Northern Middle School's Future Problem Solving team learned this week that they are international champions.
Four students -- Blake Leigh, Tristan Patrick, Fiona Lautenschlager, and Eli Swift -- comprised one of 203 teams that recently competed in the Future Problem Solving International Global Issues Problem Solving Competition held virtually June 9-12.
In results announced Monday night, Northern's team was named the 2021 International Champion in the Junior Division -- competing on June 10 against teams from across the United States as well as Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand, and Turkey.
Scott Sexton, who coaches both Northern Middle and Pulaski County High School, told the Commonwealth Journal this marks the middle school's first international title in Global Issues Problem Solving though they have previously won several international titles in Community Problem Solving. The team finished 6th at last year's international competition.
"This is the 17th International title that I have won as a coach and adult competitor in Global Issues Problem Solving and Community Problem Solving," Coach Sexton said. "We have had at least one event to advance to international competition every year since 2004."
Sexton himself won in 2019 as part of Kentucky's Adult Global Issues Problem Solving Team. Pulaski County High School's Future Problem Solving Team was International Runner Up in the Senior Division in 2018.
Such competitions involve teams of four students working together for two hours to analyze, investigate, and apply research to solve a given scenario. Team members are given a general topic -- in this case, neurotechnology -- shortly before the competition so that they can do research. But on competition day, teams are given a scenario based at least 25 years into the future from which they must develop 16 challenges, an underlying problem and 16 potential solutions as well as criteria to rank those solutions. Team members then pick the best solution and develop an action plan.
"They only have two hours from the moment they're given their future scene to complete the competition," Sexton explained. "They had to respond based on their research and on their knowledge of how to apply the future problem solving process to that scenario."
While most of Northern's team was able to compete together from the school, Lautenschlager participated remotely from California. Further, during the season, no student who had competed the prior year returned to the team -- leaving Sexton to start over with a team of sixth graders. Two of them had never competed in FPS before.
Sexton said the team didn't miss a beat. He noted that the school year had started with all team members attending practice sessions remotely for the first two months. Some of the initial competitions in December and January were also held at times when school had gone fully virtual.
"When they did their qualifying problem and District Competition, they were actually all competing from home," the coach said. "…What was more complicated was the international competition is that they were using a different system than any of our other competitions [Google Docs]. We only had access to that system to practice one time."
While he didn't personally have access to the future scene, Sexton said the team told him they felt confident in how they'd done. "We left that day feeling pretty good and hopeful they might place," he continued. "Of course, I was happy they had made it to international competition under these circumstances at all."
With Sexton having a theatre rehearsal Monday night, the team got to learn the results before their coach did.
"It was pretty exciting," he said. "We do have plans to get them together soon and celebrate."