How We Learn

“Synergy teachers excel at what they do because they are encouraged to be innovative in the classroom.”

Garden Project photo Photo ballon kids at Mission Science Synergy School science class photo

Curriculum

Kindergarten

Language Arts

Kindergarteners develop oral language, reading, and writing skills through an interdisciplinary, multi-sensory approach. Listening and discussing a wide variety of literature, telling their own stories orally and in writing, acting out stories and creating plays are all elements of this approach. The program focuses on individual, small group and large group activities, allowing all students to work at their own levels and pace. Reading skills include concepts about print, letter and sound recognition, decoding and comprehension. Writing skills include letter formation and handwriting skills, moving from left to right, top to bottom when writing, and using phonetically spelled words in journal writing. Students create individual and class books on themes across the curriculum.

Social Studies/Humanities

Social studies centers on our families, our community and ourselves. Students learn about being members of a class and about Synergy’s Agreement System, (respecting each other, learning to work together and taking individual responsibility for our actions.) Kindergarteners develop an awareness of the diversity of their families and community through books, discussions, activities with older buddies, art and hands-on projects.

Math

Children learn that math is everywhere. Budding kindergarten mathematicians use manipulative materials as the basis for learning about patterns, classifying, sorting numbers and developing number sense. Measurement, geometry, data analysis and concepts of time are also introduced. Students work in small groups during math centers and as a whole class for calendar and graphing. Individual activities are used for practice and application of concepts.

Science

Science is taught through thematic units and hands-on exploration of our physical world, for example, penguins, frogs, or butterflies. We learn skills including observation and comparison, and form theories and conclusions. Our classroom, the schoolyards and field trips, including an overnight trip to Point Reyes, provide ample opportunities for scientific exploration.

Outdoor Education

Students in the younger grades take a bi-annual camping trip in June. This is primarily a community-building event with a large amount of family participation.

Spanish

In the downstairs classrooms, Spanish is introduced through games, stories, songs and other activities. Repetition is used to develop pronunciation and teach basic vocabulary. The Spanish teacher works within the classroom environment to enhance and enrich the classroom curriculum. In 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students are asked to do small projects incorporating the everyday language used in class. Art is an important component during this part of their learning process. Through art projects, students practice multiple skills while speaking, discovering and creating in Spanish.

Art

Kindergarten students explore and gain familiarity with various materials in art class. These materials include drawing, painting, clay, collage, and mixed media. Students are introduced to principles of art such as line, shape, color, and pattern. At this age, projects are designed to celebrate and encourage students’ active imaginations, while developing their fine motor skills.

Drama

Kindergarteners experience drama and music as integrated arts, team-taught by the drama and music specialists. Students play with improvisation, pantomime, character, and plot, through storytelling, music, and games. The heart of the class is a process through which teachers and students collaborate on a play and stage an end of year performance.

Music

Kindergarteners internalize the musical concepts of melody, beat, rhythm, phrasing, improvisation, and teamwork, through games, songs, dances, creative movement, and playful exploration. The primary goal is to build skills while instilling a healthy musical curiosity.

Physical Education

Children are introduced to the concept of teamwork and learn to appreciate individual strengths and leadership skills. Locomotor skills and body and manipulative control exercises are woven throughout the year. Class incorporates stretches, cardiovascular warm-ups, guided movement, and predominantly non-competitive games.

Library

Library class supports and enhances the Kindergarten curriculum. Students learn proper book care, library behavior, and procedures for using the library. They receive assistance in finding and selecting books to borrow. They listen to stories both read and told, discuss them, and connect them to their real world experiences. Through lessons, discussions, and activities, students learn to recognize parts of a book, author and illustrator roles, different types of texts (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, other genres), literary elements (characters, settings, sequence), and use pictures and context to make predictions about character behavior and actions.

Social/Emotional Development

Our approach to social and emotional development is rooted in the Agreement System. The Agreement System is based on ideas of cooperation, logical and natural consequences, responsibility, and encouragement. Students participate in cooperative learning activities and facilitated problem solving. They are taught to take responsibility for their actions in a non-punitive environment. Anti-bias education begins in kindergarten as a foundation for our social justice curriculum.

