Grades 4-6 Academic Overview

UE studentsOverview

The Upper Elementary (UE) Program is designed to meet the unique developmental needs of students in grades 4-6. Bridging the transition from elementary to middle school, we focus on helping students develop independence and ownership as leaders of their own learning, while building the strong set of skills and understandings necessary to grade level (and future) academic success.
Students at UE have two core teachers, one for Humanities (English Language Arts and Social Studies) and one for STEM (Math and Science). This structure allows for a gradual progression toward the middle school setting, where they will need to navigate several classes and teachers in a day. Students also participate in a rich array of encore courses in art, computer science, music, and physical education.
Finally, our advisory program is situated at the center of our social-emotional curriculum. Through this program students engage in community building and social-emotional learning activities aimed at fostering their development, sense of belonging, and social and emotional competencies.

Curriculum Components


Upper Elementary students participate in a rich humanities curriculum, which combines rigorous work toward grade-level English Language Arts standards with deep, culturally relevant study of history. Using the Expeditionary Learning ELA curriculum, students in each grade complete four units of study that support strong reading and writing of both fiction and nonfiction texts in connection with historical eras and events.

This curriculum aligns to the Massachusetts Literacy Standards, and provides our students with a strong foundation in reading and writing, as well as supporting critical thinking, vocabulary and content knowledge development. EL ELA integrates learning about science and social studies across the year. These integrated units combine a module lesson and an additional language and literacy block designed to support the development of language and literacy competencies in the context of rich learning about science and social studies. (For more information on EL Education and this set of curricula, click here.)

EL ELA is research-informed, built on the science of reading and the science of learning and development. It is validated by rigorous third party research showing excellent equitable outcomes for all students. It incorporates social and emotional learning, and encourages compassionate leadership and thoughtful citizenship by helping students connect their learning to their communities, where schoolwork has real impact on issues they care about.  Students engage in original research and deep interdisciplinary investigations, developing habits of inquiry, analysis, critical thinking, and craftsmanship. 

For more information specific to the Humanities curricula at each grade level, click the grade level link on this page.


In the K-6 math program at PHA, we are guided by the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum. This is a problem-based curriculum in which students spend most of their time in class working on carefully crafted and sequenced problems. Teachers help students understand the problems, ask questions to push their thinking, and orchestrate discussions to be sure that the mathematical takeaways are clear. Learners gain a rich and lasting understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures and experience applying this knowledge to new situations. Students frequently collaborate with their classmates—they talk about math, listen to each other’s ideas, justify their thinking, and critique the reasoning of others. They gain experience communicating their ideas both verbally and in writing, developing skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

This kind of instruction may look different from what you experienced in your own math education. Current research says that students need to be able to think flexibly in order to use mathematical skills in their lives (and also on the types of tests they will encounter throughout their schooling). Flexible thinking relies on understanding concepts and making connections between them. Over time, students gain the skills and the confidence to independently solve problems that they've never seen before.


Students in grades 4 - 6 work together to become scientists through the Amplify Science curriculum. In science class, students study natural phenomena through a combination of real-life demonstrations, hands-on experiments, and online simulations. Amplify Science also helps students to develop non-fiction literacy skills through reading and writing about science.

Encore Classes 

Students in grades 4-6 participate in four specials, or “Encore,” classes: Art, Computer Science, Music, and Physical Education (PE). 

The UE art program is designed to expose students to various media and to use artistic techniques to express themselves and learn about other people and the world. Through art students explore aspects of their individual identities, create collaborative pieces, and use art to make statements about the world. 

In computer science, students build on the concepts introduced in earlier grades, developing their knowledge and skills in problem solving, computational thinking and coding.  Students learn to integrate coding concepts into products they have designed, creating games, animations and using robotics to solve problems. Students learn how they can use Computer Science to collaborate and solve problems in their communities.

In music, students are introduced to rhythm, melody, tone, songwriting, notation, and melody through singing, experimenting with instruments (including percussion, ukulele, and keyboard), and exploring different genres of music throughout history. 

During physical education classes, students engage in movement, exercise, and activities that provide the opportunity to explore themselves and at the same time interact with others. Students also get a chance to recognize individual differences and how to establish group relationships through play.

Advisory and CREW

At the Upper Elementary, CREW means more than a group of people working toward the same goal. It stands for the values and qualities that we strive to cultivate in everyone from students to teachers to leaders in our community. We work on these skills throughout the day, giving special attention and time for them during morning advisory meetings. 

The C stands for Courageous. We show courage by taking on positive challenges, doing what’s right, even when it’s hard and no one is looking, and setting high goals. 

R is for Responsible, which means reflecting on the causes and effects of our actions,  taking steps to make sure we understand and meet expectations, and caring for the wellbeing of our community, shared spaces, and materials. 

Next, we are Empathetic when we work productively and respectfully with others, even when we disagree with their ideas; use active listening to learn what others need and provide support without expecting anything in return; and offer genuine apologies and repair when our actions harm others. 

Finally, W stands for Well-Balanced. To show balance, we strive to be aware of our emotions and match our reactions to the size of a problem, recognize that we all have ways we can grow, work to understand and address our own strengths and needs, and feel good about ourselves.