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Fessenden’s Curriculum
What sets Fessenden’s curriculum apart? We don’t just teach content; we teach boys how to learn. We equip boys with the tools they need to explore effectively, ask questions, find answers, and pursue their intellectual passions throughout their lives—making them active participants in our hands-on, project-based learning approach.

Our independent school’s approach to learning starts with building a strong foundation in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, foreign language, the arts, and character education. It culminates with young men who are able to think critically and problem solve; communicate effectively in writing and speech; gain and apply knowledge; and contribute to a world beyond the four walls of the classroom.

PRE-k - Grade 4 curriculum overview

Pre-K - Grade 4 Curriculum Overview

Our Lower School curriculum is divided into core classes and “specials.” Core classes, taught by the homeroom teacher, include language arts, math, and social studies. “Specials,” such as music, art, science, coding and technology, physical education, Spanish, and library, are taught by specialists in each discipline. A description of each class offered in the Lower School is provided below. To view the complete curriculum details, click here.

Lower School Core Curriculum

From learning sound-symbol relationships and writing books in the younger grades, to crafting persuasive letters and poetry in the older grades, Lower School boys have vast exposure to word study, writing, reading, and public speaking. Students have multiple opportunities throughout the year to share their writing using diverse media. 

Fessenden’s math program encourages students to make connections between concepts and procedures, and presents opportunities for all students to participate in mathematical discourse. Using Singapore Math's Math in Focus series by Marshall Cavendish, 2015 ed., instruction builds the numerical reasoning, operational skills, and problem solving necessary for success in the more advanced Middle School curriculum. Since many students learn best by doing, we use manipulatives to support learning in the younger classrooms, while our older boys apply math concepts to solve real-world challenges.

Through a theme of “community,” our youngest students learn about their families and school. As boys get older, they progress to learning about their connections to the world. Students examine how our differences impact our ideas. Younger boys explore topics of kindness, bravery, and empathy as they learn about historic figures. Our older boys examine historic and current immigration experiences or debate the American Revolution by representing the point of view of a loyalist or a patriot. Lessons are designed to actively build a positive sense of self and expand students’ social awareness in an effort to create a more open-minded, inclusive community –– one that celebrates diversity. 

Fessenden’s Lower School Specials

Our Lower School students are introduced to various materials and are encouraged to explore their creativity through a series of guided art sessions. Matching their energy and developmental levels, students take part in collaborative and individual projects which focus primarily on the process. As their skills progress, they practice a variety of techniques and styles and learn about different genres and artists.

Explore Fessenden’s Visual Arts Program

In the Lower School we integrate technology and coding into all areas of the curriculum. Students learn how to navigate various devices and software applications and apply what they learn to their work in the classroom and beyond. Technology, robotics, and coding are taught in age-appropriate and relevant ways to encourage collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Explore Fessenden’s Ciongoli Center for Innovation.

Learning how to use the library and proficiently access information through books and the internet are key skills for students. The primary goals of the library class are to foster boys’ passion for books, to help them continue to understand the difference between what is real and what is created, and to teach them the tools and strategies to locate resources and information. We match resources to units of study in the classroom and select outside-reading books for genre focus, reading level, and interest.

Explore Fessenden’s Wheeler Library.

Through singing, movement and rhythm activities, improvisation, and collaboration, Lower School boys explore music in a vibrant and engaging setting. Students begin to foster independence in music performance, composition, and technology. Boys begin their instrumental music journeys with visits to the Music Technology Lab for keyboarding skills, and later study the recorder and ukulele. In fourth grade, students begin studying a brass, woodwind, or string instrument, as well as taking a weekly voice class. In addition, each grade takes the stage in a musical theatre production, and students perform at various community events throughout the year. 

Explore Fessenden’s Music Program.

The primary goal of physical education at Fessenden is to develop boys’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to help them enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity. Students learn individual skills and team play through group activities and games, and they develop good sportsmanship through teaching that focuses on how to be gracious regardless of game outcome.

At Fessenden, we embrace “science by doing,” a philosophy that aims to capture young boys’ innate curiosity. Lessons are designed to inspire wonder and encourage the exploration of the world around them while deepening the boys’ understanding of foundational scientific practices. Boys are encouraged to ask questions like — How do scientists know so much? or Why are butterflies so colorful?  — and are provided with myriad opportunities for hands-on inquiry.

