Category: Competitions

Why does the space competition work?

         

Randall Perry March 30,2018

I am often asked why the Space Design Competition (SDC) format works. Whilst my quick fire response when in the throes of organising an event is often, “It’s all the students’ own work, not ours”; this does belie the research and development that underpins the setting up and running of the events run by the SSEF.

Whether taking place in our competition for younger students, (the Galactic Challenge (GC) has been tailored for 10 -14 year olds), or the hallmark senior competition, the Space Design Competition for those up to the ages 15 – 18, students’ become enthused by the event, and surpass expectations of their teachers and parents. The SDC and GC present participants with a problem that is challenging enough so that they need to apply (metacognitive) strategies to monitor and achieve success, but not so challenging that they become overwhelmed. The provision of mentors that facilitate students to recognise problems and thus achieve solutions is key to SDC and GC methodology. Mentors will encourage planning and monitor the progress throughout the day, but will not give specific answers; rather they will facilitate the students to solve their own questions. In addition to the confidence students acquire from taking part in a competition, they gain soft skills from working in a large team, and self-belief from presenting their completed work, and answering questions from a panel of expert judges. Further development of all these acquired skills beyond the competition is a given.

Many of the underlying principles have been introduced to SDC competitions come from work and research I have completed with Catherine Twomey Fosnot. The following edited excerpt is from the introduction of a chapter we co-wrote in 2005.

Excerpt from Chapter 2 introduction –  Constructivism: A Psychological Theory of Learning by Catherine Twomey Fosnot and Randall Stewart Perry – you can click on the link above to read the chapter in its entirety*

Psychology – the way learning is defined, studied, and understood—underlies much of the curricular and instructional decision-making that occurs in education… Behaviorism is the doctrine that regards psychology as a scientific study of behavior and explains learning as a system of behavioral responses to physical stimuli. Psychologists working within this theory of learning are interested in the effect of reinforcement, practice, and external motivation on a network of associations and learned behaviors. Educators using such a behaviorist framework preplan a curriculum by breaking a content area (usually seen as a finite body of predetermined knowledge) into assumed component parts—“skills”—and then sequencing these parts into a hierarchy ranging from simple to more complex. Assumptions are made that observation, listening to explanations from teachers who communicate clearly, or engaging in experiences, activities, or practice sessions with feedback will result in learning; and, that proficient skills will quantify to produce the whole, or more encompassing concept… Further, learners are viewed as passive, in need of external motivation, and affected by reinforcement; thus, educators spend their time developing a sequenced, well structured curriculum and determining how they will assess, motivate, reinforce, and evaluate the learner. The learner is simply tested to see where he/she falls on the curriculum continuum and then expected to progress in a linear, quantitative fashion as long as clear communication and appropriate motivation, practice, and reinforcement are provided. Progress by learners is assessed by measuring observable outcomes—behaviors on predetermined tasks. The mastery learning model  is a case in point. This model makes the assumption that wholes can be broken into parts, that skills can be broken into sub skills, and that these skills can be sequenced in a “learning line.” Learners are diagnosed in terms of deficiencies, called “needs,” then taught until “mastery”—defined as behavioral competence—is achieved at each of the sequenced levels. Further, it is assumed that if mastery is achieved at each level then the more general concept (defined by the accumulation of the skills) has also been taught. It is important to note the use of the term “skill” here as the outcome of learning and the goal of teaching. The term itself is derived from the notion of behavioral competence. Although few schools today use the mastery learning model rigidly, much of the prevalent traditional educational practice still in place stems from this behaviorist psychology. Behaviorist theory may have implications for changing behavior, but it offers little in the way of explaining cognitive change—a structural change in understanding. Maturationism is a theory that describes conceptual knowledge as dependent on the developmental stage of the learner, which in turn is the result of a natural unfolding of innate biological programming. From this perspective learners are viewed as active meaning-makers, interpreting experience with cognitive structures that are the result of maturation; thus, age norms for these cognitive maturations are important as predictors of behavior… Further, the curriculum is analyzed for its cognitive requirements on learners, and then matched to the learner’s stage of development…
Rather than behaviors or skills as the goal of instruction, cognitive development and deep understanding are the foci; rather than stages being the result of maturation, they are understood as constructions of active learner reorganization. Rather than viewing learning as a linear process, it is understood to be complex and fundamentally non-linear in nature.
Constructivism, as a psychological theory, stems from the burgeoning field of cognitive science, particularly the later work of Jean Piaget just prior to his death in 1980, the socio-historical work of Lev Vygotsky…The remainder of this chapter will present a description of the work of these scientists and then a synthesis will be developed to describe and define constructivism as a psychological theory of evolution and develop.

Continue to read full chapter

*From a book Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. Editor Catherine Twomey Fosnot

 

ISSDC 2017: The Party’s Over

Luke Tattersall, supervisor

What a crazy 48 hours.  The students from the UK and EU teams are now sleep-deprived, hungry and, let’s be honest, a little disappointed.

