Academic games novices excel at nationals

Last fall, when St. Pius X School in New Orleans formed its first academic games team since the early 1980s, few would have guessed that three of the team’s youngest members would march straight to the national sweepstakes in Atlanta.

But that is exactly what took place in late April.

The “Union of Saints” team – made up of St. Pius X fourth graders Matthew Conant, Meredith Kononchek and C.C. Truxillo; and St. Charles Borromeo sixth graders Alison Powell and Christopher Weber – finished an impressive 11th in the nation in the elementary division (grades six and under) of more than 75 competing teams.

The team’s overall performance in the four academic games areas of On-Sets, Equations, Presidents and Propaganda also made it the highest-placing team from Louisiana, while Meredith earned distinction as the division’s top competitor from New Orleans.

“For these kids to come in, especially in fourth grade, and do as well as they have is just amazing,” said their coach, Leah Wehmeyer.
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Only the top 20 students from the New Orleans Academic Games League of 25 elementary-division teams could qualify for nationals, earning points through weekly tournament play at Brother Martin. Academic well-roundedness is key to making the cut, with the four compulsory games calling on high-level skills in the varied disciplines of math, language arts and history:

➤ On-Sets is a board game in which players use color-coded cards and cubes to create patterns. “It’s a game based on set theory,” Matthew explained.

➤ Equations challenges players to solve math problems using cubes bearing numbers and mathematical operations. For example, if the “goal” is three, one person might put forward “two plus one,” while another might offer “the square root of nine.”

“The most impressive thing about Equations is the math level that these kids are on,” Wehmeyer said. “They are dividing by fractions; they know what factorials and square roots are. The kids who play Equations are always at least two years ahead (of their peers) in math.”
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➤ Presidents probed elementary-division contestants’ knowledge of George Washington through Grover Cleveland (Next year’s competition will cover the remaining commanders in chief: William McKinley through Barack Obama).

“We had to know not just what they did during their administrations, but before, during and after their presidencies,” Meredith said, recalling one of the questions she answered correctly: “Who suffered from gallstones as a child?” (Answer: James Polk)

➤ Finally, Propaganda asks players to identify techniques used in language and writing, acquainting them with adult concepts such as metaphor, attacking a straw man and ad hominem.

“There was a news headline that said, ‘Children Cook and Serve Grandparents,’” C.C. said. “It was an example of ambiguity because it had two meanings.”

Beth Donze can be reached atbdonze@clarionherald.org.

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