At GUS, children become academically ready to meet the challenges of their wildest dreams, and wise enough to follow them.

“From the day that I stepped into GUS, I knew that this school was one-of-a-kind. I knew that this was going to be different. I have never known better friends in one place.”—GUS student

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Fifth graders explore the theme of “The Land.” They start out by learning to observe and record information about the natural world around them on the school’s extensive nature trail. Then, they take these skills out into the diverse landscape and geological history of the North Shore. We visit Halibut Point State Park to explore glacial striations and granite and learn how quarry workers cut and transported granite in the 19th Century. We travel to Mt. Pawtuckaway and learn about geological events that created various landforms on the North Shore and in New England. We consider the properties of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, the effects of hot weathering, glaciers, and volcanoes, and how to interpret rock layers and index fossils to determine the relative ages of rock formations. We travel to the Fruitlands Museum, Saugus Iron Works, and Green Meadows Farm to learn about the history of how people have used the natural resources of New England. The students study plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, and seismic waves and construct earthquake-resistant building models.

Fifth graders’ hands-on exploration of “The Land” culminates in a three-day camping trip to the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine, that aptly extends their curriculum, placing them in a natural setting in which they must work as a team to satisfy their needs while remaining conscientious about their impact on the land. Students’ responsibilities start on day one with the challenge of “packing in” all their food and equipment to their campsites. Over the next days, they work in the fields and barns, chop and stack wood, cook over an open fire, wash dishes with seawater, and explore the woods and shoreline. They also participate in daily lessons on natural history, ecology, and sustainability, experiencing deep environmental awareness through appreciation and preservation of the natural environment.

Language Arts

Fifth graders begin their year with a novel that explores the tradition of living off the land, such as Sign of the Beaver or My Side of the Mountain. Our exploration of the elements of narrative—theme, character, setting, point of view, and so on—along with units on grammar and mechanics and on research techniques, foster deeper engagement in their work in the forms of personal essay, fiction, comic strip or graphic prose, poetry, and research paper and presentation. Also, at the beginning of the year, as they hone skills of observing and recording on the nature trail, the students begin to keep their nature journals. They find inspiration in the nature writing of Cynthia Rylant, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall. In a unit on tall tales, we meet such characters as Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan and consider how that tradition has a rich connection with the American landscape. We explore the beauty and diversity of the landscape and national parks of the United States. Each student chooses a state and prepares a report and slideshow to share with classmates. In a unit on civil rights, students begin by reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham and the poetry of Langston Hughes and move forward, considering civil rights issues that persist today with such texts as Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan, In Our Mothers’ House, and This Day in June. Students choose their own topic and step through the process of research, report writing, and presentation planning in anticipation of an event to which the lower school and parents are invited.


Fifth grade math students delve deeper into problem-solving strategies so they can begin to solve higher-level, complex problems in mathematics and logic. They practice the strategies for performing operations with decimals, fractions, mixed numbers, and ratios. In units on measurement, they calculate the perimeter, area, and volume of rectangles, squares, triangles, and parallelograms; the radius, diameter, and circumference of circles; and the mean, mode, median, and range of sets of numbers. We introduce fifth graders to the concept of percent and they learn to calculate 5%, 10%, 15%, and 75% of a number. We also introduce the students to integers and they learn to add and subtract positive and negative numbers. In a unit on number theory, students learn about prime factorization, exponential notation, operation order, and Venn diagramming.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the fifth graders in a lesson from our Open Circle social/emotional curriculum. We gather in an open circle—open because we include one extra space to underscore that there is always room for another voice and no one is ever left out—for a short lesson and conversation and a story or an activity. As an example, in the Problem Solving unit students identify the first two steps of problem solving: calm down and identify the problem, and they practice these strategies by filling out “I feel __________ because __________________” statements. We step through the problem solving process: brainstorming, deciding on a positive goal, making a plan and trying it, and overcoming obstacles. We consider the characteristics of positive and negative leaders and define what it means to be a positive leader in the classroom and on the playground.


