Student Group Qualifies For Odyssey Of The Mind World Finals


A group of 9- and 10-year-old friends from Severna Park accepted a mission to solve a specific problem with an infinite number of solutions: designing, building and running a vehicle with a team-created rider that traveled to a drive-in theater.

Mission impossible or fascinating exercise in ingenuity?

The Odyssey of the Mind (OM) program was co-founded by C. Samuel Micklus and Theodore Gourley in 1978 to challenge New Jersey students in 28 schools to stretch their creative problem-solving skills through writing, art and theatrical performance, with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering and math, long before the discipline of STEM was formalized. The demanding yet quirky problems presented to students - along with the expansive evaluation rubric - quickly caught on and the Odyssey of the Mind program went international by the 1980s.

Today, more than 800 international seven-member teams from around the globe take on a long-term problem from one of five categories – vehicle, technical, classics, structure and performance – for a chance to show off their creative solutions at the world finals held each year in the United States in late May. Teams from four age divisions, from third grade through college, work on their assigned problem for months with highly restricted adult involvement and limited to no more than $150 for all supplies.

Nicole Wise grew up in the southwest and was an “OMer” from a young age. She recalled how the OM creative thinking nurtured her natural propensity to think and analyze in a certain way. Wise now recognizes that her fourth-grade son Clayton’s approach to learning is similar to her own. She decided to form an OM team to fuel his appetite for critical thought learning. She invited six of his friends to form a team.

“Clayton has a natural curiosity to go beyond a problem or answer and to really look at the process of getting to a conclusion,” Wise said. “He asks questions, challenges answers and considers other options.”

OM challenges the participants to choose one of the identified problems and find a solution using creativity, science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. This was the Severna Park group’s first year participating in OM, but the seven students collectively took first place in their division for their chosen problem, which qualified them for the world finals at Iowa State University from May 21-24.

Wise said the team worked together for many months, creatively challenged each other, and ultimately came up with a solution that all of the team members were proud of and that included each of their contributions. The seven friends learned cooperation, compromise and ultimately changed their thought process to problem solving.

“Through the OM team, my mind has changed to think a different way. When I can find a way to solve a problem, I now think and ask if it is a good way,” explained Valerie Plessinger, a fourth-grade team member. “For example, if a teacher says, ‘This is the way to solve this problem,’ I now think of other ways to solve a problem, too. I also think about if those ways would really work.”

Elysa Wilt said her experience with Odyssey of the Mind made her realize that no idea is a bad idea, and just because something seems impossible at first doesn’t mean that it is.

“This experience will help me in my classes because I think it will help me reach more creative answers that I wouldn’t normally consider or come up with different ways of solving things,” Elysa said. “It was really fun to work together and see how our different creative skills [complemented] each other.”

Monica Wilt, Elysa’s mother, said she saw the group grow in their ability to compromise with each other and blend their ideas to come up with the best possible solution.

“Elysa is very creative and likes to come up with problems and stories in her mind and with her friends,” said the elder Wilt. “What I liked about this experience was that she was given a problem to solve, and the final result might not have been something she would have normally done so it stretched her creativity.”

Rather than being overwhelmed with a problem he might initially think is too complex or too difficult to approach, Wes Kamas said the Odyssey of the Mind experience taught him “that the more interesting the questions and problems, the more fun you can have with the solutions.” Wes added that he truly enjoyed working with his friends to fix a problem together, and learning more about engineering, magnets, circuits and even art.

Although the inaugural team qualified for the world finals this year in Ames, Iowa, they opted not to attend the competition. Now that they have experienced the entire process, the team is excited to participate in OM next school year for a second opportunity at worlds.

Schools and individuals interested in forming an Odyssey of the Mind team can visit for more information on the program or to register a team.


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