Teaching & Learning

Each grade in the Lower School has two classrooms of about 20 students. Homeroom teachers provide instruction in math, social studies, and literacy, which is about 50% of a student's week. Special subject teachers provide instruction in art, library skills, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, music, PE & health, science, technology, and woodshop. A counselor, learning specialist, literary specialist, and a math specialist support learning and emotional needs. 

First Grade Homeroom


First grade is a year for building skills and confidence. Our goal is to help each child see him or herself as a competent reader and writer. Children need extensive time for reading and writing both inside and outside of school to support their learning. Simply put, the only way for children to get better at reading and writing is to read and write! We use four different types of reading instruction

  • Read alouds: The teacher reads picture books and chapter books that may be above the students’ reading level, so children experience complex language and stories.
  • Shared reading: Teachers read books aloud with children and structure discussion, point to words, and encourage the children to join in.
  • Guided reading groups: Children work in small groups based on their ability and personal interests. Groups may change during the year. Books are at instructional level if a child can successfully and independently read at least 90 percent of the words. Students in each group are guided through a reading selection and then read independently. We introduce word study and practice strategies.
  • Independent reading: Here we guide children to select “just right” books that are not too hard and not too easy. "Just right" books promote confidence in early readers, build vocabulary, and inspire the desire to read more!


We engage in directed writing, expository writing, poetry, and writing integrated into other subject areas. We teach children the same writing process that adult writers use: pre-writing though planning, outlining, graphic organizing, and telling one’s story aloud. Before their work is complete, 1st graders draft, revise, and edit; then we publish. The writing process is used throughout our day, and we formally teach writing during Writer’s Workshop. Each day’s Writer’s Workshop includes a mini-lesson such as word study or voice. Writers Workshop offers opportunities for guided practice, independent practice, and sharing our stories with each other.


We focus on learning to spell high-frequency words and recognize common word patterns. Our expectations for the use of conventional spelling in class increases as the year progresses.


The math curriculum has engaging math lessons for 1st graders. This developmentally appropriate approach emphasizes an infusion of math through daily activities. During our daily math workshop we might discuss the weather as a means to building skills in pattern recognition, estimation, addition and subtraction, one-to-one correspondence, place value, and general familiarity with how to gather data and read graphic organizers: “Which days on the calendar were sunny?” “How many days have we had sun this week? Is that more or less than the number of cloudy days?" "How would that answer change if we have sun for the next three days?” We also focus on addition and subtraction facts, simple fractions, measuring, geometric shapes, and data analysis.

Social Studies

We begin the year with a classroom community study and explore how we know each other and ourselves through self-reflection, peer interaction, and investigation. Our essential questions in 1st grade: Who am I? Is my opinion the only one and the best one? How am I the same and different from other people? As the year continues, we expand our exploration to families and bigger communities. Through this study, students will be able to locate countries of origin on a map, identify continents on a globe, participate in discussions about others’ cultures, identify similarities among communities from history, and perform research and write about people from various cultures. We consider our own and others’ affinities, strengths, and challenges and think about how each of these affect the classroom community. As the year goes on, we broaden our focus to family.

Second Grade Homeroom


After their fundamental deep learning in first grade, 2nd graders can put less energy into decoding words, and can now focus on reading comprehension. As children read more complex texts, we emphasize comprehension strategies, such as making connections, questioning, visualizing, inferring, determining importance, and synthesizing.


There is a high correlation between reading comprehension and reading fluency. Second graders will improve their understanding of texts by practicing reading fluency skills including pacing, phrasing, and intonation. Students will become more reflective readers as we work to ensure they are reading across a variety of genres and set their own literacy goals.


Another big step in 2nd grade is learning to read nonfiction books. Children learn that you do not need to read the entire book and that there are several ways to get the information you need. They learn how to use a table of contents, captions, a glossary, index and other features of nonfiction texts.


During Readers’ Workshop students participate in read aloud and shared reading, practice reading independently; they also develop specific strategies in guided reading groups.



Second graders write every day for a variety of purposes. They learn how to write from their own imaginations and experiences, and write in several genres including narrative, poetry, and nonfiction.


