For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Resources, Scoring

Why We Don’t Give Zeroes

If you’ve ever judged a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box event or taken a look at the scoring guidelines on a challenge, you may have noticed there is no such thing as a zero in the rubric. Why? Because for many people, performing in front of an audience is the scariest thing they could be asked to do.

When Americans rank their greatest fears, “public speaking” consistently comes in high on the list. Approximately one in four adults report this fear. Sure, it makes sense to break into a sweat when faced with a tiger, but when we stand in front of a group of our peers? At least a quarter of us would rather face the tiger. Glossophobia – the technical term for fear of speaking in front of others – can be mild or paralyzing, and can come into effect with an audience of one or one hundred. This means that it can be difficult to talk to teachers or employers later in life, or it can be hard to make ourselves understood by a friend or partner.

Luckily, the younger you start taking these kinds of risks and being rewarded for them, the better shot you have at escaping this phobia. By giving a minimum point value to our teams for simply taking the risk of being in front of a crowd at all, USAT encourages even shy kids to stand up and be heard. We think it’s so valuable, in fact, that we make it mandatory for all competing team members to be seen during the performance.

Even though the idea of rewarding participation has come under fire lately, there are certain types of endeavors and certain age groups that benefit from this kind of unconditional encouragement. Creativity in all forms requires risk-taking. USAT offers a competitive format in order to give our teams something to strive for and ways to set specific, achievable goals. But we also structure the scoring of the program in a way to encourage positive risk-taking activities and create an environment of acceptance to help build the confidence of our participants that will carry them forward in their education, careers, and relationships to come.

Announcements, For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators, For Parents

State Meet Is Postponed until May 12

Due to safety and travel concerns, the 2018 USAT State Competition has been rescheduled for May 12, 2018 at Woodbury Middle School (the location has not changed).
If your team registered for the State Meet, please confirm your team’s attendance at May 12 Competition by completing this registration confirmation form  no later than Saturday, April 21.
Over the 30+ years that USAT has existed, the State Competition has never been postponed. We know we can all work together to make this a smooth process – and completing the linked form will help staff reorganize for the later date.
Thank you, everyone, for your cooperation thus far. We look forward to seeing everyone in a month!
Enrichment Activities, For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Resources

Never Too Early to Think About Next Year! Helping Your Students Set Goals in 3 Steps

To our teams who are moving on to the State Competition this year, congrats! But for the rest of our teams, we’re not just going to say “better luck next year.” We want to help your team get ready for next season right now.

Okay, you’re right. Next season won’t be coming up for a while. There’s a whole beautiful summer between now and the fall semester. The advantage of thinking about next season already is that this season is still fresh in the Triathlete’s minds. And when it comes to goal-setting, the fresher the experience, the better the goals.

It’s no secret that in the moment, winning feels better than losing. But improving can be its own reward, and one that isn’t dependent on the whim of the judges.

Setting Goals is as Easy as 1-2-3

This goal-setting exercise can be done for the team as a whole and for individuals on a team. If you are doing this is a group activity, allow your students to each have one “secret” goal that they don’t have to share with the group, but they must share at least one goal and the steps to reach it.

One low-pressure way to start the discussion of what worked and what could be improved, is to talk about the student’s favorite and least favorite challenges this year. See how many Mind Sprints they can name and how they felt about them. Ask about their favorite and least favorite P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box prompt this year. Did anyone feel frustrated about Face-Off? This is an easy way to get your students talking about what worked and what didn’t work over the season.

Then, it’s time to identify, quantify, and assess. So, have your students grab some paper, and divide it into three columns. (Hint – turning the page horizontal to a “landscape” rather than “portrait” configuration will give more space to each column.)

GOAL!!!

1. Identify Areas for Improvement

“Perfection” is a myth. Nobody does everything right all of the time. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and both can be areas of focus for goal-setting. This is why “Areas for Improvement” is a better label than “weakness;” even if you are good at something, there’s always room to strive to do it even better. And the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to measure success.

The first concrete step for goal-setting is to identify these areas for improvement and write them down. Each student should use the column on the left to record at least two ways they’d like to do even better as individuals during USAT next season, and one way the team could perform better overall. These areas for improvement could be in response to specific challenges they faced this season, such as “get faster at answering verbal brainstorming prompts,” or could be more general, like “listen to each other.” But the goals can’t get too broad, either, or they stop being helpful. Saying “get better scores” isn’t going to be as valuable as identifying specific areas where the scores were lower than they would have liked. It’s best if your Triathletes make their own lists, but here are a few suggestions to get them started if they get stuck.

  • Drawing backdrops for P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box
  • Answering current events questions
  • Listening to each other
  • Staying in character
  • Using time effectively
  • Speaking up
  • Writing clearly
  • Making props

There’s no need to share these lists yet, so have them work on this individually to start. Sharing will come after step 3.

