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St. Henry’s Future Problem Solving team on way to international competition at Univ. of Massachusetts

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

The school year may be over for most students, but for four students from St Henry High School, summer is not yet in full swing.

Ella Rolfson, Sydney Hennessey, and Samantha Lewis just graduated from St Henry, and Gracie Greber moved up from being a junior to being a senior, but together they are still the Future Problem Solving team that placed third in the State competition in March.

The St. Henry Future Problem Solving team with trophies won by the school. (Photos by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

“The team competed on St Patrick’s day in the state competition which was held at the Galt House in Louisville,” said Melinda Gould, coach of the team. “We came in third, after Johnson County and South Warren high schools. The first 5 teams in the competition can go on to compete in the International competition held at the University of Massachusetts this year. We are leaving on Wednesday to compete in the international competition, and it is not uncommon to have 15 to 20 different countries that compete against the US, which sends teams from 35 to 40 states.”

In the state competition, Dixie Heights High School competed and came in 13th, and Campbell County came in 19th. There were 32 teams in total for the competition.

Students can sign up for future problem solving as early as the fourth grade. Sydney and Gracie have both been in FPS since the fourth grade, while Samantha and Ella joined the team in high school.

They have been together as a team for about two years, and that is enough for them to have an idea of what each other is thinking, blending them together as a team.

“What we really do is divide different portions of the booklet up, so like there’s different steps in competition, there’s 6 different steps, and for the first step and the third step you have to make 16 different challenges and solutions,” said Sydney. “So we kind of divide those up as well.”

Each team is allowed 2 hours and they have to produce 12 papers on the challenges and the solutions. When the two hours are up, the time is over, and each team needs to be finished, or they will turn in as much as they have and not score as many points.

The Future Problem Solving model serves as the base of a dynamic, creative thinking process, and includes six steps. The first step is to identify challenges, and that includes generating issues, concerns and problems, and applying background knowledge to the future scene. This is where the
sixteen challenges are selected and written about.

Practice, practice, practice, preparing for the competition at the University of Massachusetts.

Step two is to select an underlying problem. Step three requires producing solution ideas.

Generating and selecting criteria is step four, and step five is to apply the criteria. The final step, six, instructs the students to develop an action plan, making clear how the plan will address the underlying problem’s key verb phrase and purpose.

Before the competition, a generalized topic is given to all the teams. The topic given for the state competition in March was “A I”. The team already has a topic for the competition in Massachusetts, and it is “Currency.” The topic is given in advance so that all the teams can study as much as they can about that subject and lock all that information inside their brains, because for the two hours of the competition, they are not permitted to use anything that might connect them to an internet or information source. Everything they use has to be already in their brains.

“I go through and highlight stuff I want to try and remember,” said Ella. “Then we all talk about it a lot, so we are downloading a lot of information into our memories.”

The team is ready. They have been practicing, and will practice up until the test.

“When we get in, we kind of divide up the things, like Sydney writes out the problem, to help decide what problem we are going to do, and Gracie does the ranking system to decide what solution is best,” said Samantha. “We have always done it like that so that’s what we do.”

Sydney said that there are about 20 categories, like arts and esthetics, defense, culture, environment, or technology, so the team divides up the categories beforehand, and they decide on a category they think will be the best for them as far as solutions, and as far as points.

The teammates know how to work collaboratively.

Another part of the test, which is judged on points, will take place on Friday, when the teams have to put on a 4 minute skit which brings their action plan solution to life. In the skit each team is given certain props, such as one garbage bag, or a roll of paper towels, or aluminum foil, or other seemingly innocuous items in limited supplies. Imagination is added to information, and the result usually is very entertaining — and a lot of memorable fun. Points for the skits are added to the team total, and awards will be given on Sunday.

The three graduates are ready to take on the future. Ella is attending UK, although she is not sure what career she would like to pursue. Sydney is going to the University of Tennessee where she will study Biosystem Engineering, which she said is like environmental engineering. Samantha is going to the University of Georgia where she will also major in Biosystem Engineering. Gracie is prepared to enter her senior year, and she knows she will go to college, although she has not decided which one yet.

Out of the last 7 years St Henry has sent a team to International competition 6 times, although some have been virtual.

Being part of a future problem solving team is a benefit that never goes away, although Samantha said it is difficult to tell people on a college application how important it is in the tiny space the college form allots for it.

Coach Melinda said it is very important in the business world with the amount of think tanks that are utilized and growing all the time.

“Future problem solving, or Global Issues problem solving, as the International community calls it, probably will never go away,” said Melinda. “There will always, always be problems in the world that people will have to find a solution for.”

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