If there is one thing we all have had in common in recent times – it’s change. Around the globe, individuals, communities, and societies continue to feel the lasting impact of COVID-19 on mental, financial, and physical health, but students taking part in Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) have met these challenges with innovative solutions that are not only changing lives for the better, but also changing the world.

The FPSPI is a dynamic international program focused on empowering students around the globe to become better creative and critical thinkers, problem solvers, and decision makers. Students can be a part of programs ranging from Global Issues Problem Solving and Community Problem Solving, to smaller scale in-classroom assignments like Scenario Performance, where they develop a story about their future projections; Scenario Writing, where they write an original work of fiction about their future projections; and Action-Based Problem Solving, where teachers work with their students to solve a creative problem.

From civic and social issues to environmental and health concerns, FPSPI participants have enacted programs and initiatives to combat the most pressing issues in their communities, and we are excited to share some of the greatest success stories from the 2021 Virtual International Conference! Read on to learn more about the ways Future Problem Solving students have changed the future.


Young Minds Making an Impact

From grades 4 to 6, Junior Division participants are the youngest FPSPI competitors, but their projects work to solve issues we all can relate to. In Australia, for example, one team founded The STRESS (Students Teaching Resilience to End Significant Stress) Project, a group that works to build resilience and coping mechanisms to better deal with stress in their school community.

Young innovators in Singapore also focused on bolstering important emotional and psychological skills in the form of empathy after they noticed that this important emotional intelligence (EQ) skill has been on the decline for over a decade. Students in Florida also helped mend loneliness among assisted living residents during the pandemic by hosting activities over Zoom with their S.M.I.L.E. (Students Making an Impact on the Lives of Elderly) program.

Beyond helping people cope with mental health issues and build more positive relationships, Future Problem Solving participants in Texas worked to:

– Address the oil industry crisis in their home state by holding a monthly farmer’s market to boost the local economy.

– Reduce school food waste by creating their own composting program!

Local Heroes

Middle Division champions (those in grades 7 to 9) delved deep into some of the most prevalent issues in their cities, counties, and even countries. Some teams tackled COVID-19 related problems like social and educational isolation with solutions like:

– The Big Sisters program in Australia, dedicated to interacting with younger students to help their emotional well-being.

Project Everyone in Florida, which created opportunities for all students – remote, in-person, and hybrid – to participate in the social activities that are so central to academic life.

Also in-tune with the importance of their education, Project REMOTE (Reimagining Educational and Meaningful Opportunities To Engage) in Massachusetts helped Canton learners gain access to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) resources.

Other students focused on environmental and health concerns with projects like:

– Florida’s O.C.E.A.N. (Operation Conserve Earth’s Aquatic Nature) designed to educate the community and reduce harm to aquatic ecosystems.

– Turkey’s team of “Climate Protectors”, who aimed to spread awareness of the causes and consequences of climate change.

– The “Don’t JUUL, It’s Not CUUL” project in Minnesota, which advocated for stricter regulations and more consumer education to reduce vaping among teens.

Providing Hope, Healing, and Mental Health

FPSPI competitors who gained recognition in the Senior Division, for students in grades 10 to 12, looked to improve the future by positioning individuals and their families for success.

Project HYPE (Helping Youth Pursue Education) in California helped provide education resources to low income students in San Diego.

BY2 Be Yourself Brand Yourself in Florida taught young people how to leverage social media for positivity and networking.

Operation HOPE in Kentucky combatted poverty by distributing care boxes and improving agency communication.

Internationally, Project Helios in Singapore worked with Singapore Association of Mental Health to combat mental illness, and Project Integrate in Singapore improved the lives of migrant workers with virtual lessons and other resources.

However, with so much room for creative problem solving in Future Problem Solving Program International, other winners devised solutions for a wide variety of global issues.

– Project Curae in Singapore aimed to dismantle the stigma surrounding dementia.

Project Yes, Learn! In Texas provided virtual camps during school breaks for students.

Raising Awareness About Earthquakes in Turkey helped raise awareness for earthquake safety.


Interested in learning more about how students are changing the future through Future Problem Solving Program International? Find out how to get involved, support the mission, or use FPSPI to supplement your classroom activities here: Future Problem Solving Program International (fpspi.org)


Critical-thinking skills are crucial for students to thrive in the 21st century business world. Unfortunately, this is also one of those skills that is not a direct part of many school curriculums. Students often can only learn critical-thinking by going beyond the traditional classroom and participating in academic competitions and challenges that engage them in unique problem solving situations.

