Are you smarter than a fifth-grader

November 30, 1999|By JENNIFER FITCH


Beth Vassallo had just stuck a copy of Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" to the chalkboard when one of her students started trying to get the art teacher's attention.

"I stuck my hand in something, and it smells funny," Maggie McGahen said.

After advising Maggie to apply hand sanitizer and wipe the table, Vassallo turned the fifth-grade class' attention back to a reproduction of the painting.

Dakota Green quickly identified the artist of the melting clocks, but the painting's title stumped everyone on Thursday.

Once it was revealed by Vassallo, dialogue began about understanding the subconscious mind and, also, about how to correctly underline the titles of artwork.


This is typical of how students in this Fairview Elementary School fifth-grade class learn. They tackle the big concepts and discover the smaller lessons along the way.

They evaluate an essay's grammar, spelling and capitalization, and learn what a colon is in the process. They identify the conflict and resolution in a book, and learn how paragraphs are indented in it.

And through it all, teacher Bobbi Blubaugh encourages them to employ more challenging words in their vocabulary.

"Confer," Blubaugh said, pointing to a word in a skit the children were reading.

"That's a short word for conference. They're talking," she said.

Children in recent weeks learned about Native American lifestyles, multiplication, body systems and how to join two choppy sentences.

Discussion about the skeletal system last week prompted countless tales of broken and fractured bones, torn ligaments and pulled muscles. Students offered up stories concerning the afflictions of cousins, sisters, friends and friends of friends until Blubaugh cut them off in the interest of time.

"What are bones made out of?" Horizon Draper asked.

His question sparked a short session on calcium, followed by an explanation about the ulna. An at-times unprotected nerve runs along the ulna bone, creating the familiar "funny bone" sensation upon impact.

Marshall Miller asked if "something gooey" holds joints and bones together. From there, Blubaugh guided the class through the subjects of cartilage and ligaments.

Destiny Ridenour sought clarification on how doctors repair torn ligaments. Horizon wanted to know if the rib cage has more than one bone.

After lunch and recess, students in Blubaugh's class turn much of their attention to writing and reading every day.

They break into small groups for reading comprehension, and, on Wednesday and Thursday, divided into different groups to evaluate essays. Those essays were student work from past Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. Blubaugh's class identified errors and scored the writings based on the PSSA scale.

Each group must reach a consensus as part of teamwork, Blubaugh said in the instructions.

The children also played the "Crazy, Mixed-up Game," which essentially uses participants as the game pieces in "Scrabble." They identified action verbs in sentences and acted out some of their own.

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