1st - 3rd Grade

Language Arts

We continue our interdisciplinary, multi-sensory approach, utilizing a wide variety of literature and many avenues for language arts development. Children are grouped according to their reading level, beginning with guided reading for emergent readers who need to focus on decoding strategies and the development of sight word vocabulary. More fluent readers who need to focus on comprehension and word study participate in literature circles.

In writers’ workshop, children are introduced to the different stages involved in the writing process---brainstorming, creating multiple drafts, revising and editing. Students explore the literary elements of plot, setting and characters in literature and in their own writing. Mini-lessons on organization, word choice, voice, conventions and sentence fluency further expand their writing.

As fluency and skill progress, students write longer passages that demonstrate knowledge of conventions and literary elements (plot, setting, character). Writing short stories, poetry, and reports are some of the opportunities for self-expression. Students are encouraged to write from personal experiences as well as writing projects based on units in the sciences and social studies.

Social Studies

Social studies units are interdisciplinary and project based. Our combination classrooms have a two-year rotation of themes. These interdisciplinary units combine reading, writing, art, geography, and longer-term hands-on projects, and culminate in large family celebrations. Curriculum units include ancient Egypt, an “Around the World” unit complete with passports, a “Global Village” project and other units designed to engage students in our school community and the broader communities beyond our walls.

Math

A multi sensory approach encompasses the use of manipulative materials, mental math, rhythm and clapping to introduce numerical operations (addition and subtraction, multiplication and division) and place value. Children are explicitly taught a variety of problem solving techniques and use math journals as an additional tool to further their thinking. As skills develop they are applied through creating story problems, graphs and solving multi-step problems using a wide range of strategies. Algebraic thinking is introduced throughout at age appropriate levels. Students work in various combinations (whole group, small group and individually) to deepen their understanding of problem solving, measurement, geometry, time and money.

Science

Overall, Synergy’s approach is very hands-on and experiment based. The main goal of the early years is for students to believe that science is fun while learning the foundations of various scientific strands: life science, earth science and physical science. The primary focus is to enhance observation, classification, measurement and communication skills. Units are integrated with other areas of study in social studies, math and language arts to provide a more complete understanding. Areas of study are the solar system, insects, and magnets, weather and the water cycle, balls and ramps, and mammals. As students mature, they study the entire animal kingdom including classification. Students grow bacteria and learn how to use microscopes. Botany and a short unit on electricity round out the year. The other year’s main study is life on Earth from the Big Bang to the Ice Age. Units on geology, atoms and the periodic table, and an extensive unit on dinosaurs allows for cross-curricular opportunities such as research reports on a particular dinosaur.

Outdoor Education

Students in the younger grades take a bi-annual camping trip in June. This is primarily a community-building event with a large amount of family participation. Students in the Sunroom usually do an overnight camping trip such as the Headlands, and each class does day field trips that include outdoor experiences.

Every other year, students in grades 1-3 go on a snow trip along with grades 6 and 7. With plenty of parent helpers accompanying staff and students to Claire Tappan Lodge in Soda Springs, California, the students enjoy inner tubing, playing in the snow, and fireside activities. Relationships are built across ages and many are challenged on cross country skis for the first time.

Spanish

In the downstairs classrooms, Spanish is introduced through games, stories, songs and other activities. Repetition is used to develop pronunciation and teach basic vocabulary. The Spanish teacher works within the classroom environment to enhance and enrich the classroom curriculum. In 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students are asked to do small projects incorporating the everyday language used in class. Art is an important component during this part of their learning process. Through art projects, students practice multiple skills while speaking, discovering and creating in Spanish.

Art

Students’ understanding of art expands as they continue to explore diverse art mediums. At this age, they learn more about art principles such as color mixing, the effect of warm vs. cool colors, overlapping images to create the illusion of depth, and how to break down larger forms into recognizable shapes. Works of varied artists are shown to inspire students and develop their “artistic eye.”

