Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

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tiwonge
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Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

I was talking to Chris Chiego recently, and he said that Academic Hallmarks, which has supplied questions for Knowledge Bowl competitions, is getting out of the business. This means that current Knowledge Bowl circuits will be looking for new question providers, or possibly will be open to new formats. This provides a great opportunity to introduce pyramidal quiz bowl to new areas of the country.

I'm not sure what the timeline of Academic Hallmarks shutting down is, but it's imminent enough that some KB circuits are making plans now, so if we want to open up these areas to pyramidal quiz bowl, this is also the best time for us to act.

I'm opening this up for other suggestions, but I think there are some first steps we need to take:

1) Identify areas where Academic Hallmarks/Knowledge Bowl had circuits. Of these, find the best candidate areas to contact. These may be areas near or that overlap with budding quiz bowl circuits (Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana), or with particularly strong KB circuits (Black Hills, SD?).

2) Develop a pitch for pyramidal quiz bowl. Why is it a good format to use? I'm less interested in critiquing KB than I am in playing up the strengths of quiz bowl.

3) Figure out how to start up some tournaments in these areas. This is a bit easier in, for example, Seattle, where we've got a couple of high schools and UW willing to host tournaments, or Colorado, where there's also an extant circuit. This is harder where there aren't any current college clubs or circuits. For these areas, it might be good to have some sort of "Starter Kit" for schools to use that contains instructions on how to get questions (easiest is from NAQT), how to format the tournament (no single- or double-elimination), how to train moderators, who to call for help if you need it, and so on.
Colin McNamara, Boise State University
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

My quiz bowl pitch. Feel free to comment, add, or edit this. This is just a first draft, based on what I often describe to new schools.

Pyramidal quiz bowl may be a little different than what you're used to. The tossup questions are longer--a few sentences long. They questions start with hard clues, which get easier as the question progresses, culminating in an easy "giveaway" clue. This format is designed to give players and teams with deeper knowledge a better chance to answer questions and score more points. Players that know more about the subject can buzz in earlier, on the harder clues. Players with more superficial knowledge might have to wait until later in the question, or buzz in at the giveaway.

A correct answer to a tossup rewards the team with a bonus question on which the whole team can confer. Bonuses, too, have easy, medium and hard parts. This also rewards teams with deeper knowledge--a team that knows more about the topic might get two parts, or even all three, whereas one that knows less might get only the easy part.

The pyramidal tossups and three part bonuses are both designed to reward knowledge. As a result, quiz bowl matches are determined less by which players can buzz in faster, and more by which players have studied harder or learned more. They reward knowledge, rather than quick reflexes.

The other benefit of these questions is that for most players, there are often clues that they do not know. Quiz bowl not just rewards knowledge, but also tries to teach students about topics by introducing players to more clues and more information about topics. These early clues might pique a student's curiosity about a subject, and make them excited to learn more.

Pyramidal quiz bowl questions offer both breadth in what they ask about and depth in how they present the questions.
Colin McNamara, Boise State University
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by Deviant Insider »

My pitch to schools has changed over the years. I tried pitches like the one Colin has above, and I found that they did not work--coaches and administrators got defensive about their format and got afraid that I was a crazy revolutionary. Pitches that work emphasize professionalism.

I started writing questions for Illinois middle schools this year. Here is the pitch I used:
Reinstein QuizBowl is now producing Scholastic Bowl questions for middle schools in Illinois. The questions are in IESA format, follow the IESA distribution, and are written for middle school students.

To order questions, reply to this message letting me know when you want the questions and which teams will play on them. There are up to fifteen rounds available.

The cost is $30 per round if you are ordering for six teams or more. Because some teams are not in conferences, I am charging those teams $5 per team per round, with a minimum price of $10 per round and a maximum price of $30 per round.

