Minnehaha Academy

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Grade 5

Fifth graders focus on developing and strengthening problem-solving skills, both individually and as a part of a team. Throughout the year, students are presented with lessons and activities designed to hone those skills. During the first weeks of school, fifth graders participate in a series of cooperative games and activities, operating as a group to build relationships and learn strategies for working together as they face increasingly difficult challenges. In November, students (and parent chaperones) face the ultimate challenge of completing a high ropes course at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. Here is a closer look at the curriculum:


Students study geology firsthand through trips to various sites. We visit a Wisconsin Karst region, investigating Karst topography including sinkholes and a cavern. This study is extended as students visit the Minnehaha Falls Gorge and Mississippi River Basin for hands-on scientific learning. In both the gorge and in the cavern, fifth graders film a scientific mini-documentary detailing what they have learned.


Math in Focus, the Lower School math curriculum, is based on the Singapore math approach. It provides students with a rigorous curriculum that emphasizes mathematical fluency and conceptual mastery while engaging learners in higher-level problem solving skills.

Math Masters

Math Masters challenges students to use critical thinking skills and problem-solving strategies in math while recognizing academic effort and achievement. Students meet weekly to hone their math skills as they prepare for the competition. Close to competition time our teams are chosen on the basis of a rigorous test. On the day of the competition fifth graders gather to compete in both individual and team rounds in a variety of math topics. Awards are given to individuals and teams. Our delegation celebrates with a trip to the pizza parlour and all who are involved celebrate on another day at school with a pizza party.

Measurement and Estimation Fair

Fifth graders plan and implement a Measurement and Estimation Fair for all the students in the Lower School. They challenge themselves to offer clever measuring and estimating experiences in determining length, area, volume, duration, mass, and temperature for their younger schoolmates. Fifth graders hone their critical thinking skills as they create and implement stations such as determining your weight in encyclopedias, the temperature of frozen grapes, the volume of a bin of pop tabs, your height in Oreos, how long it takes you to get dressed and undressed, or how many ducks you can jump with a standing long jump. Our young learners improve their ability to communicate and build consensus as they work together to present their final product. They practice managing their time and materials as they assure they are prepared for the big day. Finally, they develop flexibility as they adjust their experience and expectations for the different age groups that visit the fair. Best of all, in the end it’s a day of fun…doing math!

Leadership Program

Fifth graders are developing their leadership skills as they take on the role of “oldest in the school.” Opportunities to practice leadership are offered throughout the year.


  • In the opening weeks of the school year, fifth grade “Kindergarten Helpers” assist kindergarteners adjust at Minnehaha Academy during lunch and recess. Fifth graders perform such critical tasks as carrying lunch trays, opening difficult packaging, finding the bathroom, cleaning up spills and accompanying the kindergarteners to recess. Kindergarten Helpers lasts until our kindergarteners develop the skills to navigate this time on their own.


  • RACERS is a leadership group to which students must apply and be accepted. RACERS plan and implement service projects for the Lower School.


  • A trip to Feed My Starving Children to hand pack food for malnourished children in over 70 countries culminates the RACERS’ experience.


  • School Safety Patrol is a crucial job that lasts the entire year as fifth graders become legal stop signs. They perform the important task of safely crossing both students and parents across busy morning and afternoon streets. As a reward for one year’s service, our School Safety Patrols visit Nickelodeon Universe in the spring.


  • Fifth Grade Chapel is a special chapel which fifth graders work together to create. Students are all involved and everyone has a job, from speaking to greeting to singing to acting, as we share our faith in both Lower School chapels.

November is National Novel Writing Month and writers across the nation challenge themselves to complete a novel in one month. Our fifth graders participate in Nanowrimo’s Young Writers Program, spending the month of October developing their writing skills and building expertise in elements of pre-writing, character creation, story plotting, developing the elements of a story, creating an impactful setting, and inserting meaningful dialogue as they create a plan for their own novel. We visit with published authors as they share precious bits of writing advice. This year Ann Schwab, author of Capsized, partnered with us and provided us with encouragement in the form of Poetic Pep Talks. In November, we work on our novels for the month. After a break from our stories, we return to them in February to work on editing and proofreading and many of us make our way to publishing our final product. When we are finished, we have a publishing party and our young authors are celebrated for their amazing literary work.

History Reenactments and Simulations

Fifth Graders are involved in experiential learning as they participate in historical reenactments to better understand events in our past. Historically, we have done a Civil War reenactment of Pickett’s Charge and a Civil War field hospital. Our Social Studies standards have recently changed, and we are developing reenactments to fit our new standards. Currently, our fifth graders do a First Contact Simulation through which they explore the intricacies of the first contacts made between European Explorers and Indigenous Nations. Lessons are learned as the groups attempt to communicate and interact with each other and as each group strategizes to reach its specific goals.