Children learn Spanish, expand cultural awareness, reinforce grade-level fundamentals such as math and literacy, and have fun at the same time. The program develops listening and speaking skills through oral presentations, pictures, songs, games, and group and individual activities.

Additional Lower School Support and Activities

VOICE is an affinity group for Lower School boys of African descent. The goal is to provide a space where boys are free to express themselves while fostering brotherhood and ensuring that their cultural needs are met.

Explore Fessenden’s Affinity and Multicultural Groups

Our Lower School Extended Day Program (EDP) is a rich and engaging experience for students and a supportive tool for parents. Students rave about the variety of activities led by our experienced staff, and the extended hours help parents manage busy schedules.

Explore Fessenden’s Extended Day Program

Middle school curriculum overview

The Fessenden School’s Grade 5 - 6 Curriculum

Fessenden’s Middle School curriculum helps boys build a strong foundation in English, math, science, social studies, foreign language and the arts. 

We recognize that boys learn best when they are active participants in interdisciplinary learning. So we don’t just study habitats in science, we build bird feeders in the Ciongoli Center for Innovation using our 3D printers. In math, we chart the birds’ nesting habits. And in English, we write persuasive essays on the issues involved in ecosystem preservation.

By the end of Middle School, boys are able to think critically and problem solve; communicate effectively in writing and speech; gain and apply knowledge; manage time and projects effectively; self-advocate; and stand on a strong foundation for future learning.

View our full curriculum or browse the Middle School curriculum below.

Middle School Core Curriculum

Students are exposed to a wide variety of both physical and cultural geographical information, all while attempting to answer the question, “How does geography play a role in cultural development?” The course focuses on the Middle East and East Asia. Students explore how imperialism and colonization have historically shaped these regions, while simultaneously looking at current events which highlight each area in order to gain a better appreciation for what is going on in the world around them today. 

While technology is appropriately woven into the fabric of our entire Middle School curriculum, we also offer the following courses: ​Ciongoli Center for Innovation Bootcamp (Gr. 5) and Middle Makers (Gr. 6). Each semester-long course, taught in the Ciongoli Center for Innovation, consists of a series of “design challenges” created to familiarize students with the tools and applications most frequently used in the CCI — design software, 3D printers, programming, coding, vinyl cutters, and other design and fabrication tools. Students track their progress through the use of a digital portfolio.

Explore Fessenden’s Ciongoli Center for Innovation

Middle School English classes use a collaborative teaching style to help students become effective communicators. The curriculum supports students as they increase their reading and writing skills and learn to read and write with expanded interpretation and craft. Strategies for bridging the gap between literal and inferential understanding of texts are taught, modeled, and practiced throughout the year. Techniques for crafting well-written stories, essays, and reports are explored and applied to a variety of writing pieces. The ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, opinions, and knowledge is further supported through grammar study and vocabulary building. Study skills are also a strong focus of the program as students work to develop time management, public speaking, research, and test preparation skills.

The Middle School Latin curriculum provides an introduction to Latin vocabulary and grammar while exposing students to the history and culture of the Ancient Mediterranean. Students engage with the language actively. Alongside the traditional activities of reading and translating, they also listen to, speak, and write in Latin each day. Students build up a Latin vocabulary of several hundred words and phrases and learn fundamental grammar, much of which is relevant not only to Latin, but also to English and other foreign languages. 

The Middle School librarian collaborates with teachers to integrate library and information skills across the curriculum. The librarian also works directly with students to help develop the skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, as well as the character qualities of mindfulness, curiosity, courage, resilience, ethics, and leadership. Students are supported in the research and inquiry process with curated resources, and they receive lessons on note taking, citation, and evaluation of print and web-based materials. They are also assisted in organizing knowledge, creating content, and pursuing their personal reading interests.

Explore Fessenden’s Wheeler Library.

Grade 5 and Grade 6 Life and Leadership are social-emotional learning courses designed to help students develop essential life skills. Students increase self-awareness and learn strategies to manage their emotions and make responsible decisions. Interactive activities such as role playing, games, and simulations are used to engage students and help them apply the concepts they are learning. Group discussions allow students to share their experiences, perspectives, and insights with one another. Individual reflection exercises, such as journaling and self-assessments, help students identify their own strengths and areas for growth. 

