How Academic Competitions Might Serve As An Alternative Pathway for Standards Mastery
As districts move into this legislation, embracing the advanced thinking skills in everyday opportunities into the classroom, academic competitions serve as an incentive for learning. Most academic competitions (AC) are organizations that demonstrate the importance and relevance of their opportunity by providing a list of standard students would meet while engaging in the AC. Students engaged in Academic Competitions during the school day would nurture student interest in learning and motivation to learn while meeting those academic standards. Teachers could replace instruction in some areas of history, engineering, mathematics, and others in meeting the standards expectations. Keeping track of standards met would be important to students.
When I was directing the Lighthouse School, we had students from 6-18 years old enrolled. We had set an expectation that all students participate in some academic competitions. Our teacher/facilitators we knew in most cases would have to be the designated coach for one or two of those competitions. They recognized the day would be too long if they extended it to accommodate afterschool programs, so they decided to add the competitions to the daily experience. We also knew that different AC’s had different start and end dates each year. So some of us were busy in the fall, some more so in the winter months and during the spring.
Our students, well experienced meeting standards in their inquiries, immediately recognized the potential for AC’s to be another source for meeting some hard to attain standards. One example was First Lego League. When we announced that FLL was open for signup, 23 students of all ages wanted to be a part of that experience. A parent volunteer built and painted the practice board. We purchased the robotic motors and our membership. But we needed more money to divide up students into pairs so they could work together. Parents helped us out.
The real surprise was how well the young girls handled the collaborations and programming. They consistently outperformed the all boy teams. And the boys were learning from those successful girls. But they all were interested in determining what standards and to what level they need to perform to reach that expert level of performance to earn that standard.
Imbedding AC’s into the school day pays in numerous ways. Some of the programs are listed below:
Academic Competitions include the Future Problem Solving Program, Destination Imagination, Future City Competition, First Robotic Competition, First Lego League, Science Olympiad, National History Day, Odyssey of the Mind and others.
FPSPI is a dynamic international program involving thousands of students annually from around the world. Developed in 1974 by creativity pioneer Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving (FPS) provides competitive and non-competitive components for today’s curriculum via a six-step model that teaches critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and decision making.
PROBLEM SOLVING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM (PSAC). PSAC provides hundreds of Future Scenes that have been used in the Global Issues Problem Solving component. Teachers may select Future Scenes to fit their curriculum and may modify the scenes to meet their students’ educational needs. These Future Scenes can be used to practice and apply the creative problem solving process, tapping critical and creative thinking.
National History Day (NHD) is a non-profit education organization based in College Park, Maryland. NHD offers yearlong academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Some students find digging into the lives of significant individuals or events that impact history.
Odyssey of the Mind, often called OM (although the official acronym is OotM), is a creative problem solving program involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together at length to solve a predefined long-term problem and present their solution to the problem at a competition. They must also participate in the spontaneous portion of the competition by generating solutions to a problem they have not seen before. While the long-term problem solution often takes many months to complete and involves various elements of theatrical performance, construction and design, the spontaneous portion occurs the day of the competition. Standards in history, mathematics, art, engineering, science are all address in this competition.
(FLL) has a team research a real-world problem such as food safety,
recycling, energy, etc., and the team is challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology, then compete on a tabletop playing field. Along their discovery journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, basic STEM standards, and even presentation skills, as they must present their solutions with a dash of creativity to judges.
(FRC) is an international high school robotics competition. Each year, teams of high school students, coaches, and mentors work during a six-week period to build game-playing robots that weigh up to 120 pounds (54 kg). Robots complete tasks such as scoring balls into goals, flying discs into goals, inner tubes onto racks, hanging on bars, and balancing robots on balance beams. The game changes yearly, keeping the excitement fresh and giving each team a more level playing field. While teams are given a standard set of parts, they are also allowed a budget and are encouraged to buy or make specialized parts. The FIRST Robotics Competition is one of four robotics competition programs organized by FIRST, the other three being FIRST LEGO League Jr., FIRST LEGO League, and the FIRST Tech Challenge. First Lego League introduce students to engineering and coding/programming standards in a collaborative effort to solve robotic challenges.
In academic competitions, product differentiation can be achieved by setting expectations with unrestricted levels of excellence. In this way, academic competitions can introduce gifted students to standards of excellence that far exceed typical classroom performance.
In the regular classroom, the work and performance of gifted learners are often at the top—the best grades, the most creative projects, the best written reports. But, when these same students enter a competition, they may realize that quality standards in their classrooms are relatively low when measured against the work of their intellectual peers across the city or state. At the same time, they may recognize that the quality of their own work is also inferior. I
In our experience, it has been interesting to watch gifted students face this moment of truth. Naturally, they often struggle to cope. For some, the first reaction is disappointment, and sometimes, they conclude that they are not very smart after all. But, when guided properly, they can be helped to understand that this quality level should become their own standard of excellence. “Research confirms that when highly gifted students are given appropriately challenging educational experiences, they learn to set higher educational goals for themselves (Benbow & Lubinski, 1997)”.