Odyssey of the mind is a creative outlet

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Odyssey of the Mind can lead to the development of leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills for students throughout the U.S. and many other countries. Team members apply creativity to solve problems that range from building devices, to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. The teams then bring their solutions to competitions on local, state, and world levels based on how far their team gets.

“Odyssey of the Mind is super fun and you learn a lot of valuable skills, like thinking outside the box and presenting/performing in front of a crowd,” said Lauren Andrews, a junior on FHC’s OM team.

This program pushes students from age groups, ranging kindergarten through college, to be able to independently find solutions to problems without help from coaches or adults.

“You cannot tell them what to do. Otherwise, it is outside assistance and the team gets penalty points for that,” said team coordinator Neven Allan. “You can ask them ‘how can you think of different ways of…’ instead of saying ‘I think you really need to do this and this.’”

As team coordinator, Allan helps them in any way possible. She helps them practice for Spontaneous, a segment of the competition, and she offers space when needed, and she also was the regional director here for about eight years. In addition to those things, Allan is the pin designer for FHPS.

The pins in OM competitions are traded at states as well as within our Forest Hills community alone. The pins in OM are a huge pastime. When you are not competing or watching, you try to go around and collect pins from other teams.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Allan said. “It gets the kids to talk to each other. Kids will go up to another team and say something like, ‘I’ve got this pin; are you willing to trade that one with me?’ It’s just so much fun for them to do at competitions.”

This year, World Finals are at Michigan State. The program is so big that there are only two places in the U.S. large enough to hold the teams at opening and closing ceremonies: The Colosseum at University of Iowa in Ames and Breslin at Michigan State. This year there will be about 900 teams from all over the U.S, and 22 to 25 different countries.

“China is huge, Hong Kong is huge, and Poland is a huge force to be reckoned with,” Allan said. “There is also South Korea. Russia comes sometimes, and we’ve had Uzbekistan and the little country of Togo, which is in Africa.”

Unlike other team based organizations, OM is all about creativity. This is often overlooked in the growth of many students. Kids are rewarded more for how they apply their knowledge, skills, and talents, and not for coming up with the correct answer. In OM problems, there is never one right answer. Teams are scored for their long-term problem solution and how well they solve a spontaneous problem on the spot.

In OM, there are five different problems. There is always a vehicle problem, which is problem one, there is a technical problem, which is problem two, and there is a classic problem, which is number three. Problem three is a performance that either ties to literature or the arts.

Problem number four is always a structure problem, which is where you take 15 grams of balsa wood that weighs the same as 15 paperclips and you build a structure according to the parameters of the problem. The objective is to hold as much weight as possible; the record is 1500 pounds.

The fifth and final problem is a performance problem. It is a skit and it’s more character development in terms of that problem.

FHC’s  Construction Team won regionals, and competed at State, coming in 3rd place and losing 2nd by 1.32 points. They also placed the second highest in weight held, second highest in style, and third in Spontaneous. OM starts in September or October, based on how the teams get organized. The first competition is in February; World Finals are in May, and FHC has 7 teams attending this year.

In the upcoming month, OM teams will be preparing and practicing their ability to stretch their knowledge and prove their creativity to compete at World Finals located at MSU this May.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s also a lot of fun,” Allan said.

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