In a special feature on da Vinci Decathlon, seven of our students recap the challenges that faced them on a tough day of competition against gifted and talented students from across the Illawarra. Some students found parallels to the beauty and horror of the animal kingdom, others a chance to reunite and compete with past friends and foes! Be entertained, informed, nervous and relieved as you live out the experiences of our students through their own words. We’ve saved the best to last, so don’t stop until you reach the finish line!

Xia Lian Wilson, Year 7

On Thursday 5 May 2016, TIGS participated in the Illawarra Regional da Vinci Decathlon. It was an enjoyable day, with many challenging tasks to complete, in which we had to collaborate together and work well as a team. The sessions were lots of fun, challenging, and overall enjoyable. We got to work in our areas of interest, and extend our knowledge.

I think that we worked quite well as a team, and when it came to the awards ceremony, we were all shaking in our shoes. We didn’t expect to do as well as we did, and we were so thrilled to take out the Year 7 winning title 2016.

Daniel Michelmore, Year 7

TIGS recently hosted the Illawarra Regional da Vinci Decathlon. Around 20-30 schools from the region, including rivals Smith’s Hill, came to participate.

TIGS entered a Year 7 team of eight people; Alana Newhouse, Aria Bacic-Johnston, Annabel Hickling Smith, Xia Lian Wilson, Xavier Do, Isabel Kinnear, Shin Ye Au Yeong, and myself, Daniel Michelmore. A bit nervous, but hopeful, we entered the IGC for the first period.

The first period consisted of Science, English, Creative Producers and Philosophy. There was great competition in the latter between myself and a friend from Smith’s Hill. Working against the clock, we finished the period, confident with our results.

After reminiscing with some friends from other schools, we returned for probably the toughest period: Engineering, Art and Poetry, Maths and Cartography (Mapping). This was the period were we needed to work as a team the most. Everyone was checking on the others, exchanging ideas, helping with problems.

Lunch went quickly, and all too soon we were back for the final period: General Knowledge and Codebreaking. Once again really working as a team, we solved most of the problems. After some fun games that broke the tension in the atmosphere, it was time for the closing ceremony.

At the start we did not win many awards, but as the subject results progressed, we won more and more. We emerged 1st overall, and took home the 2016 regional trophy. I was really proud of the team effort, and we look forward to travelling to Knox Grammar for the State Finals soon.

Zara Eggers, Year 8

This year’s da Vinci Decathlon was an amazing experience for me as I had never competed in da Vinci before. It was interesting to see how we connected as a group and how quickly the time flew by. Even though we didn’t win, we did place 2nd in both mathematics and general knowledge which was a great achievement. The questions we had to complete were quite challenging but we managed our time well and completed all but one of the papers.

The day went smoothly and we finished early which allowed us to play games that encouraged teamwork and communication as well as fast thinking. I found that our team is quite creative as we developed some ingenious and bizarre ideas/answers. I personally found the day very rewarding and would jump at the chance to compete in da Vinci Decathlon next year.

Zac Hah, Year 8

My first experience of the da Vinci Decathlon was pretty exciting. It was a quick, but intense day, that all flew by when we were working on the challenges. The challenges had us stressed at times, and some of us were doubtful that we would do well at all. Everything ran so smoothly, and we were constantly under pressure by the clock.

Although there was so much pressure (you could sense it was everywhere in the room,) everyone stuck together and had some laughs, too. We weren’t relieved until the awards came out. Funnily enough, we came second for General Knowledge and second for Maths. However, there was one thing that didn’t escape our minds until we all went home: The year sevens were better than us by so much oh my goodness.

Robert Turney, Year 9

You begin the day nervous. People from all across the Illawarra are here - the best thinkers of our generation. After 20 minutes of fidgeting you enter into the hall and you begin. I always find the first round of problems to be the easiest and they help to calm your nerves. Things like English and Science surround you. Who knows how to answer some of those questions, and this is the feel for the rest of the day.

Nervous excitement bubbling in your stomach, while you desperately try to wrap your head around some of the questions. Finally, at the end of the day you get the awards ceremony. Everyone waits in anticipation, in the hopes that their team will be called out. You finish the day, emerging victorious or defeated by the puzzles that were presented to you. This is the feel of the da Vinci Decathlon. Fear followed by excitement, followed by confusion, followed by victory (you hope).

