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

Getting the Most Out of SCAMPER Links

State 2015
State 2015

SCAMPER is a valuable technique for students as they approach USAT challenges. Below are links to last year’s SCAMPER blog series for new students and coaches, as well as those returning who might need a refresher or a way to liven up practices.

S is for Substitute

C is for Combine

A is for Adapt

M is for Magnify/Minify

P is for Put to Another Use

E is for Eliminate

R is for Rearrange

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

Round Robin 1 Reflection

Competition Kit
Competition Kit

Now that you have the first Round Robin under your belt, we’d love to hear from you!

Did you have a favorite event? Did you see a particularly good P.A.R.T.Y. in a box performance? Do you have any good photos of the action you’d like to share?

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page, and send your photos to if you’d like to see them on the website or Facebook.

Next week you won’t see any posts on the blog or on Facebook as our team goes into holiday mode, but check back the week of December 28 for more brainstorming prompts and resources.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Resources, STEM Education

USAT and STEM: The Role of Museums

Getting kids excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math can take many forms. They get a certain type of exposure to these subjects in school, but museums also offer great opportunities to explore these principles in a different setting and on a different scale. When kids interact with objects, be they the original things or exhibits that present their mechanisms, they can’t help but learn by doing. And these are the experiences that adults still remember long after their middle school years have passed. (If you would like to learn more about the impact of science centers on learning and personal growth, you should check out this meta study.)

In Minnesota alone there are several science and technology-based museums. The Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota campus, for instance, is a place for kids to learn about animals through dioramas and hands-on exploration of fossils. The Mill City Museum explores the history of industry on the Mississippi waterfront. You have probably never heard of the Bakken Museum, but it is a unique way to discover the power and uses of electricity and magnetism. The Works Museum in Bloomington is dedicated to the inner workings of machines and engineering, and the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St Paul is dedicated to the technology of getting from point A to point B. Of course, there is always the Science Museum of Minnesota as well.

“I would definitely say that the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) played a big role in my interest in science later in life. I had a great time visiting both the old building and the renovated one, so when I was looking for an out-of-the-box job for my final year of undergrad the SMM seemed like a perfect fit. I not only got to work in the Collections Department and the Big Backyard, but took some of the free classes they offered. I will never forget when I was first introduced to the concept of computer coding by learning how to write a simple program that turned LED lights on and off in the order I wanted. It turns out that coding is both easy and fun, and now there are so many different applications across diverse platforms. The possibilities for expanding this kind of technology are endless.”

~Alison Weaverdyck, Creative Director

And the best part is that the SMM still offers a variety of free classes for kids of all ages! This weekend the fabulous staff, as well as female scientists from around the state, will be celebrating women in science with their “Girls, Science and Technology” day. The demonstrations below are included in the admission price, but for one day only museum patrons can get FREE admission for up to four kids with the purchase of one adult ticket. Find out more on their website (link to embed:

On Saturday, November 14 from 10-4 you are invited to:

  • Learn how lungs work with ventilated pig lungs
  • Explore mathematics and learn how to calculate probability and percentages
  • Manipulate medical guidewires and stylets through human anatomy models
  • Bring magic to life with sensors and 3D printers, and learn how sensors improve and assist with our lives on a daily basis
  • Explore the properties of air with hands-on windbag activity
  • Touch real pig hearts and learn about the wild world of the heart
  • Play dentist and apply sealants to plastic teeth models
  • Create your own hoop glider and fly it down a runway
  • Discover what’s inside your mouth with intra-oral cameras
  • Learn about the mechanics and technology of robots with FIRST Tech Challenge
  • Find out what it’s like to do a weather forecast on the Fox 9 Green Screen

Looking to infuse your USAT practice with a little technology but don’t have time to take a field trip to a museum? Here are a few brainstorming and project ideas to get your triathletes in the right mindset.

  • Name things with batteries. If the batteries are removed, what else can be done with these items? Can they be taken apart and the components used for something new?
  • What are games that you play on a computer or smart phone? Do you play any games that are also available in another format, such as Scrabble? Which method do you prefer and why?
  • What are some things that computers can do that people can’t? What are things that people can do that computers can’t?
  • Choose an item of technology that students would use regularly, and ask them to research different components. For instance, we all ride in cars all the time, but how did we end up with rubber tires? What is anti-freeze made of? Do hubcaps serve a purpose?



