Fifth-graders know a lot that we don't

Published April 20, 2007

How sweet life is for the fifth-grader.

Masters of grade schools, they're at the top of their game.

Their heads are not yet cluttered with the minutiae of adult responsibilities, such as the shortest route from WestShore Plaza to Skatepark of Tampa. Or the current going price on a gallon of gas.

Facts are fresh in their minds. Unlike my poor withered brain.

At least that's what I worried after I had agreed to be a contestant one evening last week on a spoof of the game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

The kids at Macfarlane Park School for International Studies came up with questions they thought fifth-graders should know. They vied among each other to win one of six spots for the "class" that gets to help contestants.

Fifth-grader Samantha talked her dad, Derek Hennecke, into being the other contestant, competing against me.

He went first.

And he held his own, despite getting no hints from Samantha. (He attempted to brush up by digging through her bookbag to see what fifth-graders study.)

He aced the one on whether the Earth's crust is a single layer of solid rock.

He knew that the words bang, whoosh and woof are examples of onomatopoeia.

But he didn't know the first black person to play Major League Baseball.

Samantha must not have had that answer in her backpack. Hennecke passed. A student from the audience answered correctly: Jackie Robinson. (Robinson's daughter visited the school earlier to talk about breaking barriers.)

Then it was my turn.

I hadn't known that the Earth's crust is made of tectonic plates. Or the Jackie Robinson question.

Would I look foolish?

I picked Sami Ghanem as my helper. He looked smart.

The competition was the brainchild of fifth-grader Nikki Alexa Hasani-Ferrera, who is in Cynthia Doyle's class.

Doyle said the school encourages action from students as part of its International Baccalaureate theme.

Macfarlane became an authorized IB World School in February 2007, the district's first elementary IB.

During the competition, fifth-graders took the $2 entrance fee and sold popcorn.

They'll spend the $200 profits for their end-of-year graduation banquet. Contestants won no money, but got A's for being "risk takers," one of the IB program's values.

Those fifth-graders will need that skill next year, when they're at the bottom of the middle school totem pole.

Doyle says the questions used on the game show are fresh in her students' minds. But that's not the case for adults who are left asking themselves, "Why don't I know this?"

And when the kids answer quickly and correctly, she said, "We're always like, 'I knew that.' "

That was true in several instances that night. I knew that Mozart was the child prodigy who wrote his first opera in Vienna when he was 12.

And in math, that the mode is the number that appears the most often in a data set.

But I didn't know the chickee, the Seminole Indian word for house, made of palmetto thatch in the 1800s. Did anyone else know that?

Fortunately for me, Sami did.