A Spectacular Student Challenge

Tuesday’s “06880” addressed the stultifying consequences of standardized testing — and a proposed state bill that would lead to even more of it.

Today’s post shows exactly what happens when students are set free — and encouraged to learn for learning’s sake. (Plus $14,500 in prize money.)

The event was the 3rd annual Staples Spectacular Student Challenge. For 12 solid hours — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — 10 teams of 5 students each sacrificed sleep, engaged their brains, pooled their wits, and created a blueprint for education in the 21st century.

If anyone should know about learning, it’s students. But to get them so excited about it that they’ll spend an entire Saturday thinking, arguing, researching, planning and writing about it — well, that’s learning at its best.

Every Staples Spectacular Student Challenge team had its own style. Above, from left: Michelle Mastrianni, Eric Lombardo, Daniel Ciotoli, Michaela MacDonald, Judy Feng.

Early Saturday morning, the 50 sophomores, juniors and seniors received some background material. It read, in part:

Education has long been the avenue to train and equip individuals and societies for the shifting jobs and skills that are necessary to evolve our world.  At the moment, however, education is at a crossroads.  The old system of school presents a model of a 5-day-a-week, rotating schedule of subject specific classes that assess your individual content and skills with traditional testing.  Many wonder if this is the best model for training our students for the future.

Westport has recently initiated the “Westport 2025” program to address the future of education in our town.  The goal of Westport 2025 is to prepare students with the skills they need to operate in the global 21st century.  The initiative is currently looking at what teachers teach and how they teach it.  However, the Task Force for Westport 2025 wants to hear from you.  If Westport is to meet the 2025 vision and create the global student, what do we need to do to and within the school to create the optimal environment for 21st century learning?

2012 students, designing education for the rest of the century. Above, from left: Tiffany Yang , Megumi Asada, Mark Schwabacher, Neloise Egipto.

Each group had to:

  1. Define the skills of a “global 21st century student” (including content and a means for assessing mastery of those skills)
  2. Redesign Staples to provide a vehicle for learning those skills (including daily and yearly calendars, academic organization and building infrastructure), class size, use of technology, and assessment
  3. Design a plan to bring items 1 and 2 to life — and sell it to the community. Items to consider: feasibility (cost, faculty, qualifications); impact of the plan on local, state and federal funding; how to win over the Staples community, town government and education leaders; whether the plan could be adopted by other school districts.

Most groups agreed on the need for critical thinking, not memorization. They understood the need for students to be creative, apply knowledge in meaningful ways, and think independently and differently.

All were skillful in the use of multi-media to hone their arguments, and make their cases.

Is an all-male team up to the challenge? Above, from left: Mike Holtz, Jacob Meisel, Cole DeMonico, Andrew Bowles, Jordan Shenhar.

Beyond that, each group had its own approach. Some hailed technology; others worried it would overpower social skills. Some thought concretely, others abstractly. Some relied more on numbers, others on words.

All worked furiously, for the entire 12 hours.

It was education at its core.  And it spoke directly to Staples’ school goal:  understand a local theme with much larger real-world implications, and work collaboratively using math, science, social studies and English skills to craft a solution.

There was not a bubble sheet in sight.

(The $14,500 prize money was donated by Melissa & Doug and the Gudis Family Foundation. Next step: The 10 papers will be reviewed by a group of Staples staff members, representing all academic areas. Five will be selected; group members will then make a public presentation in late April, from which the top 3 will be chosen. Prize money is donated directly to each winning student’s college.)

Taking a quick break from solving a crucial educational problem. Above, from left: Baxter Stein, Katie Zhou, Melissa Beretta, Max Liben.

2 responses to “A Spectacular Student Challenge

  1. Ilene Mirkine

    This truly is a spectacular event held at our High School. Go see the presentation in April…these kids will show you what the current generation of high schoolers is capable of!

  2. Estelle T. Margolis

    Once again we must thank you for bringing important news to our attention.
    Best, Estelle