Atrium School

Excellence with Joy

Grade 5

The fifth grade program is intended to guide students toward becoming increasingly broad-minded, skilled, confident, and independent. Fifth graders are grappling with identity development and facing a new set of social issues. Moving into pre-adolescence, students find that building friendships and relationships has new challenges and deeper possibilities. Students become more independent in their own learning, and they take more ownership over the daily maintenance of the physical and social environment of the classroom. 

It is an age where students begin to wrestle with more complex and abstract questions and are eager for rich, integrated, and challenging work. We instill in them the belief that every individual can be an agent for positive change. An emphasis on cooperation, collaboration, and community forms the core of our social and academic curricula and enhances students’ ability to work together in meeting high academic expectations.

Fifth Grade Theme: “What Is A Visionary?”

Thematic study is a way of focusing all aspects of children’s education at the Atrium into a central idea. This interdisciplinary focus allows all kinds of learners to develop skills and experience success in their academic lives. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to share their work with their classroom and the Atrium community and make connections between their learning and the world.

While students in Grade 4 will think about who they are as innovators, students in Grade 5 consider and experience what it means to be a visionary. Students will not only research visionaries of the past, but will take time to realize visions of their own. The security cameras project, playground design project, and volume project are critical activities in which students apply their knowledge of science and mathematics in order to solve practical problems of the day. Fifth grade students also take on leadership roles in theme studies, the play project, essay writing and research. Ultimately, students will express vision for their own lives, as they look back on their "elementary years" and look forward to the next step in middle school.
Once our classroom guidelines and roles are established, we launch into a study of ecosystems. We discuss how organisms in an ecosystem have individual roles as well as dependent and interdependent relationships, just as we each have a role in our classroom community and the larger world. Students see firsthand how pollution affects an environment through a simulation and hands-on project in which the children are challenged to design a solution to polluted water. Throughout the unit, we discuss how human-made events can disturb an ecosystem. The unit concludes with students leading a school-wide campaign to help the environment by canceling the delivery of unwanted paper catalogs. This is part of a national campaign called the Catalog Canceling Challenge.
An idea that evolves out of the ecosystem project is that through innovation, new solutions can be found to solve old problems. To understand how this has been a theme throughout history, we travel back in time to study ancient Greece. Students begin by learning about daily life in ancient Greece and how the ancient Greeks viewed the world.  We then move on to studying some of  the ancient Greeks’ major innovations. Students answer questions such as:

  • What were the needs/problems that the ancient Greeks experienced?

  • What innovations did they come up with to solve these problems?

  • How did these innovations evolve to meet people’s changing needs?

We incorporate theme in literacy by studying Greek mythology as a genre.  Students will become familiar with the format of mythology and will write their own myths.
After exploring specific ancient innovations and discussing how they evolved to meet the needs of people, we focus on inventions and how they changed over time. In reading and writing, each student researches and writes a biography of an inventor. Our third theme unit directly ties into this, as students make models of their inventors’ creations out of recycled materials. Each student creates a series of models, including an original prototype, another iteration of it, and the student’s interpretation of what the next version of that invention might be. These models and written reports will be shared with the community during an Invention Exposition.
Using students’ inventors as a model, a question that we explore during our biography unit in reading and writing is: What is a legacy and how do we leave one?  To build on this, we end the year by thinking back on who we are, what our connection is to the world, and how we want to be remembered by the Atrium community.  This helps us answer the question, what is our legacy?  We consider this question as it relates to our school community as well as to our place in the world. To end our year as a class, we work on a community service project to help us leave behind a legacy as Innovators. 

Classroom Structure


We use both Reader’s Workshop and Writer’s Workshop as a literacy model. This model revolves around each student engaging in independent reading and writing, practicing skills explicitly taught during directed instruction, conferring with teachers, and sharing experiences with peers through guided reading groups. These reading groups, guided by teachers, is an approach that helps individual students learn how to process a variety of increasingly challenging texts with understanding and fluency. Guided reading occurs in a small group context to allow for interactions and individual attention.

Although we have separate Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops scheduled throughout the week, our reading and writing instruction are closely intertwined. Teachers use carefully selected texts to explore and study all aspects of writing, reading, word study, spelling, and grammar. In addition, we supplement our spelling and vocabulary curricula with the Spelling Skills and Wordly Wise programs. We read different genres to learn a range of writing strategies, methods, and styles. Throughout the year, student authors have many opportunities to share their work in class. We use a range of organizational tools to help plan and manage our work. Informal and formal assessments allow us to design individual, group, and whole-class lessons to meet each of our student’s needs and goals.  .


In fifth grade math, students work to build computational fluency with whole numbers, reason about mathematical ideas, and see themselves as mathematical thinkers. We use the Investigations curriculum. We begin the year with a study of multiples, factors, and arrays and move on to discuss various mathematical concepts such as measurement, data analysis, probability, division, 2-D and 3-D geometry, fractions, decimals, algebra, and patterns in our world.

Social Curriculum

A student’s social and emotional growth and well-being are as important to us as academic success. We utilize the Responsive Classroom materials as a foundation to build our social curriculum. Students reflect upon their learning experiences and use those as a starting point for how they should treat others. Children are asked to put themselves in each other’s shoes, especially during conflicts. They learn to not simply apologize, but rather to think about how they can care for a relationship after a conflict occurs.  We emphasize that our classroom is a welcoming place that accepts and celebrates differences as well as similarities.  We model all of these behaviors as we teach the students.  We also create opportunities to share perspectives and lives that are not necessarily represented in our classroom.  Students identify ways to be active, responsible members of our society.


Our philosophy around homework is multidimensional. Fifth grade students should expect to have homework every night, as we believe it helps students to establish routines outside of the daily classroom structure. Homework also allows students to practice skills they learned throughout the day and to share that learning with their families. Homework also helps teachers to assess each student’s understanding of content. Written homework is planned to take no more than 45 minutes with an additional 30 minutes of reading per day.