Students participate more in their education in fifth grade

Tuesday, November 13, 2001


Using a pencil to mark his page in the language textbook, Cody Seyer turned his attention to the front of his fifth-grade classroom where the English lesson was about possessive nouns.

Students worked out answers together as a class project, which is how many assignments are completed in Laurel Rhodes' classroom at Scott City Elementary School.

Rhodes often works through problems at the board -- dry erase, not chalk -- so that the entire class has an opportunity to understand. Whether it's in English or spelling or math, the students enjoy heading to the board to complete a problem, she said.

She checks their comprehension of the lesson with worksheets or review assignments from the textbook.

Students, when asked, said that fifth grade isn't really hard, and a few even rattled off favorite subjects. Terry McCollum was almost elated when he finished writing the definitions of five new science vocabulary words because that meant "No science homework tonight," he said, slapping his textbook shut.

Fifth grade is a time in elementary schools where the students are responsible for their own work. They're the oldest students at the elementary level now that middle schools in many districts combine sixth and seventh grades. It's an age where personalities show through and attraction to the opposite sex begins.

It's also an age when the students are more active participants in their education, Rhodes said. The work is hands-on. "Half the time we don't get out the books and work the problems together at the board," she said. "We're helping them develop good work and study habits."

There are three classes of fifth-graders at Scott City Elementary School, taught by Rhodes, Gerald Taylor and Angela Umfleet. To accommodate the core subjects, the teachers switch classrooms instead of the students. So each morning at 9:50 a.m., Rhodes leaves her classroom for another where she teaches reading. At 10:30 a.m., she moves to the next classroom before returning to hers just before lunch at 11:10 a.m.

Assignment notebooks help keep the students organized and reminded of daily assignments or tests. The notebooks are signed by parents and then returned the next day.

A lot of projects

Students still do their fair share of worksheets and homework from textbooks. But that work is supplemented with projects, particularly in social studies and science.

In social studies, the students completed colonial journals which tell about life in the new American colonies. Each student was assigned a character and had to write journal entries as if they were that person. Some of the journals were returned on tea-stained paper or in leather-bound covers. The student entries are truly descriptive of colonial life, said Umfleet, who teaches social studies.

In science, the students finished a unit on plant life and photosynthesis. They grew plants from seed, and many still sit in the windowsill of Rhodes' classroom. The seed project was designed to give them a firsthand look at how plants grow.

"We're supposed to take them out and look at the root hairs, but I don't have the heart to pull them out," said Taylor, who teaches science.

After a unit on plants, the students move on to astronomy and space exploration.

In reading, students are studying setting in stories, learn to make predictions about how stories might end, learn the differences between fact and opinion and cause and effect.

And they begin each day with a 20-minute reading period. On most student desks in Rhodes' classroom is a library book placed at the corner of the desk. When students finish class assignments early, they are allowed to read or research the "Super Sleuth" trivia questions.

Each Monday, Rhodes posts a trivia question on the bulletin board. A new clue is added each day. Students can use encyclopedias and the computer to find the answer to the question. "I encourage it, and they learn research skills and reading," she said.

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