Kids tax their gray matter in Brain Drain Games

November 30, 1999|By TAMELA BAKER

SCOTLAND, Pa. ? If you're going to be in school on Saturday, you might as well have fun.

And if you learn something in the process, so much the better.

Scotland-area students in grades 3 through 9 converged Saturday on Scotland Elementary School for the annual Brain Drain Games, a competition designed to foster problem-solving skills and creative thinking.

"Research has shown that employers are looking for employees that are creative thinkers, are good at problem solving and can cooperate," said Mary Jo Frey, a support teacher for the school's gifted program. Frey coordinated Saturday's activities.

Games called "Feeding Frenzy" and "Twisted" initially might give parents a start, but the 13 teams of students ? with names such as "The Gators" and "The Chickadees" ? enthusiastically worked to outthink each other in the five games. Each team had 10 minutes to complete their tasks.


For two of the games ? "Collectaball" and "Gone Fishin'" ? students could prepare in advance, Frey said. "Collectaball" involved building a cart that would be steered with ropes and pulleys around half a basketball court so that the riders could collect several balls placed in various corners. Team members pulled the cart from corner to corner, attempting to avoid "obstacles" outlined with tape on the floor.

For "Gone Fishin'," students had to invent and construct devices to allow them to gather several frogs from a "well" in the middle of a large circle, then dump them into a bucket. The trick was that the students couldn't step inside the circle.

"Twisted," "Feeding Frenzy" and "Knight Time" were "spontaneous games," Frey said, and students didn't get rules or details until they showed up to play.

"Twisted" targeted communication skills ? the game's adult leader twisted several ropes into a knot. Students had to pick up ends of the ropes and, with their backs to the leader, follow her instructions to maneuver between each other to untangle the knot ? which they couldn't see.

Based on a traditional chessboard, "Knight Time" had students moving around the board in knight-piece fashion to collect paper wads and toss them into a trash can. It might have been the first time they threw paper wads in a classroom without earning the teacher's ire.

In a potential marketing bonanza for fast-food chains, "Feeding Frenzy" featured a large poster with a diagram of a shopping mall food court, but rather than listing the restaurants, the chart listed their slogans. Players had to match cards with the restaurant names to the slogans on the poster.

The exercise had the eighth-grade members of the "Brain Freeze" team a little flustered at times.

"I don't watch enough TV," declared team member Zach Holden.

They looked for a pattern, thinking the restaurants must somehow be color-coded.

There was a pattern all right, but they didn't see it until after they had finished ? and saw how many they had gotten wrong. They hadn't figured out that the restaurants were placed in alphabetical order on the poster.

Nevertheless, they thought they were doing pretty well overall, though they couldn't do much to prepare.

"It's mostly logic, and we're good at that," said Adam Fennen, who with his twin brother, Alex, and their classmates, Roy Stull, John Davis, Tyler Hill and Devon Caldwell, made up the rest of the "Brain Freeze" team.

The students weren't the only ones who came out to play. Ed and Kelly Bell came to watch their 10-year-old son Max, a "Gator," compete.

"He looks like he's having fun," Kelly Bell said. "It's good ? they need to learn teamwork."

It was Max's first year competing in the Brain Drain Games, they said. "The Gators" had started as an all-boy team, they said, but two players canceled at the last minute, and they had recruited a couple of girls on Friday night to replace them.

But boys apparently still would be boys ? "boys try to do things fast," Ed Bell said, and in the "Collectaball" game, it cost them as they played too fast to navigate around the obstacles.

"They had lots of penalties," he said. "I think they finished that in a minute and a half."

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