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Students sharpen minds
Team earns spot in Odyssey of the Mind world competition


By Marietta Homayonpour and Eileen FitzGerald Staff Writers

BETHEL -- Balsa wood, glue and golf balls combined to test the ingenuity, creativity and cooperative skills of seven Johnson School students during a recent competition.

"I learned that it takes a lot of effort to get one small thing done when you have to share the responsibility," Marika Gutzman, a fourth grader at Johnson School said about a project she and six other girls voluntarily undertook as part of the international program Odyssey of the Mind.

In the Balsa Wood Tee Structure problem, the fourth- and fifth-grade girls built a lightweight platform that managed to hold 102 pounds on a board that was on top of golf balls.

Building a structure that could hold so much weight earned the girls first place in their division at the state competition last month.

The victory guarantees the team a spot at the world Odyssey of the Mind competition set for the end of May at the University of Maryland.

At a special assembly at Johnson School Friday, team members recreated their project for the entire school. They were enthusiastically applauded even though they had to use a backup structure that wasn't as strong as their original and collapsed under less weight than their winning model.

Johnson School principal Cathy Gombos brought on stage the students who formed four other teams that took part in Odyssey of the Mind and praised their hard work and sharp minds. Judges give all teams in competition a spontaneous problem to solve, such as creating something out of a pencil and pipe cleaner.

"You have to be a really quick thinker to be in this competition," Gombos said.

Odyssey of the Mind competition allows students from kindergarten through college to apply their creativity to solving problems ranging from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

Teams work on problems for months with an adult mentor and then bring their solutions to compete on the local, state, and world level.

The interaction with new people at the competitions is appealing to 10-year-old Paris Wyard of the Johnson School's balsa wood team.

"It's fun to go to the competition, to get to meet different people," she said.

The girls on the team were looking forward to the world competition so they could trade the pins they collect -- symbolizing the different projects -- with pins from students from other states and countries.

Teams from several other schools in the Greater Danbury area also placed in top categories and can attend the world challenge.

A team from Whisconier Middle School in Brookfield excelled in the Odyssey Road Rally in which members designed, built and operated an original vehicle that enters a road rally.

Not all Odyssey of the Mind projects involve construction.

In The Eccentrics! problem, where schools from Newtown, Redding and New Fairfield excelled, teams created and presented a humorous performance about three eccentric characters who demonstrate odd behavior, peculiar mannerisms, and unconventional dress.

But 10-year-old Olivia Wootton, of the Johnson School balsa wood team, enjoyed her project because she could build a structure.

"I liked doing it because you actually get to make something," she explained. It's very hands-on."


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