It took creativity, ingenuity and smarts for six Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen seventh-graders to make it to the Odyssey of the Mind world competition over Memorial Day Weekend.
“It wasn’t luck; it’s skill,” team member Luke Johnson said of the group’s first year in the competition.
In the category that the team competed in, it took first place at the Longs Peak Regional Tournament and first place in the state competition, earning a spot at the world competition at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Team members in addition to Luke are Nick Weist, Bryce Streett, Megan Shaver, Hannah Hamid and Vonie Grubb.
While the team took 34th place out of 40 teams in its category and age group, members are proud of how much they accomplished, especially for being in its first year. They’re already talking about the new challenges — and another trip to the world championship — next year.
“It will be the same team, the same plan (of working together), and we will go to worlds again,” Luke said confidently.
Odyssey of the Mind, which is sponsored in part by NASA, challenges students from all over the world — in elementary, middle and high school, and college — to find creative solutions to problems.
As Luke put it, “Odyssey of the Mind found us because we’re strange.”
Well, maybe not strange, but these students are less into sports and other activities and more into doing well in school.
“Odyssey of the Mind allows us to use different ways of thinking,” Bryce said.
Kathy Grubb, who works at RMAE, became the team’s coach after several students, including her daughter, expressed interest in participating.
“OM is about kids being creative on their own,” Grubb said. “They have different skills, and sometimes there’s not a place to show off those skills. This is really creative and a bit outside the box.”
The team was formed after art teacher Brinda Lane-Pumphrey told her students about the program. The seventh-graders, who have been friends since kindergarten, were interested in giving it a try. Another team was formed at the elementary-school level, and it placed second at the state championship.
The middle-school team chose to solve a problem where it had to send three “e-mails” by some means other than a computer. Plus, there must be a skit with costumes and props to go with it.
The problem presented by Odyssey of the Mind is really specific. According to the challenge explained on the website: “A Sender character will send three e-mails: one that requires a return receipt, one with a work of art as an attachment and one that goes through a SPAM filter. Two of the e-mails will go to a Receiver character and another will go to an offbeat location. Each e-mail will pass through a central server before reaching its final destination. Team members are not allowed to touch the e-mails while the server is processing the messages.”
Team members created a series of pulleys and ropes to move the “e-mails” from location to location. They created a skit based on the British “Dr. Who” television series, only they called it “Dr. Moo.” Nick, for example, played Dr. Moo. Luke sang a version of Handel’s “Moo-siah,” and Megan was Le-udder-nardo Moo-vinci, who painted the Moona Lisa.
A strong rule of Odyssey of the Mind is that parents and teachers are not allowed to be involved with the process. They are there, according to parent Kelly Weist, to make sure no one gets hurt and to feed the participants.
“Parents and coaches are not even allowed to say something as simple as, ‘You need to be louder,’ ” she said.
The group met weekly at the school to work on the skit, the props and the mechanical pulley system, which took research and trial-and-error to create. Most of the props were made from recycled materials, and the costumes were from thrift shops.
As part of the competition, teams also must solve an extemporaneous problem. They are given the problem and a time limit, and they present their solutions to the judges.
A world-class presentation
Getting the team to the world championships in Michigan took some logistics and a lot of driving. The team had two weeks to make travel arrangements, and Weist drove to Michigan with her vehicle loaded with props, the set and costumes.
Think of the Odyssey of the Mind world championships as the Olympics for creative, intelligent students. More than 15,000 people attended the opening ceremony, and teams walked into the stadium much like they do at the Olympics. Team members bring pins that they trade with other teams, much like at the Olympics, too.
“There were 750 teams from around the world, and 12 countries represented,” Weist said. “It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life.”
Bryce added: “I didn’t think (Odyssey of the Mind) would be that big.”
Team members say they learned a lot by watching other teams and seeing what it took to win first place in their category. That has them motivated.
“We’re going to be confident and do our best,” Megan said. “There’s a possibility (going to worlds) can happen again.”
Grubb added: “I’m really proud of the work they did. They learned to work together as a team and to channel their creativity. It was a really good experience.”