2. Quantify – Create Steps that Lead to Success

People often forget this very important stage in the goal-setting process. It isn’t enough for us to just to declare we plan to “do better” in the year to come. To reach a goal, we need to identify the concrete steps to take to get us there. You may find that some of the goals from above are hard to break into steps, which means the focus of the goal needs to shift to make is something measurable. The Triathletes should use the middle column to record at least one step they can take to reach each goal for themselves and their team.

Let’s use “listening to each other” as an example. It’s easy to say “we’re all going to listen better next season,” but making sure this happens requires more than a promise. For instance, the team could agree that after reading the prompt in every P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box planning session, every teammate gets a chance to share their ideas before anyone touches the materials in the box. This doesn’t mean everyone has to have an idea, but they are guaranteed an opportunity to speak up if they have one.

If Triathletes did end up with list items like “score higher in Face-Off,” there are steps to take there, too. The subject areas in Face-Off are always the same: science/health, social studies/geography, math/music theory, English/literature, and current events/consumer issues. We’ve provided some tips for improving Face-Off performance before, but there could certainly be other ways. And if the students come up with the ideas themselves, they are going to be more likely to stick.

Mind Sprints may change from Meet to Meet, but there’s never a bad time to practice using the SCAMPER technique to improve verbal brainstorming skills. There are ways to practice, like making P.A.R.T.Y.-style props and skits in between Meets. But saying the next step is “practice” is only halfway there. It’s easy to put off practicing if there is no deadline or minimum number to meet. So, make sure the steps take either time (hold one practice before each Meet) or quantity (I’ll turn 10 plastic cups into props) to make them measurable. This makes the steps easier to accomplish, which will help the students reach their goals.

3. Assess

In addition to needing concrete steps in order to accomplish your goal, choosing milestones means that you can easily assess how much progress you’ve made. If you look at the steps the students brainstormed for the section above and find that there is no way to measure when they are done, they might need to rethink their areas of improvement and their next steps. Goal-setting needs to be a fluid process, but as long as it leads to actionable steps that can be measured, then it’s been successful, even if things have to get tweaked along the way.

Goals can be assessed at any time, but if you never set a time, then it’s easy to let the assessment slide by. The goals and steps can be evaluated at the end of each season, but also after every Meet or on a monthly basis, depending on the goal. The advantage of assessing progress more often is that the students may find they have already achieved a goal on their list, so they have a chance to set another one and continue to make progress. On the other hand, they could find out something they thought was a reasonable action step turns out to be too hard or too easy, or they prefer to do it with a friend. Any part of the goal-setting process can be changed at any time, but it won’t happen unless a time is chosen at the beginning.

Sharing Goals and Steps

If you are doing this as a group activity, now it’s time to share and discuss the goals the students made for themselves and the team as a whole. They should each share at least one personal goal, then each share their team goal, and how they plan to achieve them. Students may have suggestions for each other and the types of steps someone can take, and how to achieve their team goals. This activity has the chance to turn into an interesting discussion, and we encourage you to do it as a group.

If a student is working alone, that’s fine, too. But goals are much more powerful if they are shared with someone, like a friend, parent, or coach. Just saying a goal out loud makes it seem more “real,” and if other people know what someone else hopes to accomplish, they will be more likely and able to help them along the way. Sharing creates a sense of accountability that keeping it to yourself simply can’t match. So, even if a goal is only shared with one person, the act of sharing is already a step toward success!

Do you have any goal-setting activities to share? Did this activity lead to any surprises? Share with us in the comments.

 

Elements of Storytelling, For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, For Parents, Resources

Elements of Storytelling: The End

From here on out, the goal is to get the protagonist back to a State of Perfection (SOP). It may or may not be the same SOP as the beginning, but they’ve got to end up better off somehow after the story is over. But don’t jump straight to the big finish just yet; there’s still some important work to do. In fact, there was so much to say about constructing the end of a story, we decided to break this post into two parts. This post will cover everything between the Midpoint and the Finale, and next week we’ll finish up the whole story.

Proving it was False

We left off last time talking about the Midpoint of a story and how it must be either a false peak or a false collapse for the protagonist(s). The story needs to illustrate the consequences of the Midpoint and how it drives the hero to undergo a change. Otherwise, the events the audience has just witnessed hold no meaning and won’t communicate the team understands the theme of the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit to the judges.

If the protagonist is feeling good in the middle of the story, they need to get knocked down again before the end. They could find out a decision they made earlier in the story has unintended consequences. Maybe they lose an important object or a companion is kidnapped by the antagonist while their back is turned. Perhaps the whole Midpoint was actually just a trap or distraction to lure the protagonist away from the real action. Or when the antagonist is backed into a corner, they do something desperate and create an even bigger problem than before. No matter what you choose, creating more opportunities for reversals leads to an audience (and judges!) more invested in the story.

