Fourth grade

Fourth grade is a milestone for a Gordon student. The curriculum is full of high-profile assignments and responsibilities that younger students notice and anticipate eagerly. As the oldest members of the Lower School, they are starting to understand their own strengths as leaders. As soon-to-be Middle School students, they are refining skills and stockpiling knowledge that they'll be drawing on all the way through to eighth grade.

The entire school gets to know the fourth grade every morning and afternoon as these students raise and lower the flag in front of the school's entrance. Their peers recognize them as leaders as they facilitate the Lower School town meetings, and fourth grade students of color step up to help lead Tuesday Common Ground meetings. During the schoolwide assembly at the end of the year, fourth graders deliver moving, earnest tributes to Lower School teachers who impacted them over the years, and then the entire grade ceremoniously joins their future classmates in the Middle School seats.

The most visible parts of the fourth grade academic program include the Battle of the Books, a yearlong reading challenge with a boisterous theme song that is new every year. The June State Expo is another highlight, with students presenting ambitious dioramas alongside research papers to parents, faculty and classmates over the course of a busy morning.

Fourth grade is the last year for the inter-grade buddy program, and fourth graders share the joy of making candy houses with their first grade buddies each December. Students care for a different kind of buddy in science class when they are assigned a crayfish to observe during an extended lesson, documenting its habits and executing an experiment of their own design.

Language arts

Beginning in fifth grade, social studies and language arts are integrated to become the Middle School humanities strand. The humanities block provides more time for students to explore the connections between history and literature as well as investigate current day issues and continue to develop their skills of questioning, analyzing, problem-solving and collaborating. At each grade level, the humanities curriculum is thematic, addressing topics such as identity, culture, justice, power, voice, and community.

In fifth grade humanities, literature provides an opening to discuss difference, friendship, coming of age, physical ability and difference, and becoming an upstander. The novel Wonder and winter book circle discussions encourage students to think more deeply about their own identities and experiences and how they navigate the increasingly complex world around them. 

Writing instruction continues to be heavily influenced by the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop model practiced in Lower School. Fifth graders gain practice in writing different genres like creative writing, research writing, analytical paragraph writing, and personal reflection. Instruction focuses on providing supporting points with specific details, organizing writing logically, and sharpening self-editing skills. Weekly grammar and spelling mini-lessons address student work while also preparing students to tackle more sophisticated structures as they mature as thinkers and writers. 

Students continue to hone their research and writing skills through their study of ancient Mayan civilizations where the themes of power, identity, culture and community are also highlighted. Through their study of ancient Maya, students gain an understanding of the enduring qualities of a civilization. Students learn to make connections between ancient cultures and present-day life, assess how people in ancient cultures used their power and resources, and consider what they can learn from the successes and mistakes of an ancient culture. The year culminates with Immersion Week when students dive deeply into a research project on the ancient Maya and create a living museum for the school community to explore. During the week, fifth graders collaborate on redesigning their classroom spaces to create engaging learning experience for visitors who come from all corners of the school.


Fourth grade continues the Math in Focus curriculum which emphasizes concept mastery, a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract approach, metacognitive reasoning, and the use of model drawing to solve and justify problems. Emphasis is on students becoming independent, strategic and persistent mathematical problem solvers. Students learn the “why” and the “how” through instruction, hands-on or technology activities, and problem solving. Mathematical topics are consistently introduced in a concrete-visual-symbolic progression that allows students to focus and better understand abstract concepts. 

Using a variety of manipulatives and problem solving activities, students build upon previously acquired math skills including basic math facts, multiplication, long division, fractions, decimals, and basic geometry. 

Daily lessons from the Math In Focus curriculum focus on introducing students to multiple strategies for problem solving and computation, including both traditional and invented algorithms. Working independently and in small groups, and through repeated practice and a variety of activities including bar modeling, students discover the methods that work best for their individual learning styles. Using various enrichment and support resources, students are provided with differentiated material that appropriately challenges their mathematical development.


Students in fourth grade science focus on life science, earth and space science, chemistry and physical science and biological science. They work with materials in an effort to answer questions through their own investigations. Fourth graders use equipment that includes pipettes, balances, hand lenses and stopwatches. Data collection and recording, and clearly stating views, concepts, observations and ideas, are major components of the scientific process in fourth grade.

Through hand-on activities, students explore the chemical properties of kitchen powders, collecting data and observing reactions in a variety of tests. Fourth graders investigate the world through a year-long study of the sun and the shadow it casts as they strive to understand why the earth has seasons. This work includes observing the moon and recording their observations in a journal. Students also engage in a physics unit about energy as they work with marbles and tracks to build model roller coasters. Studying their own nervous system and observing the ways it functions helps students gain an understanding of body systems. 

Students work with LEGO robotics sets and laptop computers to program their robots to perform increasingly complex sets of tasks. They complete lessons in civil engineering, design process and bridge building though lessons drawn from the Engineering is Elementary curriculum developed by the Museum of Science in Boston. 

Social studies

The fourth grade social studies curriculum aligns with the national social studies standards and addresses essential questions like: How has the history of migrants had an impact on the United States? How does one's race and culture shape a person's experience in the world? and What does it mean to be an American? 

The work begins with an exploration of each student's own identities. From there, students investigate their rights and responsibilities as citizens of homes, classrooms, schools, nations, and global communities. Students hone their research skills drawing from both print and internet resources as they investigate, compare, and contrast the experiences of immigrant populations of Rhode Island's past and present, people who came to the US through Ellis Island and Angel Island, and people who moved from southern areas to northern cities as part of the Great Migration in the early 1900's.

