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March 31, 2010 > Challenging fun

Challenging fun

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Doris Nikolaidis

Thinking outside the box is synonymous with Odyssey of the Mind. The program, initiated more than 25 years ago by Dr. Sam Micklus, now is an international competition. Dr. Micklus taught Industrial Design at Rowan University in New Jersey. He presented his students with varied challenges: create vehicles without wheels, flotation devices which would take them across a course on a lake, and mechanical pie throwers. In his evaluations, he emphasized inventiveness and the involvement of risk, rather than success. The projects were so much fun that word spread and attracted local media outlets.

Subsequent community awareness caused the development of an inventive problem-solving competition for school-aged children. Odyssey of the Mind was the result. Now Dr. Micklus, a professor emeritus, is working out problems for other people to solve. Millions of participants, around the world, have accepted the challenge of solving those problems. Currently, about 26 countries, including the U.S.A., welcome this opportunity.

The Odyssey of the Mind website lists six goals, which include developing team-building skills, identifying real challenges in problems, nurturing creative-thinking, offering a broad range of problems, increasing interest in regular curricula, and providing teachers with a program to provide a well-rounded education. Students from kindergarten through college are involved.

Locally, teams from area schools joined in the Silicon Valley Regional Competition held in San Jose on March 6. Fremont schools that participated were Forest Park Elementary, Gomes Elementary, Mission San Jose Elementary, Warm Springs Elementary, Hopkins Junior High, and Mission San Jose High School. Rounding out the list were Challenger School in Newark and Delaine Eastin Elementary in Union City. All schools took pride in their students, as did the volunteer parent coaches.

The consensus was that next year more teams would take part. Several teams won 1st and 2nd places and will proceed to the State competition. Problems to be solved ranged from building mechanical devices to presenting interpretations of literary classics. The categories were Nature Trail'R, Return to The Gift of Flight, Discovered Treasures, Column Structure, Food Court, and Primary Surprise Party. Read on to learn about the variety. The "sky is the limit."

Delaine Eastin Elementary School's challenge was in the Discovered Treasures category. The 3rd grade team needed to present a discovery from the past and discover a current structure sometime in the future. This team had one main coach and one assistant.

Forest Park Elementary's fourth grade class went to the regional contest. The principal gave them the opportunity to practice presenting their problem to their classmates. This was a chance to experience speaking before a large audience.

Gomes Elementary had twelve teams, from kindergarten through sixth grade. Among all the entries, these are two examples: The Balsa Salsa Boys had a challenge of determining the weight an 18 gram column structure would hold. Their solution was named "Uses for Useless Things." The Winsome Veggies team performed a humorous skit for the Food Court category.

A Mission San Jose Elementary School parent mentioned the spontaneous category. Judges presented a problem that students had to solve on the spot. This was a bit difficult for the 3rd grade group but it won high scores for the main performance. MSJ's primary team worked in the non-competitive category and gave a performance about Martin Luther King and equality. Four coaches worked with MSJ Elementary teams.

Hopkins Junior High's team worked on a long-term problem in the Nature Trail category. To summarize, it required creating an innovative vehicle to travel in the gold rush era (1850) and then completing the journey in the futuristic techno-rush era. Obstacles were encountered on the journey. A team-created character, a thousand year old tree, narrated the presentation. Hopkins had a primary coach and two assistants.
"Odyssey of the Mind certainly is a great way to promote creativity and problem solving with the contest that they conduct," affirms Paul Miller, executive director of Kidango, a non-profit child development organization. "Congratulations to all the participants."

State Competition
Saturday, March 27
Heritage High School
101 American Avenue, Brentwood
(925) 634-0037

2010 World Finals
May 26 - May 29
Michigan State University

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