I took a group of Physics 12 students to the Kwantlen Science Challenge last month. This was the first time I was taking a group to a competition of this sort, and wasn't sure of what to expect. And of course, my students surpassed my expectations.
The Kwantlen Science Challenge has five 1-hour challenges - Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Physics Pre-build, and Jeopardy. They rotated through all 5 throughout the day, with a lunch break in them middle.
Let me start by saying - we didn't go to win. In fact, my team of 6 students never ever talked about winning. Or losing. They talked about the experience. Being on a college campus, challenging themselves, pushing their thinking. They had excellent motivations. We were competing against IB and AP schools along with college prep schools - so it wasn't really a "fair" competition. But they didn't care. They were only competing against themselves.
The pre-build challenge set them on the path to build a trebuchet. It has to fit within a 75 cm cube box, use a maximum mass of 5 kg, and launched a ball of play dough no greater than 100 grams as far as possible. It was an excellent challenge in critical thinking - there was no "right" answer. Over a week leading up to the challenge I saw them access the internet, teachers, and each other and resources as they tried to find the "best" way to solve the problem. The built, tested, failed, adjusted non-stop for a week. In fact, the night before the challenge I finally had to kick them out of the school at 10:30 pm.
The first time the play dough launched half way across the hub, they shrieked for joy.
The first time the lever arm broke, they laughed. Contemplated tears. And them picked them selves up and came up with a new plan. They used it to their advantage even.
And the day the finally launched their play dough a whole 2.5 m, they were proud. Of course, no one was more proud than I was. They were learning.
K (one of my students) said to me, "Mrs. Becker - this isn't about winning. We already won." And they did. They really really did.
In the Chemistry challenge, they didn't finish. The team spent the whole time trying to be so incredibly accurate, that time ran out. They learned how to use eppindorf pipettes, and realized how different University Chemistry looked. They were excited for next year.
In the Botany challenge, they worked together. They were proud of using their time well and finishing. They had no problem coming up with a method of testing the problem given - they learned how to develop their own plans in Physics 11 (and I was happy to know that they retained it!) They were proud of their plan and confident in it's success. (And I am proud to say that they tied for FIRST in this event with a perfect score!)
In the Jeopardy challenge, they knew so many of the answers, but were trigger shy. In the end they finished middle of the pack. They learned that they know more than they realized, and also that they shouldn't have been so afraid of being wrong. They wished they had another shot at it.
And in the Biology challenge they worked together as a team. Seamlessly building on each others ideas, and demonstrating the true essence of collaboration - everybody is necessary.
They learned SO many things and I am proud of them for each and every step they took over this Saturday long competition. But most importantly - I am proud that they made it all about their learning. Because after all, does anything else really matter?