COTTONWOOD - A number of students in fifth grade at Lakeview Public School are in the process of becoming "secret agents."
While they won't be yielding weapons or wearing disguises, the students, if they follow the "Mission Possible" instructions, will be armed with strong reading skills.
"It's really just elaborated goal setting in reading," Lakeview fifth-grade teacher Melissa Wilber said.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Wilber reviewed some reading concepts with a small group consisting of Cody Caron, Kyle Beck, Zach Turbes and Megan Gile Tuesday at Lakeview Public Schools. Wilber was recently chosen as the “Brain Quest Teacher of the Month” for her creative and adventurous learning techniques in the classroom.
Wilber, who is starting her fifth year at Lakeview, was recently named the "Brain Quest Teacher of the Month" for her ability to make learning an adventure in the classroom. Brain Quest, a fast-paced, curriculum-based question-and-answer game, hit the educational market in April 1992 and quickly found its way into countless classrooms and homes across the country. Twenty year later, more than 36 million copies have been sold.
"It's very similar to Trivial Pursuit kind of things but it's geared toward their grade levels, so they can get a lot of success with it, too, which is nice," Wilber said. "It's something to pull out when you have just a couple of extra minutes here and there."
With the award, sponsored by Chrysler brand Town and Country in honor of the 20th anniversary milestone of Brain Quest, Wilber netted a $500 cash prize and $500 worth of Brain Quest products for her school, which allowed her to not only replace her "really old set" in her classroom, but share with others.
"I got numerous sets for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade, and I just dispersed those to teachers throughout the building," Wilber said. "It's just a really good extra activity that gets their critical thinking skills going."
The award, which was the first in the year-long celebration, also put Wilber in the running for "Teacher of the Year" and additional rewards.
"I was more than happy with the 'Teacher of the Month,'" Wilber said. "It was really exciting. (Earning the 'Teacher of the Year' award) would be awesome."
In an essay she entered for the contest, Wilber described how she tries to make learning a daily adventure for her students.
"I do a lot of grant writing over the summer, trying to get things for the class," Wilber said. "This contest seemed like it fit really well with us. We need everything we can get (especially in light of the state budget woes)."
In reading, Wilber said, there are specific things that the students need to work on. By implementing the "Mission Possible" activity, she's able to individualize learning.
"Every student meets with me on their assigned day and we set their mission for the day," Wilber said. "Their mission might be that they're going to practice reading with expression."
In addition to tracking goals in their Mission Possible agent book, there is also a spot where students write in the "mission self-destructs" date, or basically, the date that the task needs to be completed by.
"It spices it up a little bit," Wilber said. "We just introduced it (Monday) and they were all pretty excited about being secret agents."
Wilber pointed out that teaching fifth grade could be difficult if a teacher isn't up for the challenge.
"You walk a fine line with it being too childish, but yet wanting it to be engaging," she said. "I love this age."
Wilber said she's dedicated to making learning fun for kids. Another way she does that is through technology.
"We try to use the iPads as much as possible, making sure that it's focused on what we're learning in here," she said. "That seems to get kids real excited. They love it. It's definitely part of their generation."
To keep students practicing their reading or math skills, Wilber has an interactive webpage.
"My webpage has a lot of engaging games that keep them learning, but in a game format," Wilber said. "Everything can be accessed at home and in the classroom. That helps connect parents and students."
Though she hasn't started yet this school year, Wilber makes it a habit to connect with students, by doing a recess walk around with each individual.
"Basically, I just go out at recess and we take a couple of laps around the playground, so we can chat one-on-one," Wilber said. "It's a chance to have some conversation time because we just don't have that, really, otherwise. That's always nice."
Wilber also provides the opportunity and environment to have students connect with each other in the classroom.
"I do a lot with whole brain learning," she said. "The whole concept is making teaching fun, so I'll do things like having the kids teach each other after I teach them. I'll model it with a fun, excited voice and then they'll do it with the same kind of voice. It's just something little, but I've really noticed that it makes a difference with them."
Weekly Minute to Win It challenges also provide team-building opportunities.
"As long as they earn it, we pick a couple of people to compete," Wilber said. "The class cheers them on, so it's good for team-building."
All 24 of Wilber's students are encouraged to practice the challenges because at the end of the school year, they'll have the chance to do a variety of them again.
"Everybody gets to compete the last week," she said. "We do it in centers. We have the students design their own, too, which worked really nice last year. In teams, they kind of created their own Minute to Win it games and ran it. They're still learning because they're writing directions and working on creative thinking. It's a great activity."
Using classroom iPads, students will videotape the directions so that they can be played back at the different centers, just like the television version of Minute to Win It.
"It's a good time," Wilber said.
One of the challenges includes answering as many Brain Quest questions as possible in a minute.
"It gets them thinking about other things," Wilber said. "It broadens their horizons."