Odyssey of the Mind

Don't be surprised if, someday, the world's most challenging problems are solved by some very creative, Edmond youngsters from Summit Middle School and the Hurst Reading Center.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that challenges students to use their creativity to solve problems that would have even the brightest adult minds scratching their heads. Participants compete against thousands of teams throughout the U.S. and from about twenty-five countries worldwide by trying to solve problems that have no one-right-answer. Students are rewarded for how well they apply their knowledge, skills and talents.
Pamala van der Veldt and her partner, Lori Young, have been Odyssey coaches for the last four years. Both of their teams won first place in the regional and state competitions, which qualified them to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University. There, the middle school team placed 7th out of 50 teams, and the elementary school came in 21st out of 67 teams.

"We are so proud of our kids," said Pamala, "They competed against the best and the brightest students here in the United States and from around the globe, including China, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and many more. "They put in a lot of work all year, doing all the thinking and physical work themselves. It was so exciting to see them march into the arena at Michigan State. It's was like watching Olympic champions."

To participate in Odyssey of the Mind, each team (five to seven children) is given a choice of five problems in the categories of vehicle, structure, humorous, classic or a NASA sponsored problem. The middle school team chose a classic problem with two technical aspects and the elementary school chose the NASA problem. The middle school problem was titled, "The Large and Small of It." The team had to create three "story pages" which changed three dimensionally on each page.

The elementary school problem, "Around the World in Eight Minutes," was a performance about a world traveler who started on a trip at the South Pole, stopping at three different geological locations. In the World Finals, teams also had to solve a "spontaneous" problem on the spot, in addition to presenting their long-term project. The judges were volunteers from around the world.

"After our middle school team designed a small version of their three pages, they also recreated it as stage set, six feet high and nine feet wide," said Pamala. "It was quite technical and elaborate with a lot of pop-ups and drop-downs. Each page was also very decorative – one was done in a medieval combination of calligraphy and vine work. There were dragons with big, red wings, a knight, princess, labyrinth …a lot going on.

Although Odyssey of the Mind is competitive, the emphasis is on each child being the best he or she can be. They learn from each other and often cheer for their competitors.

"Schools tend to place a great deal of emphasis on competitive sports developing leadership," said Pamala. "One of the great things about Odyssey of the Mind is that it helps develop the skills that tomorrow's leaders will truly need to solve complex, global problems, cooperation, respect, and creative, out-of-the-box thinking."

Pamala said that the students begin working on their solutions by meeting once a week until Christmas vacation and then twice a week or more until the first competition.

"This takes a big commitment from these kids," said Pamala. "They work together four hours after school and all day Saturday. They have to come up with the ideas, write scripts, do the painting, make the props, create art and even sew their own costumes. Since each team has a dollar maximum they can spend, they learn at an early age the importance of stretching a dollar."

Pamala's partner, Lori, volunteers her home as a meeting place. There's always a lot of activity with twelve kids, four coaches, parents, and siblings running in and out. Duct tape and paint, even toothpicks, are spread out everywhere, not to mention all the hammering, brainstorming and laughing.

"We want them to have a good time," said Pamala. "It's worth it to me and the other coaches to watch these kids stretch, grow and really blossom through this process. It's the same type of reward that you get watching kids grow from a baby to a toddler. The growth in maturity is amazing. They're like butterflies emerging from cocoons."
Anyone who would like more information on Odyssey of the Mind can visit the website at www.odysseyofthemind.com.

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