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2nd-6th Grade Courses

Please select the links below for more information about 2nd-6th grade courses offered at our site hosted by The Independent School Foundation Academy:




Please note that the sample syllabi are meant to provide an idea of the level of the course and whether or not the content area interests you. CTY instructors are given guidelines within which they each develop their own syllabi. Choice and sequencing of topics within the content area, as well as specific activities, labs, and assignments, will vary.

Mathematics Course Descriptions

Numbers: Zero to Infinity

What does a subatomic particle measured in femtometers have in common with a galaxy measured in light years? Both are a part of the uniquely human effort to quantify the world around us. In this course, students explore numbers, from the very small to the unimaginably large, and learn how numeric representations help to explain natural phenomena such as time, distance, and temperature.

Moving beyond traditional arithmetic, this course centers on hands-on activities that develop understanding of the scope and scale of numbers. Students consider such questions as: if your dog were the size of a dinosaur, how much dog food would you need? They develop approximation and computational strategies to determine whether answers to problems are reasonable. In examining the diversity of measurement systems, students learn the origins of some familiar and unfamiliar methods of measurement, and invent their own units of measurement. Additionally, students use dimensional analysis to investigate conversions between different scales or systems of measurement. They apply concepts of ratio and proportion by constructing and analyzing scale models of our solar system, the human body, and other objects in our natural world.

Note: For many aspects of this course, students are asked to work without a calculator. Calculators are used only when extensive computations are needed.

Sample texts: Materials compiled by the instructor.

Students must have completed grade: 4 or 5

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Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Reasoning, logic, and critical-thinking skills are the building blocks of intellectual inquiry. This course focuses on developing these skills through problem solving, and exposure to a wide range of topics in mathematics. Students learn to distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning and examine the roles played by each in mathematics.

The students’ introduction to inductive reasoning begins with a search for patterns and creating recursive and explicit formulas to describe those patterns. Students master material by considering puzzles, algebraic and geometric concepts, patterns, and real-world questions that can be answered using inductive reasoning.

As they move on to topics in deductive reasoning, students learn to use a system of logic to draw conclusions from statements that are accepted as true. Students encounter a variety of classic problem types as they explore such topics as symbolic logic, truth tables, syllogisms, knights and knaves problems, and Euler circuits. Emphasis is placed on the importance of proving conclusions using valid arguments.

Sample texts: Materials compiled by the instructor; a supplemental text such as The Number Devil, Enzensberger.

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

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Introduction to Robotics

In the field of robotics, computer science and engineering come together to create machines that can perform a variety of tasks from manufacturing microchips to exploring Mars.

In this course, students develop familiarity with computer science concepts. For example, they explore topics such as algorithms, sequential control flow, and Boolean operators. Students also survey basic principles of physics and mechanical engineering, such as simple machines and locomotion, and basic principles of electrical engineering, such as circuits and sensor feedback. Using LEGO® robotics equipment, they work together to construct, program, and test their robots in a modern programming environment.

With each project, students design, build, and program robots to complete a complex task, and reinforce a new concept. These projects demonstrate the basic computer science and engineering principles that underlie everything from the space shuttle to the average home toaster. Students gain a foundation in computer programming and engineering that will become increasingly important in the highly technical twenty-first century.

Sample text: Materials compiled by the instructor.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

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Science Course Descriptions

Be a Scientist!

What can an astronomer learn from a black hole? How does an engineer decide on the best bridge design? How do marine biologists know that dolphins are intelligent? In this course, students are introduced to the methods scientists use to answer questions about the world around us. They build skills essential to scientific inquiry by engaging in hands-on investigations in a range of areas covering biology, engineering, physics, and chemistry.

Students examine strategies and techniques used by scientists and put them into practice. For example, as ecologists, students may experiment with the best ways to stop soil erosion and create a plan to help protect the local community. As geneticists, students may take an inventory of classmates’ inherited traits, calculate the frequency of each, and compare class data to the general population. As chemists, they might work in teams to explore fireworks as they learn what colors different metals produce when they burn.

Students learn to question and hypothesize; identify and manipulate variables; observe, measure, and record data; and analyze and interpret results. They work to design and carry out their own original investigations. Each student leaves the course better prepared to think like a scientist.

Sample text: Materials compiled by the instructor.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 2 or 3

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Did you know that the idea for the microwave oven was set in motion by a melted chocolate bar? While standing in front of a magnetron, inventor Percy Spencer noticed that his treat had begun melting in his pocket. To further test the potential of the magnetron, Spencer held a bag of corn kernels next to it and watched them pop. From this simple experiment that led to the microwave oven to students’ own creations, this course is about inventors, inventions, and their impacts on our world.

How does a toaster work, and what might make it work better? How can a package be designed to mail a potato chip so that it doesn’t break? In this physical science course, students dismantle gadgets to figure out how things work. Using science knowledge such as an understanding of simple machines, they create their own new inventions. Students apply for mock patents, collaborate with their fellow inventors, keep an inventions journal, and work in teams to create hovercrafts or design more effective burglar alarms.

Throughout this process of inquiry, discovery, and problem solving, students explore not only the how and why of various discoveries and inventions, but also the impact they have had across the centuries. This integrated examination of inventions in our world offers young inventors a fuller understanding of the implications and promise of their creative imaginings.

