Curriculum

Overview

The Primary School Curriculum reflects the school's mission and evolves from the understanding of the stages of cognitive, social, and physical development. In keeping with our progressive approach to education, it promotes hands-on, collaborative learning with an emphasis on conceptual understanding, problem solving, and critical, creative, and analytical thinking.

Areas of Study by Grade Level

List of 9 items.

  • Language Arts

    We guide students to become capable and engaged readers and writers. Students start by learning to read and then, by the middle primary years, are reading to learn. Using a workshop approach, students create, refine, and reflect on their own and others’ writing. Together, they analyze stories and other texts to deepen their critical thinking and analysis skills.
    Kindergarten
    A love of reading and writing is established from day one of Kindergarten. Students write in their journals and savor books each day. They learn basic sight words, master letter-sound correspondences, practice writing letters, begin to learn writing conventions, and engage in regular reading instruction, differentiated by skill level. Students explore patterns in story structure, eventually creating their pattern books.

    1st Grade
    Vocabulary and sentence structure take center stage as students begin to understand the relationship between reader and writer. Goals include increased use of writing conventions and correct spelling, greater reading fluency, the continued development of expressive language, and strong decoding and reading comprehension skills. Students engage in author studies, explore chapter books, and write in a variety of fiction and non-fiction forms.

    2nd Grade
    Students continue to develop spelling, handwriting, reading comprehension, and writing skills. Discussion, interpretation, and investigation of how the books they are reading unfold is part of making students strong readers and writers. Students develop their ideas about what they are reading and begin to support these ideas with references to the text.

    3rd Grade
    Through a variety of reading and writing activities, students learn that purpose, audience, and context can change the form and substance of writing. Students know and use basic punctuation to communicate their ideas with clarity. They learn to write complete paragraphs, explore character development and plot, and create books of poetry.

    4th Grade
    Students learn more about the writing process as they engage in prewriting strategies, drafting, revising, and editing their work. They also learn how the six traits of writing—idea development, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions—contribute to successful communication. In their novel studies, they identify point of view, make connections between books, and carefully focus on the nuances of character development. Students write detailed research papers based on their social studies and science units.

    5th Grade
    In 5th grade, students add to their understanding of reading and writing by exploring how fiction and non-fiction works are structured. The five-paragraph essay form is introduced and practiced. Students continue to use the six traits of writing and refine habits of prewriting, drafting, editing, and critiquing other students’ work using a workshop approach. Students are increasingly expected to weave critical thinking and analysis skills into their writing.
  • Mathematics

    We help students become mathematical thinkers. That means starting with a firm foundation in numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis, and probability. We teach with consistent language and strategies that help students develop mental building blocks for higher math and abstract thinking in the upper grades. Grades K-5 use TERC Investigations, a research-based program that emphasizes mathematical thinking and problem-solving.

    Kindergarten
    Students explore different types of patterns—repeating, growing, and circular—as part of their thematic studies. They learn to solve problems with addition and subtraction, count 100 or more objects, estimate the number of objects in a collection, and order whole numbers up to 100. Weighing, measuring, and graphing are also part of the math investigations in Kindergarten.

    1st grade
    An overarching goal in 1st grade is to understand the connection between math and everyday life. Pattern work continues with students extending, describing, and creating their own. In other units, students compute with larger numbers, use 2-D and 3-D shapes to sketch and design, learn how to design and carry out a data investigation, and learn basic fractions.

    2nd grade
    Students focus on learning and communicating different strategies to solve math problems. Increasing automaticity in mental and written computation is a goal. While students continue to build their understanding of time, money, and measurement, they also delve deeper into fractions, further explore the representation and interpretation of data, and begin to explore multiplication.

    3rd grade
    Students’ understanding of numbers expands as they compute, compare, and order fractions. Delving deeper into multiplication and introducing division, students use a variety of strategies, including arrays, mental arithmetic, and paper-and-pencil algorithms. Geometry units introduce perimeter and area of polygons. 

