The social studies or science curriculum is third grade's thematic thread. For example, foci have included a West Africa curriculum and a curriculum about ancient Egypt. The goal is for students to understand themselves and their own lives better by comparing and contrasting their lives with those from another culture. Students learn about these other cultures by meeting people from these regions, watching documentaries, reading primary and secondary sources, researching, going on field trips, and learning the culture's traditional music and dance.
The recent yearlong focus on West Africa poses three guiding questions essential to every content area:
- How does geography affect the way people live?
- How and why do people form beliefs to function in their environment?
- How are beliefs expressed in everyday life?
The goal is to understand and appreciate how people of other cultures live within their particular social and geographic circumstances. As children consider contrasts to their own values, lifestyles, and traditions, they begin to appreciate both commonalities and diversity among cultures.
The West Africa theme provides the focus for integrating curricular areas by employing concepts and strategies for learning from a variety of disciplines, including science, language arts, visual arts, music, and math.
Third graders also study African proverbs, through which they see how Africans pass on important beliefs and values. They study the historical context of the various West African empires, with a focus on the ancient Mali Empire.
Students read about daily life and do what West African cultures do: make and play instruments, design stools, make mud cloth, print fabric, plant seeds, cook African food, and more. After students learn about Africa's topography and vegetation zones, the class begins to explore why and how people build their particular shelters. They construct a variety of models and maps.
These interdisciplinary projects promote problem-solving strategies using a variety of skills, including scale and mapping, graphing, measuring and weighing, drawing, painting and sculpting, expository and narrative prose, poetry, and drama. Through these experiences, third graders begin to appreciate the richness and diversity of geography and culture in our own world. They can address significant questions about human values and the relationship between humans and the environment.
The language arts program focuses on developing the core skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking through Writer's Workshop, Reader's Workshop, and other learning opportunities. Students read independently each day, exercising the ability to choose appropriately challenging reading material and to practice successful reading strategies.
Third graders express their knowledge as independent readers in student-teacher reading conferences and through written responses. Read-aloud sessions provide ample practice in listening skills and provide a springboard for rich discussions of the elements of fiction, interesting vocabulary, qualities of skilled writing, and successful reading strategies.
In addition to expository writing skills students develop in conjunction with the social studies curriculum, they study and practice fiction writing. As they embark on the writing process, they work with peer partners and in small and whole-class groups to develop ideas, give and receive feedback, and share examples of work that they are proud of. They work through the writing process to develop coherent narratives with logical sequencing, believable characters, vivid descriptions, and unique voice.
They also develop their written expression and multigenre literacy through studying poetry. They explore structural and linguistic elements of poetry, including line and stanza breaks, punctuation, imagery, figurative language, and symbolism by reading a variety of well-known poems.
Although conventions of spelling, grammar, and usage are not a focus of initial composition, students study and practice these important elements of writing during dedicated spelling sessions, whole-class mini-lessons, and individual writing conferences. Topics, which are often drawn from student work, have included paragraphing, use of the comma, homonyms, and punctuating dialogue.
In addition to whole-group instruction, which focuses on word structure and spelling irregularities, students practice troublesome spelling concepts by keeping personal spelling dictionaries in their writing journals. The language arts program also includes cursive and keyboarding instruction and practice. Students have systematically learned to form all lowercase and some uppercase cursive letters. They have also been introduced to the fundamentals of keyboarding.
In third grade, students continue to investigate mathematical concepts through exploration and guided inquiry. Ongoing assessment of students' skills and understandings form the basis for flexible groupings, which shift according to topic. Instruction involves both small and whole-group activities, as well as individual work. Students articulate their understanding orally and in a variety of written contexts. Meaningful problem solving is an important part of the curriculum, and students are encouraged to explore multiple problem-solving strategies.
Teachers design lessons based on real-life situations that students bring to class, like whether all their lockers have equal volume or how one would determine the amount of squares needed to build a Rubik's Cube of a certain size.
Curriculum content also includes refining and consolidating the basic operations with whole numbers, emphasizing the quick recall of basic facts. Students practice estimation, mental arithmetic, place value, working with money, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, geometry, and logic. They also study area, perimeter, and scaling. Additionally, third-grade mathematicians look for patterns while developing and testing theories based on solving problems and data collection.
Students should expect homework to take about thirty to forty-five minutes a day. Homework consists of previewing and/or extending material covered in class, cursive and typing practice, and optional extension problems in math. Teachers strongly recommend an additional thirty minutes of reading per day. All homework assignments are available on the class wiki.