Students spend their fifth grade year immersed in an expansive study of the Middle Ages.
Through hands-on, interdisciplinary experiences that engage drama, cooking, building, and the visual arts, students explore the evolution of and interactions between the great medieval civilizations of Asia, Africa, The Americas, and Europe.
Essential questions that guide our course of study are:
- How were human needs met during the Middle Ages?
- How did people exercise power in medieval culture?
- How did the interactions between groups of people affect various cultures?
- How did people around the world respond to their environment?
- How did the exchange of ideas, goods, and technology change the social structure in various regions around the world?
Fifth grade students engage deeply with both fiction and nonfiction texts. Authentic, self-directed research is a cornerstone of the fifth grade experience, and students make regular use of our classroom libraries to support their study of medieval cultures. Through reading, analyzing, and performing monologues from Lower School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz’s Newbery Award-winning collection Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, students develop their ability to analyze character with nuance and insight. Class discussions allow students to demonstrate understanding, pose thoughtful questions, predict outcomes, and share ideas and opinions. Goals for fifth grade students include becoming increasingly insightful and mature in their approach toward reading and versatile in their personal reading selections.
Fifth graders write throughout the school day. They write to be creative, to inform, and to report. They analyze, synthesize, and interpret information, and write in all areas of the curriculum. Their writing takes many forms, such as personal narrative, poetry, description, commentary, original monologue, essay, and research report. They formulate explanations for math solutions and construct arguments for scientific experiments. Students learn to see writing as a process, with the goal of clearly conveying an idea to a particular audience.
Fifth grade students visit the school library twice a week—once as an individual class (solo library) and once as a whole grade (shared library.) During whole-grade sessions, librarian and Newbery Award-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz presents lectures on various cultures of the medieval world: Christian Europe, Viking, Russian, Mongolian, Japanese, West African, Ethiopian, and Arab. At solo library, Laura follows up with traditional tales, supporting the notion that stories illuminate the values of a culture, and that although cultures are often different, there are many parallels among the stories they tell. Solo library also provides an opportunity for students to browse and borrow books for their independent reading and for their first grade reading partners.
In the fifth grade mathematics curriculum, students continue work in the Investigations program, exploring units that develop computational reasoning, the relationship between fractions, decimals and percents, and the analysis of change over time. Students apply measurement and spatial reasoning skills in theme studies, a yearlong process that culminates in the construction of scale models of iconic medieval buildings. They collect and analyze data in science, as an integral part of experimentation. Across the curriculum, students are encouraged to think critically about math, ask questions, communicate their reasoning clearly, value multiple solution strategies, and pursue accuracy and efficiency. Fifth grade students are engaged in a variety of problem solving exercises and are explicitly taught strategies for solving.
Major concepts in the science curriculum include: architectural design and technology; the physical and chemical nature of candles; and the relationship between the sun, moon, and earth. All work in science is directly related to the study of the Middle Ages.
Students study fire, trying to understand the mysteries of combustion. They construct catapults and use them to execute experiments. They collect data, learning the relationships between measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode, etc.) in order to analyze their findings. They analyze blueprints of medieval structures and craft scale models of those structures in cardboard. In each unit of study, students are encouraged to formulate arguments supported by data, and to develop original questions that they pursue through independent experimentation. Science is not just description or information, but inquiry: at all stages of the process, children learn to identify and pursue what they do not yet know.
Fifth grade students continue to build on listening and speaking skills with an increased focus on reading and writing. Class is conducted primarily in Spanish and designed to encourage student participation. Cultural connections are purposefully woven into lessons enhancing students’ global perspectives, and theme based units are planned around essential questions to facilitate discussions in the target language. Some units are planned cross-divisionally, allowing for interaction in the target language between fifth graders and Upper School Spanish students. Fifth grade themes include needs and wants, housing, food and nutrition, traditional and everyday clothing, and Latin American markets. Conversational skills continue to develop as students combine new vocabulary connected to these themes with vocabulary learned in previous years.
Theme Studies, Social Studies, History
Serious scholarship about the medieval world requires students to think deeply about place. As they immerse themselves in the varied cultures of the medieval world through art, literature, drama, research, and writing, students develop an intimate sense of the geography and climate of different regions. The natural world becomes a gateway into deep, thoughtful engagement with culture—an engagement rooted in understanding of the relationship between where people live and how they live. Questions of power, social control, and the struggle for freedom and equity—both during the Middle Ages and in the modern world—inevitably arise as students examine the systems and practices that medieval people around the world used to ensure their own survival in their natural environment.
The culminating experience of fifth grade is a trimester-long project in which students pursue an in-depth research project on a medieval culture of their choosing. As part of this expansive, interdisciplinary experience, students craft a scale model of an iconic structure; write a travel guide explaining essential information about daily life; and perform an original monologue in the voice of a character living in their culture. The powerful characters and distinctive voices that emerge from this course of study testify to the children’s authentic understanding and deep investment. Students leave the fifth grade with profound appreciation and respect for culture in all its forms: able to make empathetic connections, identify patterns, ask meaningful questions, and approach unfamiliar practices with an open mind.