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Are You Smarter? Events
Get Students Heads
In the Game


Seeking new and motivating approaches to encourage students to prepare and excel on standardized tests, some administrators have seized upon an idea from a classic nemesis -- television! Borrowing the format of the program Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, schools are holding game nights that focus on questions like those that students face on achievement tests. With the impetus of game night, students are often much more eager to study and prepare for upcoming tests. The added bonus? Test preparation becomes a family affair. Included: See how game night plays out in one Illinois elementary school.

"Are You Smarter Than an Oak Manor Student? was special because we felt that we were celebrating real knowledge, not the usual PTA meeting or a puppet show," recalled David Warken. "We felt like we were celebrating education like we never had before."

While Warken watched the FOX program Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, he recognized that the game would be a fantastic format to put a positive spin on preparations for Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) tests. As principal of Oak Manor Elementary School in Ukiah, California, he met individually with students in grades three through six and their parents to discuss strengths and weaknesses in the areas of language arts and math that were evident from past tests.

Students from grades two through
six took their turn on teams
to play the game and show their smarts.

During those meetings, Warken announced an impending challenge -- Are You Smarter Than an Oak Manor Student?, a game show event in which the kids and parents would compete by answering questions like those that appear on state tests. Warken provided packets of sample questions for home study.


"We had parents working with their children months ahead, studying together and trying to get ready for Are You Smarter Than an Oak Manor Student? and the state testing that we do every spring," Warken shared. "It was really exciting to see the students and parents take a more active interest in the state testing, and the event was a great motivator."

Staff members at Oak Manner were surprised to discover just how much some students studied the questions they were given. They often came to request extra copies of the questions and would report on their preparations. Some students asked Warken how to solve difficult math problems and confided in him that their parents honestly didn't know how to solve the problems correctly.

Principal David Warken chats with
a parent as host of
Are You Smarter Than
an Oak Manor Student?

Warken reports that the game-show-based approach to getting ready for achievement tests made the entire experience more palatable for his students. Although he hasn't yet received this year's results, he is optimistic that the event raised the school's scores and certainly gave the students more confidence in their skills. At the very least, the game show made test awareness and test preparation more of a family event.

"The simple act of meeting with each child and his or her parents to discuss previous state test scores really sets the tone that those scores are important," says Warken. "I thought I could tell which students would readily accept the challenge and start studying with their families, but it was amazing to see students who I just didn't think would be that interested in this really start studying and get excited about being in the game show. It started a school-wide excitement about the sample questions and testing in general."

At the event, one question at a time flashed onto a big screen in the school cafeteria through an LCD projector and computer. Students from grades two through six took center stage and rotated throughout the evening so that every child had the opportunity to participate. Parents wrote their names on cards that were drawn for a stint in the "hot seat." The parents earned one dollar for every correct answer, and every student earned a raffle ticket which made him eligible for small prizes that were distributed at the end of the night.

"We will definitely do this again next year, but we may invite a few outsiders to challenge our students, such as someone from the real Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? show," added Warken. "Maybe Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would like to go head to head with our students!"


Principal Joe Corcoran of Harriet Gifford Elementary in Elgin, Illinois, also used a program patterned after the game show to help his students "take the edge off" in preparation for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). His is a Title I, K-6 school about 35 miles northwest of Chicago.

As the Are You Smarter Than an
ISAT Student?
emcee, Principal Joe
Corcoran talks about the importance
of rest and a healthy breakfast
during ISAT tests.

"We wanted to show parents how hard their children have been working in school during the course of the year and to expose parents to the types of questions that the students would have to answer on the test," said Corcoran.

In the past, information sheets with Web sites were sent home with students, but the effectiveness of the handouts remained unclear. Corcoran considered having a parent meeting about the tests, but he doubted that it would draw a large crowd.

"One night while watching Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, it hit me that we could do a trivia night and pit the students against their parents," Corcoran recalled. "I thought it would be a fun night. I ran the idea past some of our teachers, and it snowballed from there. Different ideas were generated and the event was promoted."

Prior to the event, which was dubbed Are You Smarter Than an ISAT Student?, flyers were sent out to invite parents and students to be contestants. Teams were organized, with students selected from all classes. Teachers met and provided Corcoran with ten reading questions and ten math questions from their grade level. Fourth grade also provided ten science questions. Teachers drew their questions from a variety of resources but found the Illinois Practice Test the most helpful.

