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Thinking outside the box

By Chelsea DeWeese
Sun Staff Reporter
Saturday, March 17, 2007 9:28 AM MST

Gobstoppers were the topic of conversation at Thomas Elementary School Friday.

That and a self-centered trickster who got caught.

That's because students here were preparing for a worldwide intellectual competition called Odyssey of the Mind. The first round of competitions takes place today at Puente de Hozho Elementary and Mount Elden Middle schools in east Flagstaff. Winners advance to state competition March 31 in Tucson.

In Odyssey of the Mind, student teams are presented with open-ended questions that allow them to creatively problem-solve within certain parameters; Students at the elementary, middle school, high school and college levels all compete in their age groups.

Today's competition features students in primary and secondary school.

At Thomas, nearly two dozen fifth-and sixth-grade students have been working since January on three separate "problems" they had picked from an Odyssey of the Mind list; Students had five questions from which to chose.

Thomas' teams are tackling "Tag 'Em," "Around the World in 8 Minutes" and "I'm Only Thinking of You," which is a skit.

In "Tag 'Em" a group of sixth-graders uses a leaf-blower-blown cardboard vehicle to deliver "gobstopper" jawbreakers to a handmade sorting machine that divides them for shipment to Germany and Japan.

In "Around the World," two Thomas teams each create a character who circles Planet Earth and stops at three locales: two geographically distinct and one yet to be discovered.

And in "I'm Only Thinking of You," Thomas sixth-graders created a skit in which a self-centered man named Carlos tricks two people into thinking he's helping them and gets busted by his third victim. Carlos changes his ways and treats everybody to a pizza party. Students must complete everything, including setup, within eight minutes.

The team leader on the last project, Heather White, 12, went to state last year with a similar skit.

"It was intense," she recalled of the intellectual competition.

Today, Heather and her team will pit their skit against other teams from throughout Flagstaff and northern Arizona. A similar South Regional Tournament takes place in Tucson.

Marcia Lescault, an instructor of talented and gifted students at Thomas Elementary School, coached Thomas' Odyssey of the Mind teams. She said it gives her students the type of intellectual stimulation they need to think outside the box.

"A lot of these students are very goal-oriented and competitive and, in general, enjoy challenges," she said. "So this is a challenge for them."

Likewise, Thomas Principal Tom Ziegler was busting his buttons.

"It's a real example of higher-level, problem-solving skills," Ziegler added.

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