Sample text: Inventing Stuff, Sobey.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 3 or 4

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Through the Microscope

Current 3-D microscopes that can capture nerve connections in a brain are a far cry from the magnifying lenses that were ground by hand in the thirteenth century, yet they both share a place in scientists’ fascination with the microscopic world. In this course, students use microscopy to discover the living and non-living world around them, acquiring an introduction to high school biology in the process.

This course begins with an overview of scale and size and an introduction to the history and proper use of microscopes. Students then examine and compare living unicellular and multi-cellular organisms such as algae, elodea, rotifers, and paramecia as they differentiate between bacterial, animal, and plant cells. They develop laboratory skills including staining, preparing wet mounts, DNA extraction, and inoculation.

After their introduction to the microscope and cell biology, students consider atoms and larger molecules like DNA, learning why some things can’t be seen with light microscopes. Students also explore the various ways microscopes are used in the field as they investigate forensic science, microbiology, and pathology, learning about the many different kinds of microscopes used in scientific research. Through laboratory work, model building, drawing, writing, and research, students leave the course with an understanding of microscopy and an appreciation for the little things in life.

Sample text: The Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope, Rogers.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 3 or 4

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The Physics of Engineering

How can a concrete boat float? How do you build the strongest bridge with the lightest building materials? Physics, the science of matter and its motion, helps answer these questions and more. In this course, students learn principles of mechanics; electricity and magnetism; and aerodynamics, and apply them to engineering design projects.

Concepts are introduced and reinforced through hands-on activities, lectures, class discussions, and practice exercises. Students will participate in design challenges and experiments, which may include building trebuchets to learn about projectile motion, designing and launching rockets to learn about aeronautics, or constructing roller coasters to learn about energy conservation. They may also explore rocket science, orbital motion, and the challenges of space travel. Students carefully analyze data they collect and write reports about the projects.

Students learn how to ask scientific questions, hypothesize, and experiment in order to interpret physical phenomena. They are introduced to the iterative design process—engineering solutions to problems presented in class, and refining their designs to fit the presented criteria. By the end of the course, students acquire an understanding of major concepts in physics and an enhanced ability to work in groups and individually to solve problems in the physical sciences.

Note: Students in this class should have a strong background in pre-algebra or have completed CTY’s Inductive and Deductive Reasoning or Data and Chance. Students should be comfortable with basic algebraic concepts: equation manipulation, interpreting graphs, and expressing large numbers in scientific notation.

Sample texts: The Cartoon Guide to Physics, Gonick; The Art of Construction, Salvadori.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

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The Sensory Brain

Can cats actually see in the dark? Do snakes really smell with their tongues? How do optical illusions “trick” the brain? Using the senses as a framework, students answer these questions as they explore the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. They discuss how the brain’s perception mechanisms turn sensory information into an organism’s experience of its surroundings. In addition to human senses, students also learn about sensory abilities alien to our own, such as sonar navigation and electric organs.

In the laboratory, students dissect organs such as a sheep brain and a cow eye in order to investigate how sensory structures relate to function. Students discover how the structure of the ear relates to sound location, balance, and hearing loss and test reflexes to discuss conduction of nerve impulses. After understanding structure and function of healthy systems, students then explore examples of deficiencies and disorders. Throughout the course, students employ the scientific method by creating hypotheses, collecting data from their classmates, and formulating their own answers to questions about sensation, perception, and the brain.

Sample texts: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks; Anatomy and Physiology Workbook, Marieb.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

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Writing Course Descriptions

Writing and Reading Workshop

Gathering together a community of young writers and readers, this course helps students develop the vocabulary and critical-thinking skills necessary to discuss writing and reading in sophisticated ways. Students explore a range of reading and writing assignments, some of which they choose themselves with the instructor’s guidance.

Approximately half of each day is devoted to writing and half to reading. Students learn writing by doing what professional writers do: gathering material, deciding on topics, conferring with peers, drafting, workshopping, and revising. Daily lessons and one-on-one conferences address writing skills from sentence construction to the use of imagery.

In reading workshops, students choose texts to read and respond to in their journals; they may also read short stories and novels to discuss as a class. Working with the instructor, students develop close-reading skills and an appreciation for authors and genres that are new to them. Cooperative learning and constructive criticism are emphasized, and detailed responses from the instructor and peers play an essential role in each student’s growth as a reader and writer.

Note: As part of their homework, students in this course may be expected to borrow books from their neighborhood libraries.

Sample texts: Independent reading assignments supplemented by instructor-selected short stories and novels; America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories, Mazer; Esperanza Rising, Ryan; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Taylor.

Students must have completed grade: 3 or 4

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Writing and Imagination

Writing is an act of imagination; it builds from the raw materials of life and language. Students in this course read, write, and discuss a variety of genres including poems, short stories, and essays. They are encouraged to approach writing as a craft and to discover the processes and techniques that writers in all genres share. For example, students learn strategies for generating ideas, and they explore the concept and techniques of point of view.

This course brings together students and instructors who, as experienced writers themselves, serve as mentors to guide students through the process of creative writing. During writing workshops, both the instructor and peers offer detailed criticism geared toward revision. Through this process of writing, critiquing, and revising, students develop confidence in their own writing and creative powers.

Sample texts: Materials compiled by the instructor; a supplemental text such as The House on Mango Street, Cisneros, or Past Perfect, Present Tense: New and Collected Stories, Peck.

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

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