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'Smarter than a Third-grader' game crushes reporter's ego

April 07, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

I graduated magna cum laude from a four-year university in North Carolina. I've been accepted to a master's degree program in communications.

But last week I had to stand in front of about 100 children and tell them I was a dummy.

I received an e-mail from Williamsport Elementary School student achievement specialist Judy Kerns a few weeks ago asking me to participate in a game to prepare students for the Maryland School Assessment exams. I saw that they were playing a game based on the television game show, "Are You Smarter than a 5th-grader?"

Never having seen the show, I had heard enough to know that this never ends well for the adult. Graduates from Ivy League universities have looked ridiculous when they flunk out on a first-grade math question.

After telling Kerns that I would participate, I got another e-mail saying that I'd been demoted from fifth-grade questions to third-grade.

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Kerns also invited my colleague Tim Rowland to be a contestant. Proving he was smarter than a fifth-grader (and me), he declined.

So, I decided to test my smarts against about eight third-grade students. The first few questions were a breeze. Fractions. The definition of "dew." I had this in the bag. I would not be embarrassed today.

Then we made it to questions a second-grader should be able to answer.

I was shown a pattern that went something like: smiley face, smiley face, heart, flower, star, smiley face, flower. I had to match that pattern with a corresponding pattern that had letters. I took a look for a few minutes, and picked something that looked about right.

As soon as I said my answer, the third-graders began smiling and saying, "Oh," whispering amongst themselves while I stood in front of them knowing I had just blown it. So, feeling a little demoralized, I had to use one of my three "cheats," which include peeking at the student's answer.

My prize for each question I answered correctly was "Willie bucks," and I ended up with a couple hundred thousand before I had to admit I was not smarter than a third-grader.

One question away from the grand prize, I was asked whether two triangles were congruent. Remembering back to geometry, I thought congruent meant that the shapes have the same angles. Both of the triangles were the exact same shape, but one was just smaller than the other.

Thinking they were congruent, I said, "true."

Instantly, the "ohs" and the whispering started again. Kerns said I was wrong. Humiliated, I stood there and tried to smile.

Then, I was told to walk to the front of the room, hold the microphone and say the same words that humiliated contestants on the televised show have to say.

"I am not smarter than a third-grader."

Later I was told that my participation really motivated the students to do well on the state assessments they are taking this week and last. Great.

I hope all of the students at Williamsport Elementary and other schools in Washington County get high scores on the tests.

I'm thinking I should contact my alumni association.

Erin Cunningham is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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