Lower Elementary (Ages 6 to 9) and Upper Elementary (Ages 9 to 12) are companion environments defined by non-interference in the learning process; they are a continuum designed to accommodate the full range of possibility and potential and wonder of each child throughout this expansive plane of development (the age of fairness and justice and exploration) as well as a freedom of movement during the work cycle; it is a “cosmic age” of looking outward to the universe, backward to the dawn of time, and inward to one’s own role and sense of purpose; therefore, the classrooms provide students prepared and inspiring access to the necessary tools, materials, adults, technology, the outdoors, and one another so as to meet their imagination and thirsts head-on. These too are hands-on spaces that thrive on attention to order and care; most importantly, they are where students come to construct their own learning and, in turn, themselves.
It is the great work of the Elementary child to develop a strong self-concept and find a place in the community. Therefore, as in the Lower Elementary, the academic and social mission of the Upper Elementary program inspires a dual sense of responsibility in which students learn to take care of their own needs while growing in sensitivity and responsiveness to the greater good. The result is an atmosphere dominated by an expectation of caring for oneself, for each other, and for the communal physical environment. In such an atmosphere of mutual respect the student’s own inner clock of development sets the pace and direction of their social and intellectual movement towards independence. Consequently, the boundaries of the Upper Elementary child’s environment expand in response to the continuing strides being made toward the ability to reason, both cognitively and morally, as well as the irresistible pull to seek one another’s company and form groups of all kinds in search of lasting individual and community-oriented habits of heart, mind, and hands.
Mathematics in the Upper Elementary is presented in a scope and sequence prepared to stimulate the constantly developing abilities of the nine to twelve year old. The Upper Elementary student possesses a mind that has the ability to judge, decipher, deduct, and reason: thus, to think abstractly. This is a blossoming critical thinker for whom the journey from the concrete experiences in the Lower Elementary to abstract reasoning and calculation in the Upper Elementary leads to the exploration and grasp of complex mathematical and geometric concepts. Through the manipulation of familiar and more advanced materials, students continue to move at their own pace in a step-by-step progression toward more abstract operations and relationships. It is precisely these gifts of time and materials, along with the practical integration of math into the broader curriculum, that help students better appreciate the language of numbers and their functions while providing a leg up in the climb to abstraction in preparation for the next level of reasoning and calculation contained in the initial studies of Algebra.
In the Upper Elementary, language is the holistic thread that binds the Montessori curriculum and ignites the imagination. Throughout the three-year learning cycle, students develop essential skills and strategies common to all proficient communicators. They are guided toward awareness, and ultimately a self-monitoring, of their own thought processes when engaging the spoken or written word as it relates to their own depth of comprehension or that of their very own audience. As these habits of mind take root through introduction to, practice with, and internalization of the rules governing the use of language, the writing process, oral expression, literary analysis and dialogue, and the research process, students begin to experience the active creation and absorption of language as meaningful, sophisticated, and relevant tools for growth.
In the Upper Elementary students explore the advent of humans on earth and the development of human cultures. Students extend their exploration of other life on earth through the study of biology and botany. We weave ecological concepts into both of these studies. Important to the students’ understanding of the world around them is the study of the physical sciences. The physical sciences are integrated into our studies of history, life sciences and geography. For example, students study simple machines when we explore ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and we explore chemistry as part of our botany study and human body study. Physical geography is woven throughout the cultural curriculum as students explore how the physical world shaped human cultures. We give particular attention to economic geography during the Silk Road study and U.S. history. An interdisciplinary approach to learning is central to Montessori pedagogy.
Hilltop’s Elementary Art program is based on the Teaching for Artistic Behavior method, or TAB, in which the student is the artist and the classroom their studio. Students learn techniques in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, fiber arts, collage, and printmaking. They explore the elements and principles of design and learn about artists both local and around the globe.
Students independently choose their projects with the support of the art teacher, receiving 1:1 lessons as needed to support their process. They are given space to think independently, collaborate, explore themes deeply, and reflect thoughtfully on their process.
By following their own creative instincts, students are deeply motivated to practice artistic behaviors, such as planning a project, problem-solving, adapting an ‘oops’, working with deep concentration, reflecting thoughtfully on their process, and caring for their studio.
In Upper Elementary art, students are shown techniques using more complex tools and processes, such as linocut printmaking, charcoal portrait drawing, and tapestry weaving. Upper Elementary students may choose to focus deeply on a particular medium during Electives, including drawing from observation, building with polymer clay, watercolor techniques, and sewing.
Lessons in Elementary Art often support the focus of the classrooms. In Upper Elementary, students explore art’s connection to our developing civilization, such as practicing cuneiform and cave art while studying ancient civilizations, and art’s role in social change and activism. The techniques learned in Upper Elementary art are all put to use during twice-yearly Museum projects, where life-size murals or paper maché sculpture may depict an extinct creature, and a study of birds is illustrated using watercolors. These developing skills and increasing independence and collaboration are also on display while Upper Elementary students prepare their spring play, painting scenery, designing costumes, and building props.
In music, the primary areas of focus are singing, dancing and movement, listening, singing and rhythm games, composition and improvisation. The goal is to combine musical skill building with the elements of spontaneity, improvisation, and creativity. In addition to the general music classes, there are a variety of ensemble groups to choose from, including recorder, percussion, and jazz/pop classes. Here students develop skills in small group musical interaction, improvisation, ensemble playing, and music reading. Musical work in the UE also plays a significant role in the classes annual performance, at all school gatherings, the community dinner, and “sharing” performances for the lower el and primary classes.
The Physical Education program at Hilltop is guided by the seven components of physical fitness: speed, agility, strength, power, endurance, flexibility and coordination. Within the scope of a semester all P.E. activities address one or more of these components. Careful focus on attaining competency in all areas over time will ensure that a student is successful in achieving a healthy fitness level. For as fitness improves so does the level of skill development.
For the 9-12 year olds these skills include Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, track and field, volleyball, tumbling, badminton, pilo polo, dance, circus skills, lacrosse, softball and mile run training.