Primary School

Areas of Study

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 own 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 own ideas about what they are reading and begin to support these ideas with references to the text.

    3rd grade
    Through varied 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 focus in on the nuances of character development as they learn to read closely. Students write detailed research papers based on the social studies and science units.

    5th grade

    Diving more deeply into their understanding of reading and writing, students explore how fiction and nonfiction 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-4 use TERC Investigations, a research-based program that emphasizes mathematical thinking and problem-solving. Fifth grade uses Math Expressions, a program that solidifies their conceptual understanding and offers skill and computational practice.

    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 20 or more objects, estimate the number of objects in a collection, and order whole numbers up to 20. Weighing, measuring, keeping track of time and days, and graphing are also part of the math activities in Kindergarten.

    1st grade
    An overarching goal in 1st grade is to understand the connection of math and everyday life. Working with calendars and clocks, students continue to develop their understanding of time. Pattern work also continues with students extending, describing, and creating their own. In other units students use 2-D and 3-D shapes to sketch and design, solve problems involving function machines, and read, write, and model whole numbers up to 1,000.

    2nd grade
    Students focus on learning and communicating different strategies to solve math problems. Increasing automatically in mental and written computation is a goal. While students continue to build their understanding of time, money, and measurement, they also delve into fractions, explore the representation and interpretation of data, and begin to reason with shapes and their attributes. Number order and comparison increases to 10,000.

    3rd grade
    Geometry units introduce points, intersecting and parallel line segments and rays, linear and area measures, and right angles. Students’ understanding of numbers expands as they compare and order whole numbers up to 1,000,000, use manipulatives to order decimals through hundredths, and compare and order fractions. Solving problems using multiplication is also an area of focus, and students use a variety of strategies, including arrays, mental arithmetic, paper-and-pencil algorithms, and calculators.

    4th grade
    The systems of math are emphasized in 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 deepen their understanding of decimals and fractions. They also solve problems with measurement and conversion from larger to smaller units. Number order and comparison hits a high point of 1,000,000,000.

    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. Geometry units include volume and graphing points on a coordinate plane.

  • 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. 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? 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 adaptation as a unifying theme, students work through units on simple machines, rocks and minerals, and paleontology. Students develop their skills of observation, data collection, and research as they conduct their investigations.

    3rd grade

    Students delve deeply into the scientific method as they conduct physics, electricity, and plant experiments. Recording and communicating observations and creating questions for further investigation are emphasized. Students also collaborate to build pendulums, marble roller coasters, and catapults as part of their study of force and motion.

    4th grade
    The planets, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the human body are all systems that students explore during the year. Students keep a science journal as they conduct experiments in an organized way using the steps of the scientific method.

    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 self and community, identity and diversity. Students begin by exploring the classroom community and then move on to explore the school community, local neighborhoods, the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, the United States, and beyond. Research skills, map reading, and an understanding of geography and culture 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 own 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 and Native Americans on the northwest coast 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 are able to explain how a 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 are able to 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 are able to 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 and an appreciation for music from around the globe. Students sing regularly and gain experience playing a variety of instruments. We also host an after school music program for deepening students’ skill and understanding. In 4th and 5th grades, students continue their study of music, but increasing emphasis is placed on drama. Students learn basic elements of theater, such as vocal projection and inflection, stage movement, character development, and improvisation, as well as some of the technical know-how of theater life. Students in 4th and 5th grade also participate in a chorus, which performs several times a year.

    Kindergarten
    Understanding that musical sounds and notations have patterns is central to identifying instruments and composing music. Students learn long, short, fast, and slow sounds while singing and playing various instruments. They also compose their own music, using non-standard notation.

    1st grade

    As they practice identifying low, high, long, and short sounds, students’ confidence grows. They identify instruments through focused listening, play instruments in different ways to produce specific sounds, and begin to relate musical intervals using solfége. They also sing songs selected to promote accuracy of pitch and rhythm.

