Delaware students gather for Odyssey of the Mind
By EDWARD L. KENNEY, The News Journal
Posted Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 6:42 pm
Hundreds students from across the state flexed their mental muscles during problem-solving exercises today at the University of Delaware.
They participated in the 28th annual Delaware Odyssey of the Mind tournament for grades 3-12 that does for brainpower what the Olympics achieves with muscular might.
"It covers it all," said Mary Kay Valentine, co-director of Delcaps Inc., a volunteer organization that runs the competition. "It's math, science, history, arts, music, literature, even vo-tech arts."
This year's competition drew about 1,100 students, causing organizers to split some of the divisions to get everyone in, she said.
The competition was spread out in six university buildings.
At Smith Hall, a team of fifth-grade girls from Caravel Academy in Bear dressed in handmade white robes and carted handmade scenery to one of the classrooms for a problem-solving exercise that required a stage performance.
The girls were dressed as slaves, and demonstrated how a Muse helped inspire Harriet Tubman to form the Underground Railroad to help other slaves seek freedom.
Cecelia Poole, 11, who portrayed Tubman, said she enjoyed the exercise, which took about a month to put together.
"I like it because it's challenging and you really have to think to get it done," she said. "Everyone has to put their minds together in order to finish it."
"It prepares them going forward as far as being a leader, being a thinker," added Michele Cooper, a team coach and parent. "It shows them different levels of diversity."
Joe Ambrosino, a music teacher at Downes Elementary School in Newark, was in charge of the "classics" category that featured the Tubman play. He said participants had to describe how one of the Greek Muses - ancient goddesses of inspiration - could motivate a moment of creativity or invention in a real-world character who died before 1950.
"It's all generated by the kids themselves," he said. "They're not allowed to have any outside assistance. It teaches them how to think outside the box to create a real-world solution. Different think tanks like NASA support this process."
Several judges sat at the front of the room and rated each performance.
"Their creativity is pretty amazing," judge Kae Mason of Dover said of the contestants. "I think it's phenomenal. I love Odyssey of the Mind. It just encourages children to work as a team, to think outside of their normal school parameters."
Children in other university buildings, among other things created balsa-wood structures to see which could hold the most weight, competed in a road rally with vehicles of their own design and construction, and staged a team-created skit to show their theory of what caused dinosaurs to become extinct.
Winning teams will compete in the international championship held at the end of May and beginning of June at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Delcaps co-director Ron Raab-Long said the competition was started in Glassboro, N.J., by Sam Micklus, a professor of industrial design at the former Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), who challenged his students to build a vehicle that could cross a pond on campus.
"It got local press coverage, and it just grew from there," Raab-Long said.
The Delaware Odyssey of the Mind competition started in 1981, challenging thousands of students each year to raise the academic bar through teamwork and ingenuity.
"In a team, everybody's ideas are important, even the most bizarre," Raab-Long said. "It's sometimes the most bizarre ideas that turn out to be the most creative. It allows people to come up with things that have never been considered in the past."
Contact Edward L. Kenney at 324-2891