This time of year is one of my busiest, but one of the happiest times of my school year; on top of my regular schedule, I voluntarily add the exciting world of Future Problem Solving competition. I think that this is my fifth year at this endeavor, and I still feel like a beginner. Because I work with 4th and 5th graders, I am the one to introduce this whole new world to them. There is nothing quite like the Future Problem Solving component of Governor’s Cup, so everyone enters with no prior experience. It is almost like learning a new language and/or culture. The subjects themselves are intimidating (last year “Space Junk” and “Counterfeit Economy”/ this year “Invasive Species” and “Orphaned Children”) but the clincher is the process, a six-step formula that has to be learned and understood in order to compete. And if that were not enough, these children have to compete in a room by themselves (no coach or adult help) and create one booklet together, working under a very real time pressure of 90 minutes. (Middle and high school students have an even harder and longer process).
I am so impressed with these young students; there are four team members each year, and I feel that they usually produce a better product to the judges than I could with all of the pressures involved.
Personally, I have learned so very much. I never played a team sport, so I have never before understood coaching. I have always been surrounded by sports-loving family members, so I have heard terms all of my life which now have meaning to me. I definitely know now what it means to have your team “peak” at the right time, and how important that is. Even though we begin practice in October, because of the children’s busy schedules and other involvement, we are able to meet only once a week, therefore my teams usually peak about two weeks AFTER the district competition. This could definitely be a problem if we didn’t make it to region, because only the 1st and 2nd place teams get to go to regional competitions.
I stand amazed at the talents and abilities of the students with whom I work; they are involved in many activities at home, school and church and still meet with enthusiasm the challenges that FPS brings. Each year I get to know my 4 new friends very well, and we learn and laugh together in a way that we always remember. One of the real bonuses for me is that I often get to work with kids whom I knew as preschool students. It is so much fun and so rewarding to see how they have developed and grown during the years that we have been apart. Often I can predict pretty accurately the personality and ability when they are 3 and 4 years old, but there are surprises too; I love to get to know them again.
FPS may be the only team sport where no one sees their hard work and the final games. There are only two competitions in a season, and both are without spectators. When you think of that, it helps you to appreciate even more these young students who are stretching their minds and employing creative thinking way beyond their years.
The students are given a future scene (usually dated about 50 years in the future), which they see for the first time when the 90 minute timer is turned on. They need to read and understand what it means and then write 8 challenges that could occur, trying to use as many different categories as possible. After discussing these possible problems, they decide on an underlying problem that is not as broad as the total problem that if solved could help some aspect in the future scene. Then the students work together to create appropriate and creative solutions to the underlying problem, which must include who will solve the problem, how they will solve it, what it will do and why it will help. Then they must generate criteria to judge the solutions and apply the criteria to help select the correct solution. The solution that receives the highest rating is the solution which they must use to write an action plan. Again the who, what, why, how and where questions must be applied. They need to name obstacles that they can expect and come up with ideas to overcome these obstacles. Now, I ask you, could I place you in a room with three of your peers and expect you, in 90 minutes, to have those steps completed, using the proper procedures and form?
I have such great admiration for these 11-year-old friends; they are willing to enter this foreign land of competition and work as hard as they can, with no applause, to accomplish this difficult task. They, of course, must often put aside their own personal preferences or leave their own comfort zones in order to produce a “create as you go” group document. As we prepare for this, we, coach and team, have the joy of working together and accomplishing great things, all the while bonding in a way that only hard work can bring.
Now is the time to find out if we really know our subject (Invasive Species) and the process. We enter the competition with excitement and no little anxiety. The coach has as many butterflies as the team. After a hard practice recently, one of my team members looked at me and said, “I hope it snows 15 inches.” We both laughed, and I realized then that we were probably ready. (You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)