Drama

Students have theater class with the drama teacher for a portion of the year. At this stage of development, students learn the skills and creativity of improvisational theater. Children help select the theme and characters upon which they will create a play. This process culminates in a performance. Language of theater, such as character development, plot, and stage directions is an integral part of the class. There are no written scripts, because students are learning the art of speaking through a character. The play is produced through rehearsed improvisation, so that students learn to draw on their own instincts and dramatic spontaneity on stage.

Music

Students learn names of notes and pentatonic scales through melodies and improvisation on xylophones and other Orff instruments. Technique on a variety of drums and handheld percussion is taught, including basic rhythmic vocabulary. Material is drawn from original student work, pentatonic melodies from around the world, and various percussion traditions. Students learn folk dances and create their own choreographies. There is a great emphasis on building a vocabulary of musical form. Recorder study begins in the third grade.

Physical Education

Children continue working with large motor skill activities and build cooperation, listening, and leadership skills. Team sports are learned through the execution of drills and appreciation of varying degrees of athleticism. Children create and play outdoor games. Muscle identification is introduced. Children are encouraged to begin a lifelong awareness of body health and nutrition.

Library

Library class supports and enhances the classroom curriculum. Students learn how to use the library independently to select and locate fiction and non-fiction texts. Students listen to and share stories with others, connect texts to real world experiences, identify author and illustrator roles, recognize and describe different types of texts (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, other genres), employ different methods for reading fiction versus non-fiction, identify literary elements (characters, setting, theme, plot), and compare & contrast different ways the same story is told. Emphasis is placed on evaluating information rather than just accepting what is written as true. Students develop questioning and evaluation skills and practice using catalogs, indexes, table of contents, and reference works (both in print and online).

Social/Emotional Development

In this age group, children are developing more independence from their parents and are encouraged to take more responsibility for their schoolwork and relationships with friends and classmates. As friendships become more important, children are learning how to work out conflicts and participate in problem solving with their peers. They are encouraged to develop sensitivity towards others and resiliency when faced with failure or disappointment.

In the beginning of each school year, a community building intensive takes place, including a review of the Agreement System and team building activities. The school’s principles against bias and prejudice are taught in age-appropriate ways. Throughout the school year, there is on-going education regarding social interactions, such as class discussions and role-playing a variety of situations.

4th and 5th Grade

Language Arts

Language arts skills are integrated with social studies as well as taught explicitly through mini-lessons and spelling and vocabulary programs. On alternating years, biographies and historical fiction are the theme, highlighted by the students reading and writing their own version of each genre. Guided reading and mixed age groupings allow students to develop their skills at an appropriate and challenging level. Proofreading is emphasized at both grade levels, and fifth graders learn the fundamentals of essay writing.

Social Studies

Our history curriculum alternates between California history and US history, to coincide with California standards. Students are presented with a variety of perspectives through readings, reflections, and experiential activities. Units include the California Gold Rush, interaction of ethnic groups in early California history, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, Native American cultural regions, life in the colonies, slavery, the causes of the Revolutionary War and the US Civil Rights Movement.

Research and Technology

Computers are available in each classroom for guided research and word processing. Keyboarding and general computer skills are explicitly taught, but computers play a supplemental role. In addition, programs to manipulate graphics and spreadsheets are available to students.

Math

Fourth graders focus on the four basic operations and their applications, including multi-digit multiplication and long division. Problem-solving approaches are emphasized, and curriculum includes algebraic thinking, geometry, fractions, and measurement. A variety of texts and workbooks are used in addition to teacher created materials so that students have multiple avenues to understanding.

Fifth graders solidify multi-digit operations and study rational numbers in depth. Students use manipulative materials to explore fractions, decimals, geometry, data analysis and probability. Exponents are introduced in our continued study of place value with large numbers. Students learn to use variables to set up and solve equations through algebraic problem solving. Mathematical reasoning skills challenge students to use a variety of methods to solve problems, explain their process and check their answers for accuracy.

