By Teresa Monge

A New Quest Begins in Queens

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ThinkQuest is getting students thinking. They’re thinking about alcohol abuse, the Civil War, lasers, bridges, penguins, U.S. Presidents, and families; and they’re putting these thoughts into websites for the entire world to see. ThinkQuest New York City, inspired by the success of the International ThinkQuest Challenge, is showing teachers how to help their students think differently, and it is teaching students how to work in teams and how to be responsible for their own learning and research. The ThinkQuest Challenge is a contest that encourages students to deeply explore a topic that interests them. Then they work in teams of six, creating an educational website which they will enter in the contest. The teams consist of two to six students; Thinkquest encourages students to team up with students from other schools. Each team has a teacher or mentor who acts as a coach, but the students are required to do all the work. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of ThinkQuest NYC is Neme Alperstein, a teacher and ThinkQuest coach at P.S. 56 Queens, better known as The Harry Eichler School, in Richmond Hill. Says Alperstein: “I am a fan of Thinkquest NYC, and my continued involvement all these years speaks to the credibility and power of the program. They have it right. The focus and vision, and the adaptability to different learning environments allows students to take responsibility for learning in a way that is highly motivating for 21st century education.” But not all teachers are comfortable with computer technology. ThinkQuest NYC offers help there, too. They will train teachers and help the teacher become comfortable with computer technology and all that it is capable of achieving. After a teacher goes through the training, they will have the knowledge to build a four-page website. ThinkQuest NYC executive director Lisa Ernst is proud of how far they’ve come. “So far we’ve trained 200 teachers across the five boroughs, and our goal is to train at least 250 more this year. With the increase of teacher training, we hope to double the number of students who will participate. Last year, 900 students competed. We’re hoping for 2,000 this year," Ernst says. During last June’s award ceremony, finalists were quite enthusiastic. Even before they knew where they stood as winners, most agreed that they would give it a go again this school year. At first, a few of the students seemed uncomfortable talking off the cuff, but once asked about their website, they opened up and were quite eager to talk about their sites and show their work. “Turning Pro—Making it to the NBA”, “What Girls Don’t Want” , “Using the Conflict Resolution Approach to Analyze Literature” and “The African American Birthday Calendar” were a few among the more than 40 entries that made it ino the final competition. Alperstein's students won four awards in the competition: "New Rockets for NASA"; "Aviation During the Vietnam War"; "Poetry for All Ages; and "Recipes from Home—A Culinary Visit to Guyana". But she also knows that the merits of these projects reach far beyond the laptop computers, digital cameras and gift certificates her finalists received. “This has had a very positive impact on my students. A few students in particular come to mind. One did not get along with his peers initially but the project resulted in the need to collaborate in order to make the deadline. He is now much friendlier and helpful and even helps in the school, even though he is no longer a student here," she explains. "Another team had students who constantly bickered to the point of impeding learning in the classroom. They are now good friends and stay in touch.” Antoinette Di Stasi is also a proud computer teacher who coached winners in the competition. “The students just love the ThinkQuest Challenge. It’s a great opportunity for them to produce something that they are proud of. They worked on their projects every free minute of their day. I have to say, we’ve come a long way since book reports,” she says." Di Stasi, who teaches grades kindergarten through eight at Ascension School in Elmhurst and Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside, will be coaching students in both schools for this year’s challenge. The contest is open to students in any public, private, or parochial school anywhere in New York City. Students must be in grades 4-12. Contest registration begins October 15, 2003 and closes March 31, 2004. Deadline for entries is April 30, 2004. Best of all, ThinkQuest programs are free. For details on competition and the free training program for educators and after school programs, visit or email