The intent of the Architecture Program is not to train the students to be architects, but to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills through the process of design.  By working both independently and cooperatively towards a solution, fifth graders must consider the constraints and consequences of their design decisions.  In all projects and discussions, students begin to use the vocabulary of architecture, as well as the specific tools and terminology of architectural design.

The first project is a study of the towns and neighborhoods in which they live.  Here, the intent is for the students to develop and awareness of their surroundings and for the class as a whole to begin to cultivate a sense of place.  Next, the students construct handmade sketchbooks in order to try out some basic architectural tools.

Moving forward, they tackle a more traditional design school project – using simple planes, lines, and textures to create space.  The intent of this Making Space exercise is to understand what defines the space around us and how to manipulate it in order to create the environment that we envision.  The students stretch their boundaries and build confidence in their own ideas and abilities as they continue to create and test their projects within a given set of parameters.  In order to delve deeper into the basic elements of design, they apply their knowledge of architectural principles (axis, datum, rhythm & repetition, hierarchy, symmetry, asymmetry, and transformation) in a collage diagram of an Italian Renaissance garden.  Next, they put their knowledge into action by creating a model of an art gallery, displaying various types of art, each requiring a different viewing perspective.  For example, a sculpture should be seen in 360 degrees, a mobile from below, a portrait up close, a mural from afar and an architectural model from above or at eye level.  In another project, the students analyze structural forces (tension and compression) by building an 8 foot diameter geodesic dome out of newspaper.

The final fifth grade project is based on the principles of biomimicry:   the process of transferring nature’s finest ideas into designs and practices that attempt to solve human problems.  To begin, every child is given a natural object to study; a pinecone, deer antlers, a horseshoe crab, for example.  Each student creates a wooden model for an observation tower that reflects the characteristics of their object.  The exercise is intended to demonstrate an understanding of the full range of design concepts studied during the year.   The challenge for many of the students is to distinguish between mimicking the form of their object and extracting the characteristics that might be valuable to their tower design.  As a final celebration, each architect has the opportunity to present his/her tower to the class in a classic architecture school design review.


Fifth graders explore the worlds of forest and mountain animals.  Using French books for young students, the fifth graders are guided to key words- known vocabulary and words strongly resembling English- to make sense of the text.  They are asked to become detectives and spot all clues to deduce meaning.  Students choose an animal to present to their classmates, following a simple ‘ID card’ model stating family, diet, longevity, gestation etc.  They are directed to a French website to research and gather the data.  The second half of the year is dedicated to food and markets.  The students design their own restaurant menu. Homework and quizzes are given on a regular basis.  Grammar work focuses on the present tense of the first regular conjugation and written practice of interrogative and negative sentences.

Language Arts

In fifth grade, students are actively involved in writing and reading workshops. In writing workshop, students choose their own topics, collect ideas, draft, revise, edit, and publish their work. Word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and organization are reinforced within the context of well-developed paragraphs and five paragraph essays. Grammar, spelling, and writing conventions are imparted through the students’ writing, while reinforcement is provided through Daily Oral Language, an exercise program that focuses on editing skills. In reading workshop, students read fiction and non-fiction as they improve reading comprehension, write literary essays, and participate in book clubs. While reading non-fiction texts, they learn to identify the main idea and to take detailed notes. Through an individualized word study program, students expand their vocabulary by studying word families. Spelling improves through studying high frequency words and commonly misspelled words.


By the end of fifth grade, students have a greater awareness of the Dewey Decimal System and use it to locate materials necessary for classroom study.  Students also use a variety of Web 2.0 tools to demonstrate their learning within the content areas.  Comprehension strategies for both fiction and nonfiction texts continue to be modeled through read alouds.  Students examine literary features such as an author’s tone, narrative perspective, the theme of a piece of writing, and the use of figurative language.  The concept of plagiarism is introduced as is the framework of an information search process.


