For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, For Parents, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: E is for Eliminate

When employing “eliminate” in your brainstorms, one way to think about it is that you are reducing something to its most essential elements. If you take the sound system out of a car, is it still a car? Of course it is. But what about the engine? Your first reaction may be to think that the engine is essential, but I would make an argument that it is really its shape that makes a car a car. Think about cars from The Flintstones, or that kids pedal around their yards before they can ride a bike. These do not have engines, but what other label would you give them other than car? This exercise of stripping something down in order to define it is a great way to get kids to think about the world around them and come to recognize how things may be similar or different in various ways.

It can also help them to create their P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box performances, by helping them get to the heart of what  backdrops, costumes and props need in order represent something more complex. If they want to show a park, can they get by with just drawing a swing set? If they are going to make the audience believe they are carrying something heavy they don’t actually need a great weight, only a sac that looks full (and some good acting skills!).

The most straightforward way to use “eliminate” to get your students to stretch their brains is to start with something intact, and have them take turns eliminating elements and considering the consequences. This could be done systematically by first thinking of all the parts of a thing and then taking each out one by one. The more complex machine, organism or situation you begin with, the more opportunity there is to get rid of different elements, but you can always start simple and move to the more complex.

As I was writing this article I thought of a few prompts you could use with your students that all involve elimination. For instance, if you begin with an airplane and eliminate all the seats, would that lead to a more comfortable flight? Could they find a way to play with their electronic toys if the batteries are taken out? If someone loses their voice in the middle of an argument, what might happen? Or if a certain character was removed from a story, would it still have the same outcome?

For Coaches and Teachers, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: P is for Put to Another Use

So far, most of the SCAMPER technique has been about how to change ideas and things, but P is all about recognizing the qualities that are already inherent in an object or attitude.

For instance, dice are used to tell you how far to advance during a board game but they could be used to practice math problems. Playing cards are used in lots of games to take tricks, but a group could decide that the person who draws the low card has to go out to get more snacks. Butter is delicious on toast, but as seen at the MN State Fair it can be a great material for sculpting. Toothpicks can get spinach out of your bicuspids, but they are also used to make appetizers easier to eat. Styrofoam is a packing material, but it also floats so if a person needs an emergency life preserver it would do in pinch to save your life.

Parque Guell ceilingLately, there has been a trend to take waste products and turn them into something new. For example, those nice tote bags that you can buy in grocery and convenience stores are often made out of recycled plastic bags. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish artist who took broken plates and tiles and made them into beautiful artwork. In one of my favorite episodes of Mythbusters the team took old newspapers, soaked them in water and froze them in a boat-shaped mold. They were able to add and engine and motor around a lake for almost an hour!

So if you are having a practice session before a Meet, think about bringing different objects and giving the students a chance to think about all the different things they could be used for.

Happy brainstorming!

For Coaches and Teachers, Mind Sprints, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: M is for Magnify/Minify

Here we are the the midpoint of our SCAMPER acronym, but if you missed the background, S (Substitute), C (combine) or A (adapt) the posts are all waiting for you. So onwards and upwards, or as the case would be, bigwards and smallwards.

The M of SCAMPER stands for “Magnify,” or making things bigger. In a pinch, this is a great fallback when stuck during a brainstorming session or thinking about ways to change an object to put it to a new use. For instance, if you make a house key much larger, it can be used not only to open a comically large lock, but the big, sharp teeth would make it a great saw. Or a crouton could be an ideal raft in a giant bowl of soup. With a big enough tube of lipstick a person could paint a whole building, though I would avoid brush up against that exterior, the stains would be a nightmare!

On the other hand, the opposite side of magnify is “minify”, ie making things smaller. If a person were the size of Pekinese then they could live comfortably in a kennel, or if they were even smaller a whole town could move into your ventilation system. If pizzas are bite-sized you would be able to sample many different varieties without all those calories. There are lots of things that would be convenient to carry in your pocket if they were only a few inches tall, and think of all the cool stuff that could be worn as jewelry!

Another thing that can be made bigger or smaller is an idea. Taking “selfies” became a huge craze, but what about the next big thing for internet? Electric cars exist, but could there be consequences if everyone in the world had one? And right now in scientific circles people have re-opened the debate about whether or not Pluto is a planet. They have to decide if they are going to expand or limit the definition of what constitutes a planet, and there will be consequences of that decision.

So if you are looking for something to do during a USAT practice, you could try having your students practice making things bigger and smaller in their minds, and think of new uses for them once they’ve been changed.

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

Starting a USAT Team

The SCAMPER series will be back next week, but with only one month left to register we wanted to get some information out to you about how to start a new team if you are interested in coaching, or if you have a child who you think would enjoy the program.

Step 1: Identify 4-5 students, plus 2 alternates, in grades 5 through 8, to form a competition team. It might be fun to come up with a team name and, if funds are available, a team shirt/jersey for competitions! Some teams are made up students who are already friends, and some teams are created as a way to make new ones among people who are just interested in exploring their creative side in a fun and supportive way.

Step 2: Recruit another teacher or parent to serve as an additional coach or volunteer. Each team needs a Head Coach to successfully run a team, though additional coaches or adults (16 years or older) may be needed. Each team must provide at least one coach/volunteer to assist with the successful management of each Round Robin or Regional meet.

Step 3: Register your team with the national US Academic Triathlon office by Nov. 14, 2014. Final payment is due by Dec. 14, 2014. To register, complete either the Xcel spreadsheet or the PDF registration forms on the Registration page. You can fax, email, or snail mail it to the contact information below:

US Academic Triathlon
P.O. Box 333
Northfield, MN 55057
Fax: 507.301.3512
State Coordinator Email:

Step 4: Review the Program Manual, which will be sent electronically to first-time coaches upon successful registration, or can be downloaded here: Program Manual. Make sure you are familiar with all expectations of the Head Coach, additional coaches/volunteers, team members, and the competition process. During the course of your USAT season, you may be asked to host a meet at your school. The Program Manual and the State Coordinator will be your essential resources for hosting your first USAT Meet.

Step 5: Create your team’s Competition Kit – your team’s box of essentials necessary to work through any problem thrown at them during a Meet. See the Program Manual for details of what goes in your team’s Competition Kit.

Step 6: Practice! You can find practice problems on this site. You additional tips and practice ideas you can subscribe to the USAT blog or follow us on Facebook.

For questions about recuitment, please contact Sarah Sheldon at