Students generate writing ideas, plan stories, create drafts, revise, edit, and publish. We encourage students to get their ideas down first and refine later. They do their best to sound out the spelling of words, then go back and proofread for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and word choice.



Word Study

Some children in 2nd grade begin the year as phonetic spellers. Phonetic spellers understand that letters relate to sounds that they hear. They may write “grl” for “girl” or “cr” for “car.” Most second graders are transitional spellers. Transitional spellers experiment with and apply spelling patterns. Transitional spellers may write “bote” for “boat” by following the silent-E pattern. Throughout second grade, children begin to learn conventional spelling. As part of the process, students begin to identify words in their own writing that are misspelled or “don’t look right.”


We integrate the Words Their Way study program into our curriculum, in which we provide customized word study activities that are just right for each child. Every week students receive a list of words to study. During our literacy block, they engage in direct word study mini-lessons and independent word study practice. Word study is also an important component of our weekly homework assignments.



At Catlin Gabel we use the italic system of handwriting. We begin working with the lower case printed letters and later introduce upper case letters in the first grade. Students receive handwriting instruction in all grades. Students are introduced to italic cursive in grade three but are not expected to use it for daily writing. We do expect students to use italic in their daily writing.


Students begin keyboarding practice in grade three and continue into grades four and five.



We view mathematics as a developmental pursuit, just as we do reading and writing. We recognize that children develop mathematical understandings across a broad continuum and thus need to be challenged in a just-right fashion in order to continue to develop with full and flexible understandings. We provide a workshop model for math instruction, which allows for plenty of independent practice on projects and problems designed specifically for small-group instruction. Students receive some instruction in whole group settings and some in small flexible groupings.


Math Goals

  • Support students to make sense of mathematics and learn that they can be mathematical thinkers
  • Focus on computational fluency with whole numbers
  • Provide substantive work in important areas of mathematics—rational numbers, geometry, measurement, data, and early algebra—and connections among them
  • Emphasize reasoning about mathematical ideas
  • Communicate mathematics content and pedagogy to teachers
  • Engage the range of learners in understanding mathematics


Math Topics

  • Numbers: The ability to read, write, and understand the meaning, order, and relative magnitudes of whole and fractional numbers. This is foundational for all future mathematics and is a “never-ending” process.
  • Operations: Build an understanding of the meaning, use, and connections between addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division
  • Calculations: Choose and use a repertoire of mental, paper, and calculator computational strategies for each operation, meeting needed degrees of accuracy and judging the reasonableness of the results
  • Geometry: Visualize, draw and model shapes, locations, and arrangements in order to predict and show the effect of transformations on them; solve problems, and justify solutions.
  • Measurement: Develop confidence and proficiency in using direct and indirect measurement and estimating skills to describe, compare, evaluate, plan, and construct
  • Data analysis (probability and statistics): Understand and use the everyday language of chance and make statements about how likely it is that an event will occur based on experience, experiments, and analysis. Collect, organize, summarize, and represent data in order to draw conclusions, taking into account data collection techniques and chance processes involved


Social Studies

We launch our social studies curriculum with social emotional learning and community building. As we co-construct our shared spaces and routines, we investigate what we need in order to do our best, and how we can help others do their best: Do I need quiet? Do I need to collaborate? Do I need to say it out loud to understand? Do I need visuals? Self-management is our social and emotional theme for the year. We build on first grade’s emotional awareness work by asking how we can manage big feelings, and how we can prevent small feelings from growing bigger. We also learn about self-management as it applies to being an engaged, curious student. We also learn about executive functioning skills, and how we can build them through practice.

As the fall progresses, we begin to study our other social studies thread: a sense of place in the Pacific Northwest forest. At the start of the year, this connects to our social emotional work as we seek to understand the forest through our heads, hands, and hearts. We visit the forest on our campus, and the beautiful forests that thrive in our area. In each spot, we ask: What makes me feel connected to a place?

How can I look deeply to notice? How is the forest interconnected and self-sufficient? How am I connected to and dependent on forests? How are forests connected to and dependent on me? What makes Pacific Northwest Forests special? Through outdoor education, place-based experiential learning, and a multi-disciplinary approach, our goal is to grow the students’ sense of stewardship. They develop inquiry questions about the forest that they can research through observation.

