Random Thoughts

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? My version

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(Full Disclosure: It comes on right after American Idol on our TV so watch it by default….I’m in China our choices are limited! 🙂 )

1) Grab your laptop and go to Google.com

2) When a question is asked see how long it takes you to find the answer.

3) Think about all the useless content we teach students 1-5 grade.

  • What does this say about what we’re teaching?
  • How much of the content that we teach in grades 1-5 is useless to us in the “real world”
  • Think like a 5th grader today: “Why should I learn this stuff when I can find it on google faster and when I need it?”

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I love it. That makes a lot more sense than those adults standing there and trying to remember useless facts they learned long ago.

  2. What is half of 52?

    Did you need to run to the calculator for this? I’m fascinated by your comment as I’m a fifth grade teacher–not necessarily indicating that I am smart as a fifth grader (I seem to be repeating the grade each year while the students move on!)

    This is the fundamental question of our time, right? What is worth knowing and what is worth knowing where the information can be found? Isn’t part of the answer efficiency? On occasion, we might want to know something without being teathered to our computers, or cell phone, Will. As ubiquitous as these tools are, what happens when we don’t have one nearby? Surely you might counter with: “Well, of course, we’ll have one nearby! Someday it will be as handy as our own two hands.”

    Here’s my current thought–and don’t get me wrong, I love technology and agree that this question should be driving what we do in education–Am I a knowledgeable person simply because I have access to a wealth of information? Am I a knowledgeable person only if I have the literacy to navigate that wealth of information?

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    • No, you are not a knowledgeable person simply because you have access to the wealth of information.

      You are a knowledgeable person if you know how to find and use the information when you need it.

      That’s what we need to be teaching our kids. How to find and use information not simply how to access it.

      In my head anyway.

  3. Hmm…maybe I should play this and Jeopardy with my laptop near by. I’d probably do a whole lot better. On a similar note, its handy to have a computer near by during an episode of The Tudors to discern fact from fiction.

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  5. In Taiwan (like Jeff with a lack of channels to watch on T.V. …. limitless on the computer however … what’s your excuse there Jeff), friends and I are amazed how often the T.V. programming makes us race to the computer to check information we find to be ‘shaky’ or to answer questions that have come up b/c of what’s on. Then we wonder … what the heck did we used to do?
    This summer I went to our new cabin in Northern Saskatchewan; and had to clean a fish that the kids caught. My wife is from Sask. and I’m not. We don’t have this kind of fish in B.C. and I had heard that they were difficult to clean. As our kids are small I really wanted to get all of the bones out. Of course, in the first summer of our cabin experience; we didn’t have i’net access. It took me half an afternoon to figure out that I would have to ask a neighbor how to fillet the fish…I am sooo used to instant answers.
    Of course this summer I’ll have i’net at the cabin:-)

  6. Ahhhh…I was thinking about writing a post on this in the next few days. It is the same as our state testing. Most successful adults would probably fail all of the math tests down to the fifth grade level.

  7. Jeff,

    This is an interesting post. I am familiar with that show and watching people try to answer 5th grade questions is intreeging. I have never thought about using technoligy to answer those questions and I might try it next time I turn to that show. Some of the questions are actually hard and I think the people on the show wishes they had technoligy there so they could win the million dollors. On another note this idea of using the computer to find answers shows how much we have grown technoligy wise. I think that people should not take the computer for granted becuase many people in the world dont have one. Using it a lot, like for this ” Are you smarter than a 5th grader” idea , is good becuase then you become more familiar with technoligy. Soon enough things like textbooks and real books will be gone becuase computers will take over. So for the people that do watch this show they should try this idea, maybe not for the reason pf finding answers, but for the reason of using the computer more.


  8. Think like a 5th grader today: “Why should I learn this stuff when I can find it on google faster and when I need it?”

    Before I begin ranting and raving, are grade 5 students asking this question or are you asking this question?

  9. Evening Jeff, I am sitting on the couch with the lap top (of course) and I am trying to collate a great deal of information to prove in the Performance Evaluation Committee Pilot Program that I integrate tech into my classroom…when low and behold my netvibes pops up that my 5th grader Ben wants to know how to calculate the surface area of a square pyramid and has posted the question on my blog as a comment as he is not yet allowed to skype, twitter or friendfeed…only a matter of time though!
    I was wondering how do you find the surface area of a square pyramid?
    …so I went to his blog and wrote hi ben
    just got your comment about square pyramids
    The Surface Area of a Pyramid

    1/2 × Perimeter × [Side Length]
    + [Base Area]

    and also check out some of the sites we blogged about or this one too http://www.mathsisfun.com/geometry/pyramids.html
    but most of all…get some sleep
    Mrs P
    after doing a quick surf…all over in a matte of minutes.
    I know what Matt Moyer means when he questions how we qualify knowledge but I also agree that we must at least question the content of what we are teaching on a daily basis to our students who do have this immediate access to technology which will only increase with time.
    Anyway, better get back to proving if I use tech regularly or not!

