Ann Arbor students who take part in the Ann Arbor Academic Games locally are heading to the national Academic Games Leagues of America Tournament at the end of this week after earning kudos at state competition last month.
More than 2,000 students from around the state participate in the Michigan League of Academic Games including many public schools as well as many private and charter schools. The state AGLOA league has been in place since 1974.
“This is a reflection of Ann Arbor as a whole and the strength of how the community values education,” said Ann Arbor parent Martine Perreault. “This is all done with community support.”
The teams are run by volunteer coaches and parent helpers and are based at individual schools, said Perreault, who serves as Ann Arbor Public Schools PTO Council chairwoman and has children who have participated in the games. She noted that most of the teams and students participate “in the more challenging level of play” each year.
Academic Games challenge students to use higher-order thinking skills in the subjects of Language Arts, English, History and Mathematics. Players receive recognition and awards in the same way that sports champions are honored. Throughout the school year, they practice during the week and compete regionally on one Saturday each month.
Students in grades 4-12 participate mostly in teams of five. They compete in four Divisions, according to their grade levels: Minor (grade 4 and below); Elementary (grades 5-6); Middle (grades 7-8); Junior (grades 9-10) and Senior (grades 11-12.)
In Ann Arbor, some elementary school teams participate in the games, but the largest contingent of students is at middle school and high school levels. Both Clague and Tappan middle schools have a large presence, with Clague Coach Eric Nelson also serving on the Michigan League of Academic Games Steering Committee.
Parent Kaori Ohara has three children who have all been part of the Ann Arbor Academic Games at Angell Elementary, Tappan Middle School and also in high school. She said the games have contributed to her children’s knowledge and enhanced their schooling.
“I have heard them say … that ‘this test was easy for us, because we did this at the Academic Games,’” she said. “I always thought it was helpful (for them) to be in Academic Games and learn all of these things.”
Ohara said many of the coaches are young college-age students who have played the games themselves. The students get very connected to their coaches. “They don’t just talk about the games – they talk to them about their lives. They call them (the coaches) on the cell phones and can talk with them about anything.”
One of those coaches is Alex Baker, who coaches about 15 active Academic Games participants at Tappan Middle School this year. A 2004 graduate of Community High School, Baker said he welcomed the opportunity to do Academic Games and, ultimately, to come back and coach.
“A big part of why it’s fun is just hanging out with your friends and making new friends,” he said. “I think anybody can join and have fun.”
But the games are also a chance to learn about teamwork and getting along with others in a competitive setting, he said. “It gives you a chance to excel, to go above and beyond,” said Baker, adding that the games also help students “accept responsibility for not only yourself, but for the rest of the team.” He said he plans to continue coaching.
Natalie Durkee is a teacher at Angell Elementary School and a former coach who has also been involved with the Academic Games at the state level and now consults.
She got pulled into coaching by a fifth-grader who knew she liked math and taught her and a couple of other students a math game during lunch hour. Pretty soon, she was coaching. “Basically, I got canvassed by a kid,” she said.
“It’s a really fun, creative way to do mathematics,” she said. “It gives them a chance to apply what they learn. It’s pretty advanced stuff. It has concepts that go well above and beyond. And it’s great for kids that need the extra practice.”
She said the families involved with the Academic Games often ask for donations or do fundraisers to defray the costs of buying the games and traveling to state and national tournaments. The local program is totally paid for by parent and families.
Brothers Robert and Layman Allen (who eventually became a University of Michigan law professor) created the games in the 1960s. From their work, the Academic League of Games was developed and educators began using instructional games around the country. The games are designed to enhance problem solving, build confidence and teach students to work in teams.
Academic Games Tournaments have taken place since the spring of 1966 nationally. Academic Games Leagues of America was incorporated in 1992 and has hosted the national tournament each year since; more than 20,000 players have competed nationally since then and more than 100,000 players have participated in local game matches.
Regional tournaments are conducted one Saturday each month from September through February and the 2009-10 state tournament took place in March in Grand Rapids. The 2010 National Tournament is scheduled for this weekend, April 23-26 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Find Ann Arbor student teams and individual winners through these links of interest:
Winners of past AGLOA National Tournaments: http://www.academicgames.org/pasttour.htm
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