    4th grade
    Students return to pattern work, describing rules for patterns and using them to solve problems. They develop their understanding of place value for multi-digit whole numbers, classify shapes by properties of lines and angles, and demonstrate fluent knowledge of multiplication facts. They also solve problems with measurement and conversion from larger to smaller units and explore concepts of division. 

    5th grade
    5th graders use a variety of strategies to solve math problems and can explain how and why they solve problems the way they do. They learn how they can apply the place-value structure of the base-ten number system as they add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and they also learn how to describe and apply the associative, commutative, and identity properties. They also delve more deeply into fractions and decimals.
  • Science

    In science classes, student curiosity is directed into hands-on investigation and experimentation. Instruction is inquiry-based and follows the STEM approach to education. The curriculum includes biological, earth, and physical sciences, with a strong emphasis on sustainability. Specific content ties into grade-level themes and is driven by essential questions.

    Kindergarten
    Patterns in nature are a central focus. Through classroom investigations and exploration as part of the outdoor science program, students explore life cycles and make observations of plant life and live organisms. They learn to collect and organize data and begin to use the scientific method to go step-by-step through the stages of research and experimentation.

    1st grade
    Plants and animals live together in nature, but what’s their relationship to each other and to their environment? Both inside the classroom and through the outdoor science program, students engage in observation and research to find out. They study habitats and learn more about the attributes of animals and plants and what they need to survive and thrive.

    2nd grade
    With a unifying focus on structures, 2nd graders explore how Earth processes produce observable differences in rock properties and formations; how the structure of matter impacts its behavior; how the universe can be understood as a series of overlapping systems; and how various plant structures perform essential life functions for those plants. Students apply their new understanding to solve problems, including preventing erosion, helping astronomical instruments return safely back to Earth, and designing packaging to transport plants while also providing for their essential life needs.


    3rd grade

    Third graders investigate a range of topics including weather and climate; waste, force, motion, and simple machines; and diversity of life with a focus on animal diversity. In harmony with the 3rd grade theme of change and changemakers, students have opportunities to make direct measurements of environmental changes, are empowered to be change agents for waste reuse and reduction, and learn about how species change over time. Along the way, they tackle a variety of engineering and design challenges, including creating model floodwalls to block a simulated storm surge, considering ergonomics as they build a factory subsystem, and mimicking diverse animal pollinators in designing their own manual pollinator devices. 


    4th grade
    Fourth graders begin to conduct more complex investigations and record more detailed observations as they continue to develop their inquiry skills. They investigate the interrelated phenomena of electricity and magnetism before comparing and contrasting two types of waves in their light and sound studies. The 4th grade theme of perspectives is interwoven with the science curriculum, as students learn more about the structures and functions of the human body and the broad range of human experiences related to dis/ability, neurodiversity, and physical changes across the human life span. Students also explore different perspectives in their interdisciplinary Bay Studies unit as they consider all of the parties whose actions contribute to the health of the watershed, examine the interconnectedness of food webs in the Bay, and make first-hand observations of habitats and living organisms.


    5th grade
    Students gain proficiency in lab skills and safety measures as experimentation becomes an increasingly important part of their scientific studies. In addition to conducting experiments, students, create models to demonstrate their understanding, and solve problems. Units include, robotics, chemistry, and microbiology.

  • Social Studies

    In social studies, students develop an understanding of identity, diversity, and community. Younger students begin by exploring and celebrating the many positive aspects of identity, diversity, and community in family, school, and local contexts. Older students begin to delve into the complex challenges that diverse societies have faced. Research skills, map reading, and an understanding of geography and culture all help students place and connect persons, places, and events occurring today and in history.
    Kindergarten
    Family structures, holidays, and traditions are the focal point of student learning about community. In sharing their experiences, students learn to engage one another in dialogue, sustain a conversation on one idea, and discover similarities and differences among themselves.

