Problem solvers to compete globally

For the first time in 20 years, one of Marietta Middle School’s Future Problem Solving teams will be headed to the International Conference after taking first place in state competition.

FPS and its Global Issues Problem Solving group is an international critical and creative thinking program for fourth through 12th grade students.

June 12, a group of five MMS sixth-graders in the Junior Division, will travel to Iowa State University to compete against teams from across the world on their ability to find creative and effective solutions to potential future world problems.

Of the 15 teams that qualified for the state competition earlier in April, powerhouse Solon City Schools brought 12 teams and Marietta Middle School brought three, and the team of Katelyn Cline, Rachel Schofield, Karlie Rainer, Andrew Elliott and Jessica Cline advanced.

“These powerhouse schools like Solon have actual future problem solving classes, where they are trained daily and have more time, so it is impressive that we were able to beat them,” said Dion Prunty, who directs the MMS teams.

Team coach Heather Stalter, a sixth-grade social studies teacher, said their teams only have whatever spare time they can find to practice during the week.

“They’re self-motivated and want do well,’ Stalter said. “They’ll be meeting at lunch and after school and whenever they can to prepare.”

The state level problem was to solve the issue of transportation in rapidly-growing China, where students worked through pages of research dealing with a single individual’s daily commute, creating parking and zoning structures and configuring ways to get around.

“They are problems for 20 to 30 years in the future, and it’s all based on real, present data,” Prunty said. “They really get the chance to be creative and think critically, and that’s how these kids won.”

Teams are comprised of about four to five students and in Marietta, students are chosen as part of the school’s accelerated learning programs that highlight gifted and talented students.

“When we first got to (state), the people we were up against looked a lot more prepared, and it was intimidating,” Schofield said.

Despite what the team said looked like a serious experience gap, it prevailed.

“We didn’t really think too much about it because we weren’t expecting to win, so it was a big surprise,” Rainer said. “Now we just have to study and learn all the formations, but we’re ready.”

Prunty said rather than being just an extra-curricular activity, the work is incorporated into regular academic curriculum.

“They know the steps already, we just have to do the research,” Prunty said, who has been serving as a coach and now a director for 15 years.

Marietta Middle School has FPS teams dating all the way back to 1977, with the high school occasionally holding teams as well.

“It’s based on how they’ll actually live when they grow up,” Stalter said, who participated in FPS as a student. “It’s about solving problems with other people and learning cooperation.”