In the winter, we study social justice, focusing on the ways we can make our community a better place. We think about what fairness means, and about our needs and the needs of others. We ask: What do I need? What do you need? What do we need? We study social justice as the idea that everyone deserves access to the things they need in order to thrive. We also take an action-oriented approach. We read the South American indigenous story The Little Hummingbird. The story tells the tale of a little hummingbird who, when faced with a roaring forest fire and scared, inactive forest community members, decides to do the best she can by putting out the forest fire one drop at a time. We ask the children: How will you be a hummingbird? What is the best you can do to help your community?

The late winter is a time of self-reflection, as we ask students to think about the work they’ve done in 2nd grade, and their goals moving forward. To help in this work, we delve into a neuroscience unit in which students develop awareness of their own strengths and challenges. Children develop an understanding of how their brains work and how they can foster optimal conditions for learning. They learn about neural pathways, and the idea that more you practice something, the stronger your neural pathways become. Knowing your own strengths and challenges allows you to reflect accurately on your progress, and on the areas for continued growth. During the unit we ask: How can you prevent downshifting when you are learning? How can you create strong neural pathways in your brain? What can you do to become smarter?

We return to our forest theme in the spring, focusing on ways we can leave places better than we found them. We also learn about the forest from a historical perspective, studying the First Nations who lived in the area. We learn about their relationship to the place they lived. We also study modern First Nation environmental activism, and how local tribes work to We end the year with independent forest service projects and non-fiction books about the forest.

Third Grade Homeroom


Third graders engage in six types of reading throughout the year: reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, literature circles, and reading conferences.


Teachers read aloud from chapter books, picture books, nonfiction, and poetry and encourage discussion. Children hear fluent and expressive reading while gaining access to texts that might be beyond their reading ability.


Shared reading is used on a limited basis to strengthen fluency. Partners might share a poem for two voices, or a small group might take on character roles from a text to practice reading with fluency and expression.


Guided reading brings together small groups of students who are at similar stages in their reading development. Teachers select texts that will expand processing powers. Students work on comprehension strategies and parts of grammar such as contractions, syllables, and proper nouns.


Students practice the habits of effective readers during independent reading time. They learn about their own preferences and develop favorite types of books, genres, topics, and authors. Teachers expand students’ tastes in reading by giving book talks, inviting students to tell the group about a favorite book, and sometimes by assigning a book that will stretch a student. Teachers are available during independent reading time to confer with individuals or teach small reading groups.


Third grade teachers routinely have check-in conferences with individual students to go over some aspect of their independent work. At the beginning of the year, conferences serve as a time to assess each student’s reading level to determine reading groups and to help students select appropriate independent reading books. As the year progresses, teachers use reading conferences to listen to each student read orally, provide immediate feedback, and chat about the book.


During literature circle discussions, students develop their own thinking about books while sharing and listening to others’ thinking. Students are often asked to read with something in mind, such as questions they would like to ask, or to look for particular features of an author’s writing or elements of literature. Students develop proficiency with thinking deeper about the text, and thinking beyond the text itself. They search for evidence within the text to back up their ideas and answers. Discussions are a rich opportunity to learn more about books from many perspectives.





The 3rd grade writing program has five components: mini lessons, guided writing, independent writing, writer’s circles, and writing conferences.


Mini-lessons include the whole class at once and are intentionally brief so the material covered can be incorporated into student writing right away. Teachers demonstrate specific writing tools, concepts, and techniques. They also model different types of writing from expository to narrative to poetry. We also cover the importance of supporting details, use of paragraphs, and punctuation.


Guided writing groups are composed of students who are working on the same skill or strategy. The makeup of these short-term groups changes based on student needs at a given time.


Students work on self-selected and assigned writing topics during independent writing time. Some students work quietly on a draft with headphones to focus their thoughts; others use the time to confer with partners or a teacher, meet in a guided reading group, revise an almost finished piece, or prepare a piece for publication.


