Future Problem Solvers Crowned International Champs
Team competed against 58 others to win the first Junior Division Championship in Mahwah history
For the first time since the international conference was founded in 1974, the Future Problem Solving Program has a Junior division championship team from New Jersey. That team is made up of sixth graders from Ramapo Ridge Middle School.
The team of five placed first out of 58 teams competing from across the United States, and from countries around the world, like Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and China.
“I still can’t believe we won,” team member Miranda Perez said. “It is just a great feeling, like we really accomplished something.”
The 2012 International Future Problem Solving Conference was held at Indiana University over four days earlier this month. The competition asks teams to each create a booklet tackling a real-world issue, and come up with solutions for it.
After being presented with a topic, the team had two hours to identify 16 related problems that exist and one main underlying problem, come up with 16 possible solutions to the problems they identified. The team also had to figure out criteria on which it could judge each solution, and use that criteria to rank their solutions. The team then needed to create an action plan describing how they would implement their solution to the problem.
“There is a very exact science to the way the booklet is put together,” FPS coach Jo Ellen Wall said. “By the time they include everything they need to in the exact way that it needs to be outlined, the result is very elaborate.”
The team has been preparing for the International Conference since it started meeting during school last October. The team was given scenarios for two practice booklets, one state qualifying booklet, a state competition booklet, and an international competition booklet. The team spent the year researching topics, and practicing booklet composition in preparation for competition. The team won the bid to go to the international conference after winning first place at the state competition earlier this year.
In Indiana, the topic was pharmaceuticals. Junior division teams, made up of fourth through sixth graders, tackled a scenario surrounding a hypothetical medication that had not yet been approved. The Ridge team identified ways the pill could be improved so that it could be sold on the international market.
During qualifying rounds earlier in the year, the team tackled issues like trade barriers, human rights and coral reefs.
The international conference was “definitely more intense,” than previous rounds, team member Emily Mayo said. “I love the competition, and we all bring different talents and strengths to it, so that’s good.”
Mayo and teammates Perez, Laura Pesanello, Sowmya Patapati and Rachel Lu are a first-year team. They meet during school, in their Gifted and Talented class.
This year, they traveled to the competition with other teams and individual competitors from the district, including sixth grader Amira Arora, who placed second during the “multi-affiliation” competition, which went on at the same time as the main IPS competition. Arora worked with teammates she had never met before from North Carolina and Ohio to create a booklet solving a different international problem. “They were really nice and I had a lot of fun doing it,” she said of her experience.
Each girl said she likes participating in the competition for a different reason.
“I like to be really creative, and you don’t always get to think that way in other classes,” Pesanello said.
“I like that this is something that could really happen in the future,” Perez said. “Maybe this pill will really be introduced one day, and we already solved all of these possible problems about it.”
Patapati said the team aspect was her favorite part of the experience. “We get to do this together. It’s fun.” Lu added that each member has a different job while compiling the booklet. “We each have something we need to do, and it doesn’t work if we are not all working together.”
“I love the exactness of this,” Mayo said. “When you are done and you know you’ve done it all right. I just love that perfect feeling.”
Now that they have a year's experience and an international championship title under their belts, the girls say they are excited to competing in a higher division next year. "There is always room to improve and do better," Perez said. "We will be competing against older kids and working on different scenarios, so there will definitely be new challenges next year," she said.
"Hopefully we can make it to the international competition and win again."