Creating a Mind Sprint is all about balance. There needs to be right amount of challenge for the student’s grade level. However, the activity also has to be 10 minutes or less, including listening to the instructions. Sometimes, Creative Director Alison comes up with a fun problem, but it just won’t work within the confines of a Mind Sprint. This happened while developing Round Robin 2, and the logic problem “Twisted Tournament” had to be swapped out for the “Gone Fishin’” Mind Sprint.
But we didn’t want to see a good problem get left behind, so we’ve prepared it for you as an enrichment to use at your next USAT practice. It is set up like a Mind Sprint with verbal instructions to be read by a coach or parent, but solving the problem itself will likely take 30 minutes rather than the regular 10. This problem can be tackled by a team or an individual, so if you don’t hold regular practices for your team, it can still be a fun way to keep our Triathletes’ brains working between Meets.
The PDF below includes the instructions, the answers, a sheet of clues, and the worksheet your students will need to complete their task.
The USAT team hopes you had a great Round Robin 2 last week. After the first Meet of the season, we provided some reflection questions about Mind Sprints. This time, we’d like to challenge the students to think critically about P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box and how they could improve next time. So, if you are looking for something to do to enhance team-building at your next practice, here are a few prompts to get the students talking.
Describe P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skits you’ve done before. Can you remember the theme, characters you created, or favorite part of the skit?
If you could change any of the rules about P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, what would you change?
What skills are needed in order to do well in a P.A.R.T.Y. challenge? Is there anything you can do outside of USAT competitions to hone those skills?
Did any of the prompts remind you of books you read or movies you saw?
If you could create your own P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box prompt, what would it be? How would you want to score it?
DIVE DEEPER: Why not give it a try? Give your students 30 minutes to design a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box prompt and scoring rubric. If they want to try acting it out, too, all the better! If you need an example of a scoring rubric, check out our sample PARTY in a Box: Butterfly Effect
Do you have anything you want the USAT staff to know about Round Robin 2? Leave us a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.)
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
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.
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.
During Round Robin 3, we challenged our Triathletes to brainstorm new meanings for familiar acronyms. There is only 10 minutes allowed for any Mind Sprint, so we could only offer a few phrases during the challenge. As you get ready for the Regional competition on March 9, we wanted to offer another chance to play this game, as well as some ways to interact with acronyms that we couldn’t do in the short time within a Mind Sprint.
Objective: To use divergent thinking even when seeing familiar patterns.
Conducting the enrichment: An activity for one or more people. Parents and coaches can play along with the students, so don’t be shy! You will also need some way to record your answers.
An acronym is a series of letters that represent a phrase. Your challenge will be to brainstorm acronyms we use in our daily lives, then come up with new phrases to fit them.
Take out some scratch paper and a writing utensil. You could use a word processor if you don’t have any paper, but we recommend writing by hand for brainstorming to help engage your brain on a more tactile level.
Divide your paper into four parts, and label each section 2-5. In these areas, you will record acronyms with the corresponding number of letters. If you think of any that are six letters or longer, record them in the “5” section.
Set a timer for two minutes. When your time begins, record as many acronyms as you can, and put them into the different sections of your page. Try to think of at least one acronym for each of your numbered sections. You will use these acronyms for Part 2.
If you are doing this activity with multiple students, you can make it a friendly competition. After the time is up, compare your lists, and award 2 points for each 2-letter answer, 3 points for each 3-letter answer, etc. When the scores are compiled, take a look at the different techniques other students used for getting their scores. Were there any strategies that people used to generate more words that others could use in the future? Did it matter how long the words really were? Or was quantity of answers vs. quantity of letters a better strategy?
Once you have a list of acronyms, it’s time for a new piece of paper. Your next task will be to take this list and brainstorm new phrases that fit the pattern of letters.
Acronyms are usually made up of the first letters in each word of the phrase, but sometimes little words are left out, such as when the United States of America is abbreviated as USA. You may include linking words in your answers that hold the phrase together but don’t use up a letter. Take a moment to add the phrases for each of your acronyms to your list. If you aren’t certain exactly what it stands for, double check on the internet or ask the other students who are playing the game to reach a consensus.
To make things a little more challenging, there is one condition of your new acronyms. You may not use any of the words in the original phrase in your answers. So for LOL, you couldn’t use the words “laugh,” “out,” or “loud,” but you could say Librarians On Ladders or Leather Over Lace.
If you are playing alone, set a new timer for 30 seconds. Choose any acronym from your list, and use the 30 seconds to come up with new phrases. Longer phrases offer a bigger challenge, so you may want to start with 2- or 3-letter acronyms to begin. Repeat the process at least five times with different acronyms. After you’ve done a few shorter words, move on to longer ones.
If you are playing as a group, you could follow the instructions above and compare your answers. Alternatively, you could take turns using acronyms from each other’s lists and do the brainstorming as a group. It can be really fun to do this as a verbal activity rather than keeping it all on paper, but you may also want to assign one person to record all of the different answers.
Just for Fun
Choose one of more of your favorite new phrases and create an illustration or logo to go along with it.
If you want to share your lists, experiences, or illustrations, we’d love to post them here on the website! You can email your material to Alison@USAcademicTriathlon.com.
We hope you all had a great time at Round Robin #1! Many teams came back for yet another season, but we also had the chance to welcome new teams to the fold. In a perfect world, the students came together and sparked immediately in a shower of creative fireworks. In reality, even the most seasoned Triathletes can use a little nudge back into sync from time to time.
Since it’s the beginning of the season, we thought we’d provide a “getting to know you” activity for the students. It’s a dash of P.A.RT.Y. in a Box and mixed with a Mind Sprint’s ticking clock. We’d love to see the results of this role-playing activity. Please, send any finished interviews, images the activity inspires, and videos of our students giving it a whirl to Alison@usacademictriathlon.com.
Objective: Use an interview structure to refresh acting skills and help the students get to know each other better to boost creative flow.
Quick Set-up: An activity for 1 or more. Download and print the interview questions template, or answer the questions below as a verbal activity.
Conducting the interviews: We ask our Triathletes to introduce themselves at Round Robin #1 every year. Now, it’s time to think about who you’d like to be rather than who you are. Use the questions to create a fascinating life story for yourself. The sky is the limit when it comes to what can happen between now and 2050, so aim high when you talk about your accomplishments and aspirations as your adult self.
Take turns acting as an interviewer, be it for a local newspaper, Time Magazine, or your future child’s family history project. Feel free to add or skip any questions you don’t feel like doing. Some people may wish for time to write down their responses in advance, and others may feel ready to jump right in. Use these questions in whatever way works best for you!
Bonus activity: Use your Competition Kit or things around the home or classroom to create one prop your future self would use to add interest to their interview. Refer to it at any point during the dialog and tell a story.
Interviewer: Briefly introduce yourself for the “audience,” then proceed to the questions.
What an interesting life you’ve lived! Are there any moments that stand out to you the most?
You are a person of many talents. What would you say you are the best known for at this point in your life?
Did that take any training or classes to be able to do that? Maybe a mentor or someone who made a real difference?
When you aren’t busy with that, how do you spend your free time?
Do you do all of that by yourself, or do you have friends or family who do that with you?
What about pets? Do you have a furry friend or slippery serpent in your life? Does your pet require any special care?
Do you have a favorite book or quote that inspired you along the way?
What’s in store for you next? Do you have any goals for the second half of the century?
Thank you so much for your time. Do you have any parting words or advice for young people today?