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Odyssey of the Mind challenges students to think creatively

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Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 4:04 pm

ALLEGANY — While many kids spent Saturday morning watching cartoons, hundreds of Western New York kids were putting their problem-solving skills to work.

Forty-six teams from 11 area school districts gathered to brainstorm at the Allegany-Limestone Middle/High School on Saturday, March 3, for the annual Odyssey of the Mind regional competition, sponsored by the Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program in which students in kindergarten through college come up with creative ways to solve problems ranging 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 United States and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.

Dr. Sam Micklus, a former industrial designer, started the Odyssey of the Mind program in 1978 while a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey (formerly Glassboro State College). Instead of lecturing and giving exams, Micklus would grade his students on their ability to solve problems he presented. Micklus thought children also would have fun dissecting problems and creating solutions. Public interest led to the development of a creative problem-solving competition for school students.

BOCES Student Program Manager Cindy Crandall said the main objective of the Odyssey of the Mind is creative problem solving and team building. There’s no right or wrong answer for each problem — just many different, creative solutions.

Crandall said there were 46 teams competing in three divisions at the regional competition in Allegany.

“We don’t do pre-K and kindergarten divisions,” she said. “We do Division I, II and III, which covers early elementary, middle elementary and high school.”

According to Crandall, each school selects the children differently. Some schools use it as a ‘gifted and talented’ program, while other schools have an application process of sorts where people submit a reason why their child wants to be in the program. She said some children have been in the Odyssey of the Mind since third grade and continue to participate in the program year after year.

Crandall said, in Divisions I, II, and III of each of those problems, the first place team goes on to the state competition in Binghamton on March 31. She said Ellicottville has been to Denver, some schools have been to Iowa and other area schools have gone on to the World Finals.

She said Randolph, Ellicottville and Salamanca schools were the only schools participating from this area. She said Randolph is relatively new to the game with this being their fifth year. One new team took second place this year at the regional tournament .

“Ellicottville and Salamanca have been competing in The Odyssey of the Mind for a long time,” she said. “There haven’t been any recent years in which they haven’t won at the regional level and gone on to the state level.”

Odyssey teams are judged on a long-term problem and a spontaneous problem.

The long-term problems change every year and fall into five general categories, which are mechanical/vehicle, technical performance, classics, structure and performance.

Students begin working on the long-term problems in the fall. Teams are able to choose one of five problems, which they must solve by performing an 8-minute skit. The skit, props, backdrop and costumes are all made by team-members, without outside assistance.

Teams must also solve spontaneous verbal or hands-on problems on the spot. They may need to answer a question or build something together. The more creative the teams are with their answers, the more points they receive.

There is a monetary budget within which the Odyssey teams must work and strict rules about just how much help the team can get from its coach.

Each year, NASA sponsors one of the long-term problems. This year’s problem, entitled “Weird Science,” challenged Divisions I, II, III and IV. The teams created and presented a performance about a team of scientists on an expedition to uncover the cause of mysterious events. Each team selected the location of the expedition from NASA Earth Observatory Photographs. The scientists (actors) collected two samples and reported on their findings. The performance also included a technical representation of the mysterious events, the appearance of actually traveling, and a team-created device that the scientists used on the expedition.

The goal is to teach students, of all grade levels, to work together and develop problem-solving skills they can use in the future. Each group must learn to function as a tight-knit team as they are learning teamwork, collaboration, brainstorming and resourcefulness.

The event was attended by the following schools: Allegany-Limestone, 5 teams; Belfast, 2 teams; Bolivar-Richburg, 3 teams; Ellicottville ,5 teams; Friendship, 1 team; Franklinville, 2 teams; Genesee Valley, 6 teams; Immaculate Conception in Wellsville, 1 team; Randolph, 3 teams; Salamanca, 6 teams; Scio, 1 team; and Wellsville, 9 teams.

Area Odyssey teams placed as follows:

• Problem #1 - Oo-Motional Vehicle: Division 1 - first, Salamanca. Division 2 - first, Immaculate Conception; second, Salamanca.

• Problem #2 - Weird Science: Division 1 - first, Wellsville; second, Randolph; third, Bolivar-Richburg. Division 2 - first, Wellsville; second, Franklinville; third, Belfast. Division 3 - first, Wellsville; second, Allegany-Limestone; third, Bolivar-Richburg.

• Problem #3 – To Be or Not to Be: Division 1 - first, Wellsville; second, Salamanca. Division 2 - first, Ellicottville; second, Wellsville; third, Allegany-Limestone. Division 3 - first, Wellsville; second, Ellicottville; third, Allegany-Limestone.

• Problem #4 - You Make the Call: Division 1 - first, Salamanca; second, Genesee Valley. Division 2 - first, Salamanca; second, Genesee Valley. Division 3 - first, Salamanca; second, Scio.

(Salamanca has dominated this ‘structure problem’ for many years)

Problem #5 - Odyssey Angels: Division 1 - first, Wellsville; second, Ellicottville; third, Belfast. Division 2 - first, Wellsville; second, Ellicottville; third, Franklinville. Division 3 - first, Wellsville; second, Ellicottville; third, Allegany-Limestone.

(Those problems with less than 3 winners only had one or two teams competing in that problem/division.)

According to Crandall, each year, Odyssey of the Mind assigns a “lottery slot” for one, second place team from a specific problem and division, to attend the State Competition. This year, the lottery slot is for Problem #5, Division 1. Therefore, Ellicottville’s second place team will also advance to the State Competition in Binghamton on March 31.

For more information, call Crandall at (716) 376-8284 or go online to www.caboces.org or www.odysseyofthemind.com.

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