The fifth grade curriculum has been devised with two criteria in mind: we address the sequential skill development necessary for the fifth grade student, building upon what was presented in the fourth grade and extending those skills as a basis for their sixth grade study; and, we capitalize on the interests and social/emotional growth aspects of the fifth grade child, pursuing themes and topics of importance and value to them. The themes are presented as interdisciplinary units, incorporating reading, writing, math, researching, geography, history, mapping, graphing, science, sociology, art, and music.
We begin the year with a study of Peer Pressure/Substance Abuse. Through the unit, "Here's Looking at You, 2000" we explore the effects of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana on the mind and body. Analysis of advertising techniques, and understanding how pressure from peers can be detrimental, help empower the children to feel good about themselves and strong enough to say "NO."
A bit later in the term, in keeping with the season, we explore sights, sounds, and scares, both real and imaginary. A Fall Camping trip and treks through the campus woods help the students gather images and vocabulary to create Scary Stories.
Also in the Fall a study of 20th Century America occurs. In this interdisciplinary unit the focus is a decade-by-decade examination of the people and events that have had a part in shaping our lives today. Topics such as Ellis Island, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, Sputnik, and Viet Nam are examined, satisfying the children's curiosity about these eras with factual knowledge while sharpening their research and thinking skills through open-ended activities. "A Walk Through the 20th Century" is the contract that guides the children, providing a means to organize and focus their energies and record their progress. It contains a listing of the research assignments and ideas for their presentation, along with expectations and due dates.
Two mini units are undertaken during the Fall months, as well. The study of Native American Mythology precedes Thanksgiving. And in December, we take a look at multicultural winter celebrations, spanning time and the globe to investigate people's search for light in the darkness.
During the Winter months of January and February our focus is on China, with concentration on the country's importance historically and presently, its people, their customs and their contributions. Again the children are guided through their study with a contract, but at this stage they are ready to make more choices and are encouraged to individualize their course of study within the parameters of the suggested exercises on the "China Contract." T'ai chi becomes part of our daily routine during these months as we explore this fascinating country. Other highlights of the study include a trip to Philadelphia's Chinatown and planning and preparing a Chinese banquet for our friends.
In early spring, we explore our intergenerational relationships through interviews and literature. Understanding the aging process and appreciating the wisdom of age are the goals of this unit. After reading The Lilith Summer, a novel by Hadley Irwin, fifth graders become quite introspective as they write, in response to the book, a poem called "Things Inside of Me."
After Spring break our Endangered Earth interdisciplinary study is launched. We research rainforests, both temperate and tropical. Our travels will take us to South America's Amazonia and to our own western states of Washington and Oregon in an attempt to understand these fragile, threatened ecosystems and the forces and difficult issues involved in their plight. Following formal class instruction, the children plan and chart their own course through this unit by earning points on an "Endangered Earth Scavenger Hunt," a collection of assignments designed to encourage critical thinking and analysis of opposing points of view, precision in the collection and organization of data, creativity in the sharing of found knowledge, and thoughtful expression of personal opinion. The open-ended nature of these activities helps to address each child's learning style.