Tournament challenges gifted students

Published 10 September 2009

tom_puzzleMore than 200 primary and secondary school students from across the region have attended a challenging and fun problem-solving event at the University of New England.

Tournament of Minds is a competition involving spontaneous and long-term problem-solving between groups of students aged 6-16.

The competition involves solving an open-ended problem chosen from an area of interest and completing it over a five-week time frame at school.

The director of the event, Rebekah Grills from Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, said: “teachers are committed team facilitators who work hard for weeks to prepare their students to collaborate in group contexts”.

This marks the third consecutive year the New England and Northwest competition has been held at UNE.

Dr Susen Smith, a lecturer in gifted and talented education at UNE, said: “the event provided wonderful opportunities for gifted students to be challenged in many ways. Students used a variety of skills such as critical and creative thinking, dramatising, oral communication, dance, and clowning to problem-solve known and unknown challenges.”

Volunteer judges assessed students’ creative responses, while more than 300 parents, teachers, facilitators and volunteers supported the students and attended the event.

Also at the event, students were engrossed by Professor John Geake’s presentation about his research in cognitive neuroscience. Professor Geake pointed out that “no two brains are exactly alike (even the brains of identical twins), that there are some differences between male and female brains and that we use most of our brains (not just one but a multitude of specialised brain areas) when solving problems.”

“To be good problem solvers,” Prof Geake said, “we need to draw on knowledge stored in our long-term memory, as well as using our working memory to apply that knowledge in new contexts. The conclusion for future Tournament of Minds participants is to learn and efficiently store as much as they can in their long-term memories, so their working memories can be freed up to use that knowledge to deal with new problems and situations”.

During the day, a parent forum was held with an expert panel. Prof Geake, Dr Smith, Linley Cornish and Dr Kathleen Tait answered questions on gifted children, positive parenting, special needs, underachievement and strategies to support rural and regional students’ creativity.

“Evaluations of the day indicated that Tournament of Minds is a valuable event and that the UNE enrichment programs are very worthwhile events to support our rural and regional gifted students,” Dr Smith said.