Topics covered in the course include naming emotions, managing stress, setting goals, and building positive relationships with others. The course concludes with a service learning unit where students engage in topics concerning homelessness, food and clothing insecurity, and hygiene. Parents volunteer to help students address these issues in the local community.

Our Middle School’s Math in Focus program is an authentic Singapore Math® curriculum. It places problem solving at the center of math learning and teaches mathematical concepts progressing from concrete to pictorial to abstract through real-world, hands-on experiences.

Grade 5 math focuses on fraction relationships, the number system, expressions and equations, decimals and the four operations, and geometry. Fessenden students in Grade 5 tackle two large project-based learning units throughout the year in conjunction with their science, social studies, English, and language courses. 

In Grade 6, the emphasis is on positive and negative numbers, rational and irrational numbers, ratios, rates, proportions, and challenging problem solving. The course also uses visual modalities  such as bar models and number lines that lead students to use variables in algebraic expressions, equations, inequalities, and formulas.

Teachers make math fun by challenging boys to use their skills to answer real-world questions. Students might be asked to figure out if a billion one dollar bills could fit in the classroom, or to calculate how much rain would fall on our 41-acre campus if we got two inches of rain.

Boys attending Fessenden’s Middle School are encouraged to explore a variety of musical pursuits before honing and focusing their talents when they reach the Upper School. Our talented teachers, many respected musicians in their own right, help guide and inspire our boys every step of the way.

Middle School Music Courses

  • Chorus
  • Middle School Band
  • Orchestra
  • Percussion Ensemble
  • String Ensemble
  • Private Instrumental Lessons
Explore Fessenden’s Middle School Music Program.

Middle School science uses a hands-on approach to encourage students’ curiosity and wonder about the world around them, while introducing them to a scientific way of understanding the phenomena they observe. Through this active learning method students build key skills such as scientific thinking, observation, analysis, and reporting.

In Grade 5, Fessenden students are asked to contemplate their "Place in the World”, covering topics such as ecology, birds, magnetism and electricity. Students develop the skills required to conduct their own investigations and analyze the data. They also develop and sharpen the critical thinking skills necessary to formulate their own hypotheses and ideas about how they can influence the natural world around them. Emphasis is placed on collaborative group project-based learning with multiple opportunities for the boys to work in small groups on real world science scenarios.

Grade 6 students explore the central question, “What is going on inside my body?” They develop an understanding of all of the human body systems and how they are incorporated into the amazingly dynamic human-machine. Students also explore foundational topics of the sciences field including the scientific method and metric system. Additionally, Grade 6 students participate in an intensive Engineering and Structures unit, culminating in a bridge design challenge. During the final third of the year, students explore the ways in which humans rely on water resources to sustain life. Students trace the human relationship with water through both fresh and saltwater ecosystems and contemplate our broad impact on the Hydrosphere. 

The title of this course, Statehood & The Nation State, refers to how the character of nation-states reflects that of its individuals. Through a thematic exploration of self-interest, students reckon with mistakes nation-states (a collective of individuals) have made across generations and how they dealt with the consequences. Critical thinking skills are paramount as students grapple with the nuances of economic systems and forms of government, while asking themselves, “How do decision-makers wield their power?” Accountability can be an effective check against self-interest, but our study demonstrates that accountability has not always been applied equally across race, gender, and socioeconomic status. To apply the knowledge and skills students have curated, the curriculum culminates in two year-end collaborative projects: Create Your Own Country and Diplomacy (a geopolitical simulation designed to give students the experience to "run" a nation-state in teams).

Students in the Middle School learn the Spanish language and study various Latin American cultures primarily through reading and storytelling. The focus is on communication using the most common vocabulary words and sentence structures in the language. Boys engage in an active learning process of reading, writing, and acting out short stories in Spanish as they develop their listening and speaking skills within an appropriate context. The lessons are presented in Spanish and carefully designed to develop communication skills in the target language.