In keeping with their theme of “The Land,” fifth grade Spanish students master vocabulary related to geography, and they learn about the countries in South America. Each student chooses a South American country and prepares a short report about that country, identifying its location, capital, interesting facts, and notable sights, which they present to the class. Students also learn about the different regions of Argentina, focusing on weather patterns, seasons, geography, and history; they discover the differences among foods from Mexico, Spain, and Puerto Rico; and they explore the Incan, Aztec, and Mayan civilizations. Our celebration of the holidays El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), La Navidad (Christmas), El Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), Carnaval, and Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May) give fifth graders some perspective on the culture, religion, and customs of countries in the Spanish-speaking world.

Visual Arts

For much of the year, the fifth grade art class becomes a global studio. The students explore Mexican culture, ritual, and popular arts, and create art objects for the school’s El Día de los Muertos altar. They use weaving and wrapping techniques to create 3-D yarn “God’s Eyes” and embossing techniques to create milagros, metal-tooled religious folk charms used as votive offerings. Students also learn about Tibetan culture and employ resist techniques, using cray-pas oil pastels and water color paint, to create floral mandelas. They explore Indian ritual art and Mehandi, or traditional henna body art design. They create a work on paper, drawing a Mehandi hand design using balance, repetition, and alteration. Other folk art projects include mosaic tiles, found object masks, and tissue paper collage candles.

Fifth graders also practice the fundamentals of drawing the human body and expand their knowledge of the elements of composition. They practice gesture drawing—sketching the human figure in quick intervals to create movement and action; they draw hands communicating in sign language; and they complete self-portraits. They study how Georgia O’Keefe used enlargement and selective cropping as composition tools and create their own large-scale pastel floral drawings. They explore the work of Wayne Thiebault and experiment with techniques for creating positive and negative space, achieving depth of value, and drawing 3-D forms.


In their music class, fifth graders continue to learn to read musical notation in context, building on skills they have acquired in recognizing the rhythm and pitch notation of musical patterns. The fifth grade students also learn songs about social justice and diversity and prepare for an end-of-year performance. Specifically, students consider the role of music in the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements and learn such songs as “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Overcome,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Thula Sizwe,” “Shosholoza,” and “N’kosi Sikeleli Afrika.”

Fourth and fifth grade music students spend these two years singing as a chorus, and they prepare for several performances throughout the school year. They practice techniques to energize body, breath, voice, and song. They learn to sing rounds and multiple melodies together, to sing with a beautiful tone, and to follow a musical score. They prepare for performances at Grandfriends’ Day, Winter Solstice, a Valentine’s Day visit to a senior living facility, and a performance at the State House.


In dance class, students create, express, communicate, and secure confidence through the study of movement. They participate in exercises that foster creativity, challenge them physically and expressively, require teamwork, develop identity, promote problem solving, and require that they describe their creative process. Children gain body awareness, coordination, locomotor skills, musicality, and choreography techniques through formal and improvisational modern dance lessons. The K–5 dance curriculum spirals from year to year, increasing in complexity. As an example, when fifth graders study poetry in their language arts class, in dance they choreograph spoken word dances.

In addition to the modern dance curriculum, students are introduced to a variety of cultural dance styles. To broaden our global education and dance advocacy, the entire GUS school participates in Dance Anywhere, an annual worldwide simultaneous celebration of dance!

Physical Education

In fifth grade we continue to focus on the skills students will need for the sports they play in upper school. We engage in games and activities that incorporate these skills and also small, in-class tournaments that promote good sportsmanship and teamwork. All students participate in all activities. Our goal is to help students work on the same skills but at the pace that is appropriate for them. We encourage them to seek their personal best and to measure themselves by their own improvement rather than the abilities of peers.

Community Service

For their community service, fifth graders work with fourth graders to keep a local beach clean and free of trash. They are also the official paper recyclers for the school.

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