Risini Gamage, Year 10

This year’s Illawarra Regional da Vinci Decathlon was even more enjoyable than the previous year, as a number of new schools had joined the competition. Teams of eight students sat on the assembled trestle-tables, which had deliberately been reduced in size to increase teamwork. Despite my previous thoughts, the space turned out to be more than enough for eight students, and also automatically increased our teamwork.

During the competition, it was interesting to see how fast the time progressed. Whereas an hour in class would have been slow (depending on the subject), the time allocated to each task seemed to travel twice as fast. The papers were challenging, so working out new and different problems was very enjoyable, especially as two or three people were working together.

After the sessions had finished, we participated in various activities until our papers were marked. The da Vinci Coordinators had organised a number of activities for us, which targeted skills such as teamwork, and also required communication between teams. The last activity (in which each team was a ship, and some ships carried an infection) was especially fun, as it involved educated guesses as well as some planning.

At the end of the day, the results were announced, leading to joy for some, and disappointment to others. There were some pleasant surprises as well. However, the results were only one element of the competition, and all teams - regardless of the competition results – enjoyed the novel activities and problems presented to us throughout the day.

Samuel Goodhew, Year 10

Walking towards the IGC on the morning of the da Vinci Decathlon is a terrifying experience. Not because the thought of the challenges is particularly daunting, or because of the pressure of a time limit to produce to the high standard of this event, though these play important roles. No, what’s quite frightening about walking into The Illawarra Grammar School on that Friday morning, is the multitude of different schools. Or more accurately, the students.

People will try and convince you the most vicious creatures in the animal kingdom are lions. Some people claim the most violent to be the hippo. Some push for crocodiles or sharks or killer whales. Other argue that mosquitoes are the most deadly.

Today I inform you the most vicious and terrifying animal is the high school student. And at an event like this, anyone’s fair game. Outside the entrance to the IGC, small islands of different species of high schoolers were forming, sentry guards posted around their groups, eyeing off the competition. Everyone’s competing to be the loudest, the most fun looking, the most intimidating, the most judgemental, the most intellectual, the most exclusive. And when you look at your group, they’re succeeding.

The first session is a breath of fresh air in the social tension between schools. This is probably the best session for our team, as the fear instilled by our opponents causes our instincts to take over. English, philosophy and science. Focus is refined to an angle point, that paper in front of you until you hear that time is up and the first session is completed.

The other two sessions follow in similar patterns, though the pressure is slowly alleviated as the day draws on. The real challenge comes at recess and lunch.

You leave the IGC like a gazelle into sunlight. Even though this is your school, it feels foreign. Groups of high schoolers in varying shades of picnic blanket skirts and stiff blazers litter the playground deforming your social clique planned out play area into a battle field, a terrain you’ve never seen before and have no idea how to traverse. You are eyed off by your predators, yet no one makes any move to engage.

After a while, however, you begin to recognise familiar faces. Friends or people you remember from past da Vinci’s. There’s that guy who left in year 7 who’s really smart who waves to you, that girl you know from outside of school who comes over and says hi, those two who beat you in da Vinci's drama category every year. Anyway.

During the last session, when your team is lulled into a false sense of safety and relaxation, it is announced that they, being the people running the day, have arranged a little game. Which involves direct confrontation with other schools. Panic sets in as they approach. And then: nothing. Well, not nothing. Just nothing of what you were expecting. They’re nice. A bit loud for your taste. Funny. Average kids, like you, who only differ in the colour of their uniforms.

Which is the thing with events like these. As Mrs Dubowski said this day isn’t about challenges or what you come in the end (2nd, by the way. Just saying). It’s about meeting people from other schools who have similar interests. And while we still struggle to just throw ourselves into the social fray of the animal kingdom that is high school, da Vinci was fun because of the people you spend it with, be it your own class mates or the people you meet from other schools.

So I may have over exaggerated the whole “most vicious animal” thing. In fact, by the end of the day, they seemed positively tame. Plus, we all survived. So, I guess it was a win.