Prisma Learners Shine at International Problem-Solving Olympiad

Prisma learners showcased their collaborative problem-solving skills by earning fourth place in an international problem-solving competition.

The inaugural NXTVL Problem-Solving Olympiad brought together teams from top-ranked middle schools hailing from four continents for a packed day of online competition. Teams faced multiple rounds, each featuring a new game they had to strategize on the spot to tackle.

Only four teams made it all the way to the final championship round, including Prisma’s team, Prisma Powerhouse. The team was composed of middle schoolers Vivian A, Filip B, Cora D, Charlie L, Dimitris S, and alternate Davis H. The team was led by Coach James McManus as an optional weekly enrichment this year.

The NXTLVL Problem-Solving Olympiad is designed to test “Power Skills” such as creativity, strategic thinking, and collaborative problem solving. At Prisma, we believe these real-world skills are equally important to academic subjects. We’re proud of Prisma Powerhouse for showing an international audience how well our learners collaborate, think critically, and iterate!

“I’m most proud of the fact that we got to the championship level, and how we worked as a team together,” said Filip. “We didn’t get angry at each other when someone did something wrong.”

“The goal was always to do better next time,” said Charlie.

Prisma Learners Stand Out for Creativity and Communication

Along with reaching the championship round, Prisma Powerhouse was the only team to win two “Power Skill Awards” from competition judges.

The first was the Creativity Award. Konstantinos Papazafeiropoulos, NXTLVL Co-founder, stated, “Powerhouse from Prisma demonstrated exceptional creativity, especially when faced with unexpected game twists. They mastered divergent thinking, consistently generating innovative ideas that surpassed conventional approaches.”

Prisma Powerhouse also received the Communication Award. Kurt Squire, a UCI Professor and judge, noted, “Powerhouse from Prisma distinguished themselves with their stellar communication during critical moments. They brilliantly synthesized diverse ideas and clearly articulated strategies that optimized their collective efforts.”

Problem-Solving Olympiad Enrichment

The Problem Solving Olympiad was one of many enrichment options this year, from Songwriting to Cooking to Theater to Prisma Parliament (student government). “Every week after Co-Lab Workshop, we would have a team meeting, and James would give us something to work on,” explained Vivian.

“We played a lot of games. Connections on the New York Times, Sudoku, and Chess,” said Charlie. Learners didn’t know which games would appear in the actual competition, but knew they had to be ready to strategize as a team.

“The challenge was to solve Sudoku as a group in under 5 minutes,” said Coach James. Initially, it took them 18 minutes.” By the end? “2.5 minutes,” says Cora.

Preparation through Prisma’s Co-Lab Workshops

Prisma’s comprehensive middle school curriculum prepares learners for rigorous high-school academics and real-world challenges. The Prisma Powerhouse team used collaborative problem-solving skills they’ve gained through the Prisma curriculum to excel in the competition. As Coach James put it: “They were pulling out every Prisma trick in the book.”

In Co-Lab workshops, learners work in teams to solve problems related to each cycle’s theme. For example, during the Playology theme, learners developed financial literacy and teamwork skills through a simulation called “Toy Shop Battle,” where they had to stock toys considering their store’s target customers. In the Participation Nation theme, teams honed decision-making skills while learning about forms of government through making high-stakes choices as leaders of “Prismara.”

“Co-Lab is important because we’re going to grow up and work with people we don’t get along with or who have different opinions,” says Vivian. “But we still need to figure out ways to work around that, and maybe accept their ideas.”

In Co-Lab, Prisma coaches explicitly teach collaborative strategies, from decision-making to conflict resolution. During the competition, the team used dozens of teamwork tactics they had learned.

“In Co-Lab I learned about stepping back and listening,” said Filip. “Not just talking like a bulldozer going straight over everybody. Being more of a motorcycle that’s swerving.”

When conflicts arose, they used specific strategies. “Everyone on the team knows I’m a big fan of voting. Every time we have a debate, I would say ‘Why don’t we have a vote?’” said Vivian. “I did that in breakout rooms in Co-Lab too.”

Dividing up responsibilities is another commonly practiced Co-Lab skill. “Assigning roles means figuring out what each team member is most comfortable doing, and what we’ve seen them be best at,” said Dimitris.

Reflection and adaptability, another essential part of Co-Lab, was also key. “Midway through the tournament, we started doing reflections after every match to see what went well, what didn’t, and how we could improve,” explained Charlie.

Preparing for Future Challenges

The team hopes to participate in the competition again next year. In the meantime, they’ll enter the summer feeling proud of their accomplishments!

“The main thing I’m proud of is how we reflected, and adapted based on our reflections,” said Charlie.

Cora added, “I’m proud of the fact that no matter what happened, we didn’t abandon ship. We tried really hard.”

At Prisma, we prioritize building collaborative problem-solving skills to equip learners to face all kinds of future challenges with confidence and creativity. The strong finish in the NXTLVL Problem-Solving Olympiad is just the beginning!

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