“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.

-Arthur C. Clarke

The fifth grade is an important transition year as students move from elementary to middle school. They are leaving one identity and growing into another. Having the opportunity to learn skills needed to be able to make that shift with grace and confidence means becoming grounded in the shift of increased responsibilities needed by rising middle school students. It can be an awkward period for many, a time to explore ideas and learning how to participate in dialogue as young adults.

Some learning opportunities offered to her students spring from Ms. Janet’s love of history and the outdoors. Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, the fifth grade’s major expedition has been a three day trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to explore the area’s rich history during the Civil War. Students get a hands-on view of the past by walking through the Civil War section of the Chattanooga National Cemetery. While walking through the fields and woods where the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga occurred, an understanding of the fierce conflict emerges during the interpreters’ vivid account of the battle. Students see Chattanooga as it looks today from the top of Lookout Mountain and realize it is the same view of the Tennessee River that young soldiers, some not much older than the fifth graders themselves, saw as they fought for control of the mountain during the Battle in the Clouds. Walking on trails approaching Lookout Mountain that the soldiers themselves used anchors an understanding of that era in our country’s history.

While staying in the rustic lodge at the Cloudland Canyon State Park in northern Georgia, the students learn to work together in teams as cooks for the entire group of volunteer parents and classmates and be responsible for all aspects of meal preparation. We also take a step back in time exploring the geology in the park with Cloudland Canyon’s Education Rangers.

The rich variety of resources found in Western North Carolina offers unique activities and field trips throughout the school year that directly relate to the North Carolina Common Core Standards. For most students, learning though hands-on and participatory activities, whether on location in the Great Smoky Mountains, area trails and waterways or in area museums, make lasting impressions and deep connections to topics studied. These opportunities help anchor concepts and make learning especially exciting and meaningful.

Fifth grade is a big transition year for many students. They’re not quite middle school students yet but also, in their minds and bodies, don’t quite feel like they are in elementary school any longer either. Because of these changes, there is a lot of opportunity for growth. One aspect of growth is learning to take greater responsibility for learning. Some students from the terrific class of 2014 – 2015 made these observations about how they could contribute to their own learning and advice they have for the upcoming 5th graders.

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