Entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “Vocabulary enables us to interpret and to express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future.” If Rohn is correct, students at DuBois Area School District’s middle and high schools will enjoy limitless opportunities in their futures as a result of a heated vocabulary competition that ran from October, 2021, until the end of April, 2022. This annual Vocabulary Bowl is sponsored by Vocabulary.com.
Vocabulary.com presents its history on the website: “Founded in 2008, Vocabulary.com was built by a multidisciplinary team of educators, lexicographers, data scientists, and developers. Together, they recognized the need for an effective instructional technology that would empower learners to unpack the complexity and nuances of the English language. The solution they developed was Vocabulary.com, a platform built on best practices that is systematic, engaging, and adaptive. . . .To date, Vocabulary.com has served more than 5.1 billion questions to learners all over the world, and is used by 3.8 million students in 56,000 schools.”
Teachers can create their own vocabulary lists to be learned by students, or they can search for word lists for specific stories, novels, or textbook chapters. Word lists based on current events and content-area topics are also available. For each word mastered, the school earns a point. Students master a word by correctly answering several questions about that word. Students learn the words through basic dictionary definitions as well as by examining how the word has been used in literature and news articles, etc.
At the end of April, 2021, the DuBois Area High School became the proud winner of the Vocabulary Bowl for Pennsylvania, meaning it earned the most points of any school in the state. High school English teacher Linda Rankus displayed the prize, a large green banner, at a school board meeting last year at the district office.
A simple email and screenshot spurred the battle between the middle school and high school during the 2021-2022 school year. Team H eighth-grade English teacher Dawna Vanderpool recalls, “Rankus noticed that the middle school was on the leader board this past fall, around October, I think. She took a screen shot and sent it to Robyn [Davis] along with the message, ‘Good job. Don’t get too comfortable, though. We’re coming for you!’ or something like that.”
According to Vanderpool, her eighth-grade English teaching partner Robyn Davis accepted the challenge and immediately began rallying the school. “She held a couple meetings for anyone who was unfamiliar with the platform, and then I made a video demonstrating the same thing for people who couldn’t come to the meeting,” Vanderpool explains. Davis continued to update the school regularly throughout the year, challenging the students to keep striving to win.
The schools were neck-and-neck for much of the school year, each one pulling ahead for a few days only then to fall behind. Each school sponsored a few vocabulary days during tutoring/enrichment periods to try to bolster their scores. All grades and content areas contributed in some way to the schools’ overall scores. Sixth grade teacher Alisa Johnson notes, “My students absolutely loved working on Vocabulary.com and competing with the high school. They often worked on their own time, and some of my kids earned millions of points, all while building their vocabularies.”
April proved to be a real nail-biter, yet in the end the DuBois Area Middle School had earned just over 140,000 points while the high school had earned 120,000. Last year, the high school won all of Pennsylvania with approximately 76,000 points, so the competition between the two schools resulted in much higher numbers.
Besides being the Pennsylvania school that had mastered the most words, the middle school finished 11th in North America overall. The high school landed a very respectable 17th place in North America. The middle school earned the top spot in Pennsylvania for Division II Elementary/Middle Schools and all Elementary/Middle Schools.
Team G English teacher Robyn Davis states, “Vocabulary. com provides students from across the globe the opportunity to broaden their vocabulary knowledge in a fun and competitive environment. The staff and students at DAMS were presented with a challenge, and they took that challenge head-on. Winning the Vocabulary Bowl for Pennsylvania was truly a team effort, and I look forward to outdoing ourselves next year.”
High school English teacher Linda Rankus adds, “While the DAHS students and faculty were disappointed to lose our state title, we are proud to have encouraged and inspired the DAMS to earn the top spot in the state competition as well as 2nd place overall in Division II. They worked very hard and should be proud of their achievement.”