Middle School theater arts at Fessenden introduces students to the practical techniques and strategies of theatrical performance. In Grade 5, boys explore units on theater games, improvisation, and basic stagecraft refining their performance skills through theater games and improvisation exercises. The course culminates with the boys taking the stage in a Grade 5 dramatic production, showcasing all they have learned. By Grade 6, boys move on to writing short one-act plays. Working in small groups starting with a simple prompt, the boys refine their plots, dialogue, and characters to compete for the opportunity to have their play produced onstage at the end of the course.

Explore Fessenden’s Theatre Arts Program.

In Middle School, boys explore a variety of visual art mediums such as drawing, painting, three-dimensional sculpture, and ceramics. Boys express their thoughts with images, colors, and textures through an iterative process, and articulate their process through verbal reflection. They also have opportunities to showcase their work to the Fessenden community throughout the school year.

Explore Fessenden’s Visual Arts Program.

Additional Middle School Offerings, Support, and Activities

Fessenden’s English Language Learners (ELL) program can accommodate two levels of English speakers: intermediate and upper-intermediate. ELL boys take English literature, English language, world and U.S. history, and field study courses designed to accommodate their language proficiency. All ELL students take math and science classes, as well as electives, clubs, and affinity groups with their grade-level Fessenden peers.

Explore Fessenden’s English Language Learners Program.

Athletics are an integral and required part of the Fessenden educational experience. We offer 16 team and individual sports at the interscholastic, intramural, and recreational levels in the fall, winter, and spring. From mountain biking to sailing, hockey, soccer, football, basketball, and many more, our offerings for Middle School boys are unparalleled.

Explore Fessenden’s Middle School Athletics Program.

Homeroom teachers also serve as Middle School students’ advisors. Boys meet with their advisors for support in navigating any academic, social, or life challenges they might encounter.

Fessenden students who share a common identity, purpose, or interest are invited to join any of the faculty lead affinity and multicultural groups designed for their age-group. 

Explore Fessenden’s Affinity and Multicultural Groups.

The Middle School Club program offerings range from Beach Chair Book Club to rock climbing, to escape room challenge The diverse offerings of the program allow boys to further pursue academic, athletic, or social interests. Our independent boys school also encourages students to develop their own ideas for clubs and to pursue faculty mentorship.

Explore Fessenden’s Middle School Clubs.

upper school curriculum overview

Grade 7 - 9 Curriculum at The Fessenden School

Fessenden’s Upper School delivers a challenging core curriculum (English, foreign language, history, math, and science) while encouraging boys to take intellectual risks and explore their passions through project-based learning, and a wide variety of electives. The curriculum is also designed to help boys master their full Upper School life, which includes independently organizing their day, meeting deadlines, and balancing academic and extracurricular activities. 

Upon graduating from the Upper School, boys are equipped with the knowledge, study skills, and leadership experience they need to smoothly transition and thrive at the secondary school of their choice.

View our full curriculum or browse the Upper School curriculum below.

Upper School Core Curriculum

English classes in the Upper School inspire boys to think creatively, read analytically, and communicate effectively in writing and speaking. Students are placed at the center of their own learning and are challenged to connect their classroom experience to the world around them. Intellectual risk taking, resilience, and relevance are at the heart of any deep and meaningful learning and we strive to weave these elements into the fabric of all English courses. Boys read novels, poetry, short stories, plays, or nonfiction; write personal narratives; and conduct research on topics related to literature or culture. By the time students reach the ninth grade they are ready to participate in the New Writers Conference, an independent writing project. Students explore their role as a writer who is in control of the writing process from the germination of an idea to a finished product in the genre of his choice. The end goal is to have the student confident in his skills as an English student so that he is ready to meet the demands of secondary school.

Health and wellness classes cover a wide variety of topics over the three Upper School years, including family life, nutrition, emotional development, substance abuse, and human sexuality. Themes introduced in Grade 7 are examined in more detail during Grades 8 and 9. The goals of the courses are to provide factual information, clear up misconceptions, answer questions, and encourage discussion in a mature, honest, and responsible manner.

Health and Wellness Courses

  • Introduction to Health (Gr. 7)
  • Making Healthy Decisions (Gr. 8)
  • Contemporary Issues (Gr. 9)

Upper School boys may study Spanish, Latin, or Mandarin. The goal of the foreign language program is to develop students’ abilities to communicate in the target language with confidence, while learning about the traditions, and history of the target cultures. Fessenden students practice the four modalities of language learning (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) in all levels of the language programs. Project based learning is also part of the course activities and in collaboration with the Ciongoli Center for Innovation, students have the opportunity to actively engage with the language.