    1st Grade
    Students explore the relationship between living things and their environments in units that combine social studies and science. As part of their investigations, students learn to make comparisons, think critically, and organize research. The 3D model town project and creature museum are highlights of the year.
    2nd Grade
    Second graders explore how individuals shape their communities, and how communities shape individuals. Students investigate individuals’ multiple identities and recognize how these identities interact to create unique experiences and perspectives. Then, they learn how communities of Maasai in Kenya, Native Americans on the northwest coast, and Mexicans express their cultural identities, both today and in the past. Skills developed include reading and labeling maps, group decision-making, debate, negotiation and conflict resolution, taking notes, and outlining. 
    3rd Grade
    Third graders are introduced to the study of United States history through three units on change in modern America: immigration, civil rights and civil action, and elections. They continue to build their inquiry skills by generating questions for study, investigating and evaluating sources of information, developing and critiquing explanations and arguments, and sharing conclusions within and beyond the classroom. Through their work, 3rd graders can explain how democracy relies on people’s responsible participation and draw implications for how individuals should participate.
    4th Grade
    Using inquiry skills, 4th graders investigate the social, political, and economic structures of American history from the colonial period through the Constitution. By comparing and contrasting a variety of primary print and visual sources, students explore how race, gender, and wealth impacted the opportunities available to early Americans. Through their work, 4th graders can explain why individuals and groups in this period differed in their perspectives and describe how people’s perspectives shaped the historical sources they created.
    5th Grade
    Students continue their study of American history, exploring multiple perspectives on the important people, places, and events associated with western expansion, the Civil War, and the industrial revolution. With growing independence, 5th graders integrate research and content skills to gather and evaluate sources that address the questions they find compelling. Through their work, 5th graders can explain the probable causes and effects of events and developments and use evidence to develop a formal claim about the past.
  • Spanish

    The goals of the Primary School Spanish program are for students to gain language proficiency through conversational practice, increase their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, and deepen their understanding of Spanish-speaking cultures around the world.

    Kindergarten
    Students identify patterns in familiar greetings and Spanish phrases. Through classroom routines and activities such as singing songs and building piñatas and puppets, they begin to develop reading, listening, and speaking skills and develop awareness of Spanish-speaking cultures.

    1st grade


    The exchange of ideas and culture is an important part of language study. Students learn to exchange essential information and follow simple directions in Spanish, and they begin to write words, phrases, and short sentences. Their knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures grows.

    2nd grade
    Students learn letters and sounds and begin to use a bilingual picture dictionary. In addition to learning more about Spanish-speaking cultures, they continue to build their vocabulary and communication skills through reading and writing, as well as hands-on activities that require active listening.

    3rd grade
    As their skills develop, 3rd graders are able to dramatize stories and present information. Cultural exposure continues, and students regularly practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing in Spanish. More formal vocabulary and grammar studies begin.

    4th grade
    Students continue to develop proficiency in Spanish as they follow commands and directions, ask and answer questions, learn more grammar and vocabulary, and write descriptive sentences and paragraphs.

    5th grade
    

5th graders are able to sustain conversation with a teacher as their vocabulary and speaking skills continue to improve. Correct pronunciation and good writing skills become increasingly important. Already able to write sentences and paragraphs, students try their hand at writing dialogue. Performing a bilingual play for the Primary School is a highlight of the year.
  • Physical Education + Dance

    Our aim is to keep students active. We want them to become capable movers, develop healthy lifestyle habits, and enjoy the possibilities of physical expression on the dance floor. Hand-eye and foot-eye coordination, balance, and motor planning are all fundamental skills emphasized at every grade level. Regular swim instruction is integrated into the curriculum. Our facilities include a pool, open fields, a gym, a dance studio, a bouldering wall, and nearby Rock Creek Park.