4th and 5th graders work collaboratively each year on units of study such as probability and combinations.

Science

Science is also on a two-year cycle. Units of study include inquiry-based crime lab chemistry, acids and bases, eco-systems, animal adaptations, climate change, human anatomy, bridge building, and nutrition. Components of the scientific method are emphasized with each unit, and students demonstrate their understanding of the process when conducting and presenting their own experiments for our annual science fair. Students also use science notebooks to record their sketches, observations, data, and reflections. We use a variety of hands on materials and several units from the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability from the California Academy of Sciences.

Outdoor Education

Beginning in 4th grade, classes spend a week at Farm School. This important part of our school culture provides a unique opportunity for community building as well as development of self-reliance. An ever-evolving portfolio of classes in pond study, botany, art, gardening, woodworking are taught by teachers and parents. Students camp out, help prepare their meals, and learn from various traditions to become stewards of the land.

Spanish

In the fourth and fifth grades, students move into a more structured full-immersion Spanish curriculum that has a strong communicative and cultural component. Some common activities in these grade levels include role-plays, working in conversational activities in pairs or in small groups and cultural projects. Students engage in longer-term projects and expectations include research, oral reports, and short written reports. We use the classroom computers, encyclopedias and dictionaries to help with the process.

Art

At this level, the art program is sometimes linked to the rest of the 4/5 curriculum, such as projects relating to California history and preparing for the 4/5 play. Other projects focus on identity expression using various mediums. Art concepts such as complementary and analogous colors, contrast, value, and composition are taught. A range of art from different cultures will be shown throughout.

Drama

The music and drama program converge in an intensive production experience for the 4th and 5th grade classes. Over the course of two months, students work to present an original play. They act, accompany themselves, help create the sets, and present a multiscene play with costumes and props.

Music

Students build on previously introduced skills and ideas, and major and minor diatonic scales are taught. Students learn about triads and how to accompany melody over two and three chords. Recorder study features prominently during these two years, as do the 4th-5th grade plays. Students learn how to support dramatic action and emotion with music. Beginning in 4th grade, students may elect to sing in the Synergy Choir.

Physical Education

Students continue goals introduced in previous grades. Greater emphasis is placed on strategies in games, individual physical achievement and fitness, resistance strengthening, and cardiovascular conditioning.

Library

Library class supports and enhances the classroom curriculum. Students continue to build on library skills learned in the lower grades, working towards using the library independently to select and locate fiction and non-fiction texts. More emphasis is placed on learning information search and retrieval skills within the library and beyond (library catalog, online databases for students, and the San Francisco Public Library catalog & online resources). Students learn to identify and locate as well as evaluate information (rather than just accepting what is written as true). Student practice drawing evidence from both primary and secondary sources.

Social/Emotional Development

Personal responsibility enters a new realm when students literally come upstairs in our school. As in younger years, the agreement system is used to develop interpersonal skills and academic organization. They are encouraged and guided to become increasingly independent in their problem solving with each other. Homework expectations also increase each year. Students are challenged by a weekly schedule of assignments and are taught to manage their time and efforts for longer-term projects.

Middle School

Language Arts

Students read and analyze a wide range of multicultural literature, deepening their understanding of literary elements such as theme, imagery, characterization and symbolism. Literary analysis enriches their own writing of short stories, memoirs and poetry. Students read and write for a variety of purposes and in a variety of genres. Lively engagement with literature and writing is encouraged through class and small group discussions, literary journals, writers’ workshops and interdisciplinary, hands-on projects. Students continue to use the writing process in creative and expository writing and the five-paragraph essay is emphasized. The study of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar continues.

In 8th grade, students work extensively on an eighth grade play, either of their own creation or from dramatic literature. Individually chosen eighth grade research projects culminate in an exhibition at the end of the year, drawing together students’ reading, writing, research and creative skills. Students continue to use the writing process in creative and expository writing, extending their comfort level and mastery of various forms. The study of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar continues.

