Odyssey of the Mind: The State of Georgia’s Brightest & Best Students
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Balsa wood structures engineered to withstand great weight, and multiple attacks by weight induced shock waves, - Tales from the Greek Poetic Tradition set to modern vernacular and culture - Problem solving demonstrated through drama, without the allowance of direct instruction - Earth friendly structures designed to move with minimal impact on the environment. Sound like MENSA sponsored projects for intellectual giants of M.I.T., Harvard and Cal Tech?
Perhaps. But these particular challenges were those presented to the various teams of school age children from all over the world who participate in Odyssey of the Mind, the 26 year old brain child of Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, Professor Emeritus at Rowan University in New Jersey. In 1978, 28 New Jersey schools participated in the very first creative problem-solving competition ever. According to the website, “Dr. Sam” and his son, Sammy, still develop all problems for the program.
Odyssey of the Mind is a competitive program with twist. Participants are encouraged to put forth their best effort AS WELL as to learn from, encourage, and support the efforts of their opponents. Competition is geared to CREATIVITY, an often overlooked element in the growth and development of many students. Teams and individuals are rewarded more for how they apply their knowledge, skills and talents, and not for coming up with a single “right” answer. According to the Odyssey of the Mind website, www.odysseyofthemind.com there isn’t one right answer to a problem.
As most successful scientists, detectives, business persons, world leaders and educators know, there is more than one way to skin most cats, and each way is celebrated by the judges of Odyssey of the Mind.
In Odyssey of the Mind, students learn to work in teams so they learn cooperation and respect for the ideas of others. Through evaluating ideas and making their own decisions at each stage of the project, WITHOUT intervention by adults, students learn to develop decisions making skills, which develops self-confidence and self-esteem. Students are also required to work within a budget, (this year between $125-$145).
Teams, comprised of five to seven students, can come from schools or community organizations such as the Y.M.C.A. Each team chooses one of five competitive problems to solve, ranging from those requiring arts or performance skills to skills more technical in nature.
While each team is supervised by an adult, no adult is allowed direct participation in the problem solving. All costumes, set design, problem design/script must be wholly conceived and built by the students themselves. The teams are chosen in the fall of a school year, and the students meet throughout the year to choose a problem and strategize. Skills needed at various stages of the problem set can be taught and demonstrated by an adult, for instance, how to use a drill to apply hinges to a component of the set structure, but the demonstrated component cannot be a part of the final structure. That MUST be performed and accomplished by the student.
Competition in the United States begins in school systems and regions generally along the lines of other sports, and after elimination at those levels, advances to State Competition.
Once a Team advances to and wins either First or Second Place at State competition, they are automatically entered in World Competition, where they compete with teams from countries around the world, including Canada, China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.
Various elements go into the judging of the competition, including their long-term problem solution, as well as “spontaneous” problem solving, the details of which are revealed at the various levels of competitions, requiring only a few minutes for the brainstorming of problem solutions.
RomeNewsByWatson.com was privileged to keep up with the efforts of one team from the Chatham County Public School System, touching base with the various stages of development since last November, that of the Division I, (grades 3-5) of the Charles Ellis Montessori Magnet School. Team members are Soraya Rose, (5th Grade), Vilda Gonzalez, (5th Grade), Devin Berrigan, (5th Grade), Ben Jones, (5th Grade), Cassidy Little, (4th Grade), Sydney Veitinger, (4th Grade), Avery Meyer, (3rd Grade).
This team, which won First Place at State competition at Columbus State University this past weekend, chose the Problem 2 Challenge, “Teach yer Creature”, (Below). These amazing children decided to present their dramatization in mime. The silent action, set to a simple musical score written and performed over the last six months by fifth graders Soraya Rose and Vilda Gonzalez, was based on a circus theme.
The creature they based their problem on was a Penguin, made up of black licorice mounted on the base of a remote controlled toy monster truck. The costumes, designed and sewn by fifth grader Vilda Gonzalez and fourth grader Sydney Veitinger, defined a ring master, two jesters, an acrobat, a stilt walker, fire breather, and the Penguin Trainer.
The set backdrop was a big top, and included a performance curtain made of cinnamon candy disk wrappers. This is significant because teams are awarded extra points for using trash and recyclable elements in their set. During other performances we saw quite an array of amazing techniques for recycling, including a duck-billed platypus made of shredded grocery bags, and an impressive stone wall made of the spray painted bottoms of milk jugs.
The students of Georgia stunned and amazed most of the adults who have never witnessed or participated in this competition. The judges who have participated before, however, have come to anticipate surprise, never underestimating the creativity of children who are allowed to dream on their own.
In order to ensure that no team has cheated by receiving help from adults, the group of judges for that particular Problem Category, descend upon the student team for about ten minutes, grilling them with hard hitting questions about how the team arrived at design ideas, or how they built the set, and when and how they arrived at their particular concept. The questions are driven, and the answers can only be answered by those students who obviously worked on the problems without adult help. Generally, as I listened to some of the questions and answers by various teams of different problems and different age categories, I learned that each team had one or two failures along the way. In many cases, teams have had to go back to the drawing board a number of times after learning that their particular answer to a design problem will not work, or needs major tweaking.