Writer's circles vary in size and purpose. Sometimes the whole class meets together; other times writer’s circles are composed of a few students. Writer’s circles might be devoted to sharing drafts to get feedback and ideas, or to provide an opportunity for sharing published pieces and hearing peers’ compliments.


Writing conferences are one-to-one meetings between students and teachers to discuss a work in progress or look over a piece that's ready to publish. This is when the teacher can offer personalized feedback about organizing ideas, the writing process, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and story elements. It is also a time to assess the student’s strengths and develop goals for the next steps in developing as a writer.



The 3rd grade mathematics curriculum covers whole and decimal numbers, fractional numbers, operations, calculations, algebraic reasoning, measurement, geometry, and data analysis.


Among the skills 3rd graders will acquire:

  • Read, write, and order numbers up to 1,000
  • Divide objects into equal parts
  • Identify equivalent fractions, such as ½ = 3/6
  • Add fraction combinations, such as ½ + 3/6 = 1
  • Link addition to subtraction by using a variable, such as 23 + n = 89, and work out the “hidden” number by counting up
  • Fluency with addition and subtraction facts
  • Fluency with multiplication combinations with products up to 50
  • Use materials or diagrams to divide
  • Solve 3-digit addition and subtraction problems
  • Add and subtract multiples of 10 and 100
  • Interpret graphs
  • Create table of values with a constant rate of change
  • Identify and measure perimeter of a figure using U.S. and metric units
  • Identify and find the area of figures presented on a grid
  • Identify right angles
  • Interpret temperature values
  • Identify triangles
  • Compare attributes of 3-dimensional solids
  • Design patterns
  • Make a line plot
  • Describe the shape of data
  • Summarize a set of data


Social Studies

We continue the brainwork begun in 2nd grade and focus on metacognition, memory, and attention. "How do I learn?" Students use sketchbooks to record their thoughts and questions. Through our main units of study—water and geography—students will gain skills in how-to writing, describing processes and cycles, research and note taking, writing paragraphs, and map reading.


A good deal of the 3rd grade year is devoted to understanding water. We begin with local water use, the water cycle, Oregon’s climate, watersheds, and where our drinking water comes from. As the year progresses, we examine water beyond our community by learning about how people in other parts of the world access water and how continents and oceans formed.


Our study of geography focuses on Oregon’s diverse geographical features. We learn terms such as cape, plateau, basin, and peninsula. We delve into maps and the language of maps—latitude, cardinal directions, hemisphere, and equator. Through our work we will learn about Oregon’s relationship to the larger world and think about our own families’ histories and places of origin.



Fourth Grade Homeroom



Fourth graders shift from learning to read, to reading to learn with an emphasis on comprehension. We select high interest, theme-based, or genre-related literature and allow students a choice in their reading. We move between self-selected independent reading workshops, guided reading groups, reading partnerships, and literature circles. Students keep a log of the books they read and a reader’s notebooks. We read across all content areas, and integrate our social studies units into our reading studies.


Reading components include:

  • Discussion-based read-alouds
  • Reading partnerships
  • Small group literature circles
  • Independent reading

Our reading workshop strategies include:

  • Metacognition
  • Predicting
  • Making connections with the text
  • Questioning
  • Determining importance
  • Summarizing
  • Vocabulary building
  • Visualizing the text






Throughout the year we focus on six writing traits: conventions, organization, ideas, word choice, voice, and sentence fluency. We use a variety of writing forms including poetry, narrative, persuasive, descriptive, and report writing.


Using relevant and focused literature as examples, we teach through mini-lessons, one-on-one interactions, and in small groups using highly creative writing prompts.


Handwriting and spelling are important components of 4th grade literacy studies. We teach cursive italic penmanship, practicing four times a week. Through the Words Their Way spelling program, students have weekly practice in sorting, building, reading, writing, and looking for patterns in their spelling words.



Students begin to develop mathematical structures that are complex, abstract, and powerful so that they are increasingly capable of solving a wide variety of meaningful problems. In 4th grade, our goal is to develop students who are autonomous and self-motivated in their mathematical activity. Students will gain mathematical knowledge from their own explorations, thinking, and participation in discussions.