Humanities

This interdisciplinary, project based curriculum is taught in a three year rotation of year-long units of study: United States History in the 19th century, World History with an emphasis on world religions, and Ancient History studying cultures from each continent. History is brought alive through simulations, hands-on projects, discussions and the use of reading from multiple genres and perspectives, including primary documents.

An exploration of global perspectives and social justice is emphasized. Students develop the ability to ask question, to think critically, to generalize, compare and contrast. Using current issues and events as springboards, students make connections from the past to the present. Active participation in democracy at school is linked to the role of people in action throughout the wider community, country and world. Students explore individual topics of interest, learning how to use and evaluate a variety of research tools and materials. Research skills include formulating research questions, note taking, outlining, evaluating information and writing well-organized reports.

Math

Students receive grade level math instruction every day. Depending on the schedule, they could be in a small class of 8 or 12 students or a full class of 23 students. Each student works on individual projects, as well as in collaborative groups. We have many hands-on activities where the idea is allow students to create and hold concepts. For example, if we are working on volume, the students make cylinders, spheres and prisms so they can truly grasp volume. Not only are the projects hands-on, there is also plenty of computation and usage practice. Throughout the course there is a strong emphasis on the expression of mathematical reasoning and algebraic thinking.

6th grade

Students review and extend the skills and concepts presented in the fifth grade. They work on mastery of the four basic number operations, as well as receive an introduction to integers, fractions, decimals, and percentages. Students are also introduced to variables and basic equation solving. Extensive work in geometry encompasses perimeter, area, surface area, circles and pi, using both customary and metric units of measure.

7th Grade

The pre-algebra class offered in the seventh grade is designed to help students bridge the skills learned in previous classes to the skills, applications, and abstract reasoning needed in algebra. The units covered include: the use and understanding of integers in the four operations, absolute values, exponents, solving equations and inequalities, patterns, and graphing. Students continue to work on their computation, estimation and problem solving skills with manipulatives and cooperative learning activities.

8th Grade

The curriculum includes a concrete study of the traditional topics of Algebra I including graphing, and application of linear, rational and irrational expressions, and quadratic formula. Emphasis is placed on developing confidence with the algebraic process.

Science

Students work cooperatively in hands-on activities to explore and test concepts and phenomena in the natural world to develop their skills in scientific thinking, problem solving, engineering, and analysis. Each class brings an opportunity for students to ask questions, make observations, and share their discoveries with each other. Students also apply their skills and knowledge toward individual projects, which involve making models, designing experiments, and analyzing data. Life, earth, physical, and environmental science are integrated throughout their Middle School years.

Main units of study:

  • Botany
  • Ecology
  • Human anatomy
  • Sound physics
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Energy and matter
  • Evolution
  • Cell biology
  • Marine biology/oceanography
  • Light physics
  • Force and motion
  • Chemistry
  • Geology
  • Climate change/Renewable energy

Outdoor Education

Each middle school year begins with Farm School, a week where students get to learn outside of a classroom (I took out the rest of this first sentence). The curriculum for 6th and 7th graders always provides for a cooperative group study and alternates between a science and humanities focus. One year, students survey, test, and analyze the various eco-systems present at the Occidental-based Ocean Song Farm to determine whether it could support a "colony. Students write reflections on their studies, and, in groups, develop presentations of their respective biomes and use their observations and other results to persuade others as to whether or not the collective environment could support life. In the humanities year, students create a culture complete with traditions, mythology, art and artifacts, and way of life. Students produce written materials and documentation of their process, create structures on the property, and write reflections about the multi-faceted and meaningful experience of Farm School.

The eighth grade program at Farm School features a unique process based on self-discovery and challenge, a rite of passage. This week calls for the students to reflect on their own cultures and communities to note what it means to grow older in terms of responsibilities and expectations. Overall, the rite of passage week is among the activities designed to equip students for the world beyond Synergy School.

In addition, 6th and 7th graders go on a bi-annual backpacking trip. They build their outdoor survival skills on a 3-day and 2-night journey in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The trek pushes students to go beyond their self-perceived limits. They enjoy their accomplishment and each other while camping by a lake. The experience of leaving roads behind with only the possessions in their packs teaches respect for and understanding of the wilderness and fosters self-confidence.