Students from all grades work in
teams to answer questions like
those that appear on state tests.

Corcoran and his staff purchased game show software from Trainer's Warehouse, and questions were entered into the software by categories. The software also allows users to upload pictures and images, so graphs were added. Using a video projector and sound system, the game was projected onto a wall in the gym.

"It was really neat to watch members of the audience read the questions to themselves and see their lips saying the answer at their seats," reported Corcoran. "I knew we had total engagement. For the parents, it was a real eye opener as to what their children are expected to know. It gave some parents a new appreciation for what their children were learning in school."

The popularity of this event has grown as students recall the fun they have had from year to year. For the most recent event, Corcoran's school acquired a donation of computers to be given to families without them at home. On that night, ten families left with iMac computers.

"The smiles on the faces of those students were worth everything we did that night," Corcoran recalled.

A teacher shows her disappointment
during her performance in Dickison
Elementary's Are You Smarter Than
a 5th Grader?

Many participants have commented on the strong staff presence, and Corcoran notes that the involvement of staff members is pivotal to the event's success. Equally important is promotion, which occurs weeks in advance. Door prizes and food bring in the students and parents. At one time, pizza was sold as a fundraiser, but organizers have found that popcorn and water are more popular. Prizes are often donated, and grant money is used to purchase others. Corcoran uses the prizes to build anticipation for the event by placing them in a display case in full view of the youngsters.

"The first year, we used bells to help determine which team answered first," stated Corcoran. "It was hard to distinguish, so we used some grant money to purchase a wireless buzzer system. It was expensive but well worth it. This system has colored lights and lets you know which team buzzed in first and second. It is used in classrooms throughout the year."

Another issue Corcoran and his staff didn't anticipate is that some teams quickly buzz in and use the allotted time for the question to make their selection. In the second event, the number of seconds allowed by the software was adjusted to ten. Because of its popularity, game show night has become a "tradition" at the elementary school.

"Building self confidence and positive attitudes about taking the test were key elements in planning this event," Corcoran added. "The kids had worked very hard all year in school and had all the answers within themselves. They just needed the confidence to go out there and show the world what they knew."


"We wanted teachers and students have fun while learning," Fleming Robinson states simply. "We also wanted to show that we value scholars as champions."

As principal of Dickison Elementary School, Robinson reports that the constant "buzz" about the teachers and their performances weeks after the school's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? event provides proof that its primary goals were achieved. Students are still bragging about their teachers' academic prowess.

Game show night at Dickison was designed to celebrate student learning. During the event, reaction from the Compton (California) audience of students, parents, and teachers was great. They hung on the announcer's every word as six teachers answered questions from every grade level and all subjects. Fifth graders became the teachers' "lifelines."

"The students seemed to really enjoy the challenge questions for teachers," observed Robinson. "Needless to say, they laughed hardest when the teachers missed a question. I think it brought students and teachers closer together."

Robinson relies on fifth grade standards to create a large pool of questions for the event. The game show night focuses on student achievement and not specifically on test preparation. Out of this year's six teacher participants, five had to admit that they were "not smarter than a fifth grader"!

"It is vital to work together with teachers using current curriculum so that students have a strong chance for success," he advises. "The event should be encouraging."

Game Show Night at Gifford

On the night of Harriet Gifford Elementary's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? event, Principal Joe Corcoran opens the evening with a welcome message and a speech about the importance of a good night's rest and breakfast during test time. He talks about the state tests and directs parents' attention to handouts with additional information and online resources. Next, as the night's emcee, he outlines how play will proceed.

Four games are presented: two in the format of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and two "quiz show" trivia games. The Millionaire games feature teams of four students against four parents. Student teams include members from every grade.

"This game has lifelines of 50/50, poll the audience, and ask a teacher," reports Corcoran. "The team with the most points after 15 questions wins. If one team gets the answer wrong, play reverts to the other team and it controls the board."

The quiz show games involve two teams of four students each and two teams with four parents. Each team has a marker board and wireless buzzer, and each category has questions with assigned point values. If a team answers correctly, it gets the value of the points, but an incorrect answer subtracts the points. Like the game show "Jeopardy!," there are bonus questions in the game that allow the teams to bet more points and a final question at the end in which the teams write their answers on their marker boards and reveal how many points they have risked.

"The final question could make or break it for a team," Corcoran adds. "Each game during the evening has a completely different question set."

After the games end, there is a drawing for door prizes. A popular prize is the board game version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?