Fifth Grade Pirate Unit is a Treasure

Blimey! Why were all the fifth graders and their teachers dressed as jolly pirates two weeks before Halloween? They were in character, after having studied all things pirate from October 5 to 17.

Fifth graders imagined themselves as pirates in writing assignments, composed their own sea shanty songs in music, designed pirate wanted posters in art, learned about the real-life Jack Sparrows in social studies, and explored weather patterns affecting the triangular trade route in science.

“The interdisciplinary pirate unit has been the most amazing work that I have been part of in my 11 years at McDonogh,” said social studies teacher Jennifer Smith.

While her curriculum didn’t change, the way she taught it did. Smith and her colleagues experimented with schedules and class sizes, negotiated teaching time, taught together in some instances, and invented new and coordinated lessons to impart skills.

Said Nancy Cooper, “For us as teachers, the benefit was the new usage of time—the ability to just look at the full day as accessible time restricted only by phys. ed., lunch, and buses. It was great to be creative with both the content of the unit and with usage of time. For someone in her 31st year of teaching, it was amazing to be able to do something completely different and creative.“

“Some days we had 20-minute classes with nine students and other days we had 30- or 90-minute classes with 36 students and three teachers. I think the kids enjoyed the pirate theme, and it added to their excitement about school,” said science teacher Kirk Robertson.

Nancy Cooper’s students read the same play adaptation of Treasure Island that Cooper has been using with her English classes for years. “But this time,” she explained, “they were able to learn more about the history of piracy and famous pirates through social studies with Jen and learn about ship construction and how weather affected the pirates in science with Kirk. The ability to also bring in Denise Wolf and her art ideas just put the icing on the cake.”

From Wolf's perspective, “the best part was working with the team! I loved the fact that I was brought into the daily schedule of the fifth grader. It was so nice to be a part of such a successful interdisciplinary unit. I can't wait for the next one!”

Added music colleague Suzi Eldridge, "I am truly grateful that the arts can tie in so beautifully to the interdisciplinary units."

The fifth grade team received a professional development grant to design the pirate unit over the summer, but they don't intend to wait until next summer to connect their curricula again.

Said Smith, “We’re already planning our second unit like this. We see the power of it. The kids loved it.”

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