Academics in the Lower School are part of a dynamic elementary school curriculum guided by a detailed scope and sequence plan. Teachers help students develop mastery of traditional fact- and process-based standards within the context of student-led projects. When students delve into something that has sparked their interest, there is a much greater depth and quality to the study. As a result of this approach, ULS students’ reading and writing abilities are an average of two grade levels above national standards.
The pattern of researching, creating and presenting is repeated throughout each grade in the Lower School. In 1st through 3rd grade, independent study projects progress in complexity and sophistication, culminating in 4th grade with a “Magnum Opus” or “Great Work” project. ULS 4th graders select a topic of their choice and research independently for the entire semester. Students are expected to use a variety of different resources and mediums to make their investigations as thorough as possible. They then create a final presentation to give to teachers, students and peers. Lower School students advance to the Middle School with strong independent thinking skills, creating the foundation for higher level applications in the classroom.
Elementary school classes begin each day with a morning meeting in which students take turns with a variety of responsibilities, including leading the meeting. Students are encouraged to exhibit leadership skills in support of the greater community, such as bake sales to support hurricane victims; toy, hat and mitten drives; used book collections for Home Library; and pop-tab donations to Children’s Hospital, just to name a few. ULS students are empowered to take the lead and make things happen.
A myriad of hands-on learning activities are integrated into our students’ daily experiences. These hands-on activities can be as simple as an SK class collecting sticks and leaves from the ULS woods and organizing them in a fashion that teaches differentiation, categorization and labeling. As students progress, the hands-on activities become more elaborate. For example, students design and build a Native American dwelling for an overnight stay. This activity incorporates cultural studies, engineering, organizational skills and teamwork skills into an engaging learning experience. Students quickly become accustomed to being active participants in their own learning. The content the students learn is relevant and meaningful to them because of the depth of their participation.
The ULS teachers and leadership team believe that at the core of technology in education is a model in which technology’s purpose is to enhance the learning experience rather than be the experience. Students and teachers are active participants in their own learning, choosing the best tools to accomplish their goals. Technology is used to develop strategies that allow learners to reflect on the process and make choices that will lead to improved learning outcomes. Preprimary through 1st Grade students utilize a shared bank of iPads as a research tool in a variety of investigative research studies. 2nd through 4th Grade utilize individually assigned Chrome books as research work and academic projects become more sophisticated.