Over the last seven months, we have all discovered that there are some activities that just do not translate well to the virtual world, but first graders have discovered one activity that has become even more exciting in distance learning and that is the weekly Mystery Reader.
Grades K-2 Curriculum
For children, the years between kindergarten and second grade are a time of tremendous growth. During these years, students develop a strong sense of themselves as part of a classroom family while also becoming increasingly independent learners and self-starters. K-2 teachers create a student-centered environment, with a focus on reading, writing, and math workshops. There is careful attention to differentiation and support of students’ social and emotional development. Students also learn the Hebrew aleph-bet, grow their Hebrew speaking vocabulary, and begin to read and write in Hebrew. They explore their world through units of study that integrate social studies and science concepts, and begin the formal study of Torah. Each year, students go on field trips, celebrate Jewish holidays and festivals, perform in plays, celebrate the publication of the books they write, and spend time with students from their older “buddy” class. Weekly specials include PE, art, music, and library. Social skills, mindfulness, and yoga practices are embedded in the curriculum.
We offer a balanced, workshop-based approach to the development of literacy skills. Our reading program is made up of four components:
1. Teacher-led mini-lessons that introduce word skills, reading strategies, and literary genres
2. Guided reading in which students work in small groups with teachers to practice decoding and comprehension skills and strategies
3. Independent practice in which students “read to self,” “read and talk” with a partner, and work one-on-one with a teacher
4. Read-alouds in which the teachers select and read literature that introduces and reinforces reading strategies and concepts related to units of study.
Language is everywhere in the kindergarten classroom. Surrounded by words, children have multiple opportunities to read, write and express themselves each day. Each morning students rotate through learning centers that focus on different aspects of language and literacy. Writer’s workshop offers students opportunities to express themselves and practice the sound-symbol skills they are learning. Students interact with each other in small reading groups and have individual time to read with their teachers.
Students develop greater reading and writing fluency through full classroom activities, in small guided reading groups, and through individual time with their teacher. Emphasis is placed on reading and writing a core list of beginning words. Students write about their own experiences and growing knowledge of the world. With independent reading time each day, students have opportunities to select their own reading materials and develop the habits and love of reading.
Students develop their writing skills by working on spelling, following rules of grammar, and learning the craft of editing. Writing takes many forms - letters, poems, stories, and personal journals. As readers, students develop critical and analytical skills such as drawing conclusions, identifying author’s purpose, and understanding character, setting, and plot. The goal is to insure that each student is ready and confident to read a wide variety of text on his/her own.
Our activity-based math program facilitates the development of children’s mathematical thinking and reasoning abilities by providing age appropriate problems and investigations. In grades K-2, students explore number sense and algorithms, geometry, probability, data analysis, patterning, and measurements through the use of manipulative objects and real life experiences. They record their understanding in number stories, charts, graphs, and equations. We combine the interactive software and student journals of Everyday Mathematics, with other published and teacher-made materials. Children are regularly assessed so that their math work is targeted towards individualized goals.
Students develop their mathematical and analytical skills with age appropriate problems using numbers, geometry, probability and measurements. Whole group lessons focus on time, money, temperature, addition and subtraction, and place value. Small group and individually paced activities challenge students to grow and reach their full potential as mathematicians.
In a Hebrew rich environment, PJA students experience Hebrew as a living language. Through a variety of multi-sensory activities, students learn the Aleph-Bet and begin to speak, read, and write in Hebrew. Using songs, games, and projects, students develop the vocabulary to speak (in Hebrew) about the classroom environment, friendship, and the world around them.
Through song, text, stories and games, students strengthen their spoken vocabulary and listening comprehension skills. Students’ reading and writing skills increase as they learn to identify letters and vowels and to decode and blend vowel combinations. They become familiar with many sight words and reinforce their word recognition by writing in Hebrew block print.
Jewish Studies combines the studies of Torah, Hagim (Holy Days), Israel, and Tefillah (prayer). Central to PJA’s Jewish studies program is student reflection about the school’s middot (Jewish values) and consideration of the ways they express the middot in their own lives. Along with the themes of family, personal, and communal responsibility, students develop a personal connection to and consider the relevance of these themes to their own lives. Art, music, storytelling, and drama all play a major role as students experience the vibrancy and joy of Jewish life and traditions.
Kindergarten students learn Shabbat rituals, practices and blessings and create their own “Shabbat boxes,” containing a handmade Kiddush cup, challah cover, tzedakah box, candle sticks, and illustrated bencher. They begin their study of Torah with stories from the book of Bereishit (Genesis) and participate in a Passover Family Seder and a Torah Celebration.
First grade students examine the stories of Abraham and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and consider the relevance of these stories to their own lives. By creating a “Hagim Book” with collage illustrations, first graders become more familiar with the observances and history of each holy day. They learn more of the morning blessings, the blessings for Shabbat and food, and sections of the Birkat Hamazon (blessing after eating). At the end of the school year, students celebrate all that they have learned with their families and receive their first Siddur.
