Renaissance Fourth Grade Overview
The Fourth Grade classroom at Renaissance is a close-knit learning community in which students are safe to grow, explore, learn and be themselves. The Fourth Grade curriculum is sensitive to our students’ industrious, intellectually curious and often more serious nature. The teacher helps her students navigate their drive for in-depth exploration of topics by teaching and guiding the research process from idea to final report or project.
Fourth Graders utilize the Shelburne Farms working dairy barn throughout the year to take data for use in mathematical graphs and calculations; this type of experiential learning helps students make strong connections between the written curriculum and the real-world. Another example of this type of hands-on learning occurs during the unit on the human body, during which several medical students from the University of Vermont visit the classroom with stethoscopes and other tools that students use to explore and learn.
A beloved Fourth Grade tradition is an autumn kayaking expedition on the LaPlatte River to help students understand and relate to the Lewis and Clark western expeditions. Our Fourth Graders write prolifically, and follow the writing process from first to final draft. Students take great pride in their completed work and continuously see their writing and other projects displayed in the school halls. They are advancing from learning to read to reading to learn, marking a significant shift in their cognitive ability.
Fourth Graders are beginning to see and understand the bigger world, and frequently wrestle with issues of fairness and justice. Fourth Grade is a great time to study the foundations of American government as well as our current local, state and national governmental structures and functions. A trip to the Vermont State House to observe our state government in action complements the classroom studies. We know that even as our Fourth Graders become more competent, they still need positive language and encouragement; the Fourth Grade teacher displays extraordinary patience and good humor as she guides her students’ growth and development.
The literacy environment in our Fourth Grade classroom is rich and creative, giving students endless opportunities to stretch and grow as readers and writers. Students branch out into new genres of fiction and nonfiction literature, and engage in literary conversations with peers in book groups. They learn how to ask appropriate questions in order to gain deeper meaning and understanding, and how to respond to questions with clear, well-structured thoughts.
Fourth Graders turn the corner from learning to read, to reading to learn; they put all of their reading strategies to work in order to understand more complex texts. Because of the cognitive growth that happens during this year, students are able to manage more than one concept at a time, preparing them to put the writing process to work. Fourth Graders use the writing process from graphic organizer through publication, with emphasis on creativity as well as attention to the mechanics of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Students learn how to effectively summarize both orally read stories and stories that they’ve read to themselves. They write more in-depth research papers that utilize three or more sources, and create autobiographies for display throughout the school. Fourth Graders write extensively in response to literature they read, enabling them to think critically about what they read, and then articulate their thoughts in various types of writing and other creative projects.
Fourth Graders at Renaissance begin to develop pre-algebraic thinking through solving for an unknown variable in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. A strong foundation in pre-algebra knowledge and skills will help ensure that students are prepared to take algebra in middle school. Students strengthen their skills in multiplication and division, using mental computation strategies as well as flexible thinking to solve the same problem in multiple ways. Throughout Fourth Grade there is an emphasis on explicitly showing the thinking and problem solving skills that lead to an answer; this ensures that students gain a deep understanding of the process for solving problems which can then be applied to problems in a different context.
Fourth Graders move deeper into the study of fractions, learning to add and subtract fractions with and without common denominators, convert improper fractions and mixed numbers, and reduce fractions to their simplest form. Students are introduced to decimals; they apply decimals to their understanding of money, and convert simple decimals to fractions and vice versa. A favorite Fourth Grade project involves collecting data in the Shelburne Farms dairy barn, organizing and analyzing the data, and creating graphs to show information on milk production.
Fourth Graders explore measurement and geometry in greater depth, using multi-step word problems to calculate distance, elapsed time, volume, money, masses of objects, etc. They learn to identify radius and circumference of a circle and to use a protractor to measure and sketch various angles. Students bring their knowledge of geometry and fractions to creative quilt projects that brighten the school walls!
Fourth Grade Science involves a hands-on exploration into the human body and the life cycles of living things. Students benefit from a first-hand study of various functions of the human body by welcoming UVM medical students to their classroom for demonstrations and discussion. Students investigate three main bodily systems, producing one of the major research projects of the year.
Fourth Graders are fascinated by the concepts of genetics and hereditary; they study chromosomes and genes, and create models and graphs showing the effect genes have on physical features. Students study the life cycles of living organisms and ways in which living things utilize the environment to meet basic needs. They participate in major life-cycle projects including hatching chickens in the classroom and monitoring and maintaining a vermiculture bin. Students move forward in their understanding of the scientific method, including their ability to observe, record and interpret scientific data, to understand cause and effect, to use reasoning skills to make logical predictions and to make hypotheses and create experiments to test them. Their understanding of the scientific method is put to the test in a culminating science project of their choosing which is self-completed and presented to a school-wide audience at the annual science fair.
Fourth Graders continue their exploration of early American life, studying significant historical contributions to the westward expansion, including the Louisiana Purchase and the Homestead Act. Pioneer life on the trail is of particular interest to students, and a highlight of this unit is a class kayaking trip on the LaPlatte River to reenact the epic journey of Lewis and Clark. Students learn the difference between primary and secondary source documents, and how to analyze historical documents. They study the causes and significance of the Gold Rush, and begin to look at the issues around migration, including the involuntary migration that occurred during the Trail of Tears.
In the winter Social Studies unit, students look more deeply at US geography. They become familiar with US regions and their natural resources, and major US landmarks, landforms and climates. Students expand their mapping skills by creating maps of important events in US history. Finally, students stretch their growing capacity for information retention by identifying and correctly spelling all 50 states and capitals.
Fourth Graders finish the year in social studies by looking more closely at the beginnings of the United States government, including the creation and meaning of key documents such as the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Articles of Confederation. Students explore the three branches of government and investigate how and why laws are created. An overarching concept that students grapple with is the magnitude of the challenges that our new nation faced, and how these challenges were met and overcome. Students learn about our local and state governments, and become familiar with the names of our elected representatives. A trip to the Vermont State Capitol includes a mock trial and the chance to see government in action.
Social, Emotional and Life Skills
Fourth Grade students’ social and emotional skills continue to develop, and the teacher guides their growth with patience and good humor. Nine and ten year old children tend to be very concerned about fairness and justice; this comes out in their arguments and negotiations about facts, rules and directions in class and on the playground. Our teacher understands her students’ cognitive and emotional growth and helps them navigate these areas so that they experience positive outcomes and gain confidence.
The teacher is cognizant of the fact that her fourth graders are entering pre-adolescence, and are sometimes self-conscious and insecure. The teacher strives to make her classroom a safe place for learning and growth; she helps students resolve conflict with empathy and kindness toward peers. Renaissance is a physically and emotionally safe environment because all of the teachers and staff members that engage with students are committed to helping them develop into kind, caring, empathetic young people.
Students consistently say that they feel accepted and safe at school, knowing that they can relax and completely be themselves as they move through the grades. This is critical for our Fourth Graders, as they embark on the journey of adolescence. The teacher help students prepare for this journey by guiding their social and emotional growth in positive, confidence-building ways.