    Kindergarten
    Play, rhythm, and movement are all part of PE and dance in Kindergarten. Students practice balance and body control, musical phrasing, and movement patterns in everything from marching to leaping. “Barefoot Days” in PE are full of fun activities that help students develop perceptual motor skills at their own pace.

    1st grade
    1st graders continue to develop basic movement skills, as well as balance and body control. Swimming is added to the curriculum, and students work on several dance performances together throughout the year. “Barefoot Days” are favorite days for students.

    2nd grade
    In PE students begin to adapt their skills to organized sports and continue swimming lessons. In dance, students create a whole group dance from beginning to end and use dramatic play to create dance legends.

    3rd grade
    Who wants to be part of a “Poetry Dance” slam? Stepping or folk dance anyone? Students this year engage in various forms of dance, build on swimming fundamentals, and learn skills used in ultimate frisbee, hockey, and flag football.

    4th grade
    Students choreograph the “Bird Dance” and learn “Mayim Mayim,” an Israeli folk dance. Individualized fitness activities begin this year in PE, and students continue to develop and combine skills associated with organized games. Students begin to refine their strokes in swimming.

    5th grade
    Students explore the structures underlying popular sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, and team handball. They continue to refine movement skills and improve in all areas of fitness. Learning mime techniques and basic stage combat are part of dance instruction. The water polo unit is a favorite in swim class.
  • Music + Drama

    We aim for students to develop music literacy with an appreciation for music from around the globe. Students build a strong foundation in singing as a means of expression and community connection and gain experience playing a variety of instruments throughout Primary School. Third through 5th grade students expand their study of music to include an emphasis on drama. Students learn basic elements of theater, such as vocal projection, diction, and inflection, stage movement, character development, and improvisation, as well as some of the technical aspects of theater. Fourth and 5th graders participate in chorus and small instrumental ensembles, which perform once a year. Additionally, our after-school music program is a place for students of all ages to deepen their skills.
    Kindergarten
    Folk songs and singing games from a variety of countries, engage Kindergarteners’ imaginations, and nurture their creativity in a playful, kinetic manner. Central to learning and composing music is the understanding that musical sounds and notations have patterns. While singing and playing rhythm instruments, students recognize patterns and use musical concepts of steady beat, rhythm, tempo, pitch, timbre, and dynamics. Using non-standard notation, they incorporate pattern and repetition in their compositions, as well as a class composition using non-standard notation, which they perform in the spring.
     
    1st Grade
    First graders’ confidence grows as they are challenged with rhythm reading and dictation and encouraged to sing solo phrases. They learn songs in English and Spanish, games, partner dances, and body percussion. First graders sing songs selected to promote accuracy of pitch, rhythm, and begin to relate musical intervals using solfège, reading standard notation. Performances include an original song music video integrated with their city planning presentation and a spring concert.
     
    2nd Grade
    Singing, improvising, and further expanding solfége and pitched percussion use broadens students’ understanding of pitch, melodies, and simple forms in music. Exploring the music and percussion instruments from a variety of cultures provides students with a deeper understanding of rhythmic patterns and instruments unique to a region or country. Playing recorders and reading standard music notation are also introduced this year with a performance during the 2nd grade curriculum celebration.
     
    3rd Grade
    Students deepen their understanding of the elements of rhythm and pitch through solfège practice, singing, playing, and improvising more challenging melodic and rhythmic patterns. Continued recorder, pitched and unpitched percussion, and introductory ukulele or guitar skill development provides opportunities for students to interpret music and compare and contrast music from around the world. Performing in small and large settings furthers their collaborative ensemble skills. Students are also introduced to drama and project-based learning through a collaborative mini-film project and composing recorder melodies.
     
