On Introducing Good Quizbowl

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remake20
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On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by remake20 » Tue Apr 21, 2015 7:43 pm

I, having a passion for quizbowl, am pained frequently at the horrific nature of the local middle school circuit and have been longing to try and bring some change. I've just been approved to run a tournament next year (after being snubbed for this year) and I have some questions regarding introducing good quizbowl into this heathen land.

First, some details. The current MS circuit runs on Questions Galore. This means nonpyramidal questions, no vague resemblance of a cannon, and 4-part, all-at-one-time bonuses. They all run on weeknight, triangular meets exclusively and I, in cooperation with a few others, plan to write a house-set for various reasons not worth explaining. So here are my ponderings.

1) Obviously we hope to introduce 3-part, one-at-a-time bonuses, get rid of the blurt rule, and write some pyramidal tossups, but how do you introduce these ideas to area coaches in an appealing way? My fear is that if we say "Hey, come to this tournament where we will change X,Y, and Z" then there will be an overwhelming negative response from being who think it will be too confusing, not enjoyable, or some combination of these things. Basically, how do you advertise good quizbowl to those who have have never experienced it? Do you even mention rule changes in invitation emails? Are there good ways to explain the rule changes without them sounding scary to middle school teams not used to not playing them? Also, we were thinking about doing powers since we thought it might increase the enjoy ability of the tournament. Along these lines, how far is too far for rule adjustments (in regards to keeping the changes manageable and enjoyable)?

2) Being able to moderate for them, I've noticed that in this area, there is a large gap of knowledge of standard, academic answers. With random questions on various uses of the term squash to equipment used in horse racing, there isn't any sort of cannon and very little of it is academic. When academic things do come up, they seem to struggle. Frequently I see classic author TUs go dead and the occasional identify the artist of the following paintings (which I don't think are too tough for middle school) get maybe one part picked up. I'm pretty sure they would struggle on a CMST set. So when writing a house-set, how do you adjust for this? Obviously you want to move towards good answer-lines and bonus topics, but do you do this at the cost of having low scoring games that make games less enjoyable? Do you try and find some middle ground? I know these kids aren't stupid, they just aren't used to the things that come up in normal quiz-bowl. Do note, this is in rural Illinois, so this not the academic heaven of the country by any means, but there are still plenty of good, smart kids.

I might think of some more, but this is what crosses my mind at this point. Thanks in advance for any advice!
Last edited by remake20 on Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
Andrew T.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by cchiego » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:22 pm

You do need to let them know up front that the questions will be a bit different, but this is also your chance to point out how cool pyramidal questions are. Make sure to emphasize the "all teams of all levels can play on these questions" and "rewarding players for learning" parts. You should also include some sample pyramidal questions and/or a link to one of the many online intros to pyramidal questions. I'd also recommend linking coaches to the CMST archives and noting it as free access to tons of practice material so they can start preparing. Again, positive spin.

Don't bother to trash QG--people will figure out the superiority of pyramidal on their own and trashing QG will only get some peoples' defense up. Save it for later if there's like a coaches' meeting or something that sets the questions for the future.

It might be possible to go by one of the many well-written rules setups already out there. I like the NAQT brief rulesin particular as a good start. On the other hand, it's possible you'll encounter resistance from coaches. It's not clear to me how much leverage you have to change the rules though. If it comes down to questions vs. rules, I'd fix the questions first and the rules later.

Write it like an easier CMST. Err on the side of easier, but still balanced (esp. on the bonuses). Common link things might be one way to get around the trouble of not knowing specific events. Powers are fine and fun. Definitely include them, but make sure as usual that teams are aware they will be used.

One of the most important aspects here will be what happens at the matches when your questions get used. Talk to the coaches and see what they think afterwards. If they have concerns, be polite and just point out the positives of pyramidal questions. Your goal is to find the coaches who really "get" the advantages of pyramidality and encourage them to take the lead in hosting, building up real teams, going to tournaments, and dealing with any remaining QG fans. Get them connected to the forums and to other top middle school coaches in the area ("here are some great resources if you want to talk to other coaches and compare notes!" etc. etc.).

Be positive. Be upfront. Be prepared for some grumbling.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by David Riley » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:09 pm

Andrew, how did I know this was a problem from a fellow Illinoisian without knowing your handle and before I saw your signature? :grin:

This is something we all struggle with, although it does seem to have gotten slightly better over the past few years. I would solicit opinions from Jeff Price at Barrington, who has run many middle school tournaments. The one piece of advice I can give is not to shove good quizbowl down their throats. This may backfire on you, and you will be back to square negative one. I'd love to hear Jeff's opinions on this topic.
Last edited by David Riley on Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by TylerV » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:09 pm

I think Chris gave a good overview so I don't have much to add.

However, while I'm not sure of your reasons for using a housewrite I advise against it. Your tournament will be the first interaction these kids have with good quizbowl and I think it would be best to use a more established set for the best first impression possible(This isn't meant to imply that your set will be bad but having worked on an MS set things that you think would get converted just don't). If it is possible to mirror a set I highly recommend SCOP MS. Having seen the work that goes into that set(particularly into conversion data) I believe it is a perfect set for introducing new teams to good quiz bowl. The set played quite while at this years Barrington Invitational, even playing well in the least experienced division
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by Deviant Insider » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:36 pm

First of all, bless your heart.

Second of all, I am going to disagree with Chris here. Do not emphasize that you are doing something different, though you should mention that. Emphasize that you have been heavily involved with Scholastic Bowl for several years and you are excited about running a tournament for teams in your area. Also, word of mouth is key--get the word out to lots of coaches in as many ways as possible. In addition to contacting the middle schools directly, talk to whatever high school coaches you know, and see if they will pass the word to their feeder schools.