By putting themselves out there, taking risks, and being put into situations that require problem-solving and critical-thinking students better prepare themselves for the “real-world.”

While schools do their best to equip students with these skills, the classroom’s controlled environment is a difficult place for students to take the calculated risks that teach critical thinking. That’s why many students are turning to academic competitions to fill in the gaps of their education and learn those valuable lessons that will serve them into adulthood. However, not every academic competition teaches critical-thinking skills in the same way.

Because “critical-thinking” captures such a diversity of skills itself, we wanted to explore how the leading academic competitions teach students critical-thinking skills on their own. Here are a few examples of competitions that help students in this life lesson.




Future Problem Solving Program International

Our featured program is a long-standing stalwart of critical-thinking and creativity. The Future Problem Solving Program’s goal is to get kids thinking about their vision for the future. It also works to prepare them for leadership roles where they will drive change and lead others to innovative thinking. This is a 4-part challenge that includes:

  • Community Problem Solving
  • Global Issues Problem Solving
  • Scenario Writing
  • Scenario Performance

Creating real change in your community takes a lot of planning and follow-through. From identifying a problem, coming up with a solution, and getting in touch with the appropriate community members, students will have to exercise their critical thinking skills in every aspect of this program.

The comprehensive structure of the Future Problem Solving Program provides a great, well-rounded way of educating students on critical-thinking challenges at all stages of the problem-solving process.

In addition to the skills they will hone, students will also gain valuable experience for their college applications and the opportunity to work with their peers and professionally present their ideas to industry leaders.



While the FPS program may be the most well-rounded competition students can engage their critical thinking caps in, other programs teach critical-thinking skills in unique formats that may help inspire learning in specific areas.

The Modeling the Future Challenge (MTFC)

This academic competition offers students the opportunity to hone their risk management skills by teaching them the Actuarial Process. Much like the scientific method, this process gives kids a system they can utilize any time they need to analyze risk. From start to finish, the Actuarial Process and the Modeling the Future Challenge offer students the opportunity to think for themselves and exercise their critical-thinking skills.

The MTFC helps students learn to use data and mathematical analysis in critical-thinking.


Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament

In this academic tournament, students program drones to complete specific tasks alongside other students. Each student is responsible for their own drown, and the participant that best completes the task wins. Since every student competes on the same playing field, they need to use critical-thinking skills to determine the best way for their drone to complete the required task before they can even begin programming.

The Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament helps students learn critical-thinking from an engineering perspective to better solve technical challenges.

Best Robotics Challenge 

This competition is as fun as it is educational. To compete, students will design a robot that can perform specific tasks and make it through a field of obstacles on tournament day. With every student competing on the same course, the winners will have to think outside the box and demonstrate excellent critical thinking skills to come out on top.

Best Robotics focuses student critical thinking in a unique robotics environment – encouraging students to think how to solve a challenge from a unique perspective.


Academic challenges like those listed above are an excellent way for students to embrace the subjects they love while also learning crucial life skills like critical-thinking. For a comprehensive program that incorporates critical-thinking into all aspects of the problem-solving process, check out the Future Problem Solving Program.

For students with special interests in data analysis, mathematical modeling, engineering, or robotics, check out our other recommendations.

And don’t forget to head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up, and find programs that are unique to your interests and needs. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up to date on all the news with academic competitions.

Upgrade to a premium account so you can track your progress in competitions, get insider information on academic competitions, access the ICS competitions concierge, and gain exclusive discounts on ICS-managed programs.

The world of academic competitions is continually evolving. Every year brings new programs to light, and some others shut their doors. There are new deadlines, new rules, and new requirements to keep track of. With thousands of competitions available to students it can be a daunting task to keep up with the dynamic world of academic competitions, even for us. We’re continually searching for new competitions, challenges, prizes, and contests for students at all ages, and keeping in touch with programs to get the latest information on their rules and regulations.

This means we’re also regularly updating the database of information to share with you! To help keep you aware of all of these exciting new opportunities, we’re starting to provide regular updates on the new information we gather in the database. To kick things off, here are five academic challenges with updated information in the ICS database and a few new ones we’ve recently been made aware of that are sure to get you excited!