We employ fundamentally hands-on, experiential methods of constructing a deep and flexible understanding of math. Students are involved in discovery, invention in a social discourse involving explanation, negotiation, sharing, and evaluation.


For efficiency, we expect 4th graders to know their one through 12 times tables by the end of the year.


In fourth grade we specifically work on

  • Surveys and graphs
  • Place value, number sense, and large numbers
  • Multiplication and division
  • Money, decimals, and fractions
  • 2-D and 3-D geometry
  • Probability and statistics
  • Hands-on algebra


Social Studies


Immigration is the theme of our yearlong social studies investigation. We begin with an inquiry into where each of us is from. As we build understanding about why people come to Oregon, we look at geography, economics, history, and government.


Next, we look at a period of Oregon’s history in our quest to understand why people came to the Pacific Northwest in the past.


Our inquiry expands into an exploration of the regions of the U.S., and why and how people immigrated to this country. History, geography, economics, and politics are integrated into this study. We also work closely with our librarian to build literacy skills and our media specialist to design research projects.


In January, we pause from our immigration study to expand on our yearlong gratitude project. Students become immersed in a study of social justice heroes from around the world, choosing people who they are most inspired by to create words of gratitude for this person. This culminates in a whole-school social justice assembly at the end of January.


Finally, we take a close look at international immigration, with a unit on Ellis Island and Angel Island immigration. The big ideas here are developing historical perspectives of immigrants from the early 1900s through Ellis Island, experiencing a simulation known as the storyline approach to the study of human migration, and comparing and contrasting Ellis Island and Angel Island.

Fifth Grade Homeroom



Fifth graders are generally able to recognize words, analyze text, and read grade-level text fluently in every discipline. At this point we begin to work on pacing, intonation, and expression. By the end of the year, students are expected to read a grade-level text at a rate of 125–150 words per minute.


We read, listen to, and understand a wide variety of texts including classic and contemporary literature, poetry, magazines, newspapers, reference materials, and online information. Students will comfortably find information from various formats including graphs, diagrams, illustrations, charts, and maps.


We increase vocabulary and determine the meaning of new words by applying word origin knowledge, word relationships, and context clues. Fifth graders study synonyms, antonyms, homographs, figurative expressions such as similes and metaphor, as well as Greek and Latin roots.


Fifth graders develop some of the reading tools that will help with later, more complex assignments. We work on following multiple-step directions for an experiment, for example, and identifying evidence to draw conclusions.





Throughout the year students use a variety of strategies to prepare for long-term writing projects such as brainstorming, making lists, mapping, outlining, grouping related ideas, using graphic organizers, and taking notes.


Students learn to:


  • Identify audience and purpose
  • Use the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing successive versions
  • Focus on a central idea, excluding loosely related, extraneous, and repetitious information
  • Use a scoring guide to review, evaluate, and revise writing for meaning and clarity
  • Revise drafts to improve the meaning and focus of writing by adding, deleting, combining, clarifying, and rearranging words and sentences
  • Edit and proofread one's own writing, as well as that of others, using the writing conventions, and tools that include an editing checklist or list of rules with specific examples of error corrections
  • Present important ideas or events using organizational structures, such as sequential or chronological order, cause and effect, or similarity and difference
  • Establish a plot, point of view, setting, conflict, and resolution




Fifth graders have reached the development stage when they can grasp abstract information. Numbers can be applied in all sorts of ways in the real world, but they are also abstract objects that can be considered and manipulated in their own right. In this year, students will be able to:

  • Read, write, and interpret decimal numbers to the thousandths place
  • Demonstrate fluency with math facts associated with addition, subtraction, multiplication
  • Find the factors of any whole number up to 150
  • Solve multiplication problems with 3-digit numbers
  • Solve division problems with 2-digit divisors
  • Add and subtract decimal numbers
  • Add and subtract fractions
  • Create tables and graphs and compare with constant rates of change
  • Determine the perimeter and area of rectangles
  • Find the volume of rectangular prisms
  • Identify different quadrilaterals
  • Identify similar polygons
  • Use a decimal, fraction, or percent to describe and compare theoretical probabilities


Social Studies

Our 5th grade Pitchfork to Plate social studies program integrates science, economics, and public policy. We examine how food moves from farms to markets; from food processing and packaging facilities to supermarkets. And we do some cooking and eating, too!


