PUBLISHED: 5:17 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Fifth graders compete in game show
Peeking at answers and copying another's paper are not activities that educators usually promote but Mendenhall River Community School Principal Patty Newman encouraged both last week, as volunteers competed in "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader," a local re-creation of the Fox Network's hit television game show.

Adult contestants took center stage in the school gym to answer a series of questions from elementary school curricula, testing their knowledge of everything from the planet Jupiter to human anatomy. When they were stuck, a panel of 11 bright fifth graders came to the rescue. But even cheating couldn't help the intrepid contestants, all of whom failed to prove themselves more knowledgeable than their elementary school counterparts. The school's Parent Teacher Organization pledged to purchase prizes for the winners. Incentives ranged from a six-pack of soda, to gift certificates at local bookstores and eateries. The top award was a family night in the school gym but no one took home a prize!

  Mendenhall River Community School Fifth Grade Game Show Participants - Top row (from left): Kahlil English, Ashley Buck, Zach Gianotti, Marina McDowell, Rebecca Erickson, Rhys Coffee, Principal Patty Newman; Bottom row (from left): Kyle White, Joley Hodgson, Cedar Schick, McKinsey Rogers.
Kris Coffee, mother of fifth grade participant Rhys, went farthest. She skillfully converted pints to ounces, waded through coastal geography, and handled a tough animal science question on butterflies. "How many wings does a butterfly have," said Principal Newman. "Name them." With help from her daughter, Coffee guessed four wings, anterior and posterior.

The judges, fifth grade teachers Dick Fagnant and Kim Janelle, conferred over her answer while music teacher Michael Moss played the Jeopardy theme on the piano. The verdict - "Correct!"

Despite her careful work, Coffee stumbled on the Big Question, the tenth and final query for which she was allowed no student assistance. "What is an atalatal?" said Newman. "I'm thinking its some kind of tool that Native Alaskans use," said Coffee.

"You probably want to know what kind, right? This is hard!" Coffee guessed a fishing tool, a wrong answer that eliminated her from the competition. Also known as a spear thrower, an atalatal is a hunting implement used to increase the distance a hunter can hurl a lance.

Other contestants were not as successful as Coffee. Ken Simpson struck out on a 3rd grade astronomy question about Saturn. Ivan Hazelton was done in by a 4th grade geometry problem that required calculating area. School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan lost on a 2nd grade math question about calendars.

To their credit, the participants played hard, never shunning a difficult category in favor of a tempting prize. "The questions were tough," said Principal Newman who designed the quizzes. Coffee admitted practicing for the show. "I reviewed my state capitals over the week-end" she said.

The fifth graders also prepared working from a study guide developed by Newman. Among the students, Marina McDowell aced the competition. She answered 25 of the 26 questions correctly to win a gift card generously donated by a school parent.

The game gave graduating fifth graders a chance to show off the skills they will be taking to Middle school. Teachers choose the ten participants for their study habits. "Each is a hard worker with good grades. These are responsible students," said Newman, "They did a great job today."