Spotlight on Leslie Grimmell: Fifth Grade Challenge Question Maker

April 2016

For the last four years, Leslie Grimmell has spent hours creating questions to use for the Fifth Grade Challenge. As the show’s question maker, Leslie reflected on what students should know by the end of the fifth grade, and used those standards to craft the questions local professionals would answer during the game.

Leslie is an Elementary Integrated Curriculum Specialist on the Elementary Integrated Curriculum Team. She works to provide direct support to schools on a regular basis by working with staff to facilitate effective instructional practices and student achievement of rigorous content for all students in all subject areas.  

For the upcoming school year, she will be returning to a school-based position. The MCPS Educational Foundation would like to thank Leslie for her four years of dedication to the Foundation’s signature event and wish her luck in her next role within MCPS.

How did you come to be involved with The Educational Foundation?

When I heard about the opportunity to become involved in developing a program that would celebrate excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools. I thought, “What an opportunity to highlight what teachers and students are being asked to know and be able to do!” I jumped at the chance to become involved.

What do you do on a daily basis as the Elementary Integrated Curriculum Specialist?

We work with staff to facilitate effective instructional practices and student achievement of rigorous content for all students in all subject areas. We also develop and deliver system-wide professional development to ensure that staff have the resources and knowledge necessary to implement the Elementary Integrated Curriculum. We wear many hats. We develop and maintain the elementary online curriculum and electronic resources. We evaluate and approve books and other materials for classroom use. We work with other offices to ensure that system messages are shared consistently and implemented at a high level. We are here to support staff and students.

How do you come up with questions for the Fifth Grade Challenge?

I consider what students need to know and be able to do by the end of Grade 5. I review the standards, indicators, and curriculum in each content area. I also review the questions from the previous years. The focus is always on what do students need to know and [what do they] need to be able to do.

What were you trying to convey about the MCPS curriculum with the questions you created?

Montgomery County Public Schools’ curriculum is rigorous. While the questions we pose at the Fifth Grade Challenge are interesting and highlight key concepts and skills students need to know and apply by the end of fifth grade, just as important is the need for students to understand and know when and how to apply creative and critical thinking skills as well as academic success skills. When students apply critical and creative thinking skills and collaborate by sharing and explaining their thinking, they are applying the skills that are essential to lifelong learning. In our MCPS classrooms, students receive explicit instruction in and have opportunities to develop and apply these important skills.

What aspects of the elementary curriculum do you think is most important to retain post-college?

During the 5th Grade Challenge, the audience receives a glimpse into students’ use of critical and creative thinking skills as well as academic success skills. These concepts and skills are essential for success as our students prepare for life in our 21st century society.

How did you benchmark the difficulty of the questions?

A question can assess different aspects of a learning outcome, from basic recall to application, analysis, or evaluation. The idea that some types of thinking require more cognitive processing than others helps me to benchmark the difficulty of a question. I also use the format of the question to help determine its level of difficulty for instance, multiple choice questions are less susceptible to guessing than true/false questions. I write a variety of questions types that match the time and response requirements of the 5th Grade Challenge program. I then order the questions by difficulty level and ask for feedback from a variety of stakeholders. I use this feedback to make adjustments.

Which ones did you think were particularly difficult this year?

The questions that had multiple correct responses and questions where a claim was made and the responders had to explain if the claim was correct were more difficult.


Which of the items listed below are examples of kinetic energy? Identify all of the examples.

a.            a person walking

b.            a coiled spring

c.             a raised weight

d.            a thrown baseball

e.            a crumb falling from a table

f.             charged battery

Answer: a. a person walking, d. a thrown baseball, and e, a crumb falling from a table


Shawn claims that a half note is half of a whole note and has the same time value as three quarter notes. Is he correct?

Answer: No, a half note is half of a whole note, but it has the same time value as two quarter notes not three.