If the protagonist is suffering from a false collapse at the Midpoint or as a result of proving just how false their peak really was, it’s time to build them back up. It’s reasonable to put them through another moment of debate and doubt that mirrors the first. After all, they’ve either just succeeded and found it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, or they think they’ve just lost everything. Plus, the stakes just keep getting higher. The protagonist needs a reminder of what makes them special and what it took to get them this far. This could be a great opportunity for a pep talk by a companion on the quest or some kind words from a wise stranger. If the protagonist is faced with a new challenge and uses a new skill they’ve learned, or moves away from a negative behavior they’ve developed since the story began, it gives them the strength to carry on.

Raise the Stakes

If your story is doing its job, the audience is already invested. Now, it’s time to double down on the danger. This doesn’t mean to jump straight to a universe-ending scenario just for the sake of making things more exciting. The danger needs to feel like it is to scale with what has come before. For instance, the soccer player who pushes away their childhood friend in order to fit in with her teammates probably won’t need to save the entire planet. But she could be peer-pressured into doing something that would get her kicked off the team if caught, or put the league in jeopardy.

In a general sense, the stakes of a story are bounded by how far the protagonist is able to travel. This might seem weird, but think about it. Stories with kids at the center usually stretch about as far as they can reach on their bikes. The neighborhood, the school, or maybe the whole town could be in peril, but the next state over? Probably not. On the other extreme, any story that includes the means to travel between planets is basically going to have a planet-sized threat looming over it by definition. The stakes could be expanded on their own, or as part of the second plot point.

Plot Point #2

If besting the antagonist was easy, the good guys would always win in the middle. Instead, there must be some new development after the events of the Midpoint to bring the tale to a thrilling conclusion. This usually comes in the form of new information the protagonist didn’t have before. They may need to travel to a new location, consult an expert, retrieve an artifact, or any number of different tasks to give them the leg up they need. This is the last chance to infuse new knowledge into the story, or the solution will feel like it comes out of nowhere and won’t give the audience the satisfaction they are looking for. As fun as it can be to throw in a twist, it’s better if the audience gets to anticipate the ending somehow first. There’s still time for a twist; in fact, good finales always throw in a curve-ball (which we’ll discuss more next week). But the people watching the skit will have more fun if they think they know how the story will end before they actually see it happen.

To bring us back to Star Wars, this is the scene in the war room at the rebel base. Luke finds out that the impenetrable Death Star has a weakness after all, and he will be part of the team that will try to take it out. If the fleet took off with no plan or knowledge of how they might succeed, there wouldn’t be any tension for the audience. But as long as there is a chance, no matter how small, that the good guys will win, the story feels compelling all the way to the last moments.

In terms of the five-minute time limit of a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit, this event must occur no later than the end of the fourth minute to ensure there is enough time to get the protagonist back to their SOP.

This brings us to the finale, which we’ll discuss next time!

For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Multiple Intelligences, Resources

The Naturalist Intelligence

For the final installment in our Multiple Intelligences series, we’ll be looking at one of the types of intelligence that can be the hardest to recognize. In fact, Howard Gardner, who first put forth the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983, did not include Naturalist Intelligence in his original list of seven types of strengths. It took until 1994 for him to start discussing an eighth intelligence, and it appeared formally the first time in his 1999 book, Reframing Intelligence. (Source)

What Does Naturalist Intelligence Mean?

In the simplest terms, it means that a person exhibits “nature smarts.” This can take the form of always wanting to be outside, an affinity for getting dirty, or a natural curiosity about plants and animals. If you’ve ever had a student who could tell you the scientific name of of their favorite beetle, then you’ve had one of these little nature lovers in your life. They will be interested in the birds flocking South for the winter, and will happily report on how many new buds appear on your houseplants.

Those character traits are pretty easy to spot, but by extension, people possessing the Naturalist Intelligence are also aware of their environments in a different way than others. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence can help a person mentally map their surroundings in terms of their own body, but is tailored to taking in a situation or environment as it stands. A naturalist will be in tune with how the environment is subject to changes. They are able to see patterns where others just see chance, and make connections between cause and effect that many don’t see.

This is achieved by having heightened sensory perception. These people literally see, smell, hear, touch, and taste more than the rest of us. They probably don’t even realize it is happening; the patterns their brains pick out are simply self-evident. The naturalist is likely baffled by how the average person can miss so much that is right in front of their faces.

In our fast-paced, tech-obsessed lives, it is painfully easy to overlook the value of Naturalist Intelligence. We spend so little of our time outside, interacting with the natural world, these tendencies could never have a chance to manifest. When you can ask a search engine how many petals a daisy has, there’s little incentive to actually get off the couch and look at a daisy.*

This means that as parents, coaches, and teachers, it has to be our job to take away that screen time sometimes and make our students go outside to see the forest and the trees. When a triathlete gets excited about the biology questions on Face-Off! Or begs to go to the zoo for your team-building field trip, it’s time to sit up and take notice. You’ve got a naturalist on your hands!

Want to find out more about the other facets of the Multiple Intelligence theory? Check out our posts on Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence, Math/Logic Intelligence, Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, and Intra/Inter Personal Intelligences.

*The answer is 21 petals.