Over the weekend, my husband and I took a group of eight high school students to Washington DC to compete at the National History Bowl and Bee. Because of the nature of our trip it was natural for the students to be both inspired and anxious. The nation’s top competitors, the elite of college preparation high schools were represented at this competition; I’m telling you that the History Channel’s got nothing on these kid! We are so incredibly proud of our students who have made it to this level, and what a treat it was for us to take all of them on their first visits to our nation’s capitol.
The first two rounds were very difficult for the students to handle because they had been so used to being the intellectual elite in our school and even our local competitions. Being in the presence of so many other students who met their skill level and superseded them sent our students to a place in which they began to doubt themselves, become intimidated, and bring our their introverted selves. It worried both my husband and I because we knew, from our own experiences, that the most important thing was to let go of any expectations and just enjoy the ride.
One thing that helped bring about a sense of calmness and refocused energies was a new game, 2048.
One student began playing this mathematical/Tetris game between rounds. I went over to check on them and noticed that this was something that our phones had in common. I took out my iPhone and asked the student what their high score was. I must say that prior to this conversation, I was quite proud of my HS of 7,027. When my student said his HS was over 28,000 and, “I remember when I thought 7,000 was a good score too, Mrs. Ferrari,” I knew that I had found the solution to our self esteem problem.
By the time we were supposed to head into the third round of competition, our students’ focus had been restored because they were drunk on the victories over my husband and I in 2048.
One may suggest that we simply swapped one competition for another, and in a way you’d be right, but in this case a shift in focus was the recipe for success. Instead of worrying so much about whether or not they would be able to out-score, out-think, or out-strategize the competition, psyching themselves out, the students took a mental break. This allowed for them to realize that this was supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Did defeating their teachers, the ones who are normally in charge and fully equipped with the right answers, bring them satisfaction and delight? Of course! But it was the realization that there was more than just placing at the History Bowl, and that satisfaction could come in various forms that kept their eye on the real prize.