Foreign Language Courses

  • Latin I
  • Latin II
  • Honors Latin II
  • Mandarin I
  • Mandarin II
  • Mandarin III
  • Spanish I
  • Spanish II
  • Honors Spanish II
  • Spanish III
  • Honors Spanish III
  • Honors Spanish IV

The Upper School librarian collaborates with Grade 5 - 9 teachers to integrate library and information skills across the curriculum, rather than meeting in specifically designated library classes. The librarian helps students develop the skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, as well as the character qualities of mindfulness, curiosity, courage, resilience, ethics, and leadership. Lessons in MLA citation style, ethical use of information, evaluation of print and web-based materials, and practice in identifying bias reinforce and extend skills learned in earlier grades. Through project-based learning, students are encouraged and supported to: work as a team toward a common goal, organize their learning to facilitate sharing their knowledge with others, and to pursue personal reading, learning, and content creation.

Explore Fessenden’s Wheeler Library.

Within the math classroom, teachers pose purposeful questions to extend students’ reasoning to a higher level of understanding. They incorporate problems that reflect reality to help students learn through real-world applications. A student’s ability, rather than grade level, determines course placement.

Mathematics Courses

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Honors Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra I - Linear Concepts
  • Algebra I  - Quadratic Concepts
  • Honors Algebra I
  • Algebra 1
  • Honors Algebra II
  • Geometry
  • Honors Geometry
  • Pre-Calculus

The Fessenden Science Department is committed to students experiencing “science by doing.” Through hands-on investigations, experiential activities, self-designed or guided experiments, and student-driven, project-based learning experiences, students learn scientific concepts and skills in connection to their use in the real world. 

As relational learners, our emerging scientists learn best through forging strong relationships with peers and faculty as well as with course content. Boys hone their scientific research and laboratory skills and communicate the ways in which their learning influences their everyday lives, their local communities, and the global community. Curiosity leads to inquiry and with a systems-thinking approach, students are motivated to innovate and impact the world around them. In our science classrooms, this pathway of curiosity, inquiry, innovation, and impact is both cooperative and individual, as well as reflective and iterative. The state-of-the-art Sacerdote Science Center provides the laboratories, scientific equipment, technology, and collaborative spaces needed for students to engage in critical thinking analyses, become clear communicators, and develop their scientific literacy.

Science Courses

  • Earth and Environmental Science (Gr. 7)
  • Physical Science (Gr. 8)
  • Honors Physical Science (Gr. 8)
  • Biology (Gr. 9)
  • Honors Biology (Gr. 9)

Making historical events relevant is the key to the study of American and world history. We explore themes and important moments in history from various perspectives through student-centered projects, the study of primary sources, and forms of expression, such as literature and art. Encouraged to be more than onlookers of major historical events and people, students become well-formed global citizens and develop the skills to challenge moral, societal, and political assumptions.

Social Studies and History Courses

  • Early-Modern Civilizations (Gr. 7)
  • American History (Gr. 8)
  • Honors American History (Gr. 8)
  • Global Citizenship (Gr. 9)
  • Honors Global Citizenship (Gr. 9)

Fessenden’s Upper School Electives

Upper School boys have a list of nearly 20 visual and performing arts and design thinking electives from which to choose. This breadth of offerings gives boys the opportunity to develop new passions and build upon existing talents.

Upper School students choose from a wide breadth of music electives allowing them to fine-tune their musical skills or explore a musical avenue for the first time.

Upper School Music Courses

  • Concert Band
  • Honors Band
  • Music Theory & Digital Music
  • Orchestra
  • Upper School Percussion
  • Upper School Voices

Explore Fessenden’s Upper School Music Program.

Upper School theatre electives range from learning basic stagecraft to taking center stage in our annual dramatic or musical productions to mastering the technical, behind the scenes, essentials of show production.

Upper School Theatre Arts Courses

  • Shakespeare and Stage Combat
  • Theater Tech
  • Upper School Fall Play
  • Upper School Musical

Explore Fessenden’s Upper School Theatre Arts Program.

