Convincing district or school officials to add another extracurricular activity – and another budget line item – can be difficult. However, US Academic Triathlon takes a different approach to academic extracurriculars, working to prepare students in grades 5 through 8 to be successful in their next stage of education and the rest of their lives. Five-student teams must display good sportsmanship and teamwork while exhibiting the outcomes of their creativity and positive risk-taking.
USAT is a creative thinking skills program that employs a competition to teach and reward creative, divergent thought processes, cooperative brainstorming, general intellect, leadership, and a flare for the dramatic – all while providing an entertaining, user-friendly format for both students and adults.
Anyone who has enthusiasm for building things, writing plays, solving puzzles, answering trivia questions, or thinking on their feet will love USAT. The program offers a wide range of problem-solving situations across several disciplines in order to find something to interest and stimulate every learner.
Students of all ability levels are welcome, and the program is designed to promote contributions by every team member, making the strongest teams the ones with members who have a wide range of strengths and knowledge. One student may be great at drawing backdrops while someone else is good at complex math problems, and they all can find a home in US Academic Triathlon.
The season includes three Round Robin Meets, a Regional Meet, and the opportunity to compete at the State Meet. Each Meet is comprised of an oral and a written round of Face-Off!, three Mind Sprints, and a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box presentation. During Face-Off!, students are challenged to recall age-appropriate facts and knowledge in the categories of math and music theory, English usage and literature, science, social studies, and current events or “Kidsumerism.” Mind Sprint puzzles challenge and yield quick, creative solutions that require divergent thinking skills, visual problem-solving, logic, construction, and team cooperation.
In Preparation And Re-enactment Theater is Yours (P.A.R.T.Y.) – In a Box!, teams receive a problem in the form of a theatrical scenario, and equipment to create props, costumes, and a backdrop with which to demonstrate their solution. Students practice good sportsmanship and theater etiquette while watching others, and learn performance and public speaking during their own skits. USAT gives students a chance to practice their presentation skills in a safe environment that is less high-pressure than a class presentation or an audition.
The real product of USAT competition is personal growth. Students learn to think outside the box, to find ways to apply creative solutions to real world problems, and have educational experiences that last a lifetime. These “triathletes” have to take positive risks and approach each new problem with creativity and a sense of humor. This is done within a supportive environment, so any stumbling block can turn into a success and a chance to build confidence in their academic and problem-solving abilities. Students learn so much by stretching themselves and by taking a chance but USAT also builds “safety nets” into events so even if one member of the team is stuck, they can ask their teammates for help or find a creative way to tackle each Meet challenge. And because USAT is a competition, students also learn that sometimes they aren’t going to come in first place; but only through these kinds of experiences can children become poised and balanced adults.The final, lasting experience of USAT is to overcome not the people, but the problems. Teams grow to realize that:
1.Each idea is only one of many that occurs to the human mind;
2. Each student brings to the team individual strengths that can be built upon;
3. Flexibility opens doors to new possibilities;
4. Positive risk-taking in an atmosphere of acceptance yields experiential learning and great memories; and
5. Students are able to handle the curves that life throws them – especially if they approach each problem with a sense of humor and a sense of their own self-worth.
The pursuit of new and creative solutions can result in failure, but this does not negate the journey. Oftentimes these “failures” turn out to be successes – they are simply the answer to a different question. This type of experience encourages students to think constructively and creatively, and reinforces a sense that their ideas matter. As students process out of their USAT season, they will become aware that AT really stands for “Able Thinkers.”