discuss how the actions they take can have a positive impact. Service learning projects are a natural extension of these discussions.
New York City and its many resources offer students opportunity for first hand inquiry through the many field trips taken on each grade level.
Berkeley Carroll is committed to raising global thinkers with an appreciation for language and culture, and we start that work right here in the Lower School with our Spanish program.
Lower School Spanish serves as the foundation for language learning throughout a student’s school career and beyond. Our Spanish teachers work to create an immersion environment for our students. Daily Spanish experiences are taught almost completely in Spanish from the very first day of class. The primary goal of the Spanish curriculum is to help students develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Students learn and practice basic conversational vocabulary and the foundational grammatical skills needed to communicate using full sentences later on in their school career. Students practice using vocabulary related to thematic units. Our Spanish curriculum has been designed so that students can practice language skills involving real-life situations and classroom routines and transitions are conducted all in Spanish.
Our Spanish teachers use a methodology called Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a method of teaching a language where students and teachers use physical movement to learn new vocabulary. This process mimics the way kids learn their first language. Experts say that it lowers inhibitions and stress so students feel comfortable taking risks and participating in class. The purpose of TPR is to create a brain link between speech and action to boost learning.
Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. The goal is for students to feel ownership about what they are learning and communicate that passion with their teachers and classmates. It also supports the diversity of language proficiency levels represented by our student body. We differentiate instruction for students who join Berkeley Carroll with no prior language instruction, as well as students who speak the language at home and/or are native speakers.
We have a spiraling Spanish curriculum which means that teachers introduce key concepts to students at a very young age and then cover those concepts repeatedly, and with increasing degrees of complexity. This spiral creates cohesion and a consistent context for instruction across grade levels.
We believe that language is intrinsic to the expression of culture. One of the gifts of learning a language is that it automatically enables us to identify with others who speak that same language. We consider teaching culture a means through which we teach language. Berkeley Carroll Lower School students learn about the different values, beliefs, and customs of people in many Spanish-speaking countries and our teachers are speakers of all different types of Spanish from all around the world. Our students engage with many facets of culture and identity through authentic materials, guest speakers, dance, music, art, cuisine, and playing games, all in Spanish.
The Lower School science program teaches students to make and test hypotheses and use effective inquiry to learn about a variety of topics. Students in PreK through fourth grade work with science specialists to learn through hands-on study and exploration of the natural and built world.
Young scientists in grades PreK through second grade study animal habitats, the human body, weather systems, and plants. They also explore engineering by building simple machines and bridges, use recycled materials to make kites or a model of a landfill, and pursue a number of other hands-on projects.
Students in third grade delve into more complex scientific understanding as they learn about NYC’s watershed. They study electricity using batteries, motors and wires and apply that knowledge to design and build a game using a circuit. They learn about some of the complex systems that make up the human body: muscular, skeletal, nervous, and circulatory. Students dissect a specimen for a closer look and anatomical structures and then build a robot model of a human body part using the Lego WeDo system.
Fourth graders engage in a study of insects; their life cycles, anatomy, metamorphosis and adaptations. Later, they learn about aquatic ecosystems and participate in the River Project at the Hudson River estuary where they help collect data and maintain an oyster restoration station. Their final study involves life cycles, puberty, and reproduction.
Students compare their own early childhood development to better understand that developmental variance is normal and expected and that all humans have a unique timeline for growth and change.
Science classes are held in two dedicated science labs; one for grades PreK to second grade, and another for third and fourth grades.
The STEAM Hub is a collaborative learning space specifically designed for first through fourth grade students. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. In the STEAM Hub, students engage in projects, activities and discussions that focus on developing skills in these areas in an integrated way. While there is a specialized STEAM curriculum, the overall goal is to make connections with classroom and other specialists’ programs.
First and second grade students learn specific skills like touch typing and creating various types of presentations, they also delve into technology in the broadest sense of the word and have opportunities to build models and prototypes with a variety of materials. Engineering and design challenges are designed to strengthen their problem-solving skills and they become familiar with the design process. Third and fourth grade students have access to the STEAM Hub during Integrated Learning Blocks and various other project work times. Coding is an important tool for building and inventing with technology and we aim to cultivate students who cannot only USE apps, but BUILD them. Students in first and second grade work with Kodable, while third and fourth graders work on a number of projects using the Scratch programming language. Third and fourth graders are a part of the school’s one-to-one iPad program (which continues up through 12th grade) and are issued their own iPads for in-school use in all subject areas. Extensive discussions and activities regarding digital citizenship are ongoing.
LIBRARY AND RESEARCH
The library and research program develops students’ abilities to effectively use libraries and information technology. Research units are planned in collaboration with classroom teachers and specialists at every grade level, from PreK through fourth grade. In third and fourth grade our librarian and STEAM specialists push into the classroom to team teach and support the students’ research. Students have opportunities to build skills around locating and identifying quality sources, providing citation information, synthesizing and then presenting what they have learned.
The early childhood library and the private elementary school library hubs are learning and resource centers for students, teachers and parents, providing reading and other multimedia materials that enrich the curriculum and foster a love of reading in each student. The program also sponsors periodic visits by authors and illustrators, along with a variety of other literary events.
Berkeley Carroll's Lower School Arts program celebrates creativity and strives to instill the confidence in each of our students that they can be an artist in both visual and performing arts.
From PreK through fourth grade, art projects are an integral part of the classroom curriculum. Art begins as a separate subject taught in kindergarten. The teachers emphasize the importance of process, planning and revision, all the while helping the children to create artwork that is distinctly their own. A rotating display of children’s work adorns our walls year-round.
Children from PreK through fourth grade participate in our dance program. The younger children learn the basics of movement, while older students have the opportunity to choreograph their own work and interpret the works of great dancers.
Students in PreK through fourth grade have music at least once per cycle. Our music curriculum begins with the Kodaly method and gradually introduces traditional music notation. Students use Orff and various percussion instruments on all grade levels and they begin to study recorder in third grade. The use of the voice as an instrument is emphasized throughout and children begin participating in choruses in second grade. There are either open class presentations or concerts in both music and dance for each grade, so that children have the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. The Fourth Grade Showcase, the capstone event of students' Lower School years, provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning in the arts for the school community.
The Berkeley Carroll Athletic Center houses a pool, a gymnasium and fitness center. Students in Lower School have classes in physical education and aquatics. The physical education classes emphasize cooperation, good sportsmanship and lifelong fitness as the children are taught fundamental skills they may use competitively in Middle and Upper School. Children in kindergarten through fourth grade swim in our pool once per six-day cycle for an hour. The children are taught the four basic strokes, breathing techniques and diving, preparing them for competitive swimming in the older grades.
The goals of our homework program in Lower School are to practice skills learned in class, to prepare work (writing, research, math) that will be used and possibly shared in class, to reflect on something connected to curriculum (which provides us with a valuable form of assessment), and to develop skills of time management and responsibility. Our hope is that homework assignments are purposeful, and we endeavor to offer some student choice to promote ownership and engagement.
We introduce homework gradually in the Lower School. We feel that our youngest students should spend their time at home playing and recharging as they are getting used to the demands of their busy days. Beginning in first grade, we ask that students spend at least 30 minutes a night being read to by an adult, reading independently, or some combination of the two. In second through fourth grade, students receive a packet of homework assignments each week, which they are to complete by Friday. The expectation is that students, depending on grade level, will spend the equivalent of 20-40 minutes nightly on homework in addition to reading (or being read to) for 30 minutes a night.