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Brain Benders

three EC schools head to Odyssey of the Mind World Finals

Allison Puestow

BLUE RIBBON DAY. The Northstar Middle School team celebrates at the state tournament in Madison in March.
BLUE RIBBON DAY. The Northstar Middle School team celebrates at the state tournament
in Madison in March.

What do you get when you set up odd problems in need of creative solutions from students of all ages? The answer is Odyssey of the Mind, and international education program designed to help students learn how to creatively solve problems in different situations while having fun in the process. This year, students from South Middle School, Northstar Middle School, and Memorial High School have qualified to compete at the Odyssey of the Mind 2014 World Finals. The competition will be May 28-31 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

“Odyssey of the Mind teaches students life skills, to think on their feet, and to problem solve in the real world. It also teaches them to work effectively with a group.” – Liz Poteete, Northstar Middle School Odyssey of the Mind coach“Odyssey of the Mind teaches students life skills, to think on their feet, and to problem solve in the real world,” said Liz Poteete, who will be coaching the Northstar Middle School team in the World Finals for the second year in a row. “It also teaches them to work effectively with a group.”

Each year, five problems are given to the teams to solve; at competitions, an on-the-spot problem also is given. These problems are open-ended, allowing teams to come up with any number of possible solutions, and each problem appeals to a wide range of interests. For example, one of this year’s problems is creating a “not-so-haunted house” with four special effects and without the white-knuckle scream-fest you get at most haunted houses.

Problems can range from building mechanical devices to presenting the students’ own interpretation of literary classics. Teams can work in five broad categories: mechanical, classical, performance, structure, and technical performance. They then present their solutions at competitions at the local, state, and world levels.

Teams can compete in four divisions based on their grade level, from kindergarten through college. Odyssey of the Mind is also a worldwide competition, with participant teams from nearly 25 countries and nearly every state in the union. More than 800 teams will compete at the 35th Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

Poteete has been coaching Odyssey of the Mind teams for the past five years. Her Northstar team has had an incredible run so far this year: They ranked first out of 17 in their division and scored first in all three judging categories. She expects to see “fabulous, outrageous solutions to the problems” presented at the World Finals. With such a wide range of students from around the world, I wouldn’t doubt it.