By Crystal McGough
For the Tribune
CLAY — A team of four students from Clay Elementary School took first place in every category of the Future Problem Solvers (FPS) Junior Division State Competition on April 7. They will be advancing to compete in the 2018 FPS International Conference from June 6-10 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Fifth graders Rachel Tucker, Kendle Wright and Mackenzie McCants, and fourth grader Sydney Ruggiero placed first in Scenario Writing, Presentation of Action Plan and overall.
“I am obviously extremely proud of my girls for making it to the international competition this year,” Clay Elementary Talented and Gifted teacher Cooper Chunn said. “They won first place overall at the state bowl, beating out all the other elementary, middle and high school teams. That’s pretty impressive. But I’m also really excited that they are going to get to experience international competition. It is a unique and inspiring learning experience. Seeing how other students from all over the world have solved problems that you also struggled with is very empowering. I can’t wait for them to see that.”
FPS is an after-school program that the girls attend with Chunn. The students are given realistic future scenarios and must come up with 16 potential problems and solutions following a six-step Creative Problem Solving process.
From the time the students are handed their scenario, a one-page story called a ‘fuzzy,’ they have two hours to come up with 16 potential problems, which they will narrow down to one underlying problem. Then they must identify and even invent 16 solutions and narrow those down to the single best solution. Once they have chosen the best solution, they must write a detailed and entertaining action plan for implementing it. For the final presentation, the students perform a skit where they act out their scenario, including both the main problem and solution.
“The state bowl topic was Cloud Storage and was basically about data security,” Chunn said. “The students are expected to research the topic before competition so that they will be knowledgeable about the subject matter and can make educated guesses about the possibilities in the future scene. The challenges have to written in a specific way and be as varied as possible to receive full points.”
Chunn said that the topic for the international competition will be Criminal Justice.
For Rachel Tucker and Mackenzie McCants, this will be their second year competing together at the FPS International Competition.
“Mackenzie and I were on a team last year with two different people,” Tucker said. “Our experience has been amazing. One of my favorite parts is the play. We all get a different role and we get to make the outfits and props. Sometimes we have some people working on outfits while others work on writing the play.”
While Tucker and McCants are completing their second year as Future Problem Solvers, for Wright and Ruggiero, this was their first year competing.
“I wanted to be in FPS because Mrs. Chunn saw special characteristics in me,” Ruggiero said. “I have learned from this program how to think creatively and solve state, USA and world problems that could possibly be problems in the future.”
Wright said that she joined FPS because she wanted to try something new.
“Real life situations can happen and we need to find out ways to fix them,” she said.
Although Tucker and McCants’ team did not win the international competition last year, all of the girls are hopeful that they will win this year.
“We will definitely be submitting our all to the competition,” Wright said.
“My hopes are to have a fun time, win and be a part of the talent show with my best friend, Rachel,” McCants added.
Chunn said that during the last year she has enjoyed watching each of the girls grow as both thinkers and writers, and she hopes that they take away from the program life skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.
“I feel that this is hands down the best and most important academic competition around,” she said. “Our world desperately needs people who know how to intelligently solve global problems and that’s exactly what FPS is all about. But on a more personal level, it’s teaching my girls how to work with others and consider their ideas, how to build off another’s ideas, and how to communicate complex ideas efficiently and effectively. These are all skills that will help them, not only in their school careers, but also in their lives.”