  • C-Span Student Cam – this long-standing challenge mixing video and government as recently updated their information for the 2020-21 challenge providing new deadlines to register and submit your videos.


  • Conrad Challenge – this entrepreneurial experience for high school students has recently posted new deadlines and information on the 2020-21 challenge.


  • Future Problem Solving Program – this leading program in critical thinking and creativity has provided updated details, a new video, and photos of past competitions in their database listing.


  • MakeX – this creative design competition is a recent addition to the ICS database. Check out the new program here!


  • Modeling the Future Challenge – this math modeling, data-science, and risk analysis competition has added a new introductory video and photos from past competitions to their database listing.


  • STEM-X Launch Prize – ever wanted to launch an experiment to space!?!? This new program in the ICS database could be your opportunity!



  • World Robotics League – love robotics? Here’s a new league that was recently added to the ICS database!


If you want to stay up on all the most recent events and updates in the world of academic competitions, consider upgrading your account to a premium user account. You’ll have access to discounted registration on ICS managed program, premium database features, and much more!

*This is a guest post from Addie Boswell and the Future Problem Solving Program – a creative problem solving program involving thousands of students from around the world each year. Learn more about Future Problem Solving here*


More than a decade ago, I wrote a Pandemic-themed scenario for students in the Future Problem Solving Program to, well, solve. When March 2020 imploded in the U.S., I dusted that document off. Here’s what it said:


In the year 2035, an unidentified RNA virus is spreading rapidly, causing an array of flu-like symptoms: cough, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, and diarrhea. Within two weeks, many victims develop pneumonia and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which leads to difficulty breathing and can result in organ failure.


The future virus originated in dead animals after a flood in Ethiopia, and quickly spread from refugees and first responders to the general population. Death rate was estimated at 10% and only one anti-viral (Xifan) had shown any relevance, only when taken within 48 hours. With shortages of hospital staff, ICU beds, isolation rooms, and ventilators, the WHO predicted that every inhabited continent would be forced to deal with this pandemic.


Sound familiar? Based on this scenario, students in 3rd-12th grades proposed all sorts of challenges that have now come to pass in 2020: naval contagion, financial collapse, price-gouging, production chain stoppage, and more. But perhaps more importantly, they proposed solutions. Here are just a few of the ideas that these Future Problem Solvers identified and how they stack up with real-time actions from adults in our current pandemic.



See how the kids suggestions stack up…                        to real-time adult actions.

The government will use NASA satellites to create a Global Surveillance System to help predict where the virus will show up next and warn people away.



In June, NASA collaborated with the European and Japanese space agencies on a dashboard of satellite data. It documents planet-wide changes to the environment and socioeconomic activity, and with enough modelling and data collection, may be used to predict outbreaks in the future.

The WHO will create a finger-prick Virus diagnosis system, similar to a diabetes blood sugar measurement, for doctors to accurately triage patients.



As of June, the rapid diagnostic tests are neither as fast or as plentiful as hoped and rely on nasal swabs. Antibody finger-prick tests have been developed but have so far been unreliable. These tests should be coming.

WHO will recruit volunteers who have recovered to form the Blue Nile Volunteer Corps to take care of the sick, dispose of bodies, and fill in jobs at critical industries, which will relieve strain on hospitals. NO

Though recoverees have donated plasma, scientists remain unsure if the infected have sufficient antibodies and if they last. A volunteer corps– and the troublesome idea of “covid badges” – remains unlikely.

The CDC will develop Reverse Transcriptase Nucleoside Analogues (developed in experimental phase as HIV medications) which terminate the genetic data’s replication when they attach to the new genetic material.


YES (trials underway)

Multiple Nucleoside & Nucleotide Analogues that are used in cancer and HIV treatments are in trial now, with Remdesivir the most promising in shortening recovery time so far.

Universities will develop genetically modified viral vectors, putting a small portion of the bad virus DNA or RNA into a harmless virus which is injected into the host.


YES (trials underway)

Many universities, pharmaceutical companies, and governments are betting on a COVID-19 vaccine from genetically engineered viruses, (called adenoviral vectors.) The FDA just fast-tracked two candidates, but it remains to be seen if they work and can be scaled.

The medical manufacturers of vaccines will give intellectual property to the WHO in exchange for a 10% royalty on profits


The WHO will temporarily suspend the patent on Xifan, allowing governments to produce their own, until the pandemic is over.