Those teams which exhibit particular creativity, whether they place or not, are eligible for the highest prize called the Ranatra Fusca Award.
During the genesis of the Odyssey of the Mind competition, one of the technical challenges had been to design a vehicle which could skim across the surface of the water. The vehicle which won that year was built around and looked like a water skimming insect, whose scientific name is the Latin term, Ranatra Fusca.
The design was so clever, so creative, that Dr. Micklus began awarding, at the state level, an annual Ranatra Fusca award.
In addition to the First Place award for State, The Division I team from the Chatham County Charles Ellis Montessori Magnet School also won this coveted award, whose interpretation of the problem, according to the judges, was “Impactful”, and the performance, “Worthy of Broadway”.
These are children, whose imaginations are allowed to run free.
However, I did note two troubling trends at this weekend’s competition.
First, quite a few presentations by lower, middle and even high school, used biting sarcasm in their scripts. Often I heard a mean spirited sort of humor, not particularly witty, just mean. It is the sort of humor I often encounter when my grandchildren are visiting and watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel children shows, both cartoon and live action. Frequently, I require them to turn the junk off, when the story line is a constant barrage of sarcasm and low humor. Many writers for children’s entertainment are not bright enough to write scripts which really entertain and challenge young minds with real humor. Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, and is often the last resort of bitter, negative, jaded minds.
We need to demand more for our children.
Secondly, I noticed that while we saw schools represented from almost every area of the state, both from the public and private sector, there were no schools represented from Northwest Georgia, outside of the Atlanta Metro area, and this troubled me greatly.
It is my sincere hope that teachers in this part of Georgia will begin to encourage their children to branch out into creative efforts of the arts and engineering, and not just scholastic endeavors of memorized trivia. After all, those students who are encouraged to participate in creative problem solving today, will be those best suited to solve the challenges of a global concerns in engineering, science and the arts tomorrow.
For those students, teachers and parents who wish to learn more about this international competition, log on to www.odysseyofthemind.com/ We are also printing this year’s problems below, so that you may get a feel for what challenges the children are up against from year to year.
And, congratulations to the many participants and winners from the State of Georgia. We wish you all good luck at the World Competition at the University of Iowa next month. And thank you to Team Charles Ellis, for allowing me access to the marvelously creative personalities of your Division I and II Teams.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program
Problem 1: Earth Trek
Divisions I, II, III , & IV
This problem requires teams to design and build a small vehicle that will visit four locations. The locations will be different places within one or more team-determined environments. Each time the vehicle leaves a location it will look different in appearance, and after leaving one of the locations it will appear to be a group of vehicles that are traveling together. The team’s performance will incorporate the visits to the locations, the environments, and the changes in appearance of the vehicle.
Problem 2: Teach Yer Creature
Divisions I, II, & III
Teams will create a humorous performance about a mechanical creature that acts like a real mammal or bird and learns lessons. The creature will act like the real animal by performing tasks the way it would, including traveling, eating, and turning its head. It will be taught two lessons by a Creature Teacher and will “accidentally” learn a behavior by observing others. During the performance the creature will surprise the audience by demonstrating the “accidental” behavior it learned
Problem 3: The Lost Labor of Heracles
Divisions I, II, III & IV
Teams will create and present an original performance about the ancient Greek hero Heracles. In Greek Mythology, King Eurytheus ordered Heracles to perform 12 labors. The team will reenact Heracles performing one of the 12 labors, as well as a Lost Labor–a team-created thirteenth labor forgotten in history. The performance will also include a god or goddess from Greek Mythology, an original mythological creature that plays a role in the Lost Labor, and the team’s version of why the Lost Labor was forgotten in history.
Problem 4: Shock Waves
Divisions I, II, III & IV
The problem is to design and build a structure out of balsa wood and glue that will balance and support as much weight as possible while absorbing shockwaves. The team will test its structure by placing weights onto it. During specific intervals the team will place one or two spacers on the top weight and will then place a weight on them. The team will remove the spacers so the top weight falls onto the stack causing a shockwave. The team will add weight until its structure breaks or time ends. The team will also create and use an original method to place its structure onto the tester and will incorporate the testing of the structure into a performance.
Problem 5: Superstition
Divisions I, II, III & IV
The problem is to create and present a performance that includes two documented superstitions, an original superstition created by the team, and the events that caused the original superstition to come to be. The performance will also include a funny narrator, a costume that is worn by two or more team members at the same time, and a stage set. During the performance the same stage set items will be used to change from one setting to another.
Primary: Candy Factory
Grades K-2 (Not competitive).
In this problem teams will create and present a performance about a Candy Maker and her/his factory. The twist is that the primary ingredient for each type of candy has to be something that is healthy. The team will create a setting that looks like the inside of its candy factory and have five samples of candies. During the performance the Candy Maker will present the candies to customers and explain how each is made.