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Competition Adding a Little Fun to Learning

Competition Adding a Little Fun to Learning

Can you solve this analogy?

FIELD : FALLOW :: _________________ 
a. hiker : laden 
b. ditch : deep 
c. factory : idle 
d. cellar : dark 
e. squabble : angry

Or, how about this math problem? 

How many two-digit counting numbers are even?

These are just two examples of questions that Lakota elementary students may have faced during recent national vocabulary and math competitions.

Each year, nearly 125,000 students participate in the vocabulary competition WordMasters ChallengeTM. For math-loving students, their knowledge, along with that of nearly 32,000 others nationwide, is challenged in the NOETIC Learning Math Contest. About 2,000 Lakota students participated in each competition this fall.

Across the district, students in grades three through six have been participating in both competitions for several years. This year, participation in each about doubled, thanks to last year’s shift in how the district provides services to those identified as gifted and a little out-of-the-box thinking by the Lakota’s gifted intervention specialists (GIS).

After receiving special training last year, every elementary general education teacher became a gifted service provider in both math and English Language Arts. Not only has this significantly increased the number of students who receive gifted services, it has also opened up access to competitions such as these to more Lakota students. To encourage participation by not only those identified as gifted, but also other high-achieving students, GISs decided to have an intra-district competition. 

“Many teachers have really invested in the programs, including weekly activities and practice sessions to help students learn the content and grow in these complex academic areas,” explained Amy Alexander, the GIS for Cherokee and VanGorden elementary schools, along with Heritage and Liberty early childhood. “It is amazing to see how these students are able to apply their new skills with such enthusiasm and excitement - and the teachers are the ones who bring that to life in their classrooms!”

“NOETIC and WordMasters provide a fantastic chance for our talented math and ELA students to set goals, learn new skills, practice, practice, practice - then compete!” said Alexander. “Students who excel in sports and the arts get many opportunities to grow their skills by competing with or against others who are also working hard to achieve their very best. Students who excel in academic areas like math and ELA rarely get this same opportunity.”

NOETIC challenges students twice a year as they compete to solve 20 complex math problems within a set amount of time. This fall, Lakota had three students place in the top spots at the state level. Third grader Christian Astacio from Woodland placed second, while Lucas McGuire from Union and John Royce Guerrerro from Cherokee tied for third. 

Students also had the opportunity to test their skills in the fall WordMasters Challenge competition. The fall event, which is the first of three during the school year, challenged the students to not only learn the meaning of 25 words, but also be able to use reasoning to complete 12 types of analogies with them. Students will learn additional words during each of the subsequent competitions. 

Kelly Law, a sixth-grade teacher at Union Elementary, and Jennifer Sharp, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodland Elementary, are just two of the many teachers districtwide who embedded WordMasters Challenge practice into their lesson plans. In addition to giving students more time to practice and prepare for the test, it also opened up the opportunity for other students to participate as well.

“This year, knowing how valuable (WordMasters) is for my kiddos, (I used class time) to give them a little push,” said Law. Union’s GIS Debbie Roberts joined Law for some of the lessons, providing additional resources and ideas. “This is increasing their vocabulary for sure,” Law continued. “They’re challenging words, but it’s where they need to be (and) it’s teaching them analytical skills.” 

As her students began pointing out when they would see the vocabulary words, Law encouraged them to write it down. Whether it’s in a book, at a movie or somewhere else, the students will now be adding the locations to a vocabulary word wall they’ve created in the classroom.

Sharp took a collaborative approach with her students when prepping for the fall competition. Using Google Slides, each student took ownership of defining one of the vocabulary words. Once all of the words were defined, the students used them as a study tool. 

Both teachers also encouraged students to have fun with learning, whether that meant incorporating the words into games like Pictionary or Balderdash, or using online tools like Quizlet.

“The benefit to kids is that they can start to see relationships between words,” said Sharp. “Even though they’re in fourth grade, it’s helping to prepare them (for the future). It gives them that enrichment that’s above the standards for fourth grade.” Sharp explained that prepping for the WordMasters Challenge helps students identify relationships between the words, apply logic and even strengthens their writing as they learn synonyms and strengthen their vocabulary. “With WordMasters, it really forces them to pay attention to how words relate to one another.”

“For some of our students who are grade level or district winners, this is the first time they've ever been recognized for anything,” noted Alexander. “It truly matters that we take the time to celebrate our students who are excellent wordsmiths and mathematicians. We are so very proud of our Lakota students!”

The hard work has certainly paid off for fourth grader Audrey Harville at Woodland Elementary School. Audrey was one of only 16 fourth graders nationwide, and the only one in Ohio, to earn a perfect score of 20 in the fall WordMasters Challenge. 

“I was really surprised because I’m not usually great at analogies,” Audrey said about her reaction upon seeing her score at the end of the test. “I was really surprised and happy.”

When Sharp asked Audrey what her secret to success was, Audrey shared that she “practiced a lot at home.” She also noted, “I think it’s fun (and) it just gives your mind a challenge.” 

As students across Lakota prepare for the winter WordMasters Challenge, there’s a bit of a buzz in the air. “Now there’s a competition,” said Sharp. “They know that someone was able to get a perfect score so now they know it’s possible.”

Audrey said that she has decided to “schelp off” any pressure to repeat her perfect score. When asked if she had any advice for her fellow participants, Audrey laughed as she replied, “My advice would be to practice hard and study and hope for the best.”

And, in case you’re wondering, the correct answers are factory:idle and 45.