Williamsburg Northside’s Lower School is founded on the belief and experience that engaging children’s powerful curiosity and passion for learning is critical to the development of higher order thinking. This includes integrating and applying knowledge from multiple disciplines, as well as the ability to approach complex problems with novel solutions. Children of the 21st century are growing up in a world full of change and innovation and the Lower School prepares students for the challenges they will encounter in middle school and beyond. Williamsburg Northside fosters the development of creativity and flexible thinking, as well as students’ abilities to collaborate and communicate. This is accomplished through project-based explorations that take them out into the world on field trips and build upon the Reggio Emilia approach and values of the Infant and Toddler Center and Preschool. The core idea that children are strong, capable learners, who are agents in their education, encourages self-confidence, independence and individuality. Balanced with respect for others in the community and for a collaborative work process, these beliefs provide the foundation for an education that provides an enriched and rigorous academic experience in the lower school.
Within a defined but flexible curriculum, the Lower School’s academic program integrates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) subjects in project work. Additionally, Social Studies forms the framework for an integrated curriculum and more projects. Grade-level skills are taught in the context of projects, as well as separately. The workshop model is used for Reading, Writing and Mathematics.
Williamsburg Northside’s work in literacy supports all readers’ and writers’ desire to have authentic and meaningful interactions with texts and the world. The Balanced Literacy approach, endorsed by Lucy Calkins of the Reading and Writing project at Columbia University’s Teachers College, utilizes the strengths of the whole language and phonics approaches to literacy to provide a real foundation for learning. Students are met at their individual level and are supported and challenged in their quest to develop increased competency in literacy. Instruction in reading, writing, spelling, and public speaking take place in whole group, small group, and individual settings to allow for differentiation at each students level.
The Lower School’s Literacy curriculum emphasizes the interconnectedness between reading and writing, and explores an array of topics and themes such as community, respect, identity, and culture. Through Williamsburg Northside’s approach to literacy, students gain the ability to think creatively and analytically.
The Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (TERC) Curriculum is used as the foundation of the math curriculum. It was designed to provide a conceptual understanding of mathematics and guide students towards becoming mathematical thinkers. Additionally, Williamsburg Northside’s teachers draw from other mathematical resources such as Singapore Math and Contexts for Learning, to support computational fluency, and Marilyn Burns’s, “Math Solutions.”
Math instruction is taught in small and whole groups. The use of concrete materials allows students to develop abstract thinking, as well as to construct meaning and understanding based on mathematical concepts learned. The goal of the program is to help students make mathematical connections, further the development of logical thinking while encouraging students to extend their mathematical awareness. Teachers use a common mathematical language, which ensures continuity across grade levels.
Social Studies provides the framework for the integrated curriculum. In the early years of the Lower School, Social Studies topics consider the community in all we do as citizens of our families, school, neighborhood, and city. Older students study a broader meaning of the word “community” and develop a sense of themselves as citizens of a larger world when they study our country and our global community. Projects are co-constructed by teachers and students and vary from year to year. For example, the 3rd grade “visits” all seven continents throughout each year, but each year the countries, cultures, and communities studied will be different based on the interests of the students and teachers. Whatever the framework, cross subject curricular material is integrated into these projects, so that skills and information are attained, as is the ability to apply them in a meaningful way in future learning experiences.
Students in the Lower School engage with technology and use it as a tool for research and to create interesting products to express their learning and ideas. Technology is integrated with the work done in the homerooms as well as enrichment classes. Students create, research, and navigate their way through their studies using various applications, software, and Internet resources. While exploring technology, digital citizenship is taught to students and families. Classroom teachers work closely with the Librarian/Media Specialist to collaborate on projects that utilize technology. All Lower School students use IPads and interactive projectors, and 3rd-5th graders utilize laptops for their work and begin to explore programming languages as a means to share their learning and to develop reasoning skills.
During the course of the year, our classes look for ways to engage in meaningful service learning projects. Examples of previous projects completed include:
All of the lower school students visit the Preschool, and Infant & Toddler Center programs to share songs and projects in those classrooms. Each class buddies up for activities throughout the year.
1st graders hand stitched pillows to provide warmth and decoration to a women’s shelter, helping to make it feel more like home.
Funds raised at the student lead (grown, built, and organized) farmer’s market were donated to a local food bank.
Our 3rd graders launch the school’s annual City Harvest campaign.
Williamsburg Northside also partners with the Ajkun Ballet to offer a dance program to its own students and other Brooklyn elementary school students as part of our Afterschool Program.