  10. This post really interested me its something that I always wondered with those grades why did any of that matter. It’s a prep I could say to higher grades but 5 years of this is not necessary they take elementary school way to far on the repiton of material throughout the years. When I watch are you smarter then a 5th grader it seems like logical information would be on it but, the details that are given during these years are given which is un-fair for show purposes. But back to accuracy grade school its impressive how much detail we learned when we could be getting ahead of the game in other aspects of school. It’s such a waste to teach these years we should be taught to read, write and do math not learn useless details throughout these years. None of this information is necessary for the real world except the few aspects I just listed. Good post I have be thinking about that for a while

  11. Interesting post, Brandon. Just the other day I read this article discussing a common misconception at my upper elementary/intermediate grade level: that kids at fifth grade have already received the reading instruction they need–that in essence, those K, 1, and 2 teachers took care of all that stuff for us.

    Do you think most people would agree?

    The article tells otherwise; in fact, by this age, readers are only half way through their development toward being fully-matured. The article suggested that even high school teachers must be teaching reading skills.

    What most interests me is this: how has our definition of the “basics” in school changed due to a restructuring of information and boom in technology? Aren’t reading and writing defined in new ways by technology? Our students brains are adapting to this new way of thinking/reading/writing–how should instruction meet these changes? When, in light of all of this change–not to mention the change to come–would we define a person as being fully equipped or fully literate?

    • Great questions,

      I think we need to remember there are two sides to reading/writing.

      One is decoding/mechanics the other is understanding/thought

      By grade two most kids understand how to decode reading and the mechanics of writing, but thinking…that’s a process that starts in the early grades and is continuous (or I hope it is anyway).

      That is the high order skill I think we need to be teaching. Now one could argue (and I do) that the way in which we read is changing in the 21st Century. Yes we still need to decode words but we must also understand how to read hyperlinked text. Do we teach that?

      And writing, have we added writing for mass audiences to the curriculum somewhere? The mechanics of hyperlinking can we/should we be teaching that in 2nd grade as well?

      All great questions that I wish schools would take time to try and answer or at least reflect on.

  12. I’ve been having the exact same discussion with my husband since this show started appearing on StarWorld here in Bangkok. It makes me angry every time I see the commercial!

    • Oh Boy! I can look forward to playing my own game in Bangkok too! Maybe we’ll have a party where we’ll sit with laptops and see who can find the answer first….I feel a search lesson in Elementary coming on.


  13. Sarah Fulks Reply

    Jeff, you bring up some very good points. Anytime we ask students to simply memorize facts without helping them connect it to the world around them, we are doing them a disservice. With so much knowledge out there, students have to learn ways to help sort out “useless” information from knowledge they may need later on in life. If we make connections, students will be more apt to make decisions about what they need to focus on putting to memory and what can be easily found using resources. As far as using Google to find information, I think there is something to be said about being able to use resources. Even superior students cannot know everything; therefore, being able to locate unknown information is a sign of intelligence as well.

    As a third grade educator, I must admit I ask my students to memorize some concepts that can be easily accessed utilizing technology—i.e. multiplication tables. However, I feel that the more information that is in the brain, ready to be used, will only lend itself to a quick return. Imagine if students solely relied on calculators for math, dictionaries to spell, or the Internet for knowledge. Overall, we need to help students see the purpose for what they are learning (so educators need to be prepared to give this purpose) in order to ensure that they will be prepared for the world they will enter after leaving the walls of the classroom.

  14. I know this is an old post but I feel compelled to add my two cents. Sarah makes an excellent point that there are some things one needs to memorize (though I would say that times tables are not included, I can add quickly in my head and managed to make it to a Bachelor of Math without memorizing them).

    A grade five student should have a decent vocabulary. Yes, s/he could look up each word and pass the quiz show but unless you memorize the vocabulary you can’t use it when you need it (speaking or listening in particular).

    I deal professionally with teaching Chinese and Japanese characters. There is no way that one can be literate in these languages without memorizing the characters that comprise them. In fact, in any academic discipline there is a need to learn definitions before you can apply them.

    What is clearly a waste of time is memorizing mere facts that one has no need to commit to memory. For example, memorizing state capitals in grade school is a huge waste of time.

    Since the invention of paper and pens, memorization skills have decreased in value immensely in most professions. Some, like detectives and military commanders, need to be able to keep lots of facts in their mind to enable them to draw out connections and patterns in real-time, but even these are assisted by technology.

    For my kids, I hope that they won’t have to endure memorizing the cloud types, rock types, capital cities, and the like but that they will commit to memory a good vocabulary, basic rules for math and models/patterns for science so that they can interpret and mentally engage with the world in the fullest. Most of all, I want them to have good analytical frameworks for dissecting arguments (propaganda analysis) and critical thinking skills (knowing enough facts to know when to question a conclusion based on them).

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