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Maps hang on the wall. Some students study an intensive timeline covered in sticky notes, while others read from a book and make conversation. The teacher roams around the room, not intervening except to elaborate on a point made by one of the students. The atmosphere is relaxed, but everyone is buzzing with all the discussions occurring as they get ready for competition.
This is Academic Decathlon.
Academic Decathlon is an annual competition in which students compete in 10 subjects that focus on a specific topic.
“The scope of what they have to learn is huge, and it’s a challenge that way,” Academic Decathlon sponsor Stephanie Karmann said. “This year [the topic] is World War II, and it’s pretty cool because you’re learning some basics, and then you go very deep into how a subject is part of that topic.”
The club was started three years ago by senior Chris Jung and a former student Antu Nguyen. They asked Karmann to become the sponsor, and she made it into a class.
“First it was just building up team members; we started out with a small team, and we didn’t have enough to fully compete,” Jung said. “Then as the years went by, we started building it into a class with Ms. Karmann.”
Karmann taught Academic Pentathlon — a similar competition except with five subjects — at her old school before coming to Allen, and she says that she likes the class because there is a different feel compared to other classes.
“I really grew to like the kids that were in it, and I had a great time,” Karmann said. “It’s really good for me as a teacher to see kids do something other than take class[es]. It’s a chance to develop a different relationship, and I like the competition part; it makes me excited.”
Junior Audrey Nguyen and senior Sarah Manthei say they joined Academic Decathlon after being in Karmann’s GT Phoenix English class sophomore year, when Karmann told them they could do well as part of the decathlon team.
“The class is not organized the way a normal classroom is: it’s not as structured,” Nguyen said. “It’s very much, ‘Here’s the material. Go learn it,’ and it’s comprised of a lot of different people, and we make it work.”
Manthei says that class is led by the students, and that difference makes it better than a traditional classroom.
“I feel like it’s more organic,” Manthei said. “We’re learning the things because we’ve decided to learn them at that point, and I think it’s a really great experience. It’s something different.”
Jung says that Academic Decathlon is highly student-driven and that different learning experience and animated atmosphere are what makes Academic Decathlon a great club.
“With Academic Decathlon you’re working with a team and facing a myriad of what they’re trying to give us: the good and the bad,” Jung said. “It’s fun helping each other out and getting along, and it’s a real team effort.”
With all the different subjects, Manthei says that it’s an opportunity for different people to come together, work and compete.
“Math isn’t my strong suit, but I can still excel in subjects like history and music because I know those very well, so it’s an opportunity for people of all kinds of interests to come together and try and win this competition,” Manthei said. “And you get to learn it the way you want to.”