WHO launched a voluntary pool for patent rights and other data, and an international group of scientists and lawyers started the Open COVID Pledge to encourage patent sharing among large companies. But the U.S. hasn’t joined, and international warring makes the theory shaky.

Scientists will create the Color Smart, a microchip implemented in the body and connected to computer software. It will change to black if virus is indicated. NOT EXACTLY

Many wearable sensors are in production to try to detect symptoms and predict coronavirus. For example, NBA players are testing the OURA smart ring, which measures temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and sleeping patterns, and syncs with a smartphone.

The Maritime Association will requisition several large cruise liners and retrofit them as floating hospitals, with the benefit of being isolated at sea.



Carnival Corporation has offered up its cruise ships for this purpose, and the U.S. Navy provided some hospital ships to coastal areas, but the idea hasn’t caught fire – perhaps because early outbreaks on cruise ships were so difficult to control.

Businesses will appoint a pandemic manager, who will arrange the floors, introduce a shift-work system, and plan thorough cleaning. All non-essential meetings and training sessions will be online via tele-immersion or tele-working.


YES and NO

Remote working is a success story and may be the new norm. And some companies have employed risk management teams and safety consultants to transition back to the office. But usually individual managers are responsible for interpreting and applying health guidelines.

If an individual is deathly ill, scientists will use cryogenics, giving them shots of Trehlose into the bloodstream. Frozen bodies will be transported to a warehouse until a vaccine is created. POSSIBLE

Though Cryonics organizations have not been able to revive people yet, cryopreservation is a reality. It is therefore possible that a Covid-19 patient could be frozen to await vaccines, though governments and medical associations in no ways support the idea.


Like many adults, I’m proud of students who are paving the way for international collaboration and innovation. Reading through their solutions from a decade ago – probable, possible, even unthinkable — I am inspired by the ingenuity and willpower of the youth that responded to this 2009 hypothetical problem. These kids are young adults now and heir to the mess we make today. I pray they remember their grand and noble ideas.


Future Problem Solving is an international program involving thousands of students annually from around the world. Developed in 1974 by creativity pioneer Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving (FPS) provides competitive and non-competitive components for today’s curriculum via a six-step model which teaches critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and decision making. 


Don’t miss out on the 2020-21 Future Problem Solving Season. Get registered today!


Addie Boswell is a writer and artist in Portland, Oregon, specializing in community-based murals and children’s picture books. She has been involved with the FPS program for three decades, as a student, evaluator and writer, in Iowa and Washington state, and thinks every functioning government should use the FPS process on sticky situations.  



After the 2017 Future Problem Solving (FPS) International Conference, we conducted an analysis of the Global Issues Problem Solving (GIPS) competition. In this, we found that overall, Kentucky had been the most powerful Future Problem Solving Affiliate between 2014 and 2017. Now, with the 2019 FPS international conference concluded, we explored the updated results from the past two years. Has Kentucky continued its powerful presence on the GIPS leaderboard? Or have other affiliates stepped up to challenge them for the #1 spot? What about individual schools? Do any stand out on the FPS podium for multiple years? We examined GIPS results from 2014 to 2019 to help answer these questions.

Over the past 6 years, 20 different affiliates have had teams place in the top 10 of the GIPS scoreboard. Most of these (16) have had more than one team place over the past 6 years. But which affiliates have been the most powerful overall? One thing we can do to identify which affiliates have had the most powerful team presence at the international conference is to look at the ICS award points earned for their top 10 team performances over the years. The ICS award point structure assigns 1000 award points to each 1st place award, 750 for 2nd place, 500 for 3rd place, 250 for 4th, and 100 points each to 5th through 10th place. Here’s how the top 10 affiliate points shape up from the past 6 years of GIPS awards.

In the graph above, individual points are shown when an affiliate had teams in the top 10 for one year, but not the year before or after it. A line exists when the affiliate had teams in the top 10 for more than one year in a row. It may help to also see the actual data of the top 10 GIPS affiliates, in chart form:

But what do all these numbers mean? Is Kentucky still dominating GIPS like it was at the end of 2017? There are several exciting highlights about GIPS affiliate power rankings that we note from this information.


