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DMS students earn state berth for first-year Future Problem Solvers team

Dodge Middle School students Case Pollock, Jack Sewpersaud, Reece Torbert and Devin Beck make up the school's new Future Problem Solvers team. They qualified for the state competition in the team's first year.

The Farmington School District will send its first team to the Future Problem Solving state competition next month, which is pretty impressive. What's more impressive, though, is that this is Farmington's first year participating in the Future Problems Solvers program.

The team hails from Dodge Middle School, where seventh graders Devin Beck, Reece Torbert and Case Pollock and sixth grader Jack Sewpersaud are enrolled in the Gifted and Enhanced Learning program.

GEL teacher Patricia Smith ran a Future Problem Solvers team in her previous school district. FPS is a contest that helps students develop critical thinking and research skills, then asks them to create a skit to show what they have learned.

Each contest provides teams with a specific scenario. Posed as a problem, the scenarios are designed to get students thinking about issues and ramifications of those future problems, Smith said. She introduced a practice problem to a group of students last year. A few of those students liked doing the challenge, so when the school year started again, Smith asked if they'd like to form a team. The boys agreed.

"I was interested because I wanted a challenge," said Pollock. "I wasn't in any clubs yet and it's my first year here so I wanted to try it."

They worked through a second practice problem called "Culture Celebrity" before going to the regional competition two weeks ago. At regions, the team was placed in the top three.

The teams receive a booklet of readings on each topic. In those booklets are articles and up-to-date pieces of related information that the students use to do their research.

"Hopefully they research more and build up their knowledge before they go to competition," Smith said.

The future scenarios are always set several decades out. Once they have the problem and the associated research materials, the teams start to brainstorm every possible challenge or problem that would come with that scenario.

From there, they select one of the underlying problems and come up with at least 16 solutions. Those solutions are compared against a set of five criteria to see which would be the best for solving the problem at hand. The final step involves developing an action plan to show how to solve the problem.

During a competition, teams have two hours to solve a problem. Depending on the site of the competition, the teams may be in separate rooms, or they may be surrounded by other teams. What they don't have, though, are adults to give them answers, or access to the Internet. That means they have to come up with all of the answers on their own.

The final part of the challenge, Smith said, gives the students an hour and a half to create a skit that puts the action plan into motion. Students receive a box of props -- random things like scissors, popsicle sticks, markers or aluminum foil -- to use during their skit.

One of the DMS team members is a good writer, another participates in plays and is used to being on stage.

"We really trust each other. We trust each other and know we can each do what we do really well. We have confidence in each other," Pollock said.

The team qualified for the state competition, which will be held April 6 in Forest Lake. They know what their scenario will be -- Ocean Soup, which focuses on pollution in the ocean -- and already, the team is starting to work through the research.

"All of us are reading a 50-page packet about ocean pollution right now. It's actually quite interesting," Pollock said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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