The Harmony 5th & 6th grade class provides students with the opportunity to further develop leadership, academic, social, and mediation skills in preparation for the culminating experience of their elementary education, the graduation project, and toward the greater goal of developing lifelong learners. Course work is often designed as a path to practice the skills of real work that they will do in the world.
What We’re Learning
Harmony School 5th & 6th Grade begins the school year with a camping trip at McCormick’s Creek State Park as well as a 6th Grade Leadership Retreat before school begins. We weave Environmental Education and Exploration throughout every year spending significant time in nature hiking, learning about water, fish, trees, birds, flowers, geology, and the natural and social history of our area. Our many field trips throughout the year include hiking, fishing, swimming, cultural and natural history museums, environmental study, and more. We head out on many natural world adventures with the interpretation and leadership from partner organizations such as Sycamore Land Trust and Monroe County Parks and Recreation. The 5th & 6th Grade Citizen Scientist projects include participation in the Big Backyard Bird Count, Hoosier River Watch water quality testing, and Adopt-a-Park work at Flatwoods Park. We also participate in the Indiana Jr. Duck Stamp contest. A camping trip at Columbus Youth Camp caps off our year before we send our elementary school graduates off to middle school.
Aside from our core Math, Language Arts, Art, Bodyworks, and elective Exploration classes, our bi-annual theme curriculum tends to alternate Environmental Education and Social Studies with our school’s environmental pillar still playing a large role either year. This being our Social Studies year, we investigate History for Politically Savvy Students as the core hub of our integrated social studies, civics, and life skills curricula. We explore a wide variety of topics including Immigration, Civil Rights, Labor, and Service Learning. The Civics cycle of classes include Legal Literacy and a Mock-Trial with students from the IU Mauer School of Law. In addition, student-facilitated daily Morning Meeting and weekly Family Meetings supports development of leadership and civil discourse skills. The Life Skills cycle of classes include Conflict Resolution, Building Healthy Relationships with Prevention Specialists from Middle Way House, Digital Literacy, Digital Safety, and Human Sexuality. We practice simple mindfulness and mindful breathing; second semester we hope to continue with optional meditation sessions.
Our second cycle of Independent Inquiry Projects begins in spring semester culminating in student presentations and our 6th graders Elementary School Graduation Projects and Graduation.
We engaged in a wide variety of learning activities, including: protocols that support the inherently social aspects of learning, text-based protocols, journaling, critical literacy from primary sources, guest speakers, field trips, creating a timeline, and many others. We culminated our study with independent inquiry research projects based on biographies and legacies of some widely and not-so-well-known leaders of the civil rights and labor movements. We ask, ‘How does their work impact our lives today?’ We are proudly displaying our projects at the annual Harmony School Open House.
Our ultimate goal, besides learning social studies, civics and the various life skills topics, is to provide students with a historical background to contemporary issues and practice practical strategies for dealing with the specific issues in our personal lives and to employ in our relationships as citizens in our communities, our democracy, and our diverse world. All in all, this has been an illuminating unit of study!
Each school day begins with Family Meeting, where students take turns serving as facilitator. Our class members discuss issues that concern us, make decisions, and conduct business. We also have a venue for making personal announcements and expressing concerns. Family Meeting provides a valuable opportunity for students to develop their voice as informed and involved members of the community.
The Value of Family Meetings as Expressed by Fifth and Sixth Graders:
- It’s a good time to make announcements.
- It tells you what’s going to happen during the day.
- It helps you to wind down before actual classes start.
- It gives me a chance to voice my opinions good or bad, or share something I’m excited about.
- You can make group decisions with everyone there.
- You can express your feelings.
- You can build a sense of community.
- You can solve small problems before they become big ones.
- It’s a time where others and I can voice our opinions on important things like when we needed to use conflict resolution. If someone has a problem with someone in the group we try to work it out.
- Family meeting is a time when our “community” is together as I said before. I guess that’s what I love about it. We’re all there to talk to each other, communicating, kind of like dinner at home without food
Other values of family meeting that were brought up in family meeting and were summarized by the teacher:
- We can get to know each other.
- We can talk about what’s happening in school and in students’ lives outside of school.
- We can find out about opportunities that we might be interested in like classes, organizations, going to conferences, etc.
- It’s a time to make decisions like who has which clean-up job, where we’re going on trips, which classes are we going to choose for Exploration and Creation, etc.
- It’s a good way to step into others’ shoes. We hear our peers expressing views that are different from ours and we realize there’s another way to view something. Earlier this year the parents wanted to have evening meetings, and they didn’t want children to attend. We had a long discussion about this in family meeting. Many thought that the parents had a right to have their own meeting, but several said that since they wanted to discuss our education that we ought to be included. We ended up compromising and having a meeting every other month in which parents met alone.
Our class begins and ends the year with a class trip. The fall trip allows the class to build community and an identity as a group before academic work in the classroom begins. The spring trip is an opportunity to celebrate our hard work, our successes over the course of the year, and to acknowledge the contributions and qualities of character of our class members. Perceived risk activities, such as high ropes courses, trapeze flying, and caving trips, are an important part of trips and serve to help students overcome fears and perceived challenges as they stretch their limitations and boundaries in life.
An Upward Transition: the 5th & 6th grade marks the transition between the lower elementary school and middle school. 5th grade is the year where students learn leadership, social, mediation and academic skills that they demonstrate in 6th grade as they prepare for elementary school graduation.
The culminating activity of the upper elementary school experience is the Graduation Project. 6th grade graduates choose a topic of interest, write a proposal, and present an overview of their plan to the 5th grade class. Besides serving as mentors to 5th graders who perform an abbreviated version of the projects on a topic related to their mentor’s, graduates must complete four academic stages and several other tasks in preparation for graduation. The Stage 1 paper includes an overview of the project along with background and historical information. The Stage 2 paper is the main research paper covering the student’s primary focusing questions. As a documented experience related to the project is also a required part of the project, the Stage 3 paper describes and reflects upon this experience, hopefully connecting it to the previous research as well. During Stage 4, graduates summarize their work and conclude the written component of the project. Parents and the community are invited to attend the final celebration, each graduate’s formal presentation. This is the final rite of passage before we present our upper elementary graduates to the middle school.
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