Spanish

The middle school Spanish curriculum is full-immersion and the curriculum covers all the content for Spanish 1. Students continue to develop their communicative skills in Spanish while they continue to learn about the culture of the peoples who speak it. The program includes linguistic and cultural components relevant to understanding the context and use of the Spanish language. For example, students learn when to use formal and informal speech or when to use language appropriately for written as opposed to spoken communication. In these grade levels, grammar and vocabulary are taught within the context of everyday topics.

Middle school classes are a combination of direct instruction with hands-on activities and projects. The hands-on activities provide students with opportunities for interacting and learning the language in class in ways that are meaningful and purposeful. The instruction also provides opportunities for students to experiment to try out what they know and to develop both accuracy and fluency.

For 8th grade students, the culmination of their Spanish education takes them abroad to Costa Rica to fully immerse them in a Spanish-speaking country and to put into practice what they have learned throughout the years. It is also a service-learning trip where they interact with the people of Costa Rica in tutoring young children or assisting in the building or repair of homes with Global Works Project. They are also given plenty of time to enjoy the culture, lively music, delicious food and the warmth of the Costa Rican people.

Art

Middle school students strengthen art skills in a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, and clay. Projects are designed to activate students' creativity, cultivate the art of seeing, and deepen their understanding of art concepts. Work from world cultures, prominent artists, and images from popular culture are shown in conjunction with the learning of skills and self-expression. Students are also exposed to potential career choices in art and design.

Drama

Sixth and seventh graders work with the drama teacher for a portion of the year on acting technique and scene study. Eight graders produce a full-scale theatrical production. Past years have included Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, original student plays, Word for Word, and a theatrical piece based on the students’ interviews with Bay Area residents in many walks of life. Students work on sets, costumes, and other technical aspects of the theater. Music, both student-composed and existing, is a component of the 8th grade production.

Music

Students arrive in middle school with an experiential foundation in musical forms, melodic and harmonic theory, and movement. They have sufficient technique on Orff instruments, unpitched percussion, and recorder to enable them to play increasingly challenging music. They have the musical vocabulary with which to articulate ideas. The middle school curriculum continues with the Orff approach and a broad selection of styles of music. There is an increased focus on composition and independent student work, both group and individual. Students who study an instrument outside of school are encouraged to incorporate it into the ensemble. The Synergy Choir affords additional opportunities to develop vocal and performance skills.

Physical Education & Athletics

Physical education in middle school builds upon the K-5 foundation of individual physical achievement, cooperation and teamwork, and health and nutrition awareness. Students focus on strength and conditioning, emphasizing flexibility, speed, upper and lower body strength and agility. They continue to learn and refine the fundamentals of various team sports. Synergy students in grades 6 through 8 participate competitively in leagues for cross-country, futsal, and basketball.

Library

Middle school students use the library independently to select texts for personal reading and research. Students work to refine information search and retrieval skills within the library and beyond (library catalog, online databases for students, and the San Francisco Public Library catalog & online resources). Students learn to ask questions, make predictions, and search for answers. They learn to identify, locate, evaluate, and draw evidence from primary and secondary sources. In addition, students learn note-taking methods and how to document research, quote properly, and avoid plagiarism.

Social/Emotional Development

“Young people undergo more rapid and profound personal changes during the years between 10 and 15 than any other period of our lives.” (National Middle School Association)

The obvious truth of this statement gives us unique responsibilities and opportunities to provide a safe place in which middle school students can explore their growing sense of self. Through a strong advisory program, multiple leadership opportunities, problem solving and decision making roles in the school community, and many chances to explore moral and ethical issues, our middle school students emerge as self-confident young people, ready for the challenges of high school. The Agreement System provides a structure through which students’ abilities and challenges with personal and group responsibilities can be addressed and strengthened. A vibrant student council, a Gay- Straight Alliance, a chapter of People of Color in Independent Schools, and other student-led clubs are important aspects of life in middle school.