The mathematics curriculum encourages an active environment in which students become mathematicians. Student exploration and investigation ensure an in-depth understanding of topics. Rather than solely teaching students to memorize discrete formulas and procedures, students develop a conceptual understanding prior to learning and practicing the processes to solve problems. Singapore Math is the basis for the fifth grade math. Topics covered include whole number multiplication and division; fractions and mixed numbers; multiplying and dividing fractions, decimals, and mixed numbers; area of a triangle; ratio; percent; graphs and probability; properties, angles and four-sided figures; three-dimensional shapes; surface area and volume. Fifth graders also participate in math congress. Students work on project-based activities and join together to discuss how to approach and solve mathematical problems. The workshop structure supports Willow’s dedication to a community of activity, discourse, and reflection.


In fifth grade, students continue to develop their reading, writing, and listening skills.  Students learn fa and ti, and the diatonic major and minor scales.  They learn about half and whole steps.  Fifth graders learn to read, write, recognize, and perform dotted rhythms.  In addition, they learn absolute note names and conventional counting.  On the instruments, students learn music in three or more parts, as they explore major and minor diatonic music. In addition, students sing two-part choral pieces from the folk repertoire.


Fifth graders begin the school year with a watershed study. Students first wonder how old water is and how much of it is actually available for use. One way they learn the characteristics of a watershed is by exploring how water runs through Willow’s campus. The Earth, moon, and stars are studied as a system. By keeping a journal of their observations of the moon for a month, students gain a deep understanding of moon phases. The class explores chemistry by creating and separating mixtures and solutions, and examining suspensions, colloids, emulsifiers, immiscible liquids, and performing pH testing. Fifth graders use their senses out doors, as they observe atmospheric elements and the climate.  Fifth graders also study energy forms and transformations. The final project, the creation of an island, provides an opportunity for students to synthesize the topics they have covered in fifth grade science.

Social Studies

In the fifth grade, students investigate the essential question, “What is gained and lost when people develop a way of life that is ‘civilized’?” The year begins with a study of map skills as children look at a wide range of maps in order to gain perspective for a variety of purposes. The cultural development of early species of man (Australopithecus, Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalis, and Homo Sapiens) leads to the study of Neolithic communities, when humans first practiced agriculture. Students explore the causes leading to food production as well as agriculture’s role in the development of complex human settlements such as Catal Huyuk, Skara Brae, and Jericho. The early civilizations that developed along the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers are studied with a focus on Mesopotamia and Egypt. Students examine the transformation from tribal lifestyles to more complex forms of social and political organizations. Relevant literature, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, is read. As a culmination of their study of ancient civilizations, the students engage in a final project that requires them to synthesize the information and insights they acquired through their studies of ancient river civilizations as they create a hypothetical one, taking into consideration the significance of location, the relationship between culture and environment, and the interconnectedness among different aspects of culture.

Visual Arts

The fifth graders work on a series of projects designed around the themes of observation, color, perspective, and positive change. Students spend time working with concepts such as composition, emphasis, space, complementary color, apparent texture, color, mood, form, motion, and story telling by viewing, engaging, and discussing works of art from cultural and master artists including Albrecht Durer, Andre Derain, the Fauvist artists, Andy Warhol, and animation artists.  Projects include a Fauvism inspired pastel drawing, ink textured landscape environments, “Pop Art” printmaking designs and hand drawn charcoal animation films.  Every project is designed to enhance students’ artistic skills, craftsmanship, and understanding of art room concepts, while encouraging each student to develop his or her unique artistic voice.


In fifth grade, the focus of instruction is providing students with experiences that help them transition to sport-skill learning with an emphasis on the application of movement and motor skills in lead-up or modified games. When students practice manipulative skills, they practice more often with partners than in earlier grades. They learn how to recognize and correct their own errors and to provide feedback to peers to assist them in developing movement skills. Students continue to learn about health-related physical fitness, and assess their own fitness level.  Cooperative physical activity is another focus of instruction in fifth grade, with students learning about their own and others’ roles and responsibilities in setting common goals and solving problems.