COLUMBIA — The students of the Smithton Middle School gifted program were recently faced with a choice: travel into the past or explore the uncharted territories of the future.
"I chose the future because it was something that I've always wanted to see," seventh-grader Cody Owens said. "You never know what the future is going to be like.".
The students in the sixth- and seventh-grade gifted classes participated in the Doodle 4 Google contest — a nationwide competition among kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Competitors create their interpretations of the Google logo, or Google doodle. This is the contest's fifth year.
This year's theme, "If I could travel in time, I'd visit…," was chosen to tap into students' curiosity to imagine the past, present or future, according to Google.
Connie Hayward, the teacher of the gifted program at Smithton, uses the contest as a teaching tool. This is the third year Smithton students have participated.
The students began working on their designs after they finished a three-month-long National History Day project that required in-depth research.
After brainstorming which time periods and places they would like to visit, students imagined how each of the five senses was associated with each place. Then, they did practice sketches, turning the letters of "Google" into art.
"The chance to have class time to spend doodling and drawing was really amazing, because it was really low pressure," seventh-grader Sophia Casto said. "While we were working on our designs, we would shove our drawings under each others' nose and ask if the design looks good or what we should put in for the letter."
The students also wrote a 50-word supporting statement explaining why they chose their theme — a task that proved more difficult than it seemed because of how precise the word choices had to be, Hayward said.
"It's not so much about the artistic ability but the story you are trying to tell," she said.
As an educator, Hayward stresses the importance of giving the students a chance to make their voices heard and put their concerns out in the open where they can be discussed among peers. She said the students are also much more aware of the harsher realities of the world.
"They worry about many things — they listen to the TV and they worry about war and violence and drugs," she said.
This concern for the state of the world was reflected in many of the designs.
Sixth-grader Hunter Bowles chose "Peace of Mind" as the place he would visit if he could travel in time. For his design, he turned the Google letters into symbols that represent peace and music. In his supporting essay, he wrote that he would like to visit the future where there aren't wars and violence, poverty and hunger or pain and suffering.
"A place where it doesn't matter what you look like, and people make music and not problems," he wrote.
"I almost cried when he handed it to me," Hayward said. "It gives such insight into who they are, and no matter how many discussions you have with them — some of those things — it's easier to put in pictures than in words."
After Google receives the designs, they will open online voting May 2. The voting will close May 10.
This year, Google has increased the monetary prizes — the national winner will receive $30,000 for a college scholarship, and the respective student's school will receive a $50,000 technology grant.
The winner's artwork will be featured on the national Google homepage for a day on May 18. The winner will also receive a Chromebook, a Wacom digital design tablet and a T-shirt printed with the winning doodle on it.
Casto, who described herself as an Anglophile, said the scholarship would help her achieve her dream of attending the University of Oxford.
"If we get a really good scholarship, we'd be able to go anywhere we want if we can get in," Casto said.
Google will host an award ceremony May 17, honoring the 50 state winners with a trip to New York City.