General Studies Curriculum
We are a coeducational, independent day school enrolling children in junior kindergarten through fifth grade. The most important principles guiding the development of our curriculum are those of challenging each student’s mind to the fullest and promoting a desire and a love for learning. We are dedicated to providing an excellent school experience that is both enjoyable and challenging, incorporating the critical thinking skills and problem solving that we know are so essential for success. We believe in educating the “total child,” meeting his or her cognitive, social, emotional, creative, and physical needs. Because children learn in many different ways, the teachers employ a variety of approaches and materials.
As we move further into the 21st century, imparting skills that will prepare our students for the technology that is becoming a fixed part of our lives is crucial. Assignments that include the use of the latest technology tools, a global classroom that allows children to investigate solutions to problems around the world and to offer support for others outside their immediate community, and curriculum that is centered around inquiry, projects, and collaboration are all included in our students’ days.
In language arts, the primary goal is to teach children to use language to communicate effectively and to facilitate their thinking and learning. We accomplish this through a comprehensive literacy program. Based on the joint position statement of the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, we provide our students with a balance of instructional methods, including daily opportunities for students to engage in systematic decoding and authentic reading, writing, listening, and speaking experiences. Children listen to stories read aloud, share the reading of enlarged text with their teacher and classmates, and independently problem solve on appropriately leveled text. Through explicit and direct instruction, children are taught the skills and strategies for word solving, as well as comprehension.
The Gifted and Talented program used with our older students incorporates instruction in reading and writing, daily journals, building strong reference skills, exploring literary techniques such as similes and metaphors, and developing an extensive vocabulary. The language arts experience incorporates higher level skills and critical thinking that will be used throughout a student’s life.
All children from junior kindergarten through fifth grade participate in writing activities. From their first day in school, children are given an opportunity to live a “writerly life.” In shared and independent writing, students learn to move through the processes of writing in the same way published authors do. Children prewrite, draft, revise, edit, and publish. Different genres, the various conventions of language and techniques in writing are included in the curriculum. They are encouraged to use all that they know about writing and spelling to express themselves. We celebrate and share our writing throughout the school.
Our math programs, “Everyday Mathematics” and “Destinations Math,” used in junior kindergarten through fifth grade, support our philosophy that when teaching math concepts and computation, it is not enough to merely memorize math facts. To be “math literate,” the whole number system has to come together in a way that makes sense to the student.
The program utilizes a problem-solving approach based on everyday situations. For example, in first grade, students practice counting money and making change by playing the role of shopper and storekeeper. There is frequent practice of basic skills in ways that are engaging for the children. The use of a variety of math games allows students to practice skills and concepts, including computation, money, place value, number sense, data, and geometry. The games are played with manipulatives in the classroom.
First in Math is a competitive and independent, electronic game program that is utilized throughout the school year to motivate students to practice and perfect their math skills. Prizes and awards are given to grades, teams, and students as they achieve the highest scores. At the end of the school year, the math accomplishments are celebrated at a Math Carnival developed and provided by the fifth grade.
Our science program emphasizes the scientific processes taught at an appropriate cognitive level. These processes are observation, classification, experimentation, analysis, and application. When you walk into one of our science classes, you won’t see the teacher standing in front of the class doing an experiment while students observe from their desks. Instead, you will see each group of students using their own laboratory materials, enabling them to perform the experiment independently, while the teacher guides and facilitates the activity. There is active participation by all of the students, and the buzz of voices is heard as the children turn their classroom into a laboratory. For example, when studying electricity, the children are challenged to light a bulb using only a battery, bulb, and wire, observe how electric current passes through a light bulb, find and create hidden circuits, and assemble parallel circuits.
The social studies program that we use was produced by teachers and based on a variety of educational research. Social Studies Alive! is a series of practices and materials that allow students with diverse learning styles to “experience” social studies. The program incorporates all disciplines of social studies from economics and map skills to sociology, history, and political science. Students are also given strategy instruction to facilitate reading for information within content areas and writing to show understanding.
The following example from the fifth grade curriculum demonstrates the variety of ways children come to understand through this program. The students are introduced to the Revolutionary War by playing tug-of-war with unequal opponents. The teacher changes the rules to favor a seemingly weaker team, much as a number of factors ultimately helped the American colonies win the war. After the tug-of-war, students read a chapter in their textbook and take notes on factors that allowed the colonists to defeat the British. Finally, the students create an historical marker commemorating the conditions that led the colonists to victory.
Computers are an integral part of the curriculum. A wireless computer lab that can accommodate an entire class as well as three desktop computers in each classroom allow for computer use, instruction, and application throughout the day. Students receive instruction in word processing, keyboarding, database creation, desktop publishing, and presentation using content areas that are already being taught in the classroom. The students are comfortable working on computers and use them to publish stories, use spreadsheets in math, organize information through database, and present their reports through PowerPoint presentations. In addition, each classroom is equipped with a SMART Board, document camera, projector, and VCR/DVD cable connection to complete the technology opportunities for the students.
During weekly physical education classes for kindergarten and first grade, and twice-weekly classes for grades 2-5, the children receive instruction leading to the continuing development of gross motor skills, body and health awareness, and control of body movements. A regular program of jogging, walking, and stretching is included. Throwing, catching, and various coordination activities are incorporated in both individual and team play. Various sports games are introduced and taught so that students can further their skills in the areas that of interest to them. In addition, thirty minutes of outdoor play are scheduled for days without PE. Dance and movement, and strength and agility training are included in the program as well. There is also a weekly team building class where students must collaborate and communicate to achieve a physical goal.
The goals of the music program are to develop enjoyment of singing and to learn about music through rhythm activities. Emphasis is placed on music appreciation, identifying and counting musical notes, and the actual reading of music. Instruments are introduced at third grade with recorders, fourth grade with the keyboard, and fifth grade with an assortment of band instruments.
Art instruction is scheduled to coordinate with regular classroom instruction. By moving to a flexible art schedule, we ensure that art is taught in service of the whole curriculum. Art motivation starts with the creativity of the children themselves as they experience the world around them. During the year, each student has an opportunity to explore printmaking, painting, sculpture, collage, crafts, and designs. The experiences focus on the elements of color, texture, line, shape, and form.
Based upon our clearly established learning benchmarks, we regularly review and evaluate individual student progress. We employ a balanced assessment program that utilizes formal and informal measures. Teacher observations and evaluation of class performance are the primary tools in the assessment program. In the spring, we administer the CTP IV – a standardized achievement test by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). Teachers communicate with parents and students through report cards, progress reports every three weeks, and conferences.
Experience, dedication, enthusiasm, and affection for our children are the hallmarks of the faculty at Charlotte Jewish Day School. We work hard to sustain an environment that is cheerful, welcoming, and challenging. Teachers respond to children’s interests, support and enhance exploration, and provide opportunities for active participation. The faculty at Charlotte Jewish Day School genuinely cares about each child and wants that child to be successful and to have a positive learning experience.