As far as the questions are concerned, keep in mind that literature and fine arts are going to be the weakest areas. You need to keep things very easy in those areas, and it's OK to have the easy parts or giveaways be interdisciplinary so that you can, for example, give away the name of a state or country a book is set in by stating its capital. Also, it's possible that you might want to give those areas a smaller part of the distribution than you otherwise would, and don't shy away from works that are popular with young people or were made into major movies.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to overschedule it. Keeping the number of rounds low will make it easier to keep the questions easy, and the young students not used to long tournaments might not want to play more than 7 or 8 rounds. Furthermore, if your moderators are not used to one-part-at-a-time bonuses and tournaments, then the rounds will take forever.

Let me know if I can help from afar, and keep in mind that there are a lot of good people around all parts of Illinois.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by tuscumbiaqb » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:08 pm

As someone who runs tournaments for middle school students (and sometimes even younger!), I would recommend using NAQT MS-level questions as opposed to doing a housewrite or using SCOP MS as a first attempt at a pyramidal tournament in your area. Most of the teams at my tournaments are from small, rural schools, and while some of them play good quiz bowl exclusively, the majority are adjusting to good quiz bowl practices or are brand new. I've run tournaments on MS sets and on SCOP MS, and while the top teams acquitted themselves very well on the SCOP set, the majority of teams struggled. (Let me note that the set itself was well-written, and I'd recommend it wholeheartedly for more experienced fields. At least in my area, teams do not spring out fully formed ready for that difficulty level.) NAQT has more tossups whose answerlines they're at least familiar with, while retaining a basic academic canon.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by TheDoctor » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:55 pm

tuscumbiaqb wrote:while the top teams acquitted themselves very well on the SCOP set, the majority of teams struggled.
Just a note that this year's MS set isn't representative of what the set will look like going forward; this year was, as stated in the mirroring post, an experiment to get a feel for how different fields handled the set, and we expected (and advertised) it to be on the difficult side. Now that we've got some conversion data regarding what is actually answered at the middle school level in various circuits, we've got a better feel for what to ask for from our writers, and I anticipate that next year's set will be significantly easier.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by alexdz » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:10 pm

If we're talking middle school as in 7th and 8th grade, then I'd agree with the above posters and say go with a NAQT-MS set or SCOP-MS. If you're targeting younger students or are deadset on a housewrite-like tournament, I'd be happy to see if SAGES would work for you. It's targeted at more of a 5th/6th grade level.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by ScoBo » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:27 pm

Everything I was going to suggest is pretty much covered above, but I'll provide some additional perspective from a high school circuit that has transformed from having nearly every tournament run on Questions Galore and similar questions, to one that has 20+ tournaments a year using good questions and scheduling principles (with many more NAQT tournaments that still use MSHSAA format and/or single elimination, although that's primarily because the MSHSAA State series uses NAQT now).

You absolutely need to mention the format in your announcement. Many schools will attend tournaments just because they are available, regardless of the format. In my experience running tournaments, I've found that the more upfront you are about everything, the fewer surprises coaches and teams will experience on tournament day, reducing potential sources for complaints. You don't want to clutter the initial announcement with too many details, but at some point before the tournament, you should provide registered teams with important information such as any rules changes and an approximate schedule for the day (start time for round 1, expected time and length of lunch, expected end time, etc.). If providing information ahead of time causes a couple of teams to drop or not sign up at all, it's better than them showing up and then not having a good time or complaining about everything.

As others have mentioned, don't go overboard with the schedule. Keep the tournament running efficiently (at an appropriate speed for the audience) and professionally so that you honor the announced expected end time and deliver the tournament experience promised in the announcement and subsequent communication. Especially if you are running a weekend tournament in an area where weeknight events are common, you'll want to be clear about how many games teams should expect to play and when the final round is expected to end. At the same time, if you're expecting teams to stay until a certain time, you need to make sure your games run efficiently so that the final round ends as close to that time as possible (or earlier). If the tournament runs late or games are conducted sloppily, it won't matter how good the questions are - coaches will not be happy with the poor logistics and will be less likely to return or suggest your tournaments to other coaches. Use a sensible schedule, plan ahead, and prepare your staff well to ensure that the tournament runs smoothly. If the logistics are good, teams will be more likely to have a positive attitude and notice the benefits of better questions and other good quizbowl practices.

It can take a long time for teams to recognize the superiority of pyramidal questions and other good quizbowl practices. Your first couple of tournaments might be smaller than you'd like - in MOQBA's first few years, we ran several tournaments that had only 8-12 teams when more predominant MSHSAA-style tournaments would attract 24-32 teams. Establishing a reputation of running great tournaments should help to keep teams coming back and attract more teams to future tournaments.
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remake20
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by remake20 » Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:33 am

First off, thank you everyone for the advice and keep it coming if you have it.

The main reasons for the house-write are the desires for some good experience and our MS's budget is extremely tight so we were looking to maximize profits for them. However, we are are not totally opposed to hosting a mirror and if next years SCOP MS set (Kristin, do you have any idea when this might be announced?) looks appealing, we might give it a go. I can see the obvious advantages in going with an established set, but at this moment in time, I'm still leaning towards writing a set.
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Re: On Introducing Good Quizbowl

Post by TheDoctor » Wed Apr 22, 2015 1:13 pm

SCOP MS will definitely be available from January 2016. As our associated Novice set is already approaching 40% complete, however, we may be able to offer it earlier in the year if necessary. We do offer discounts to account for various circumstances (up to $5 off/team, which would take your mirror fee to $0/team if you keep statistics and send us your scoresheets after the event), and if you end up going with another question provider, it's worthwhile to ask if they'd cut you some financial slack as well.
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