Fifth grade

Fifth grade is a new beginning for Gordon students, starting with the architecture. For the first time, they have classes on the south wing of the school. They'll use the second floor of the Joukowsky Family Library, and discover staircases and catwalks—even elevators!—that they never knew existed. They have lockers, with doors, and classrooms with high ceilings and windows that look out on views they'd never seen before.

Fifth grade is also a bridge year between Lower School and Middle School. They'll have more autonomy, and responsibility, than ever before, but they remain grounded in a supportive community. Students begin each day in homeroom, allowing students to create a strong sense of belonging, and build new habits of learning before they navigate the halls on their own.

The fifth grade weekend projects are a vivid example of what becomes possible during this transition: students create long-term projects that are entirely of their own design, and they're held accountable week-by-week to report on their progress. The resulting cookbooks, go-carts and short films are as different and as joyful as the students themselves.

New opportunities appear on day one of fifth grade. The Middle School athletics program offers three seasons of interscholastic competition, with every student guaranteed playing time. After school theater includes a Middle School play and a musical. The weekly fifth and sixth grade activities block presents students with an array of elective options, for the first time in their Gordon careers. The first of the annual Middle School overnight experiential learning trips provide an entirely new way to bond with teachers and classmates.

With these options come new decisions. They can't do it all, and Gordon is ready to partner with students and their families as they weigh priorities and face new time management challenges. That conversation begins before the first day of school, as each fifth grader and their parents meet with the Middle School director in August. Google Classroom is introduced, reshaping the experience of organizing, executing, and handing in assignments. Middle School study halls can be a powerful resource for a student who knows how to use them, allowing students time to compare notes with one another and follow up with teachers.

As they acclimate to this new environment and these new opportunities, they take stock of themselves anew. Initial written assignments include autobiographies and personal timelines that allow them to view their own histories in new ways, while giving them tools they'll use in their study of ancient cultures throughout the year. Through the advisory program, which begins in fifth grade, they'll express themselves and connect with one another through daily facilitated conversation. They'll also have a chance to test themselves academically in new ways, as they become eligible to participate in the National Geographic Geography Bee and compete for a spot on Gordon's championship MathCounts team.

Becoming a fifth grader also means joining a larger community of Gordon's Middle School, a place that prides itself on being a place where everyone can find a sense of belonging. That community convenes every week at Middle School meetings, and fifth graders will connect with their older peers during activities block, on the athletics fields, on stage, and during the student-led daylong teach-ins that happen over the course of the year. These teach-ins use academics to draw the Middle School together; students and teachers design workshops to pause and dive more deeply into what national events like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Silence requires of them as citizens of a diverse and global world.


Beginning in fifth grade, social studies and language arts are integrated to become the Middle School humanities strand. The humanities block provides more time for students to explore the connections between history and literature as well as investigate current day issues and continue to develop their skills of questioning, analyzing, problem-solving and collaborating. At each grade level, the humanities curriculum is thematic, addressing topics such as identity, culture, justice, power, voice, and community.

In fifth grade humanities, literature provides an opening to discuss difference, friendship, coming of age, physical ability and difference, and becoming an upstander. The novel Wonder and winter book circle discussions encourage students to think more deeply about their own identities and experiences and how they navigate the increasingly complex world around them. 

Writing instruction continues to be heavily influenced by the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop model practiced in Lower School. Fifth graders gain practice in writing different genres like creative writing, research writing, analytical paragraph writing, and personal reflection. Instruction focuses on providing supporting points with specific details, organizing writing logically, and sharpening self-editing skills. Weekly grammar and spelling mini-lessons address student work while also preparing students to tackle more sophisticated structures as they mature as thinkers and writers. 

Students continue to hone their research and writing skills through their study of ancient Mayan civilizations where the themes of power, identity, culture and community are also highlighted. Through their study of ancient Maya, students gain an understanding of the enduring qualities of a civilization. Students learn to make connections between ancient cultures and present-day life, assess how people in ancient cultures used their power and resources, and consider what they can learn from the successes and mistakes of an ancient culture. The year culminates with Immersion Week when students dive deeply into a research project on the ancient Maya and create a living museum for the school community to explore. During the week, fifth graders collaborate on redesigning their classroom spaces to create engaging learning experience for visitors who come from all corners of the school.


Fifth grade continues the Math in Focus curriculum which emphasizes concept mastery, a concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract approach, metacognitive reasoning, and the use of model drawing to solve and justify problems. Emphasis is on students becoming independent, strategic and persistent mathematical problem solvers. Students learn the “why” and the “how” through instruction, hands-on or technology activities, and problem solving. Mathematical topics are consistently introduced in a concrete-visual-symbolic progression that allows students to focus and better understand abstract concepts. 

Fifth grade topics include adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals, an introduction to solving algebraic equations and inequalities, understanding percents, theoretical and experimental probability, and basic geometry. Students are provided with differentiated material that gives them challenges that are appropriate to their mathematical development, with assessment happening every four or five weeks. Weekly games and activities help to reinforce skills. The fifth grade math program culminates with a field trip to a minor league baseball game in late May where students are asked to apply many of the core skills in our curriculum.


The fifth grade science curriculum stresses hands-on, inquiry based learning, exposing students to topics in earth science, life science, physical science, engineering and robotics. 

The curriculum is designed to foster and celebrate creativity and curiosity, learning through mistakes, persevering, and working as a team It includes such explorations such as: using wind power as a renewable resource to generate electricity and lift objects; learning about pH indicators and using them to test water around the school, building and programming a LEGO robot to draw patterns; and applying scientific inquiry and experimentation techniques while investigating the behavior of worms both in and outside of the classroom. 