Upper School visual arts electives allow students to explore a full range of studio art mediums, bring their creative visions to life using digital media, craft finish-carpentry-grade products, or study the art of filmmaking.

Upper School Visual Arts Courses

  • Digital Media
  • Film Appreciation
  • Studio Art
  • Woodworking

Explore Fessenden’s Upper School Visual Arts Program.

Upper School design thinking electives allow students to put their problem solving, prototyping, fabrication, and design skills to the test. The pedagogy for all of these electives is informed by the architectural design studio approach as developed by NuVu Studio and guided by Fessenden’s innovative coaches.

Upper School Design Thinking Courses

  • Innovation Studio 1
  • Innovation Studio 2
  • Open Innovation 

Explore Fessenden’s Ciongoli Center for Innovation.

Additional Upper School Activities, Support, and Offerings

Fessenden’s English Language Learners (ELL) program can accommodate two levels of English speakers: intermediate and upper-intermediate. ELL boys take English literature, English language, world and U.S. history, and field study courses designed to accommodate their language proficiency. All ELL students take math and science classes, as well as electives, clubs, and affinity groups with their grade-level Fessenden peers.

Explore Fessenden’s English Language Learners Program.

Athletics are an integral and required part of the Fessenden educational experience. From recreational squads to competitive, championship-winning teams, Upper School athletics offer something for every boy. Fessenden boasts 19 team and individual sports at the interscholastic, intramural, and recreational levels in the fall, winter, and spring—more than 30 teams in total. Our facilities rival any secondary school, with two organic turf fields (one with a track), three gyms, a wrestling center, weight room, indoor hockey rink, six lighted courts, and two outdoor swimming pools. And with access to nearby facilities for squash, sailing, crew, and skiing, there’s no shortage of options for keeping energetic boys in motion.

Explore Fessenden’s Upper School Athletics Program.

Boys meet with their advisor weekly for support in navigating any academic, social/emotional, or life challenges they might be facing. The advisor serves as the primary communications conduit for the student’s family, and a great deal of time is spent matching students with the appropriate advisory group. The advisor/advisee relationship is structured to ensure that every boy has a trusted adult who is there to celebrate his successes and help him get back on track when needed.

Boys who share a common identity, purpose, or interest are invited to join any of the faculty lead affinity and multicultural groups designed for their age-group. 

Explore Fessenden’s Affinity and Multicultural Groups.

The Upper School Club program offers students more than 20 options a year, ranging from debate club, to treehouse design, to Model United Nations. The diverse offerings of the program allow boys to further pursue academic, athletic, or social interests. We also encourage students to develop their own ideas for clubs and to pursue faculty mentorship.

Explore Fessenden’s Upper School Clubs.

academic support

Academic Support at The Fessenden School

Fessenden’s small class sizes allow faculty to meet each boy where he is in his learning journey and differentiate instruction to provide extra challenge or extra support. Lower School students benefit from math and reading specialists who “push in” to classrooms multiple times per week to provide small group and one-on-one instruction in reading and math. In Grades 5 - 9 supervised study halls, advisory meetings, and daily Help and Work (Grades 7-9) ensure that all students receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed. In addition, Fessenden’s Learning Resource Department offers a number of academic support for all students in Pre-K through Grade 9 who need help beyond what is provided in the classroom.

Fessenden’s Learning Resource Department

The Skills Center (for students in all grades) offers remedial support to boys who need help with the fundamentals of reading, writing, or math.

Our tutors provide individualized academic support for students in Grades 5 through 9 and occasionally Grade 4. Tutors offer organizational support, test and quiz preparation, support with the writing process (planning, organizing, and editing), and homework support in all subjects.

Students in Grades 5 - 9 meet with their faculty advisors for guidance in navigating academic, social, or life challenges.

Boys in Grades 5 - 6 participate in a guided study hall from 2:00 - 3:00 or 3:00 - 4:10 depending on whether they have early or late sports. This provides an opportunity to attend to homework, get extra help from teachers, and prepare themselves for the next day.

The last part of the Grades 7 - 9 day is reserved for Help and Work. During this period, boys can meet with teachers to request help, make up classwork, or begin their homework and prepare for the next day.