The Simon Fraser University Burnaby campus saw an early flurry of activity one Saturday morning at the end of February as teams of high school students from across the Lower Mainland took part in the second BC Ethics Bowl. Organised by the Department of Philosophy, Grade 11 and 12 students spent the day in collaborative dialogue, putting critical thinking—one of the BC curriculum’s core competencies—into action.
Directed by SFU Philosophy professor, Nic Fillion and undergraduate student, Kendra Wong, 10 teams followed a Swiss Pairing system to face off against each other. Following five close rounds of ethical debate, the team from Ideal Mini School emerged victorious, with Fraser Heights team 2 coming runner up. Both qualified for the Canadian High School Ethics Bowl finals in Winnipeg late April.
Fillion found the day itself simply amazing, noting that the enthusiasm spread among all participants.
“Students, teachers, judges and moderators seemed to have a great time, and the performance of students was quite impressive,” he said. “A first-time participant described her day as magical and called herself a convert,” he added.
Ethics Bowl is less well known than traditional debate but offers a more collaborative, respectful conversation where teams present ethical issues and consider opposing team arguments. As teams prepare for the competition, they learn to develop and implement critical thinking and listening skills. They put these into practice in a collaborative and competitive environment as they engage with an opposing team and interact with expert judges.
Teams tackle ethical dilemmas, presenting thoughtful consideration of the issues arising and responding to questions posed both by an opposing team and a panel of expert judges. Scoring rewards constructive attitudes and critical listening as much as subject knowledge and presentation. As competitors learn to see another point of view, it’s not uncommon for a team to change its initial position when faced with convincing arguments. Results include a deepening awareness of the stakes and principles that animate discussion.
When first considered, back in 2018, Fillion and colleagues thought that the High School Ethics Bowl training could be a valuable activity for BC high school students and teachers. The new curriculum direction places a strong focus on core competencies such as critical and creative thinking, effective communication, and personal and social citizenship.
“The Ethics Bowl is a perfect activity for students to develop each of these competencies simultaneously, in a holistic manner,” FIllion says. “I think this is why participants have been so enthusiastic about the activity!"
As well as comments from teachers and their students, Fillion also got excellent feedback from the day’s judges and moderators who volunteered from SFU and local post-secondary schools.
“Everyone seemed to have a great time,” he says. “It's so very rewarding for members of the SFU community to have an opportunity to take part in an activity like this."
SFU prizes engagement with the community, and Fillion believes that the Ethics Bowl is a perfect outreach activity for high school students and teachers in BC.
“As academic philosophers, we like to believe that we have a lot to offer, but it's sometimes difficult to find out how this should be done. Not anymore!”
In total, ten teams from nine secondary schools —from Surrey, Vancouver and the Fraser Valley—took part in the BC regional heats.
The rounds were run using a Swiss Pairing strategy with weighted scoring https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss-system_tournament This meant that every team played the full number of rounds, ensuring that the outcome of the competition was clear and fair.
A huge thanks to the team members and to the teachers and parents who supported them.
- Ideal Mini School https://www.idealminischool.ca/ideal-ethics-bowl-team-champions/
- Sands Secondary https://twitter.com/SandsSec
- Fraser Heights https://www.twitter.com/FraserHtsSec
- Princess Margaret Secondary https://www.twitter.com/pmlions
- Prince of Wales Secondary http://twitter.com/POWSS
- Moscrop Secondary https://moscrop.burnabyschools.ca/blog/2020/03/06/moscrop-philosophy-students-participate-in-ethics-bowl-at-s-f-u/ https://twitter.com/MoscropSec
- Vancouver Technical Secondary http://twitter.com/vantechsec
- Rick Hansen Secondary https://rickhansen.abbyschools.ca/news/top-3-ethics-bowl-competition-sfu
- Seaquam Secondary https://twitter.com/SeaquamSec
And grateful thanks to all the volunteers who helped prepare the teams and worked as judges and moderators on the day:
- Event organisers: Nic Fillion and Kendra Wong (SFU Philosohy)
- Alan Belk (Philosophers’Café); Sylvia Berryman ( University of British Columbia); Ian Brooks (Fraser International College); Frank Cunningham (Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto); Susan Gardner (Capilano University); Elliot Rossiter (Douglas College).
- SFU MA Grad students and alums: Cody Brooks, Cem Erkli, Aaron Mascarenhas, Milos Mihajlovic, Hesam Mohamadi, Varsha Pai, Farshad Sadoughian, KesavanThanagopal, Xinyu Xu, Jenna Yuzwa
- SFU Philosophy faculty and instructors: Lyle Crawford, Tom Donaldson, Bruno Guindon, Sarah Hogarth Rossiter, James Hutchinson, Evan Tiffany, Jenn Wang