Welcome to the 8th grade Delta class at Platte City Middle School where a life-size picture of Albert Einstein greets you at the door of the room. These are kids in the school's gifted program -- challenging themselves in high-level learning. And it can be a real challenge for their teacher, Deborah Burr, to come up with projects to keep these bright, critical thinkers from getting bored.
"We've done previous competitions," says Burr, "such as The Stock Market Game, where they've had to research what's going on in the business world and research companies and where we've done FIRST Lego League competitions." So this year Burr got them into NewzBrain, a competitive, interactive online game for gifted kids from third grade through high school.
"It's really a quiz that makes people look at what's going on around them in politics and the economy and stuff," says student Ross Pritchard. But before they ever do the weekly NewzBrain quizzes or the big monthly games, the Platte City Delta students dive into news research, discovering fascinating stories about national and world events and issues and people. And then they report on their stories to their teammates, briefing them so everybody's ready with information to compete in the game.
"We're getting to know a lot more about the world and what's going on," says student Kendall Johnson. "Usually we don't watch the news but now we started to watch the news and look up stuff. You feel like you are the only person in the world sometimes but there's actually a lot of other stuff going on and that opens you up to it."
That new news interest and their hard work at research has really paid off. Dividing into two groups, the Platte City kids were the top two 8th grade teams in Missouri in September and first and fourth in October playing NewzBrain. And each of those months, one team or the other has been in the top ten in the nation. In September, Kendall Johnson, Spencer Kunz, Emilio Perez and Sabrina Warren, calling their team The People of Wal Mart, were 9th in the U.S. And in October, MacKenzie True, Brady Burress, Ross Pritchard and Brett Turner, playing as The Fuzzy Cactuses, were a lofty second in the country -- just ten points from the top. Even so, they're not full of themselves just yet.
"A lot of the times we're just guessing because you can't get everything," says Kendall, laughing. "But apparently half the time we're guessing right, apparently."
More than holding their own against the top competition across the nation is pretty exciting for these Platte City 8th graders. But doing well in NewzBrain is about more than just bragging rights.
"They really have to work at listening, and compromise and working together," says Burr. So there's teamwork. And building research and communications skills. And at the core of it all?
"Really, the knowledge of how to look at news and see how it is going to affect you," says Ross. Real news brains.
There are a few other teams from the metro area doing very well in NewzBrain. They include several teams from different grades at Hawthorne Elementary School and Kearney Middle School in the Kearney, Missouri district and an 8th grade team from Barry School in the Platte County R-3 district.
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