Xathlon’s First Steps Toward Growing the Academic Decathlon Community

The following is an excerpt from a forum post I made about Xathlon. I thought it would be appropriate to share with everyone. Enjoy!

Long story short, I really really missed the worlds of Decathlon, learning, and education…and I had some time to think about what went well with Decademy (my former Decathlon-related business) and what could have gone better. When it came down to it, I realized that as nice as it was that we provided beautifully put-together curriculum guides (okay, I’m biased), flashcards, and things like that, those weren’t things that I wanted to sell. I think most of you will agree that the best “guides,” glossaries, and flash cards come from students digging deep into the material, recognizing patterns, and spending time trying to relate concepts to their teammates.

Thus, where I realized I could provide the most value is in the realm of testing. While I’ll be the first to admit that Decademy’s tests had errors, I received overwhelming feedback that Decademy’s tests were the best reflection of what students would see on the official tests (in content, style, and nuance). I knew that nobody had stepped in in the last few years to solve that problem, so I started with that: Xathlon would focus solely on tests. We would focus heavily on quality control and keeping true to the collective thought in the Decathlon community that the best “practice” tests are those that are the most similar to the actual “game,” the official rounds of testing. So that’s what we’ve done…

I had some conversations with colleagues in the world of Decathlon, and I initiated some conversations about the state of the Decathlon community. Strictly speaking numbers, the Decathlon community as a whole has dwindled in size, even just over the last few years, which is a travesty. I want people to be excited about Decathlon–it’s the closest thing we have to an “intellectual sport” in schools! From that came Xathlon’s mission statement: Our mission is to build a thriving, global community of lifelong learners united by the spirit of competition and the pursuit of knowledge that is both deep and broad.

Two key words stand out (to me) in that statement: community and competition. I think that the current world of Decathlon is in silos, with individual schools and districts doing their own thing, staying isolated from the rest of the Decathlon world. In a world where the Internet is where–like it or not–people spend most of their days, this doesn’t make sense. This is no fault of any one person..there simply isn’t a platform or a push for the community to be more connected. I realized, then, that one of the first steps to make the Decathlon community more connected is to break down the “borders” that disallow students from competing with more than just their local students and teams. So Xathlon’s tests are more than just tests, they’re competitions, and they’re released as such. There’s info on the website, but basically, the tests are released once a month, and if you take the tests during a specific window and submit your scores, you can be ranked individually/as a team against all the other individuals and teams that took the tests during the window. Then, everyone who participated will get a link to discuss the tests in an online Facebook community (I’ll get some cheers and some jeers from that one, I know, but the fact of the matter is that even if “kids these days” don’t always have Facebook accounts, they’re even LESS likely to want to sign up for a random online forum, as much as we all might enjoy that).

So instead of competing 2 or 3 times a year, now students get to compete 7 times in addition the official rounds. I think it will make things more competitive, bring students/coaches together who would have no reason to meet otherwise, and–most importantly–make things more fun.

So that’s where we are now, for everyone who didn’t get the email, and even for those who did. Xathlon’s future includes stuff like a Decathlon-related podcast (I’m envisioning “sportscasting” after our competitions and the official competitions, but have to work out the details as well as interviews with alumni, coaches, State Directors, etc.), increased social media presence (free content/lectures on the material generated by subject matter experts or submitted by users–again, I just don’t think it makes sense to “sell” those things in today’s world where information is becoming a commodity), and other exciting things.

Anyway, thank you for starting this thread. I’m happy to answer any and all questions, comments, concerns, fan mail, hate mail, etc. I really just want to move Decathlon forward, because I think it is the singular best opportunity for students across a wide variety of backgrounds to learn stuff they never would have the chance to learn otherwise in a fun and exciting way…and this is how I’m starting!

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