Field trips and projects:

  • Visit multiple farms to examine the different choices farmers make when growing and harvesting food.
  • Visit local farmer’s markets to purchase food and interview farmers as we calculate food miles.
  • Visit the wheat-marketing center to study the science, trade, shipping, and economics of different varieties of wheat.
  • Spend a day at a processing facility to examine the packaging and shipping of food.
  • Shop for and cook a Friendship Day lunch using locally sourced food.
  • Visit a restaurant to learn about purchasing food, designing menus, and serving the public.
  • Community Action Project: Two past projects include the “blue plate special,” helping the school move from disposable to reusable plates, and the One Ounce Campaign, which challenged each person on campus to reduce daily waste by one ounce per day to meet the school’s “zero waste” goals.
  • What the World Eats World Fair: Focus on researching another country’s approach to food production and consumption. This integrates math, graphing, writing, art, and presentation skills.




Catlin Gabel’s arts program values taking risks, innovation, craftsmanship, collaboration, respect for others’ work, and engaging in a broad range of mediums, concepts, techniques, and ideas. We value both the process of making art and the product itself.


Students in 1st through 5th grades have a weekly 80-minute art class in our inspiring studio, the Art Barn. The main areas of study in Lower School art are drawing, painting, collage, ceramics, textiles, and printmaking. We introduce students to principles of design, art history, and artist biographies.


The curriculum builds gradually each year on previously learned concepts and techniques. With our interdisciplinary curriculum, many projects in the Art Barn are coordinated with homeroom social studies and science themes. For example, 1st graders make detailed colored pencil drawings of insects, 3rd graders make Native American masks, and 5th graders learn about physics through photography.


Community is a theme that runs through the art program. During their five-year journey through the Lower School, students will collaborate to represent communities in clay, murals, and totem poles and also work on individual projects.


Modern Languages (Mandarin Chinese or Spanish)

Students attend either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish language class three times a week for 40-minute lessons. For the first six weeks of the school year, 1st grade students are introduced to both languages offered by the Lower School. After this six-week period, students and their parents decide which language class they want to join for the rest of the year. Students may switch languages in 2nd or 3rd grade if the class has openings. By 3rd grade, we ask that students remain in either Mandarin or Spanish for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades to develop a strong second language underpinning.


Our goal in Mandarin and Spanish is language proficiency. In the early years, students learn vocabulary for concepts such as food, body parts, seasons, colors, and numbers.


As children move through the Lower School their language skills extend from short dialogues to authentic conversations. Writing, literature, and grammar are introduced and practiced along the way. Mandarin Chinese- or Spanish-speaking cultures are explored through singing and acting, holiday celebrations, and storytelling.


All Lower School students have a 40-minute music class three times a week. First through 5th graders participate in an Orff-Schulwerk approach to music. It combines instrumental work, singing, drama, dance, creative movement, and improvisation. Through these experiences students develop an understanding of the elements of music and gain an increasingly sophisticated level of skill.


Exposure to music from many cultures gives students a window into understanding how music reflects the lives and values of other people. During their five years in the Lower School, students learn to read music, compose, and perform using their voices, recorders, percussion instruments, and movement. Children have many opportunities throughout the years to perform for the community, including the annual fall Harvest Festival, winter Revels concert, and Spring Festival, as well as community meetings and casual recitals.


In Wellness, we strive for students to understand how to take care of their bodies in four main areas – physical, mental, intellectual and social.  Here are some examples of what each category means:

  • Physical Wellness – Being active in a variety of ways, eating well, getting enough sleep
  • Mental Wellness – How one handles stress / emotions, having a growth mindset, perseverance on tasks
  • Intellectual Wellness – “Growing” the brain by learning new activities, using strategy
  • Social Wellness – How we interact with others

Students are seen three days a week for 40 minutes and one day a week for 20 minutes.  During this time, students are involved in a variety of activities – from various cardio and strength exercises to cooperative activities and games.  Each grade level participates in three different units of study per year.  The units are centered around net sports (badminton, volleyball), movement activities (gymnastics, acrosport), and team sports focusing on offensive / defensive skills (like ultimate Frisbee).

