LJWorld.com weblogs Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country
What are they learning?
We have finally completed a long enough run of school days for me to give you an idea of what kids are learning in the 4th grade here in Heidelberg. As I mentioned in my post on October 5th, it’s been one thing after another preventing a solid string of normal days. So here is a rundown in order of time spent per week.
German (4 days a week for a total of 5 hours and 15 minutes)
The language arts seem quite similar to what you‘d find in the Lawrence schools. The kids practice writing sentences and stories, they identify the parts of a sentence and correct sentence structure. They answer questions based on readings and memorize poems, but don’t take many spelling tests. I am so proud of my daughter for gamely trying to write a story in German. If you could literally translate an English sentence into a German sentence this might be a fairly straightforward exercise, but the sentence structure of the German language is very different from that of English. For example, the sentence “One is not allowed to swim here” written in German is literally translated into English as “One is allowed here not to swim”.
Math (4 days a week for a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes)
At this point in the term math consists of adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying three digit numbers. The math problems posed take all sorts of forms including order of operation, word problems, and mystery numbers (pre-algebra). The kids have also begun a series of tests that will play a part in determining their school placement for 5th grade (see post on Sept. 28th about academic tracking).
Science (2 days a week for a total of 2 hours and 25 minutes)
The science topic for this term is trees - tree parts, tree structure, tree species, tree fruits. In the coming weeks the kids will work in groups doing research on organisms that live in trees. Speaking of organisms that live in trees, back home in Lawrence we are overrun with squirrels but here there is hardly a squirrel to be seen. When we do catch site of a squirrel it is the much smaller Eurasian red squirrel. Despite not having seen even one grey squirrel we have learned that the red squirrel is in decline, its population threatened by the introduction of the Eastern grey squirrel from the U.S. to Europe. The situation has prompted red squirrel conservation efforts and the establishment of squirrel protection stations.
Art (2 days a week for a total of 2 hours and 25 minutes)
Although the kids have done some drawing and painting, most of the time is spent doing cross-stitch.
Religion (1 day a week for 1 hour and 30 minutes)
My daughter dreads Wednesday morning religion class. While sitting around a candle singing is engaging enough, it is often followed by long lectures that she cannot hope to understand. This is a shame because one of the topics was apparently a history lesson about Martin Luther. The class has also spent a considerable amount of time talking about ‘evidence’ but my daughter was unable to be more specific. In one lesson the children were asked if they believed in God. Interestingly, most of the children answered no. Religious instruction in the schools is paid for by the state, but content is approved by the church. I still don’t know what the Muslim kids do during religion class. Some schools offer ethics classes in lieu of religion class and some (very few) offer classes in Islam, but neither of these options is available at my daughter’s school.
Gym (1 day a week for 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Given that the number of school hours per week is limited and the kids have two recess breaks during their 4.5-hour school day, I’m surprised they bother with gym. The kids must change into gym clothes and are then instructed to go through a number of tumbling and vaulting exercises. Following these exercises they play some sort of game like sharks and minnows. The gym teacher is also the English teacher and the Art teacher.
English (2 days a week, 1 hour and 30 minutes)
My daughter loves her English/Gym/Art teacher who teaches the class for the entire day on Mondays. English class focuses on very simple dialogues. I was invited to class to talk about how Americans celebrate Halloween and may go back to talk about Christmas. I find this rather amusing since the school we left in Lawrence has moved away from celebrating any holidays and has replaced holiday themed parties with service projects. Now we live in a more secular country, but one that observes Catholic holidays and teaches religion in its public schools.
Music (1 day a week for 45 minutes)
Imagine trying to get 20 plus students to focus on anything the last period of the day on Friday. That’s music class. Fortunately my daughter signed up for choir and instrumental music after school on Thursdays (see post from October 12th).
So far there have been no history lessons and no social studies, although it is possible that these subjects are covered in the context of religion class. We are still waiting for the language integration classes to begin.