In February, two Ames High teams competed virtually in the 2021 National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB). Under the direction of advisor Chad Zmolek, both teams performed well, with one reaching the championship round and finishing second.
The NHSEB competition began in 1993, but there had never been an Iowa competition prior to last year. Dr. Nicolas Tanchuk and Dr. Kate Padgett-Walsh, professors at Iowa State University, organized the first state event, and the Ames High team won the first bowl in Iowa and earned a spot at the national competition. Unfortunately, COVID canceled the national competition. A new online platform was utilized this year.
According to their NHSEB website, the competition “is an outreach program which encourages students to think and work together to analyze complex ethical issues, both timely and timeless, in a competitive, yet collaborative event format.”
Each match has three judges drawn from a pool of community leaders, faculty, and ethics professors from across the country in a bracketed competition. Students prepare ahead of time by discussing all 15 cases and develop their team’s arguments. They do not know which case they will be assigned for each match. Topics include the ethics of cancel culture, the ethics of renaming buildings, the ethics of defunding the police, the ethics of teaching sex ed in schools, and the ethics of eating out during the pandemic, or even the ethics of buying fast fashion.
Judges give detailed feedback to teams for each round, including scores and written comments. A key part of the match is a 10-minute period when judges ask teams questions. Reflecting on the season, Ames High advisor Zmolek said, “I am incredibly proud of the work that this team did. They really dug into the topics and explored both sides of every issue. They are incredible students and did an amazing job representing our school and District.”