  1. While Kentucky’s Power has waned from its height in 2016 and 2017, it has not disappeared.

Though their dominating days of 2016 and 2017 may be gone, Kentucky teams have still managed to extend a record not achieved by anyone else – long-term staying power. No other affiliate has had teams place in the top 10 every year between 2014-2019. Washington comes close, only missing the mark once, in 2015, but Kentucky’s overall placements have maintained their powerful presence on the GIPS top 10 throughout the years – something to be recognized for sure! Another key metric to look at is the number of top 10 placements an affiliate’s teams have had. Over the past 6 years, Kentucky teams have taken 15 out of 60 total spots. The next closest affiliate was Washington with 5 placements. So, while Kentucky’s overall power has dropped from its height (earning lower placements than it did between 2016-17), it certainly has not disappeared.

  1. Washington & Texas are on the rise.

Over the past two years, teams from the Washington and Texas affiliates have been making their mark on the GIPS top 10 podium. Washington teams have been on the podium 5 out of the past 6 years, but in 2018 and 2019 they were higher ranked than ever before taking 2nd place in 2018 and 3rd place in 2019. But Washington wasn’t alone in the rising star category! Texas broke into the leaderboard for the first time in 2018 at #6 and then had two teams on the board in 2019 coming in 2nd and 5th. Both Washington and Texas are clearly rising powers for next year's FPS GIPS championship!

  1. Singapore is now in a league of its own on one metric!

The Singapore affiliate’s teams have now achieved something that even Kentucky team’s haven’t managed – they’ve had two first place finishes in the last 6 years! No other affiliate has had a team come in first place twice. While Singapore teams have not been able to have a regular showing on the top 10 podium between those placements, this feat in itself is something to be recognized!

  1. Maintaining top 10 placements is hard!

Over the past 6 years, 16 affiliates had more than one placement on the top 10; however, only 7 affiliates have managed repeat placements (year after year). These include Kentucky (2014-2019), New Jersey (2014-2015), Minnesota (2014-2015), Washington (2016-2019), Texas (2018-2019), Florida (2016-2017), and Michigan (2015-2016).

  1. The Four-year Power Rankings Could change next year in a big way!

While 6 years of data is nice to have, it is a bit arbitrary to use in determining overall power-rankings. A metric we like to use better, is the four-year power. We use four years because typically students stay in their high schools for four years in a row. This provides a good indicator of how powerful the school was over the lifespan of the students at school for those years. When we consider four-year power rankings for all 20 of the affiliates that have placed it looks like this:

What does this mean for the coming 2020 GIPS competition? It means there’s potential for a shakeup at the top! It is likely that Kentucky will continue to have a presence on the leaderboard in 2020. Over the past two years they’ve averaged 250 points. Let’s assume they hit this average again in 2020. That would give Kentucky a total of 2100 award points for the 2017-20 power rankings. So for the first time in the past 6 years of data, Kentucky would be vulnerable.

Washington is the most likely to overtake the top of the power ranking. The past two years Washington affiliate teams have averaged 625 award points. This would put them at 1975 points for the 2017-20 power rankings, but if they’re able to swing just a few more points they’d be on the top of the board! How could they do this? Here are two realistic ways: (1) take first place in 2020, or (2) earn 2nd place and any other top 10 finish (a single 2nd place award for a Washington team would put them tied with Kentucky for the first place in the power ranking).

But Washington isn’t alone in being able to unseat Kentucky from the power rankings next year. Other affiliates with a fair shot include Texas (950+ four-year points), Nebraska (1000+ four-year points), Singapore (1000+ four-year points), and North Carolina (1100+ four-year points). While Washington has by far the best shot at upending the top of the power rankings, we can’t count these affiliates out either! Each of these affiliates would need at least a first place finish, and potentially a first place combined with another top 10 placement; perhaps unlikely, but definitely not impossible!

Of course, there are lots of variables to consider, and there are many teams from many affiliates looking to make their own mark on the leaderboard and power rankings. So while Kentucky still maintains the top spot on our four-year Power Rankings list in 2019, they’re vulnerable with the upcoming 2020 season! Will Washington or another affiliate's teams take the throne from Kentucky? Will any new affiliates break into the top 10 podium to start a run on the power rankings? We’ll have to wait until next season kicks off to get more information. Until then, we hope this was an interesting ride through some GIPS data and an invigorating look at how some of the affiliate teams are performing over the years.

For more details about FPS GIPS see the website.

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