During the past 30 years, the head of school and director of curriculum at Birchwood School have identified quality academic competitions that have become an integral part of the school’s core curriculum. In the phrase “quality academic competitions,” the operative word is “quality.” It distinguishes those competitions that offer extensive academic and affective benefits to all students from those whose primary value is winning.
Competitions are selected based upon two features. First, the competition must be true to the essential structure of its discipline. A history competition cannot merely be about memorizing large bodies of information. Instead it must give children the opportunity to mirror the work of a professional historian, training children how to understand history, analyze history and apply history. A mathematics competition should require children to be fluent in basic computation skills and knowledgeable in problem solving strategies. It should require children to apply these skills creatively to unique mathematical problems.
The second feature of a good competition is in how it supports students and teachers throughout the preparation process. If children excel in an academic competition it should be the result of a long preparation process. Good competitions provide guidance, instruction and preparation materials so that participation in the competition is a rich experience whether or not the child wins. The actual competition is only a small part of the whole competition program.
It has been determined that quality academic competitions accomplish four objectives. First, they immerse children in the essential structure of a discipline. For example, the process embedded in these quality competitions teaches children how real scientists, historians and mathematicians think and work. Regardless of how students fair in the competition, they have learned valuable lessons simply by being a part of the competition.
Second, they allow for children (in particular bright and/or gifted students) to discover higher standards of excellence in achievement and effort. In these competitions, our students often compete against the top students in Northeast Ohio, and even against the best students in Ohio or the United States. Birchwood students come to know the levels of achievement, and the levels of effort, that are required for superior achievement. This understanding not only helps them to develop respect for other students, but also to draw inspiration, perspective and standards for their own work.
Third, quality competitions help teachers and parents guide students through the experience of success and failure. In success children must learn humility and magnanimity. In failure, they must learn how to reflect upon their performance, how to learn from setbacks, how to improve their effort and work, and how to respect others who have won. These are lessons that foster maturity in young people. They are hard lessons, but the belief is that it is far better students are introduced to these lessons under the watchful and caring eye of teachers and parents who can help them reap the benefits that competition affords.
Understanding the value of academic competitions, the head of school and director of curriculum have selected a number of quality competitions in each subject area that have been woven into the school’s curriculum. Click below to discover what your child will participate in as a student at Birchwood School:
American Mathematics Contest 8