Triple win gives Smiths Hill High a competition record

A Wollongong-based school has swept the field at the International Tournament of Minds competition. Julee Brienen reports.

Image: Winners are grinners: Teacher Bryan Cutler with the Language and Literature team.

Smiths Hill High School has set a competition record for the International Tournament of Minds, with its student teams winning three out of four categories.

The school secured first place in the Arts, Language and Literature, Social Sciences categories at the international finals held recently in Canberra - the best result of any school in the history of the competition.

The school has tasted success previously in the international finals, which include schools from Australia and New Zealand, winning one category in 2018, two categories in 2019, and one category in 2021 when the format of the competition went online due to COVID-19. (There was no competition in 2020 due to COVID-19.)

Smiths Hill High teacher Bryan Cutler, facilitator of ToM at Smiths Hill High School since 2006, said it was amazing to see the students reach their full potential at the international finals.

“We were very proud of all the students in the three teams who made the International Final,” Mr Cutler said.

“They have worked very hard in their teams to develop the skills required to excel in the competition.”

“As well as their outstanding achievements at the International Tournament of Minds final, it has been extremely joyful to see their efforts rewarded and the wonderful friendships they have developed over time, it is an experience they will never forget.”

ToM teams are made up of seven students in each team, with a range of Year 7 to 10 students.

In competition students are given the opportunity to solve authentic, open-ended challenges that foster creative, divergent thinking and collaboration.

The teams have three hours to prepare their solution to the challenge, which they present as a performance.

Within each three-hour challenge the students are also given a spontaneous challenge that they have four minutes to prepare, and one minute to prepare a solution.

The Language and Literature challenge at the finals asked teams to reimagine a story, and retell the story from the perspective of three minor players.

Year 10 student Claudia Reilly said their team chose to retell the Greek story of Hades and Persephone, which included rewriting the lyrics to Let it Go from the movie Frozen, and performing the song in their final presentation.

“I found it really interesting to be given a challenge, and what I imagine the solution to be is entirely different from the person sitting next to me,” Claudia said. “To be able to combine ideas and create something new is exciting.

“In preparing for ToM challenge solutions, I became a lot more familiar with literature, especially Greek myths as well as writing poetry and exploring language techniques.

Arts team member Anna Neill, also in Year 10, said the Canberra finals were “so much fun”.

“The atmosphere was so cool, as it was a really welcoming and kind crowd that allowed anyone to be themselves,” she said. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever participated in, and I know this experience will forever shape me as a person.

“ToM has allowed me to really critique my own thinking and be able to come up with ideas speedily. It also allows for time management, connection, creativity and individuality to improve, which allows me, my team and all participants of ToM to become better people.”

Social Sciences team member, Year 10 student Jisu Baek, said the experience at the final was exhilarating.

“ToM makes me more aware of the surrounding world and the current issues people are facing today,” Jisu said. “We had to connect social issues to the various challenges given.

“ToM appeals to me because it requires knowledge from various different subjects, incorporating different skill sets and combining them to create a final piece. For the Social Sciences discipline, it relies on human experience to create a meaningful performance. No other competition is like ToM.”

Mr Cutler said the three category wins were a satisfying way to end his years of facilitating ToM at Smiths Hill High School.

“Like many people, I came into Tournament of Minds with little understanding of what it actually was,” Mr Cutler said.

“Now I see it as a vital part of the school's extracurricular focus on collaboration, respect and wellbeing.

“Success is wonderful, but seeing students from different year groups connect, share experiences and create memories is the most satisfying aspect.”

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