Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are You Smarter Than a Sixth Grader? or How to Mummify a Chicken

Yesterday I substitute taught in sixth grade. It wasn't your average sixth grade class. The members of this class are enrolled in the Accelerated Learning Lab. They belong to the Gifted and Talented segment of our society. They are the kids we already know are going to score exceptionally high on their college boards, rake in all the scholarships, and otherwise attain amazing accomplishments in academia.

I had a very interesting day with them.

It was Friday, so naturally a spelling test was on the schedule.

The teacher had left me a note on her lesson plan:

I'm sorry the words are so unusual. If you need help, I'm sure the students would be happy to assist you with pronunciation and definitions.

Yikes. I quickly read down the list. Phew. I knew them all. Among them were the following words: entrepreneur, microorganism, leviathan, epidermis, and ululate.

I administered the test according to standard spelling test procedure. State the word, use it in a sentence, restate the word. Everything was going fine until I got to ululate.

"UL - yeh - late," I stated.

"YOOL - yeh - late!" they corrected me in chorus.

"Really?" I asked. "Are you sure?"

"Yes! It's YOOL - yeh - late!" they ululated.

I'm not sure I've ever actually heard the word pronounced before (who would use it?), so I let it go.

Am I smarter than a sixth grader? Apparently not these sixth graders.

Their math assignment was to read to themselves the lesson on plotting data on a line graph and complete the exercises that followed. I have taught line graphs to elementary students many times and without fail, half the kids take one look at the data and feel overwhelmed. They refuse to even give it a shot, raise their hands and say, "I don't get it." Not these kids. They eagerly began the assignment and worked in silence for forty minutes, producing beautifully ruled graphs with color-coded keys. Not one of them asked me a single question about the work. Not even when it came to scatter plots. And when math was over, several of them begged to be able to continue.

What I found the most interesting (fascinating actually) during the day was the work these students were doing for their Ancient Egypt unit.

The teacher had left this note on the lesson plan:

Please tell the students that they absolutely may not peek in the mummification chamber.

This was when I found out about the chickens.

The day before, they had begun the process of mummifying chickens. Fryers, I assume. From the grocery store. They had used salt and cinnamon. Maybe other spices as well. I just saw salt boxes and containers of cinnamon on the floor by the teacher's desk.

The chickens were, at this moment, resting peacefully in a couple of long, white, heavy-duty cardboard boxes with sturdy lids fitting down over them. The students were not even tempted to peek.

I was, but I didn't.

Part of their assignment for the day was to design their sarcophagi.

Another note:

Please tell the students that they may not use a shoebox in their design for a sarcophagus as a shoebox will not last underground until May.

"After we design and make our sarcophagi, we're going to transfer the chickens into them and bury them outside," a student informed me. "Then we're going to dig them up at the end of the school year."

Wow. How cool was that? I've always been grateful for my good, average brain, but suddenly I wanted to be a sixth grader in the Accelerated Learning Lab.

When I got home, I went straight for my dictionary. I looked up ululate.


The first listed pronunciation was "UL - yeh - late." A second one, "YOOL- yeh - late," was also listed.

I felt so smart.

Almost gifted.


  1. My sister-in-law mummified a chicken with her kids. It was an unfortunate experience. Too much moisture in the chicken . . . warm weather . . . a hungry neighborhood dog. Do you want me to continue?