    4th Grade
    Through project-based learning, students collaboratively select, analyze, master, and perform diverse, unison and two-part music on recorder, guitar or ukulele, or pitched and unpitched percussion. Melodic solfège pattern work, singing, playing, and improvising more challenging melodic and rhythmic patterns are integrated into small and large ensemble lessons. Technical aspects of performance like stage management, lighting, narration, and program design are also introduced. In drama, oration and choral recitation skills are developed. Highlights of the year include a choral and instrumental performance and an oration celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and social justice activists.
     
    5th Grade
    Increased musical independence is fostered in project-based small and large ensemble work in 5th. Voice and choice empower students to collaboratively choose, learn, adapt, and perform a variety of unison and two-part music on recorder, guitar or ukulele, keyboard or pitched and unpitched percussion. Challenging melodic and rhythmic patterns are mastered through solfège practice, singing, playing, and improvising. Increased independence with creating and executing the technical aspects of performance like stage management, lighting, narration, and program design are also offered. In drama, students select and produce a bilingual play in Spanish and English.
  • Visual Arts

    Art at Lowell builds community, encourages divergent thinking, and celebrates creativity. Students are exposed to a wide variety of art media and processes, including printmaking, weaving, drawing, painting, woodworking, sculpture, and ceramics. Projects are inspired by the students interests and designed so that students have experience working both individually and collaboratively.
    Kindergarten
    In Kindergarten, students learn how to visually organize their thoughts and express ideas about themselves and the world through art. Mixing colors and creating stable structures are two skills that are emphasized as students work with different media, techniques, and processes. Projects are developed and reflect student interests.

    1st Grade
    Students begin to understand the differences between various materials, techniques, and processes. They explore ceramics in more depth, sew, paint, work with papier mâché, and draw with soft and oil pastels while the basics of composition are introduced. Interdisciplinary projects, including the model town and creature museum, draw on skills students are learning in art.

    2nd Grade
    Students discuss artists as they learn more about printmaking, drawing, ceramics, and painting. Knowing about an artist and the history behind a work of art helps promote a deeper appreciation of art. Functional and sculptural ceramics, collage, found-object art, and artist trading cards are a few of the student projects.
     
    3rd Grade
    Students continue to develop foundational skills that hone their visions and interests in art and design. With a solid understanding of color and how to develop a thoughtful composition, students are better able to create work that draws on their cumulative knowledge and technical skills. Students create self-portraits, alter everyday landscapes, experiment with printmaking, and study architecture. Identifying periods of art history and understanding artistic influences in the world help students contextualize works of art. In the studio, these young artists create meaningful work that is personal and also technically sound.
     
    4th Grade
    In 4th grade, students explore a range of sophisticated materials and better understand how to give voice to their work. By focusing on personal skill and vision, students approach their work with an open mind and allow their work to develop organically, allowing spontaneity to enter the equation. Systematic approaches to drawing from observation are introduced. Highlights include self-portrait eco-collages, imaginary maps, site-specific installations, birdhouses, and paper gliders and kites.
     
    5th Grade
    By fifth grade, students develop a personal style and have a sense of where they want to go with their art. With studio demonstrations and ongoing support, these young work more independently. Their age also allows them to closely examine more sophisticated qualities of visual art, such as mood and perspective. Linoleum prints, “Extreme Teapots,” one- and two-point perspective drawings, and landscape paintings are some of the projects that stretch students’ skill and imagination in 5th grade.
  • Technology

    In Lowell’s Primary School, technology is used as a means to inspire creativity, collaborate effectively, and develop a generation of positive digital citizens. We teach to the technology and not to a particular device to ensure that our students develop fluency across interfaces. Teachers seamlessly integrate technology into the curriculum with the support of the academic technologist.

    Kindergarten through 2nd grade is a time of exploration for students who discover that technology is a tool that can help them with learning. Through intensive, unit-centered activities, students experience technology from a variety of perspectives. In 3rd-5th grades, students build on their technological experience and dive deeper into academic subjects.
     
