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Preparing for the Christopher Columbus Awards can fit easily into your plans. Preparing a competition project is a great learning experience for students in science or social studies classes, or for cross-curricular use in team teaching or block-scheduled classes and as an after-school or community organization program.

Learn how the Christopher Columbus Awards is a cross-curricular activity.

You and your students can start today to talk about the important problems in your community and brainstorm possible solutions. The following is a sample timeline, but you may wish to adjust it to your schedule and the amount of meeting time available. Just follow these easy steps to get your students started — and get them psyched about science!

STEP ONE: Brainstorm community problems with your students.
Suggested timeline: one week

Ask students what's going on in their community that is important to them. As students discuss their topics and concerns, write their ideas on the board. Guide students to think about problems that could be solved with the help of a new, creative way of thinking.

Once several ideas have been suggested, begin a more in-depth discussion about these issues. Why are they important to students? Do they affect other people in the community? Is there more than one side to a particular issue? Encourage students to share their ideas and opinions, even if they seem "outlandish." Allow enough time for differing sides to voice their opinions. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP TWO: Talk about a solution, and introduce the competition.
Suggested timeline: one week

Your students are already thinking about the community problems that are important to them. The next step is to let them know they have the power to make a change. This is their chance to come up with an innovative solution using science and technology.

Choose one of the community problems that was discussed earlier and ask students to share any new thoughts on that problem since your first discussion. Then ask them to brainstorm possible scientific or technological solutions for that problem. How could the community work together to solve the problem? What would be the best solution? Would everyone involved agree on one solution? What resources would be necessary — time, financial support, materials or supplies, etc.? Are the needed resources readily available in your community? Again, make sure that everyone has a chance to voice an opinion.

Student GuideIntroduce the competition project by photocopying the PDF of A Student's Guide to the 2014-2015 Christopher Columbus Awards and reviewing it with students. Let students know that this is their chance to choose a community problem that's important to them, identify an innovative solution using science and technology, refine the solution — and that they'll be competing for a place at the National Championship Week Event and a $2,000 scholarship for each student team member!

Ask students to form teams of three to four members each. Students may wish to choose teams based on their particular talents or shared interest in a community problem. Work with teams to narrow their lists of community issues to one problem they want to address. Help students evaluate the nature of their community problems and the feasibility of their solutions to reach their final decision. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP THREE: Review basic research techniques.
Suggested timeline: one to two weeks

This step takes the competition project from minds-on to hands-on. When each team has selected a community problem to address, discuss how to conduct inquiry-based research in the community. Students first will need to gather background information to learn as much as they can about the problem. Students should brainstorm potential resources they could use and how to make use of those resources. Community mentors who are experts or have an interest in a particular issue can help students fine-tune their approach to the problem and its solution. Remind students to take into account differing opinions on their issue — their research should be well-rounded, not one-sided. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP FOUR: Begin more in-depth research.
Suggested timeline: two to four weeks

Discuss scientific methods and ways of conducting more in-depth, inquiry-based research. Help students understand that the answer to a problem can be confirmed by forming a hypothesis, testing it, refining the solution and testing again until they can prove that it works. But before they can begin testing, they need to learn more about the problem and their proposed solutions.

Have team members summarize their community problem and proposed solutions for the group and/or collect their first draft of Section 1 (The Issue) to review for an assignment grade. Allow time for team members to work together to create a basic plan or strategy for conducting in-depth research on their problem and solution. Click here for sample team exercises.


STEP FIVE: Formulate and test a solution.
Suggested timeline: three to four weeks

Students' next step is to test how their solutions will work. Review basic information about scientific testing, methodology, using variables, analyzing data, etc. Have students narrow their proposed solutions to the one or two choices they think are best. As students test their solutions, they may find that one idea works better than another, or that one isn't very practical. Remind students that a solution should work when tested under various conditions. Students will need to control variables and record data as they test. Allow time for teams to review the research they've conducted and create a strategy for testing their proposed solution. You shouldn't tell students how to test their solution, but you can ask questions about the project to guide them in a reasonable direction. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP SIX: Discuss the results of students' tests.
Suggested timeline: one to two weeks

Ask teams to discuss what their research and testing revealed. If their results appear skewed or inconclusive, guide them to adjust the test variables or think of a different way to test their solution. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP SEVEN: Prepare the competition entry materials.
Timeline should be adjusted to meet competition deadline.

Students already have completed a first draft of the four written sections of the competition entry. Review basic editing and proofreading tips they should use to refine their written entry. You may want to photocopy and share with the students the Entry Components & Checklist page.

Discuss the five visual presentation options: mechanical/blueprint drawing, diagram, photographic series, DVD or PowerPoint presentation. One of the visual options may lend itself better to explaining the specific problem and solution students have addressed. Work with students to decide how best to demonstrate their work. Click here for sample team exercises.

STEP EIGHT: Finalize and submit the entry.

Use the Entry Components & Checklist to help the students review the written and visual entry materials they have prepared. It is especially important to review the visual presentation with students to check for clarity and sound consistency (if applicable). Work with students to oversee the completion of the entry and upload it by March 2, 2015.