I have years of experience writing questions and teaching in Illinois. I write questions each year for the Masonic Academic Bowl and Scobol Solo at the high school level and have also contributed to several middle school question sets. I have taught 6th grade self-contained, 7th and 8th grade math, and high school math, and I oversee a program for gifted middle school math students. I have been teaching since 1990 and have been writing questions since 1998. My goal in producing these sets is to provide great questions for the middle school students of our state and to give coaches and moderators a chance to be in matches that reward student learning and are free from protests and ambiguity.

If you are interested in using our questions in your conference during 2019-20, please reply to this message. A free sample round is available upon request.

I want your conference to play matches on the best questions it has ever used. Please contact me.
This pitch worked. I got 22 customers paying $3735 in my first year in a market where I was new and going against the IESA question provider, and 128 teams will play on my questions. Those numbers are still growing.

The Quizbowl scene has changed over the past few decades. There used to be a lot of bad question providers. There are now very few, and the few who do exist have very little customer loyalty, because Bryce Avery is just about the only one and his customers don't like him, and most of Chip Beall's customers have retired by now. NAQT is a professional organization, and there are a number of people who have written/edited sets for years that are good and have lots of customers. We need to tell people that if they buy our questions, they can be certain that they will receive questions that will be part of a positive experience for students, coaches, and moderators.
David Reinstein
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by cchiego »

Reinstein is correct. I've also changed my mind over the years about the effectiveness of discussing pyramidal questions in an opening email and agree that a focus instead on professionalism and a better experience overall would work better. Once you've struck up a conversation (or ideally met in-person at a tournament), then you can start to discuss pyramidality.

One thing that Reinstein et. al could do in Illinois but that is harder to do elsewhere is appeal to local experience. This is why I always thought it would be important for people in Arkansas, Kansas, etc. to hear from graduates/former players from schools in those areas. Ideally, leveraging any local connections and trying to route outreach through any interested locals in these Great Plains/Mountain West states that have been bastions of Academic Hallmarks in the past would be ideal. In this case, it helps that Colin's work in Idaho has made Idaho's fledgling circuit all-pyramidal, so I think Colin emailing as a representative from a nearby state is helpful (in a way that me emailing from Pennsylvania with 0 connections to the area would not be). Those of us elsewhere though can help with identifying current schools, leagues, etc. though and this might be an ideal way to work with college teams in these regions.

Trying to make long-distance connections though is even more difficult since you're not directly trying to sell them questions (that would be, say, NAQT's job) and it's hard to invite schools to drive 5+ hours to far-away events. I think the best approach might be simply a "hello neighbor!" sort of thing that expresses an interest in the school, the students, their accomplishments (if they're a current team), etc. and provides links to some of the (pyramidal) resources that the quizbowl community has provided. If you do have an upcoming event that would require a long drive, that's a good thing to include too, but expecting teams to drive 8-10 hours is probably not going to come to pass.

FWIW, the major Knowledge Bowl/Academic Hallmarks places that still seem to use their questions include: Washington (state Knowledge Bowl), Minnesota (state Knowledge Bowl), Colorado (state Knowledge Bowl), Wyoming Academic Challenge, some Montana events, most Nebraska and North/South Dakota events, some Memphis-area events, and I think some additional isolated leagues in various places across the country and even the world (see a dated list of events here, but even though some of those tournaments have changed providers or gone defunct this does give you an idea of just how widespread their use was/is).

The coming shutdown of Academic Hallmarks/the AUK is going to be interesting and definitely presents a major opportunity for quizbowl to make huge gains in the Mountain West and Great Plains (for proof, see this year's meeting minutes from Colorado's State Knowledge Bowl Association; CO appears to be going with a local coach writing their questions for next year). As someone who unfortunately had to play (and coach) on those questions for many years, I am thrilled to see this. But it will take action by the larger quizbowl community to help ensure that states/leagues/teams can make the transition to pyramidal questions.
Chris C.
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