In second grade, students continue their study of the Birkat Hamazon (blessing after eating) and begin to learn the prayers central to the mincha (afternoon) service. Second grade students study the story of Yoseph and how the Jewish people came to live in Egypt, focusing on the values of family and personal and communal responsibility.
Students explore major themes about the world in which they live through interdisciplinary units of study that incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) and social studies skills and concepts. Using the resources of the classroom, Learning Commons, and Makerspace, students begin to see themselves as researchers, engineers, and creative problem solvers, and approach learning about our world in an authentic and participatory way. They share their learning with a wider audience by writing plays, building scenery and costumes, and performing for an audience of families and peers. Students also explore what humans need to travel and survive in space, build an interplanetary outpost, and take others on a space journey.
In kindergarten these new topics of study are introduced through songs, stories, arts and crafts, movement, fantasy play, field trips, and observation. The concepts of caring for each other and our world are explored in units of study that include friendship, children around the world, plants and trees, and water.
First grade students study sea creatures and the ocean, light and sound, and the solar system. Using the resources of the Makerspace, they create an interactive aquarium and collaborate with fifth grade students on a trip to the moon and the creation of interplanetary outposts. In collaboration with their classroom teacher and art and music specialists, students write, create costumes and sets, learn songs, and present a play about penguins.
Second grade units of study include bees, community, rocks and minerals, the Amazon rainforest, ancient Egypt, simple machines, and fractured fairy tales. Students visit the Rice NW Museum of Rocks and Minerals, perform a play about the rainforest and its inhabitants, create ancient Egyptian artifacts, hunt for simple machines around the building, and tell the story of their own fractured fairy tales by creating puppet theatres and animated video games.
Art, music, PE, and time in the Learning Commons and Makerspace are central to the lower school experience. All students in kindergarten – fifth grade have two periods each week of PE and a weekly art, music, and library class. In addition to these regularly scheduled “specials,” students and classroom teachers work collaboratively throughout the school year with our school librarian, maker educators, and art and music teachers on integrated projects.
PJA has two art studios – one designed specifically for the early childhood years and the other for use by students in grades 1-8. Students in grades K-5 have an hour-long art class each week. Classes often begin with a mini lesson in which students are introduced to different media and tools or learn about artists and artistic style, after which students explore and create on their own or in collaboration with a partner. As students go through the lower school years, they devote increasingly longer time creating “WOW” projects: “wonderful original works” of their own design and development. Regularly scheduled “gallery walks” allow students to present their WOW projects and learn about the inspiration and process by which others’ works came about. Our art teachers also work in collaboration with students and classroom teachers on the development of integrated projects.
The Learning Commons is a hub of activity, a place where students and teachers work together in small groups, explore books, and discover new software and programs to enhance their learning. Students in grades K-5 meet weekly with our safranit (librarian) to revisit favorite stories, be introduced to new books, and develop library and research skills. Each grade has a clearly articulated, developmentally appropriate library curriculum that complements class literature and research studies. Throughout the year, students and teachers work collaboratively with our librarian and technology integration specialist on the development of integrated projects.
PJA’s Music Studio is a joyful, active space in which students sing, learn to play instruments, and integrate movement and sound. Students in grades K-5 have a weekly music class in which music theory and appreciation are taught, along with opportunities to learn new songs and build a repertoire of Jewish and Hebrew music, and other folk songs. In addition to music class, our music teacher works closely with our lower school faculty to integrate music into classroom content. At every grade level there is a ‘musical’ performance based on a unit of study. These performances range from full stage productions to in class performances. In many cases, students work along with the music teacher and their classroom teachers to write lyrics to accompany these performances.
The Makerspace is a vibrant center of exploration and collaboration in which students learn by doing. In the Makerspace, students’ understanding of classroom content is enhanced through hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) learning. Tools in the Makerspace include hammers and drills, a sewing machine, a Glowforge laser cutter, a 3-D printer, and more. Materials include everything from fabric and cardboard to electronics and pine cones. Students receive direct instruction in the use of different tools and have opportunities to use their imaginations and develop their proficiency with tools by tinkering. Maker educators collaborate with classroom teachers to challenge students with open-ended, project and problem-based learning opportunities in which students typically direct their own learning. Among the student-designed and constructed projects that have grown in the Makerspace have been an interactive aquarium, mikdash (sanctuary), and solar powered grilled cheese cookers.
The goal of our PE program is for students to be active and have fun! Classes are structured around non-competitive games that build endurance, cooperation, and life-long skills. PE is part of the wellness program that is embedded in curriculum and classroom routines such as movement breaks, yoga and mindfulness activities, and cooking and gardening projects.