After two days and the best part of a night preparing their presentations, it was judgement day. The teams lined up at the KSC and presented their versions of a Venusian habitat for 10 000 people to the rest of the students. The four 35-minute presentations were all outstanding and, given that there was UK representation in 3 of the 4 teams we felt that we had a good chance of at least some of us carrying off the trophy. Alas, it was not to be as the presentation from Grumbo, the only company without UK representation, blew the rest out of the water. The science was equally good in all four presentations, but the professionalism of the Grumbo presentation impressed the judging panel enough to sway the final vote.

However, there was one award that a UK competitor did win. Alex Radford (pictured) won the prize for outstanding leadership.

Alex Radford wins the Dick Edwards Award for outstanding leadership of Rockdonnell
Alex Radford wins the Dick Edwards Award for outstanding leadership of Rockdonnell

There was a 5 hour gap between presentation and judging and the students used this time to look around the space centre – for any aspiring aerospace engineer this is Nirvana and the Saturn 5 rocket and the Space Shuttle “Atlantis” moved some of our students to tears – literally. It was a jaw-dropping experience.

The minibus ride home was slightly manic as sleep deprivation and the sight of a large alligator in the creek took its toll, but what an amazing couple of days.

 Time to go home….

ISSDC17: The UK and EU teams immerse themselves in…

Brian Kong, leader of the EU team

Shopping day! Time for Team EU to experience the “mall” culture of the US of A! We thought 6 hours of shopping would be far too long, meant for someone else but not for us. But then we saw the sales, and now we’re all believers! By the end of it there was not a trace of doubt in our minds. We spent all day racing through the mall tackling as many shops as we could. From Citizen watches and Calvin Klein to Toys R Us and Disney! We bought everything… Make up, shoes, food and so much more! The food court was our meeting point and where we had lunch. There was a friendly rivalry between Chinese, Japanese and American cuisine and so there was a divide on what to eat… What’s the use in fighting? All you get is hunger pains, Chinese vs Japanese (I got chicken chow mein). Unfortunately we’ve now run out of money for food… Can we survive off Twinkies and Cheetos for the rest of the trip? I’m a believer.

ISSDC17: UK and EU teams have an amazing first…

Yes, here we are in Orlando for the International Final of 2017! The UKSDC has brought THREE teams of brilliant students this year – here was their first day out, in their own words:

Landscape of Universal Studios Island of Adventure with rollercoaster and gravity rides
Universal Studios Island of Adventure

Brian Kong, leader of EU team

Somebody once told me that Universal was one of the best theme parks you could go to and the “Science Space Club” tested this today. Everyone was up nice and early since it wasn’t a school morning and was ecstatic to go.  After a short drive we arrived at Universal Orlando and once we finally sorted out tickets dated for August we dived straight into the Islands of Adventure. Team EU decided to loop once round the park starting with a 90 minute wait for a 30 second ride… The Hulk. That was a good turnover rate!  The weather was hot and it would only get hotter so the water rides solved this for us. Harry Potter world was the team’s favourite; with so much to do, so much to see with all the shops in the backstreets. Our favourite ride was the Dragon Challenge which we went on 6 times! The Harry Potter themes really made us feel like the all-star cast of the wizarding world. You’ll never know if you don’t go.

Alex Radford, leader of UK finalist team

Members of UK Team 1, winners of the UK National Finals
Members of UK Team 1, winners of the UK National Finals

What do Spiderman, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park Dinosaurs have to do with space settlements? Not much admittedly, but spending the day at Universal Studios’s Islands of Adventure Theme Park was certainly a good way to adjust to Florida heat and get to know our team mates.

Universal’s theme park was ideal for our group — with rides for both thrill-seekers and chill-seekers, everyone could fine a ride that was too their liking. 45-minute waits were made bearable by good company, conversation, and air-conditioning.

Highlights included cooling down from the heat on log flumes, modelling the Thing 1/2 wigs in the Seuss-land shop, and continuing to wear our fashion-forward flower necklaces. Of course, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was simply magical.

The day was a fantastic start to a trip that is sure to be filled with many more exciting twists and turns as we explore Florida and begin the competition!

Tavleen Wasan, leader of UK invited team

Members of UK Team 2
Members of the UK invited team

So today was our first day in Florida. After overcoming minor issues with the Universal tickets, everyone dispersed to make the most of the day. The theme park exceeded all expectations; there were rides to suit those with all relationships with height and of all mental ages. It was a really fun day – despite 95% humidity and 35 degree heat (made just about tolerable by ingenuous water spraying fans and endless sprite top ups) we all enjoyed ourselves massively. It was a really good way to get to know each other better and also bond in a relaxed way before the heat of the competition.

Two team members, one looking into the camera wearing a baseball cap with a flower necklace around it
Headwear is important to group identity…
Leaders of UK1 and UK2 teams wearing Dr. Seuss' Cat's Hats.
…very important.

Watch this space for more adventures!