I see your point. I'll write a different pitch emphasizing stability and professionalism of question providers when I get to a computer later today.
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode »

tiwonge wrote:
Sun Jan 19, 2020 12:24 pm
I see your point. I'll write a different pitch emphasizing stability and professionalism of question providers when I get to a computer later today.
Yea sadly this seems like one of those situations where you have to have a pitch that appeals to the administrators or whoever's in charge as opposed to the people playing (i.e. the reason why people get to use awful software like blackboard)
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by alexdz »

Like Reinstein, I've also found that the best way to get footholds into new circuits is to first concern one's self with question quality rather than format nuances. Coaches and admins primarily want to know that they're getting usable, well-written questions in the format they're used to. Big change takes more time, and while it's very possible (see Missouri pre-2008 to now), we can't folks to simply change over whole hog in a single year. It's going to take a new provider to write with quality and integrity in the existing format for a while and then perhaps a group with power can propose some more lasting change.
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

So, I'm going for something that might suggest quiz bowl questions as well-written, well-produced alternatives.
One of the most important parts of running Knowledge Bowl or other scholastic or academic competitions is finding a source for good, high quality questions. In the quiz bowl community, the availability of good questions for use in tournaments is arguably one of the key factors feeding its growth over the past twenty years.

The questions used in the quiz bowl are produced by writers who know best what good questions should look like--former and current players. Almost all question sets produced for the quiz bowl community are written and edited by teams of writers who are intimately involved in the competition itself--active college and high school players, recently graduated players, high school coaches, and others who are still active in competition. The writing and editing teams often consist of specialists in various academic fields to make sure that all the clues are accurate, unique, and clearly stated. After a tournament, player feedback about the questions allows writers to improve their craft for future sets, and also ensures that questions are adhere to the high standards quiz bowl players have for the questions they like playing.

These writers range from the famous (like Ken Jennings and other Jeopardy! champions) to college teams who are trying to produce a quality set that they know players will enjoy. These players know what clues make questions interesting, and what topics make worthwhile answers. In an interview, Ken Jennings said that good questions draw on a "canon of essential knowledge that... keeps our culture united and kicking." Questions produced by quiz bowl writing teams can be fun and interesting, but generally are not trivial.

With as many tournaments as are played across the country, there are a variety of groups that can provide quality question sets. Some are commercial, like NAQT, which has been writing questions for college, high school and middle school tournaments for almost 25 years. Many are non-profit. PACE has produced a national championship tournament for almost 25 years. SCOP has been providing easier questions for novice and introductory tournaments for almost 10 years. College quiz bowl teams like Yale, Penn and Maryland have a long history of writing sets for college and high school tournaments.
This is just a draft. I don't know if I want more data. (How big is the community? How many people play quiz bowl in a given year? How many different sets are produced?) I also didn't provide any contact info. If we're sending this out, obviously, we'll provide a way to contact question providers. (I'm also not sure which ones to include. NAQT, of course. But I want to include more than just NAQT so it's not like an ad for them.)

Also, I don't know who writes for Chip-bowl and other such places. Do they have writing teams, or is it one guy? Were their writers players at some point? (I pointed this out because I think it helps make questions good, that former and current players are so involved.)

Oh, I didn't mention about uniqueness, how there aren't going to be repeats. I probably should also include something about this.

Anything I should or shouldn't mention? Or is this still not on the right track?
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

Some people to contact, maybe. I don't know if all of these organizations used Academic Hallmarks, so I don't know if they're looking for a new question provider. I don't know where else Academic Hallmarks produces questions for.

Washington: Nancy Menard, Administrative Assistant [email protected]
(One of the players for Boise State is the son of a KB coach at some school in Washington. I'll see if I can talk to his father about what's happening in Washington.) -- ETA that I just e-mailed him.