For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, STEM Education

USAT and STEM: The Role of Creativity

If you are a parent or educator, you have probably heard the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) acronym thrown around a lot lately. This is due, in a large part, to studies that have shown a decline in interest in these subjects by American students. As a whole, our society will suffer from this trend as this generation enters adulthood without the tools to think critically and find ways to meet new challenges.

In response, federal and local governments, as well as independent philanthropic organizations, have implemented several measures and funding opportunities over the last few years. This takes the form of recruiting teachers trained in STEM fields, training existing teachers in best practices for integrating STEM into their classrooms, and funding for special projects that promote student interest in these intersecting fields.

At United States Academic Triathlon, we have always worked to provide our students with questions and challenges that span a variety of disciplines, including those represented by STEM. Over the next several weeks, this blog will feature posts that pertain to each of the four subjects, the ways the USAT addresses them, and creative ways to inspire students to embrace them.

During the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box portion of the competition, students are often asked to approach an old question in a new way, or think critically about the consequence of decisions
During the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box portion of the competition, students are often asked to approach an old question in a new way, or think critically about the consequence of decisions.

No subject exists in a vacuum, and creativity is something that can enhance any endeavor. After all, computers can do complex calculations but they will never be “inspired” to do them. It is curiosity that drives us to ask questions and seek to understand our world and creativity that provides us with a means of applying tools such as mathematics and engineering. As a species, we have done a great job of answering many of the questions that confront us in our daily lives, but there is so much more to learn. The “way it has always been done” is not necessarily the “best” way, and what makes something better than something else is completely objective.

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. For instance, when the glue commonly used in sticky notes was created, the people working on it were trying to create an extremely strong adhesive. When they “failed” to make something super sticky they opened the door to possibilities of impermanent adhesives, and just one application now sits in desk drawers all over the world.

As parents and educators, the best thing we can do for the next generation is to help them stay curious and creative. This can take many forms. We can help them to research the answer to a question they ask, encourage them to read for pleasure, make them turn off their electronic devices in favor of going out into the world, or play games that require imagination. At the beginning of a task, ask your children or students how they would solve a problem. Even if you feel like you know the “best” or “right” answer, ask them for their opinions even if they might be totally outside of the realm of possibilities (fix the broken pipe with peanut butter? Probably not).

This type of interaction encourages them to think constructively and creatively, and reinforces a sense that their ideas matter. Only after they feel confident in their ability to ask and answer questions can they use tools like the STEM disciplines to answer them.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources

P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box Time: Close Reading


Winning isn’t everything, but it is a shame when a team misses an opportunity to get points because of an oversight.Here are a few ways to help your students excel during the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box round.

1. Read the Prompt thoroughly. The P.A.R.T.Y. challenges are never longer than one page. Even though 45 minutes isn’t a long time to do everything needed to develop a skit, it is worth a team’s time to read the prompt more than once.

2. Look at the scoring rubric. It is not a mystery how the performances are going to be scored, the scoring rubric is included on the team copy. Unless penalties are assessed, each performance scores a minimum of 30 points, because we don’t believe in zeroes, and a maximum of 117 points. Some categories stay the same, and others change depending on the story being told. Each section of the “Team’s Use of Materials” category is always worth a maximum of 10 points, for instance, and is about the appearance of costumes and sets. The section with the largest potential for earning points always centers on the plot, and the team’s ability to address the central problem. On its own, this part is worth up to 25 points. Some prompts also require teams to do something specific, like recite a poem or add music, and if gets left out it can mean a loss of 10 points.

3. Take notes. Every Meet there are teams who have to prepare their performance during the first Tri, which means it can be hours between seeing the prompt and when the performance finally takes place. Even though teams can’t take the prompt with them in order to ensure that no other team gets an unfair advantage, there is no reason they can’t take notes about what they are going to do in their skits. In the excitement of performing, kids can sometimes forget their lines and leave out something key to their story. These notes can be kept “back stage” and referred to during the performance to make sure that nothing important gets forgotten. Another place where these notes can come into play is if the team uses a narrator, who can hold onto them during the performance and refer to them throughout.

Check out the other PARTY posts for more tips!
Make it Memorable
Costumes Make the Characters
Backdrops Set the Scene
Props Add Pop