Fifth graders continue to develop the skills of observing and recording, designing, building and revising, hypothesizing, and reflection. Lessons are based on discussing ideas, working through and adding to modeled activities, and working in various team configurations. 


In Middle School, students build their literacy skills as well as their understanding of cultural and social justice issues that impact Hispanic communities in the United States and globally. Topics include urban community gardens, environmental racism, fair trade, immigration and human rights. Students further develop their cultural and linguistic proficiencies through classroom activities that include literature circles, role-play, debate and writing workshops. Partnerships with nonprofit organizations and leaders in the local Spanish-speaking communities provide authentic ways for students to practice their Spanish and connect with the local community. 

Spanish Language Arts Strand
Beginning in fifth grade, Gordon offers a Spanish Language Arts Strand to meet the needs of Spanish speakers who demonstrate advanced Spanish proficiency on the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix assessment. 
In this fast-paced program, students read and discuss more complex text and practice using more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary.

Health and wellness

The National Wellness Institute explains wellness as “an active process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more successful existence.” This definition of wellness anchors and guides Gordon’s Middle School health curriculum. 

Using several visual models including a wellness wheel that highlights six dimensions of personal wellness (social, emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and environmental health) students consider their personal experiences with a wide range of topics such as communication, stress management, nutritional choices, media literacy, digital literacy and citizenship, gender and sexuality diversity, and risk behaviors including drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use.  

Classes emphasize student participation and generate conversations around issues that directly impact the lives of middle school students. Reading, journaling, hands-on activities, group games, role-plays, research, and class discussions encourage continuous self-reflection, emphasize a growth mindset, and provide opportunities for students to listen to one another, build skills of empathy, think critically, and practice healthy decision making. By raising awareness, equipping students with tools, and reinforcing self-reflection, health and wellness class helps students get to know themselves better and prepares them to express how they feel and determine how to respond to the crossroads that they inevitably face throughout adolescence.

Physical education

The Gordon Middle School physical education program gives students opportunities to experience the joys of being physically active in both competitive and noncompetitive settings. The goal of the program is to instill in students a love of exercise, respect of their bodies, and an awareness of the power of the choices they make in their lives.

Throughout the school year students focus on the concept of wellness and explore their personal relationship with sports and physical activity. Physical education classes are a rich environment in which students are empowered to shape their own experience with health and physical activity.


In fifth grade, students continue to meet weekly with the librarian to explore the Joukowsky Family Library's collection and discover a variety of genres, authors, and texts with a specific focus on building and consolidating reflective lifelong reading habits and creating a culture of reading and inquiry. Gordon's multicultural collection of fiction, non-fiction, multilingual and bilingual books provide entry points, windows and mirrors for all students of a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences. 

Fifth grade students have become adept at using the computer catalog as an aid to independent book finding and browsing skills. Students are encouraged to seek recommendations from their classmates and the librarian and feel confident sharing their suggestions, likes, and preferences with their peers and adults as they practice and model critical thinking skills. In keeping with the American Association of School Librarians standards, students are encouraged to express curiosity about a topic of personal interest or relevance to the curriculum, and to co-construct and identify innovative solutions to a challenge or problem.

Fifth grade students use the library’s print, and digital resources to support their classroom research topics on the ancient and contemporary Mayan people. In addition, advisory work for projects, including the Middle School teach-ins, are supported by materials from the library holdings. The librarian works in close partnership with the classroom teachers and the Technology Director to teach the key components of inquiry, exploration, collaboration, curation involved in developing twenty-first-century reading and research skills. 

Fifth and sixth graders can increase their investment in the Joukowsky Family Library by joining the library stewards program, where they help maintain the shelves,  and create guides and recommendation lists for library visitors. Library Stewards volunteer hours offer tangible support for the library and in the process demonstrate the impactful nature that Middle Students can have in advocating for specific spaces within their school.


Fifth grade students begin the year in music with activities designed to heighten listening skills, teamwork, and creativity. The two basic elements of musical literacy are reviewed and practiced: rhythmic fluency using the “takadimi” system to explore increasingly complex levels of syncopation, and melodic note-reading using letter names (A, B, C, etc.) and solfeggio (do, re, mi, etc.). Students also begin to develop definitions and codify concepts that have been experienced in Lower School. 

Students sing songs and engage in discussions of text and styles from multiple perspectives and discover that music frequently lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Cultural connections are emphasized, whether in traditional folk songs, contemporary songs, or songs from other countries. Recorder work includes a review of physical technique, sight-reading strategies, echo patterns to develop aural skills, and new fingerings. Their instrumental exploration also includes Orff ensembles, ukulele, and percussion. Students explore a multitude of connections in a Caribbean music unit: current events, issues of government, climate, geography, and history, as well as cultural practices, food, and emotions. 

Visual arts

The Middle School visual arts program develops aesthetic awareness, creative expression, technical skills, and cultural awareness in each student. Studio habits of mind, including developing craft, engaging and persisting, envisioning, expressing, observing, reflecting, exploring, and appreciating, are cultivated as students engage in artistic experiences. Student skills mature as they progress through the curriculum. The complexity of projects, cognitively and artistically, also increases as students mature.

In fifth grade, the textile technique of appliqué is the focus of a sewing unit inspired by craft traditions from western India. Students combine colored felt, buttons, and embroidery floss and mastered appliqué stitch, split stitch and blanket stitch. Children learn the skills of threading, knotting, fastening off and single thread hand sewing. A painting unit focuses on the tradition of brush painting from China, Japan and Korea and allows students to explore traditional ways of depicting the landscape while at the same time interpreting this style in their own expressive ways. Concepts of background and foreground are explored, as well as the use of value and texture to create a sense of mood and place. Every student has their artwork presented in the annual art show.