Reinventing STEM competitions & education in Lithuania
It All Starts From An Idea
As a high school student, I was never entirely satisfied with the way STEM taught in Lithuanian high schools. On the other hand, often it seemed that there is nothing I can do about that. But as time passed, I gained experience in various fields and decided that is time to take a stand. In 2014, I founded non-formal organization Smart Day for organizing one of the most ambitious student competitions in the country. Looking from today's point of view, it was only the beginning of the incredible journey that evolved into NGO Smart Projects.
Smart Day – the first and the main project from Smart Projects family. The idea sparked after observing and participating in various student competitions in high school. There were a few honorable and quality ones, but in our opinion, most of them did not reflect the vision of a modern school. They were either taking the idea of a contest too seriously, transforming knowledge checking into stressful, exam-like experience or organized for selfish purposes, not with the educational ideals in mind.
In fall 2013, seven high school students sat down with the vision to turn the next page in student competitions in Lithuania. We threw out of the window all we new and started with the blank paper. After months of working on the concept and ideas, Smart Day was born. The main statements we raised and it stayed the same for each Smart Day we organized:
- Smart Day is, and always be, free of charge for students and teachers.
- Smart Day questions require general knowledge in a particular subject, yet are non-formal and fun to solve, so not only students with better GPA can participate, it is open and inviting for everyone.
- Smart Day is interdisciplinary (first of its kind in Lithuania and the Baltic States). It is the contest for math, computer science, physics, chemistry and biology (economics joined in 2015 and 2016), but requires students to be active and perform well in as many sections as possible, since students with best total score win.
- Smart Day is open. After each test we provide detail, question-by-question analysis (questions skipped, questions answered wrong) for the student so he/she could improve. Teachers can compare their students average (total and by subject) with the average in a region or the whole country.
- Smart Day is the contest for a new era. It is online competition, and since none of the existing solutions fitted our requirements, we designed and created out CMS from the ground up to provide the best experience possible. In 2015 we were the first-ever student competition in Lithuania to offer opportunity participate using your smartphone.
The next, natural step in the evolution after Smart Day was to offer more various competitions for students. Our team decided to take on so-called pub quizzes, which are popular in Lithuania. After some consideration and partnership with ISM University of Management and Economics, Smart Fights tournament was born.
The whole tournament has two divisions – ISM and Online. For ISM division, University team toured around the biggest cities in Lithuania and organized live games with sponsor prizes and other activities.
For Online division, we reinvented the whole pub quiz concept – taking concept online for team game required to create custom, the real-time communication-based system in which teammates could answer questions and discuss. Moreover, if you think that having Google next to you while nobody watches made game simpler, our quizmaster team made sure that zero results found would pop out as often as possible.
The best teams of both divisions – ISM and Online – teams met to set once and for all who is the best for the live game in our season closing event.
During first two years of Smart Day existence, our team was preparing a weekly newsletter, called Smart Week to overview news from our initiative and publish the most important news. More importantly, each week it included five useful links with short descriptions how teachers could implement that into the daily teaching flow.
Last year out team reviewed 120+ resources and links send. We carefully considered each one, its potential value and usefulness, rewrote and expanded descriptions. Not only that – we discussed and created nine tutorials for essential Internet tools and how to use them – Dropbox, Google Drive, Canva, Kahoot!, so teachers could use them in a teaching process.
The result – 43 pages long the first-ever teacher oriented Internet guide in Lithuania. More than 400 teachers already downloaded a book, and since it is a free PDF to download and share, we believe Smart Teacher book made an even larger impact for education in Lithuania.
After the first year, we have noticed that Smart Day is evolving way beyond the concept of the online contest. To celebrate all the activities we do during a school year and honor the best of the best, Smart Projects team each year organized Closing Event – award ceremony alongside the conference with famous and inspiring people in Lithuania.
In the photo below – Smart Day and Smart Fight winners in closing event 2016, Ideas That Changes The World. Photo credit: Martynas Jaugelavičius