    2nd grade
    Actively listening to music, singing on pitch, and sampling percussion instruments give students a deeper understanding of what they hear and how they can contribute to an ensemble performance. Students are exposed to music and instruments from a variety of cultures. Playing recorders and reading standard music notation are also introduced this year.

    3rd grade

    Students learn how to interpret music and compare and contrast music from around the world. Singing and performing in small and large settings helps them practice their ensemble skills.

    4th grade
    Students perform increasingly challenging pieces on their recorders and practice singing on pitch in an ensemble. Students learn African American spirituals and explore music from Zimbabwe and Ghana. In drama, they practice oration skills and write and perform skits. Highlights of the year include two choir performances and a choral oration celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

    5th grade
    Exploring the structures of musical compositions and plays brings students’ learning to a new level. Skill development in both music and drama continues, and students add acting and improvisation to their repertoire. Fifth graders participate in two choir performances and put on a bilingual play.
  • 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 designed so that students have experience working both individually and collaboratively.
    Kindergarten
    Students learn how to visually organize their thoughts and express ideas about themselves and the world through art. Different media, techniques, and processes are introduced. Mixing colors and creating stable structures are two skills that are emphasized. Projects are developed in response to 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. Basics of composition are introduced. Interdisciplinary projects, including the model town and creature museum, draw on skills students are learning in art.

    2nd grade
    Knowing about an artist and the history behind a work of art helps promote a deeper appreciation of art. Students discuss artists as they learn more about printmaking, drawing, ceramics, and painting. Functional and sculptural ceramics, collage, found-object art, and artist trading cards are a few of the projects students engage in.

    3rd grade
    Identifying periods of art history and understanding artistic influences in the world help students understand art in context. Students create self-portraits, alter everyday landscapes, experiment with printmaking, and study architecture.

    4th grade
    Students continue to develop their facility with various materials, techniques, and processes. Systematic approaches to drawing from observation are introduced. Highlights include self-portrait eco-collages, imaginary maps, site-specific installations, bird houses, and paper gliders and kites.

    5th grade
    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. Students work both individually and collaboratively.
  • Technology

    In the Primary School, students participate in a wide variety of learning experiences designed to prepare them to be flexible and responsible digital citizens, able to utilize various devices to meet their goals. Guided by ISTE Standards for Students, teachers seamlessly integrate academic technology into the curriculum. Kindergarten through 2nd grade is a time of exploration for students who discover that technology is a tool that can help them with learning. In 3rd-5th grades, students begin to view and use technology as a way of diving deeper into academic subjects.

    The Academic Technologist directs the intentional use of technology to support the learning process. Classrooms in the Primary School have access to an iMac lab, iPads, Chromebooks, SMARTBoards, Apple TVs, eReaders, and digital cameras. Fourth and 5th grade students participate in Lowell’s 1:1 device program.
    Kindergarten
    In Kindergarten, technology is introduced as a way to share ideas and enhance learning. Students use iPads, cameras, and classroom SMARTBoards to make videos, identify leaves, make space ships come to life, and more!

    1st Grade
    Students in 1st grade discover the benefits of using technology for learning. Through play, they practice fine motor skills and are introduced to coding and programming concepts. They complete research that leads to the creation 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 based on their study of the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Second graders also create documents and learn aspects of digital citizenship, including ways to stay safe when using the Internet.

    3rd Grade
    Third graders utilize technology to share work with their community. They research people and places, sharing their findings using various applications. Students begin their practice of typing skills using Type to Learn 4 and learn word processing skills as they produce original pieces of work.

    4th Grade
    Fourth grade is a year of growth. Students are given an iPad for the entire school year. They sign an acceptable use policy and take responsibility for caring for the device, a wireless keyboard, and a set of headphones. Students use their iPads, as well as Google Apps for Education, to drive productivity and facilitate collaboration. They use technology to tell stories, create 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 their primary device for learning and has access to iPads, SMARTBoards, and the iMac lab 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 workshop designed to prepare them for middle school, deepening their understanding of digital citizenship, responsibility, and appropriate electronic communication.
1640 Kalmia Road NW
Washington, DC  20012
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