By Mary Heyl
Things are heating up next weekend in Randolph as Randolph Central School (RCS) prepares to host the 2015 regional Odyssey of the Mind competition on Saturday, March 14.
Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international educational program for teams of elementary through college students to solve problems using creative thinking, brainstorming, teamwork and problem solving skills. The program is designed to teach the concept that “a group is a more powerful thinking force than an individual.” Although OM is more than 30 years old, this is the first year RCS has hosted the regional competition.
Randolph Elementary School Principal and OM Coordinator Jerry Mottern has been looking forward to the school being the site of a regional competition for quite some time. Past regional OM competitions have taken place at schools located more centrally in Cattaraugus County, such as Salamanca, Wellsville and Allegany-Limestone. Both RCS and Ellicottville Central School (ECS) are part of the same BOCES region, which is made up of 22 schools in western New York, but next Saturday’s competition also includes home-schooled teams and teams from area private schools.
Founded in 1978 by Dr. Sam Micklus, a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, OM challenges students to do more than arrive at the answer to a problem. OM asks students to engage their creativity, draw on the strengths of each team member and take risks in order to find a solution.
According to Colleen Bower, OM coordinator at ECS, in September, student teams choose one of OM’s five long-term problems to solve with their teammates in preparation for the regional competition in March. Problems range from the mechanical (design a vehicle to travel on tracks without touching the floor) to the classical (translate the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box to a multi-level video game). Students work in teams of five to seven students, all of whom are in the same age division. Division I consists of elementary students (fourth and fifth grade); division II consists of middle school students (sixth through eighth grade); and division III consists of high schoolers.
Bower has five teams participating in the regional competition who have been working diligently on their long-term problems all year. Not only do teams present these solutions at the regionals, but they are also required to solve a “spontaneous” problem that is given to them on the day of the competition. After arriving at a solution, teams demonstrate to the judges what sets their solution apart from that of other teams; these points for style are crucial to a team’s success.
The team that earns first place will go on to the state competition, which is held at SUNY Binghamton every year, and the top two state-level teams go on to the World Finals, which takes place at Michigan State University in May. Now in her 12th year with OM, Bower has led ECS teams to the World Finals twice.
According to RCS Superintendent Kimberly Moritz, students have much to gain from participation in OM.
“Every student needs an opportunity to excel,” explained Moritz. “For some that’s on the athletic field and for others it’s through an experience like Odyssey of the Mind.”
Indeed, the teamwork that OM requires is an essential life skill that takes students far beyond high school graduation. Bower explained that the experience of working under a deadline and working within the budget allotted for each problem are practical skills that benefit students well into adulthood.
Mottern noted that former OM students (OMers) have approached him as adults to remark on how useful their OM skills are in their careers. Just as important, though, are the friendships that are formed among team members. Mottern noted, “When you have students working this closely together, for all those hours at a time, it’s hard not to bond with each other.”
The competition is a great way for community members to experience the creative and competitive spirit of OM firsthand. “You’ll see a group of kids who are really proud of what they’ve accomplished together,” Bower commented.
Community members are welcome to be a part of this exciting day as spectators, but can also learn about getting involved with OM as a volunteer or judge for future competitions. For more information, visit www.odysseyofthemind.com.