Atrium School

Excellence with Joy

Grade 4

Fourth graders are typically concerned with issues of equity. We address this developmental stage by structuring class meetings to focus on fairness and conflict-resolution strategies. We use role-playing and social skill-building activities. We encourage children to celebrate their uniqueness and to respect the ways in which others are unique.

Fourth graders are ready to take a cognitive leap forward–it is an exciting time both academically and emotionally. Academically, they are starting to be able to grapple with abstract concepts, such as perspectives and motives in literature. Emotionally, fourth graders begin to more deeply navigate their interpersonal relationships.  They are intensely drawn to their friends and peers, who are beginning to influence them, and there is a desire for increased independence. They do not always know–or want to acknowledge–that they still need nurturing and guidance from the adults around them. In fourth grade, we are helping them grow intellectually and emotionally as they begin to understand themselves better in their relationships with peers and the larger world of politics and popular culture. We focus on issues of fairness, conflict resolution, and the development of a strong, independent voice.

Fourth Grade Theme: “What Is Innovation?”

Thematic study is a way of focusing all aspects of children's education at the Atrium School into a central idea. This interdisciplinary focus allows all kinds of learners to develop skills and experience success in their academic lives. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to share their work with their community and make connections between their learning and the world around them. In the spirit of collaboration, Grade 4 and 5 explore history, science and engineering together. Many of our theme lessons will be taught in a mixed grade setting.

To answer this question, "What Is Innovation?" and explore who we are as innovators, we begin exploring our own hopes and dreams and defining our personal values in order to create a set of rights and rules for the classroom. At the start of the year, students articulate their hopes and dreams to begin to define their personal values. From this, fourth grade creates a set of rights and rules to govern the classroom for the year. In the process, the children are gaining firsthand knowledge of how to govern themselves, thereby taking ownership of their social, emotional and academic growth.

From there, we move onto an engineering unit, in which a critical concept is that we learn from failure. Students will use their failures to help them improve their work. Innovators will begin working on a several projects that follow the engineering and design process. They will be asked to design a prototype, test it and then redesign it. The children will conduct a variety of experiments to understand the engineering design process, such as a Mars Rover drop, a bag design that will hold 5 pounds, and a building made out of toothpicks and marshmallows that will be designed to withstand an earthquake. We will also explore Rube Goldberg machines, and how to design a complicated machine to perform a simple task.

An idea that will evolve out of the engineering unit is that through innovation, new solutions can be found to solve old problems. To understand how this has been a theme throughout history, we will travel back in time to study Ancient Greece. Students will begin by learning about daily life in Ancient Greece and how the Ancient Greeks viewed the world. We will then move on to studying innovations from the Ancient Greeks. Students will be answering questions such as, what were the needs/problems that the Ancient Greeks experienced? What were the innovations that they came up with as solutions? Also, how has the innovation evolved to meet the needs of people? Complementing this unit, in literacy we will be studying Greek Mythology as a genre. Students will immerse themselves in the format of mythology and will write their own myth.

Finally, our students will apply the engineering design process to script writing as they turn a novel into a play and work towards a final performance. Along with the Visionaries, we will read the book Riding Freedom by Brian Selznick and students will create their own play adaptation. With the expertise and help of Atrium alum Sophie Rich, students will learn about story dramatization, and from there they will work in groups to turn the story into a script. Innovators will then write and perform the play.

Classroom Structure


We use both Reader’s Workshop and Writer’s Workshop as a literacy model. This model revolves around each student engaging in independent reading and writing, practicing skills explicitly taught during directed instruction, conferring with teachers, and sharing experiences with peers through guided reading groups. The reading groups, guided by teachers, is an approach that helps individual students learn how to process a variety of increasingly challenging texts with understanding and fluency. Guided reading occurs in a small group context to allow for interactions and individual attention. 

Although we have separate Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops scheduled throughout the week, our reading and writing instruction are closely intertwined. Teachers use carefully selected texts to explore and study all aspects of writing, reading, word study, spelling, and grammar. In addition, we supplement our spelling and vocabulary curricula with the Spelling Skills and Wordly Wise programs. We read different genres to learn a range of writing strategies, methods, and styles. Throughout the year, student authors have many opportunities to share their work in class. We use a range of organizational tools to help plan and manage our work. Informal and formal assessments allow us to design individual, group, and whole-class lessons to meet each of our student’s needs and goals.  


In fourth grade math, students work to build computational fluency with whole numbers, reason about mathematical concepts, and see themselves as mathematical thinkers. We use the Investigations curriculum. We begin the year with a study of multiples, factors, and arrays, and move on to discuss concepts such as measurement, data analysis, probability, division, 2-D and 3-D geometry, fractions, decimals, algebra, and patterns in our world.

Social Curriculum

A student’s social and emotional growth and well-being are as important to us as his or her academic success. We utilize the Responsive Classroom materials as a foundation to build our social curriculum. Students reflect on their experiences and interactions with peers and use them as a starting point for how they should treat others. Children are asked to put themselves in each other’s shoes, especially during conflicts. They learn to not simply apologize, but rather to think about how they can care for a relationship after a conflict occurs.  We emphasize that our classroom is a welcoming place that accepts and celebrates differences as well as things we share in common. We model all of these behaviors as we teach the students to do the same. We also create opportunities to share perspectives and experiences that are not necessarily represented in our classroom. Students identify ways to be active, responsible members of our community.


Our philosophy around homework is multidimensional.  Fourth grade students should expect to have homework every night, as we believe it helps students to establish routines outside of the daily classroom structure. Homework also allows students to practice skills they learned throughout the day and to share that learning with their families. Homework also helps teachers to assess each student’s understanding of content. Written homework is planned to take no more than 45 minutes with an additional 30 minutes of reading per day.