    The academic technologist directs the intentional use of technology to support the learning process and ensure age-appropriate technology skills are integrated into the curriculum. Through a 2:1 iPad environment in grades K-2 and a 1:1 Chromebook environment in grades 3-5, students grow as responsible and appropriate users of technology beginning in the earliest years.
    Kindergarten
    In Kindergarten, technology is introduced as a way to share ideas and enhance learning. Students learn about responsible use with iPads through unit-based technology integration; they author books, engage in coding activities and collaborate as positive members of their class community.
     
    1st Grade
    Students in 1st grade discover the benefits of using technology for learning. Through playful activities that are intentionally designed, they practice fine motor skills and continue to learn coding and programming concepts. As part of integrated units, they create digital buildings and towns and complete research that leads to the development of digital creatures that live in specific habitats. They also learn how to navigate equipment and respect resources.
     
    2nd Grade
    Students in 2nd grade begin to use technology to express ideas. They write and film movie reviews in conjunction with their study of the Maasai in Kenya. They tell digital stories that contain a plot, characters, and setting, which reinforces lessons on the elements of a story. Second graders also create documents and learn aspects of digital citizenship, including ways to stay safe when using the internet.
     
    3rd Grade
    Third graders use technology to share work with their community. They research people and places, sharing their findings using various applications. Third graders use a variety of devices, including iPads and Surface Pro laptops. Students begin typing using “Type to Learn 4” and learn word processing skills as they produce original pieces of work. Students also use technology to tell stories, create digital representations of themselves, and create digital works of art. Students explore the world of STEM through 3D modeling, coding, and robotics.
     
    4th Grade
    Fourth grade is a year of growth. Students enter into a fully 1:1 environment with a Chromebook as the centerpiece. They sign an acceptable use policy and take responsibility for caring for the device. Students begin using Google Apps for Education to drive productivity and facilitate collaboration. They continue their keyboarding and digital citizenship skill development. Students create movies and presentations and conduct research in various subject areas and STEM-related projects.
     
    5th Grade
    Fifth graders integrate technology into their school day for learning, research, and productivity. Each student is assigned a Chromebook as the primary device for learning and has access to iPads, Surface Pros, SMARTBoards, and the library’s iMac desktops for specific projects. Google Apps for Education supports the curriculum by providing the vehicle for collaboration among students and teachers. As part of the STEM curriculum, 5th graders engage in a robotics unit. Students also participate in a series of workshops designed to prepare them for Middle School, deepening their understanding of digital citizenship, responsibility, and appropriate electronic communication.
     
    Digital Citizenship
    Ensuring our Lowell students are respectful, responsible, safe users of technology are paramount. Students experience of both integrated and standalone lessons related to digital citizenship and online safety through such resources as Common Sense Media, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and others. Lowell’s mission is to create an inclusive community of lifelong learners in which each individual is valued and respected. The goal of the technology team is to support this mission in the realm of technology use.
     
    Robotics Club: Lowell School RoboLeopards
    Second through 4th graders have the opportunity to participate in a Lego Robotics Club. Utilizing the Lego MINDSTORMS hardware and software, students gain an understanding of the foundations of coding, constructing, and engineering. Through collaboration and teamwork, club members generate solutions to authentic, real-world scenarios.

    Makerspace
    New to Lowell’s Primary School for the 2019-20 school year, a dedicated makerspace will provide students with a variety of hands-on fabrication, coding, and video production opportunities. The makerspace houses a variety of machines, including 3D printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill, a Cricut fabric cutting machine, a vacuum former for molds. In addition, Primary School students now have access to audio/visual equipment and multiple programming kits that are developmentally appropriate for the entire division. For specific information or for a tour of the makerspace, please contact our Director of Academic Technology, email Sam Moser or call 202-577-2078.
Lowell School is a private PK-8th grade school located in NW Washington, DC. At Lowell students gain the knowledge, skills, and social-emotional literacy to be the bold leaders and creative problem solvers our world needs.