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What is Odyssey of the Mind?

posted May 7, 2009, 10:38 AM by Michelle Kretzschmar
by Michelle Kretzschmar

Odyssey of the Mind is one of the activities offered by HERO. To get an official version of what is Odyssey of the Mind, visit the Odyssey of the Mind website at My quick version is that it's a creative problem solving competition that requires kids to be responsible for all work and ideas. In other words, no parental assistance a la school science fair projects. Any help from non-team members, whether in building a structure or the providing the original idea for the structure, is considered "outside assistance" and can be penalized.

The way it works is that you form a team of five to seven kids. The team then selects a long term problem to work on and present at a regional competition. There are five problems to choose from and you can see a summary of the problem on the Odyssey of the Mind website. The problems range from the very technical balsa wood structure problem to the completely theatrical performance problem. The team works on the long term problem during the year and practice for a spontaneous problem that they will receive at the tournament.

The great thing about Odyssey of the Mind is that it has something for everyone's interest. All problems require and eight minute skit to present the solution. There is always a need for acting, props, and scripts. Two of the problems always require technical work as well in either building a structure or a some sort of car. You don't have to act if you don't want to and you don't have to build either. The critical aspect is that you will have to work on a team. This is a team problem solving competition and requires everyone to learn to work with one another.

The actual process starts in August. During that time period I will have information sessions at the library explaining what Odyssey of the Mind is about and doing spontaneous problems with the kids. After the information sessions, we meet weekly for a couple hours working on team building and problem solving skills as well as more spontaneous problems. During this time I encourage everyone to give serious thought to if this is how they want spend their time for the next few months. As we get closer to competition (end of February, beginning of March), it becomes a major commitment. The teams will meet more often and individual members will have more responsibilities to complete on their own.

 I don't actually form teams and allow them to pick a problem until the end of October. The main reason is that once a team starts working on a long term problem, everyone who works on it is required to be listed on the roster. If we already have seven members and someone quits, we cannot replace them. That's why I want everyone to take their time and decide that Odyssey is right for them before they make a commitment. Basically, I spend the first two months trying to scare everyone off. Last year we started with 20 kids and ended up with ten.

There is no "typical" problem solution. The first year, our team made puppets and was the only team to do so at the competition. The second year, they made "launchers" that propelled paper machier "green house gases" into the atmosphere. Last year they made a set of "Mars Rovers" that was supposed to complete an obstacle course. This year they built a device out of pvc pipe that could extent and transfer items from area to another. And none of these solutions looked like any of the other solutions presented at the competition.

The competition is fun and we have done well enough each year to send at least one team to the state competition. However, if you are going to spend six month working on this project, you can't being doing it just to win. Odyssey of the Mind is really about the process rather than the solution. In solving the problem, the team members learn to think for themselves, how to compromise and interact with others, and how to come up with ideas when they don't think they have any. It is absolutely nerve-racking for the parents since you can see such an obvious solution but can't say anything although many have experimented with telepathy with mixed results.

If you are interested in Odyssey of the Mind, you don't have to do it on my team or even with HERO. We have had HERO teams form in both Bandera and Floresville. You don't even have to have five kids, two of our teams had only four.  I would be happy to help out anyone who is interested in forming a team.