Students spend the fifth grade year studying the Middle Ages—eleven hundred years of history, starting with Europe—and continuing on to discuss the great medieval civilizations of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Educational theorist Howard Gardner believed that children have multiple intelligences—diverse strengths and potentials—and that teachers should try and reach them from many different angles. Similarly, children should be able to express what they know in many different ways, not just by writing answers, but also by building, drawing, dancing, and relating to one another.

 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? 

Language Arts


The fifth grade reading curriculum includes fiction and nonfiction class assignments and independent reading. Students read silently and orally, working towards increased fluency as well as expression and authenticity in oral presentation. They demonstrate comprehension through discussion, written work, and research-based projects. Emphasis is placed on analysis of character. Class discussions allow opportunities for students to demonstrate their 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 towards reading and versatile in their personal reading selections.


Fifth graders write throughout their school day for many different purposes. 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.


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, and investigate data analysis in science. Across the curriculum, students are encouraged to think critically about math, ask questions and communicate their reasoning clearly, value multiple solution strategies, and pursue accuracy and efficiency. Fifth grade students are engaged in a variety of problem solving experiences and explicitly taught problem solving strategies.


Major concepts in the science curriculum include: the design and technology related to structures; the physical and chemical nature of candles; and the relationship between the sun, the moon, and the 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 and use catapults to run experiments in which they collect data, learning the relationship between the measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode, etc.) in order to analyze that data. Through analysis they formulate an argument that is supported by their data, which leads them to additional questions that they pursue. Science is not just description or information, but inquiry: children try to design experiments that will help them find out what they don’t 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, nutritional needs, traditional and everyday clothing, and Mayan culture, focusing on applying the vocabulary learned in previous years to engage in meaningful conversations with others.


Fifth graders are introduced to basic web design functions, and animation, and significantly increase their skills in Scratch programming. Instruction surrounding digital citizenship is greatly increased during fourth and fifth grades as students explore the responsible use of media, online communication, media literacy, cyber-bullying, and digital footprints. Instruction based on digital arts, document formatting, and effective and appropriate online research are also built upon during the fifth grade year.

Theme Studies, Social Studies, History

The students conduct an in-depth study of daily life in medieval Europe. They use many source materials such as fiction and nonfiction books, dramatic monologues, and websites to enhance their knowledge of medieval life. Students study and become “experts” on self-selected topics, creating visual projects such as movies, slide shows, and miniature three-dimensional museums of artifacts from the period. By sharing their work with their peers, they become the teachers.

Students also investigate aspects of daily life in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas during the Middle Ages. For the culminating project of the fifth grade year, students pull together skills from across the curriculum to build a scale model of a structure that dates from the Middle Ages. Along with this, students complete a project to teach others what they have learned about the culture of that place, and they compose an original first-person monologue of a character who might have lived there during that time.