Another large piece of the curriculum is learning how to work together as a team.  To teach this, we use Hellison’s Levels of Responsibility which include respect, participation, integrity, and caring.  Students work hard to achieve these levels not only for themselves but as a member of a team as well. 

Various health topics are also integrated throughout the year.  Some of the themes we cover are nutrition, hygiene, body systems, mental health, and gender / sexuality (taught with the LS counselor). 


The Lower School science program’s experiential approach cultivates a sense of wonder and inquiry. First through 5th grade students attend weekly science class. The 80-minute weekly class allows for plenty of time for hands-on science and engineering investigations. (First graders begin with a 60-minute period, then transition to a 70-minute period). A primary goal for students is to understand, appreciate, and become stewards of the natural world. In this way, students may better understand the various roles humans play in local and global communities.

To fully understand the process of science, students practice the actual skills and behaviors of being a scientist. We focus on asking questions, making observations, planning and carrying out investigations, interpreting results, and sharing information. Students work collaboratively to formulate scientific arguments and explanations through direct experiences. In younger grades, students practice asking testable questions, designing and conducting group inquiries, and engaging in scientific discussions. By 5th grade, students are prepared to develop their own independent scientific investigation.

Grade-specific courses of study focus on building understanding of scientific phenomena that tie directly to the students’ experiences. We strive to understand both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of the world around us. Students do this through a variety of ways, including direct experience, modeling, and research. General themes for each grade level compliment & support ongoing curriculum and include:

1st grade

Naturalist studies—observation skills, journaling, asking questions

Matter—classification, observation

Light & sound—day & night, properties

Plant structures—classification of living things, needs of plants, plant parts

2nd grade

Animal interactions—animal evidence, interaction maps

Erosion & weathering, force & motion—pushes & pulls, gravity, friction

Forest biology—tree classification, plant & animal interactions

3rd grade

Watersheds & salmon—water quality, salmon life cycle

Magnetism—properties, technology, engineering design process

Evolution of life—animal diversity & adaptations, fossil record

Weather & climate—water cycle, effect on organisms

4th grade

Landforms—geological processes, local geology

Animal migration

Chemistry—chemical reactions, lab skills

Space—rocketry, engineering design process

5th grade

Soil—decomposition, classification, microbes

Energy—types, sources of electrical energy, energy transfer

Energy in ecosystems—food webs, pond study

Our curriculum is flexible to accommodate student interest and provide opportunities for collaboration between homerooms and other disciplines.


Our students have access to a wide range of digital technology and infrastructure to provide rich experiences to enhance learning. While the world of technology moves swiftly, we thoughtfully consider how to integrate digital tools that deepen, enhance, and support:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Connection
  • Collaboration

We are inspired by the potential of digital tools and prepare our students to critically use the robust technology we have in the Lower School. It is within the context of curricular work that students learn skills necessary to dig deeper into the potential technology has to offer.

We continually integrate digital work with the physical world and build skills such as:

  • Digital and online literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Online search and research
  • Citizenship
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness

We provide a dedicated set of iPads for each grade. Additionally, 4th and 5th grades have mobile laptop carts in their classrooms.


Woodworking has been a hallmark of Catlin Gabel’s program from the very beginning. Every other week for 80 minutes, Lower School students head to the woodshop for the ultimate in hands-on learning. In addition to gaining practical carpentry skills, learning a traditional craft like woodworking allows students to practice patience, craftsmanship, design, and dexterity. Woodworking is a terrific tool (pun noted) for applying math, creative thinking, conceptualization, and imagination. In the early grade we introduce pattern making, measurement, and hand tools including hammers, saws, and nails. By 4th grade students use the scroll saw, follow complex written directions, and explore composition, proportion, scale, and balance. In 5th grade, we emphasize lathe work and Native American carving.

An independent preschool through 12th grade day school in Portland, Oregon
8825 SW Barnes Road,
Portland, Oregon 97225 |
503-297-1894 |

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