Students' research and presentation skills are on full display during the end of the year states project. This is not a typical research report; students conduct research, plan a presentation, create a visual representation of their most salient pieces of learning, practice presenting their findings, and then present their work to the school community of parents, teachers, staff and students at the State Expo. The fair gives students practice speaking in front of others, presenting their understanding, fielding questions about their work, and receiving feedback, all skills they will need for the next year and beyond. 


Students continue to build vocabulary through songs, games, stories and hands on activities as they explore cultures, literature and practice basic grammatical structures. Students practice their Spanish by writing and illustrating stories, performing skits, and communicating with their classmates and teacher in Spanish. They see how many families shift seamlessly between Spanish and English in books such as: “I love Saturdays and Domingo.” They hear their teachers communicating in Spanish with each other, and learn first hand from Spanish speakers who visit the classroom from both within and outside the Gordon community. 

By fourth grade, all students have begun to see themselves as emerging readers and writers of Spanish language. They also start to recognize the structure and makeup of the language by exploring how nouns, adjectives and verbs are combined. They engage in daily conversations about the day, classes, after school activities, likes and dislikes and family members. Students begin to notice the Spanish-speaking world all around them. 

Heritage Language
Gordon's Heritage Language program is for children in Nursery to fourth grade who come from Spanish-speaking households. Students meet with their Spanish teacher to share stories and play games in Spanish. The active and experiential learning environment hopes to develop a sense of affinity and community by having children share their stories and cultural traditions of Gordon's Spanish-speaking community. Heritage Language meets during the school day for Nursery to first grade, and after school in second, third and fourth grade.

Physical education

The Lower School physical education curriculum includes an introduction to fitness activities, locomotor and manipulative skill work, and cooperative games. Students engage in conversations about inclusivity, gender, gender roles, and the impact of gender stereotypes. The primary objectives of the physical education program in Lower School is to reinforce fitness and wellness goals that encourage healthy lifetime decisions and to provide opportunities for students to improve their psychomotor development. Each class presents students with appropriate warm-up, fitness, instructional and closing activities while also challenging children to become self-motivated, reflective and responsible regarding their individual participation. Ultimately, Lower School physical education students should become aware of their movement potential, move competently and confidently and learn to value healthy play in cooperative and organized settings.

Health and wellness

The National Wellness Institute explains wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.” This definition of wellness anchors and guides Gordon’s health curriculum from third through eighth grade.

In Lower School, health classes focus on foundational skills of social emotional learning. Throughout the year, students have explore, practice, and develop strong interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Through conversations, experiential games, role-plays, movement, mindfulness activities, guided imagery, and guided inquiry that facilitates self and group reflection, students explore a range of health topics such as body systems, nutrition, stress, and social emotional skills. Students gain a more comprehensive understanding of themselves as learners, friends, and self-advocates capable of navigating the ups and downs of their daily experience and making healthy decisions. 


In the Lower School, students continue to meet weekly with the librarian to explore the collection and discover the variety of genres, authors, and texts. The Joukowsky Family Library's collection of multicultural fiction, nonfiction, multilingual and bilingual books provide entry points for students of a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences. Students are introduced to the language developed by literary historian Rudine Sims Bishop, in which books are described as windows, mirrors or doors, depending on how the reader identifies with the worlds depicted in each book.

Much of fourth graders' independent reading is driven by the yearlong Battle of the Books. Students read titles off a list created by librarians statewide, then compete alongside their peers from other schools in a joyful evening in front of an enthusiastic audience of faculty and family.

Fourth graders are actively encouraged to look for books that support their classroom work on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, immigration, the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and poetry. The librarian works in close partnership with the classroom teachers to teach the foundation of research skills. Fourth graders have become adept at using the computer catalog as an aid to book selection and practicing independent book finding and browsing skills. They are encouraged to seek recommendations from their classmates and the librarian and feel confident sharing their suggestions, likes, and preferences with their peers and adults as they prepare to be more independent and confident twenty-first-century library users and helpers in the Middle School.


Students begin fourth grade music by exploring and experiencing the differences between singing and rap and between beat and rhythm. The fundamental elements of music are broken down into two basic concepts: melody and rhythm. Vocal melodic reading is explored using solfeggio (do, re, mi, etc.), and instrumental melodic reading uses letter names of notes (A, B, C, etc.) The “takadimi” system, whose roots are in classical Indian music, is reviewed and practiced to support rhythmic reading. 

Students sing songs and engage in discussions of text and styles from multiple perspectives. They discover that music frequently lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Students engage physically with music by playing games, dancing, developing movement ideas, and using body percussion. 

Recorder and Orff instrumental work includes a review of physical technique, sight-reading strategies, echo patterns to develop aural skills, improvisation, and composition. Students are introduced to the ukulele by learning chord fingerings and strumming patterns for several familiar songs. Handchime work begins by practicing ringing and damping techniques. Students then progress into ringing rhythmic exercises and begin to follow a musical score. 

Visual arts

The Lower School visual arts program is designed to present students with a series of experiences that develop abilities in a range of media, skills and concepts. In a studio environment that fosters creativity and independence, children are nurtured perceptually and aesthetically. They are taught skills in a variety of materials and techniques. The use and understanding of the elements and principles of design are developed as the basic formal ingredients for creating images and objects. Drawing from observation, memory and imagination requires looking for subtleties and details. Finally, an exposure to the works of artists provides them with rich inspiration and knowledge of the artistic heritage of many cultures.

Fourth grade students explore layering color and expressive brush work as they complete seascape paintings in tempera paint inspired by the work of Vincent Van Gogh. A second assignment allows students to study the proportions of the human body as they create action figures out of wire and masking tape. A look at the skeleton helps students to understand how muscles and joints are configured as they develop their sculptures. A ceramic unit explores hand-building techniques and the use of press molds. Students combine textures and patterns as they decorate the surface of cylindrical vessels. Every student has their artwork presented in the annual art show.