Year after year, the Christopher Columbus Awards panel of judges has the difficult job of selecting the finalist teams from an ample pool of superb entries. If you're like many students and coaches, you may be wondering what it takes to become one of those teams. So we asked a select group of judges, sponsors and Christopher Columbus Awards staff to tell us what makes a good entry. While they all agreed that creativity and practicality are important, they also identified other qualities that characterize good entries. We've trimmed the list down to the following characteristics, cited consistently by everyone. If you want your entry to stand out in judging, we recommend that you take these tips to heart!
1. Show evidence of teamwork. Good entries come from teams that work well together and take full advantage of every member's talents. Dividing up tasks is fine, but everyone's contribution should significantly benefit the team and its entry.
Coach's Tip: If possible, allow students to form teams themselves. They will be more likely to help one another without complaint, and less likely to resort to fighting in times of stress.
2. Address a widespread problem. Good entries tackle problems with an observable impact on a large segment of the community. The problem should stem from a recurring phenomenon that has not yet been effectively resolved, rather than an isolated incident.
Coach's Tip: Encourage team members to select an issue they know and care about. If the students have a vested interest in the problem, they will understand it better and be more eager to find an innovative solution.
3. Propose a feasible solution. Good entries present solutions that are not only creative and original, but also realistic and achievable within the scope of the award.
Coach's Tip: Testing is key. Real-world testing, using appropriate sampling methods, will let your students know if their solution is workable. It will also reveal whether a good solution needs refinement before the team submits its final entry.
4. Demonstrate a clear link to science and technology. Good entries exhibit a strong, direct relationship between the team’s problem and solution and science and technology. They also provide credible supporting data grounded in accurate scientific principles.
Coach's Tip: It doesn't matter how critical your team's problem or how ingenious its solution . . . if there's no identifiable connection between them and science and technology, you're in the wrong competition. It's as simple as that.
5. Reflect a complete understanding of the issue. Good entries illustrate the team's understanding of the problem and its implications, as well as the solution and the science behind it. Background research and ongoing team communication are vital to insuring that every team member understands and can effectively explain the complete entry.
Coach's Tip: Draw on resources. Encourage your team to seek community partners, mentors, advisors and other teachers qualified to add value and insight. Review your team's entry for clarity and scientific accuracy.
6. Include a well-written essay. Good entries feature a well-organized, detailed essay that adheres to competition guidelines. Accurate spelling and grammar are important, so proofreading is a must.
Coach's Tip: Keep in mind that a good entry should be strong in every category.
7. Include a compelling visual. Good entries employ a powerful visual presentation to illuminate the team's problem and solution. Drawings should be accurate and easy to understand. Photographs should be clear when photocopied. Audio/video components should be intelligible.
Coach's Tip: Students should spend some time thinking about how to best tell the team's story visually, but encourage them to follow their instincts and limit drama to what is needed to make their point.