By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Gifted students from across the state had their problem-solving skills put to the test Thursday and Friday as they participated in the Mississippi Future Problems Solving Program at the University of Mississippi.

West Point High School freshman Zane Myers said participants had at least some of the technological issues students were expected to solve “pretty much under control.”

“We came up with some answers,” Myers said of the competition, which was open to students in grades four through 12. “We went through a lot of solutions and then we came down to one we could agree on. I think (our idea) was … reasonable.”

Participants in the event were given an imaginary scenario that had broad social ramifications.

For example, students in the intermediate level competition were assigned a hypothetical problem set in the decade 2040.

In their problem, a machine that allows one person to experience the emotions of another is invented. The computerized device – called a zuga machine – is useful in working with people who are depressed or for stabilizing the moods of people whose emotions swing wildly.

But, with that advanced technology comes a number of problems, including the possibility that one person could use the machine to control the mind and actions of another. Problems like addiction and safety hazards were also presented to students, who were then charged with finding solutions.

On the first day of competition, students had two hours to find a solution and explain it in writing. Friday, they were required to communicate those solutions in a skit of three minutes or less. The only props used in the skit were items students found in bags given to them by judges.

“We didn’t have that much to work with,” Myers said. “I was surprised when I found out they actually expected us to use a feather duster in our skit. We had to be creative or we wouldn’t get far.”

Students participating in the intermediate competition found a variety of answers to the technology-related problems.

“The competition this year was very close,” said West Point’s Elizabeth Bailey, who was responsible for coordinating the event. “There were some very creative solutions. And that’s what we want to see – creativity in problem-solving.”

Some students recommended urging the United Nations to adopt a set of internationally applicable guidelines controlling the use and abuse of the machine. Others recommended requiring that people participate in classes designed to teach responsible “zuga” use.

Prescription medication was also recommended to help break the cycle of addiction some users might develop.

A total of 33 four-member teams from across the state participated in the event, with teams split into three divisions. The junior division was designed for students in grades four through six, while youngsters in grades seven through nine participated in the intermediate competition. A third division was limited to students in grades 10 through 12.

Before qualifying to compete in Thursday and Friday’s state competition, students had to submit answers to a preliminary problem. Answers were judged on their creativity, feasibility and humaneness, with the top 10 teams being selected to participate in the state event. Three additional teams competed this year because there was a tie for 10th place.

Students said the competition helped sharpen their thinking skills.

“It was a good experience,” said Nettleton Junior High eighth-grader Kristen White. “We learned to think creatively and it gave us practice … working together.”

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