The social studies curriculum follows a theme-based approach that includes social justice, global citizenship and honoring the voices of all. Units of study include family and community, archaeology, economics, geography, history, mapping and research. The following is a sampling by grade.
Students in pre-kindergarten explore and discover the familiar and observable world in which they live by engaging in meaningful project work.
In kindergarten, social studies highlights include a portrait project, a unit on All Kinds of Families, and a study of the people in our Penn Charter community. The portrait project focuses on "All About Me" and how we are the same and different. The final presentation is the Portrait Gallery Opening, where students' self-portraits are displayed and celebrated with families. During the All Kinds of Families unit, we invite family members to come and share their different cultures and family traditions. And, as part of our Penn Charter community unit, we meet and interview different members of our community, learn about their jobs here at PC, and then create a documentary/movie screening as the final project.
Through classroom discussions, interviews, literature, writing, the arts and constructive experiences, first grade students explore two relevant and meaningful themes over the course of the year. The first theme is friendship. Students examine what it means to be a good friend, how friends express their feelings towards one another, and ways in which friends can resolve disputes. Later, first graders apply the literacy skills they have been developing and delve deeply into learning about the animal kingdom — a very high-interest exploratory journey.
The year-long theme for second grade is Ourselves, Our City and Our World. Students begin the year creating portraits of themselves, then take a look at Penn's original plan for Philadelphia, examining maps and noticing Philadelphia's gridded street system as well as Penn's five preserved green spaces. We examine the complexities of graffiti, discussing how it is both a form of artistic expression as well as an act of vandalism. We then look beyond our city to the Quaker-founded city of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Students learn about the landscapes, people and culture of Costa Rica and research a Costa Rican animal of their choosing.
Third grade students learn about Pennsylvania history, beginning with a study of the Lenni-Lenape and William Penn and concluding with a look at how Pennsylvania became as diverse as it is today. In addition to the history of the state itself, the students learn about the lives of some famous Pennsylvanians and about the structure of state government. Field trips throughout the year include a trip to a re-created Lenape village, the Moravian Tile Works, the Henry Mercer Museum, Pennsbury Manor, the Johnson House of the Underground Railroad, and the state capitol building in Harrisburg. Through their studies, students learn to identify main ideas, extract supporting details, construct coherent timelines, and present information through written reports and visual aids.
Fourth grade students study community, geography, historical and cultural aspects of three different cultures, and the real-world nature of the United States consumer economy. The geography unit teaches mapping skills as it explores the physical features of the world, including land features and bodies of water. An I-Search is an individual research project on a topic of particular interest to a student. The study of ancient culture is an opportunity to become an expert on one aspect of an ancient civilization (Egypt, Japan or Greece), followed by a symposium where students share their discoveries. During the economics unit, students explore ecological, as well as first- and third-world economics issues, then engage in the planning, manufacturing and marketing a specific product.
Fifth grade students explore U.S. history through an inquiry-based framework rooted in essential questions. Through exposure to varied texts and multiple perspectives, students explore questions such as: How have stories and narratives about people, places and events shaped our identity and history as a nation? What happens when some voices are included or excluded from historical accounts? What is social justice and what causes are worth fighting for? What are the big turning points in our nation’s history? As we explore these big questions, there is an emphasis on developing research and analytical writing skills in order to prepare students for Middle School.