Eagle Bluff

Fifth graders take an overnight trip to Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in southern Minnesota. During the stay, they study academic content as well as expand their life skills. Students are encouraged to grow in environmental awareness as well as respect and personal responsibility through a program of thoughtful stewardship and choices. Students connect with Pre-Columbian studies as they learn about the Oneota People who populated the vicinity from AD 900 to around 1650 or 1700. Our learners extend their knowledge of westward movement as they become settlers of the midwestern prairies, spending time at a log cabin trying their hand at fire-making, cooking, cleaning, handwork, and recreational activities.

Students extend their life science studies as they dissect owl pellets to discover and reassemble their contents. Our students learn about the raptors that populate Minnesota’s skies as they view and interact with live raptors. Our students also experience personal growth at the top of the ropes course, as they discover their own mettle and tenacity.

MCBA Field Trip

Our young artists spend a day at the Minnesota Center for Books Arts, engaged with professional artists in the art of book creation. Each student creates a book using a Japanese Stab Binding method, creates a three-dimensional thematic pop-out book, and tries Suminagashi Paper Marbling. Students have opportunities to experience hands-on creative expression, acquire new artistic skills, and develop facility in critical and visual thinking as they engage in new art forms during this rich day away.

Family project

As they prepare to enter Middle School, fifth graders dive into an in-depth study of their family heritage. The Family Project gives them the opportunity to learn about their own family and the historical events connected with it, while working on skills of thinking, researching, writing, drawing, graph-making, interviewing, making presentations and managing their time. Each student completes a Thea Holtan Thinking and Writing research paper that integrates an event from American history and the impact it had on his or her family. Students collect family memoirs in a letter writing project, conduct interviews to gather family history, and design and construct 3-D landmarks, homes, flora or fauna. Then, in a celebration of our diverse heritages, we gather together to enjoy a potluck of grand proportions as each family shares a memorable family dish. Following the feast, families have the opportunity to enjoy displays designed and presented by our fifth graders.

JA Biztown

Students study business, economics and free-enterprise through hands-on lessons and simulations. The unit concludes with a full day trip to Biztown where students, accepting jobs such as CEO, CFO, scientist, meteorologist, nutritionist, DJ, and mayor, participate in a simulated economy. STEM skills are integrated during the experience through activities such as alternative energy exploration and research, water quality testing, weighing, measuring, and accounting. While exploring STEM careers students actively use STEM skills such as employing the scientific process, thinking critically, problem solving, using math, and collaborating as a team.

Veterans Day Assembly

Fifth grade students plan and lead a school-wide assembly honoring veterans and military personnel.

Good Works

Throughout the year fifth graders work to develop initiatives to respond to needs around them. As opportunities become apparent, fifth graders assess the situation and work together to develop and implement a solution. Creating and managing projects is important to our fifth graders’ development as it helps to build their personal identities and self-esteem as well as foster teamwork, cooperation and time management skills. Students develop an understanding of themselves and empathy for others, which helps them form and maintain healthy relationships. This year, fifth graders have led the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Drive, led a coat drive for homeless children in St. Paul, and sold pies to raise money for a water well in the Congo.

Witness Program

Students and teachers are provided exciting opportunities to investigate the contributions African Americans have made and are making to the fine arts. In the past three years, we’ve studied the operatic singing of Marian Anderson, the music and dance of the Gullah People of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and the music that impacted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his role as a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Each year an artist visits our classrooms and leads us through lessons and learning experiences revolving around the year’s topic. Our learning is extended as students share what they have learned with the greater community, and culminates when we attend a special concert. This years’ concert is Let Freedom Ring and celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and features the Sounds of Blackness and the VocalEssence Chorus.

Fall Vocal Festival

Fifth graders perform in a concert that includes the Lower, Middle and Upper schools. This festival provides the students with the opportunity to perform at a high level, appreciate exemplary musical work, and understand the progression of musical opportunities ahead of them. Our fifth graders have been studying world drumming of focus, teamwork, and respect. All students learned to play a variety of drums; some of them have the opportunity to accompany our singers on instruments such as low drum, medium drum, high drum, cowbell, shekere, or gankogui.

Choir, Band and Orchestra

Fifth Graders who are interested in singing are invited to extend their classroom experience by joining the Lower School Singers. Participants meet weekly and are enthusiastically involved in preparing special selections for our concerts. At our Christmas Concert this year, Lower School Singers not only sang a beautiful number but also added a little dance to their song!

Fifth grade is the first time our students are invited to join Minnehaha’s robust instrumental music program as a member of the band or the orchestra. It is within these groups that our young musicians can learn the value of their individual contribution within a larger group. Confidence, independent learning, listening, cooperation, and discipline are qualities that are developed through these programs.

This year 100% of our fifth graders participated. These crucial first steps into instrumental music often lead to students choosing a performance art throughout their time at Minnehaha. Research shows that students involved in music education increase their aptitude at math, science, and language acquisition.