Colorado: [email protected]
Board of Directors:
President: Casey Smith, Western Slope, [email protected]
VP: Van Walker, Southeastern CO, [email protected]
Secretary: Sue Fox, Southeastern CO, [email protected]
Treasurer: Doug Horn, northeastern CO, [email protected]
Tournament Director: Ken Blehm, [email protected] (ah, I guess that's not his address)
Mike Aragon, [email protected]
Roxanne Henderson, [email protected]
Eric Howe, [email protected]
Heather Huntley, [email protected]
Dawn James, [email protected]
Zachary Levine, [email protected]
Coady Shawcroft, [email protected] (Probably the best person to contact initially because Grand Junction does quiz bowl and regularly attends HSNCT; I'm not sure if any of the other members of the board do this with their schools.)

South Dakota (Black Hills/Rapid City area)
Coach of Custer County Schools Knowledge Bowl team, Laura Krall, [email protected]
Heidi Peterson, chairperson of south region, [email protected]
Loretta Schmidt, chairperson of north region, [email protected]

Wyoming
Eric Kestner <[email protected]> is the state director of the Wyoming Academic Challenge. I've been e-mailing him a bit lately, so I can contact him.
[email protected] is the coach at Riverside, who has been one of better teams in the state?

If there's any other area I should look into, I can do that. (I can also reach out to some of these people once we figure out a pitch.)
Colin McNamara, Boise State University
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by Deviant Insider »

The next step might be contacting people we know and seeing what they want and what is possible. Colin probably has the best connections to Montana and Wyoming, and might have an in to Washington. There are good quizbowl people in Colorado, Washington, and Minnesota that might have a sense of who to talk to there, though I know Minnesota has had some tension between the Twin Cities and the rest of the state. South Dakota might be the only place where we don't have any contacts.
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

Because the format of Knowledge Bowl includes written questions, quiz bowl questions aren't going to be a perfect substitute, unless somebody wants to write written questions, too. But that's not too say that they might not be interested in a substitute product.
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by tiwonge »

Response from Jeremy McNinch
I am the coach of our high school Knowledge Bowl team, and one of the league coordinators for the Pierce County (WA) Knowledge Bowl league. We have regular competitions weekly from December through February. It really is a lot of fun.
I was not aware that Academic Hallmarks was going out of business! No more Great Auk?!? I am going to send some emails and see what I can find out. I would be shocked if Washington State did not have KB- we have been doing it for 36 years!
I do know that there are Quiz Bowl tourneys in our local area. Unfortunately, these are usually in the spring, and I am also the head baseball coach, so I am not able to coordinate that as well. But if KB is a no-go, that may be where I turn next. I get the emails about the tourneys when they are sent though.
(I'm guessing that the Washington circuit doesn't maintain a mailing list, because it doesn't appear that he was aware of UW's Fall Classic. I'm guessing that Justin et al probably contacted the KB state coordinator and asked them to forward information, and sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. But just a guess.)
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Re: Introducing pyramidal quiz bowl to Knowledge Bowl circuits

Post by Mike Bentley »

tiwonge wrote:
Tue Jan 21, 2020 12:25 am
Response from Jeremy McNinch
I am the coach of our high school Knowledge Bowl team, and one of the league coordinators for the Pierce County (WA) Knowledge Bowl league. We have regular competitions weekly from December through February. It really is a lot of fun.
I was not aware that Academic Hallmarks was going out of business! No more Great Auk?!? I am going to send some emails and see what I can find out. I would be shocked if Washington State did not have KB- we have been doing it for 36 years!
I do know that there are Quiz Bowl tourneys in our local area. Unfortunately, these are usually in the spring, and I am also the head baseball coach, so I am not able to coordinate that as well. But if KB is a no-go, that may be where I turn next. I get the emails about the tourneys when they are sent though.
(I'm guessing that the Washington circuit doesn't maintain a mailing list, because it doesn't appear that he was aware of UW's Fall Classic. I'm guessing that Justin et al probably contacted the KB state coordinator and asked them to forward information, and sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. But just a guess.)
The UW team has a Google Doc of contacts but not a formal mailing list.
Mike Bentley
VP of Editing, Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence
Adviser, Quizbowl Team at University of Washington
University of Maryland, Class of 2008

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