Odyssey of the Mind | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Odyssey of the Mind

With creative fire in their bellies and anticipation sparkling in their eyes, 21 Sierra House Elementary and South Tahoe High School students are traveling to UC Davis on Saturday for the Odyssey of the Mind California finals. On the same day, 21 Kingsbury Middle School students will travel to Las Vegas for the Nevada finals.

Odyssey is an international problem-solving competition for students grades three up to college age. It aims at challenging creativity, imagination and team-work.

Each year since its 1982 inception, an Odyssey team and a major sponsor – such as NASA this year – compile five problems based on technical, classical, structural, theatrical and vehicular problems. Student teams spend several months tackling the problems and devising solutions using materials and props under $100.

“Once the kids complete the problem/solution part, they have to develop an eight-minute skit with a theme that will explain their problem and its solution to the judges,” said Sue Yang, regional Odyssey of the Mind director, in charge of six Northern California counties. “They are judged on things like creativity, scenery, props, diction and style.”

Students must also solve a spontaneous problem, challenging their ability to think quickly and clearly.

“No one knows what the spontaneous problem will be at the competition,” Yang said. “It’s either verbal or hands-on. They get one minute to think and two minutes to respond.”

Both Tahoe teams have already attended – and placed – in regionals, and with a win at state competition they would be eligible to compete in the world finals in Tennessee.

“This is something the kids have to do entirely on their own,” Yang said, referring to the months of preparation involved. “If judges perceive outside assistance, the teams get horrendous penalties. There are very tight rules and restrictions.”

A certain amount of parental involvement is necessary to ease the load on the volunteer coaches. But for some parents, the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience.

“Some of these problems are really difficult,” said parent Brian Schafer, who attended his son Forest’s team performance at a Lake Tahoe Unified School Board meeting. “Getting it all together is a real mind-bender. The ones who do well work really hard and you can tell.”

Volunteers are always welcome, Yang added, anyone interested will be trained free of cost.

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