- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

What do you get when school-aged children are challenged to come up with the most creative, original, imaginative ways to solve problems?
The answer could be found yesterday at the 22nd annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at the University of Maryland in College Park, where 700 teams of students from around the world showcased solutions to problems they solved through innovation and ingenuity.
The teams from almost every state and nearly 20 countries worked since last summer solving a range of problems through skits they created, all on their own and all in the name of fun.
"This type of competition encourages them to think outside the box," said Paulette Campbell, a coach who traveled to the competition with her team from Raleigh, N.C. "Its a wonderful thing because it teaches them how to build self-confidence and work as a team."
Each team solves one of five long-term problems and competes against others in the same category and age group. The teams who came to the world finals yesterday had advanced through their preliminary competitions back home.
Teams in the finals were scored in three areas: the long-term problem, in which they prepared solutions in the form of skits and brought them to competition; style, or the enhancement of the long-term problem solutions; and the spontaneous problem, given to the team on the day of the competition that tested the teams ability to "think on their feet."
"Odyssey of the Mind encourages students to do their best, recognizes each students accomplishment, and allows each student to be exposed to others ideas," said Sam Micklus, problem author and program founder. "Although only 16 or so teams will be named world champions, every participant is a winner by working hard and going beyond the expected to tackle problems that challenge their skill and intellect."
Parents who watched their children compete yesterday agreed.
"It really encourages them to do independent thinking," said Anita Dezendorf, whose son Travis was competing. "It teaches them to make their own decisions without having to rely on anyone else."
Most of the teams spent yesterday afternoon rehearsing their skits and fine-tuning their production sets before taking the stage for the long-term portion of the competition. This years challenges were Techno-Pets, Ody-See-ing Sounds, Wild.Winged.Wonders, Achilles Heel and Idiom Inspiration.
In the Ody-See-ing Sounds competition, for example, students had to act out an eight-minute skit that included 10 sound effects. Six of the sound effects had to be performed by two hand-built devices, and four could be made any way the team wished.
Across campus, students who competed in the Techno-Pets contest had to use cardboard and other common materials to design two "pets," each of which would perform eight tasks, including sounding a warning, retrieving an object and sleeping.
The teams also practiced quick responses for what the students said was the most difficult part of the finals: the spontaneous competition, where they had to quickly answer questions like "Name something that opens something else."
"Thats the toughest part," said Tim Lehman, 14, a student from Chickahominy Middle School in Ashland, Va., whose team received good marks in the long-term competition. "We dont know whats going to happen in that part."
Although it may be stressful at times, coming up with different solutions is what attracts the students. The teams meet after school nearly every day and on weekends to devise problem-solving techniques.
"This is like the Olympics of the mind," Kathy Botkins, 14, said after her team from Simpson Middle School in Leesburg, Va., completed the long-term competition. "This gives us a chance to express our creativity and it gives us a sense of accomplishment when we perform our routines. Its a lot of fun."
The most important element of the competition, students say, is showing school pride.
"Being here makes us feel really proud," said Sarah Hurley, 14, another student at Simpson Middle School. "We have a chance to represent our school at the world. Thats a big deal."

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