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Franklin teams to compete in world creative problem-solving contest

Home News Tribune Online 04/19/07

FRANKLIN -- Justice Gaines' wood and styrofoam car is taking him to Michigan.

"It's really exciting. We're going to meet people from different countries and continents and see how different teams work and see their techniques and strategies," Gaines said.

Last Saturday, Gaines, 12, and his teammates from Franklin Middle School took their green agenda to an audience of judges at the Odyssey of the Mind state competition, an international education program focused on creative problem-solving techniques. The team's styrofoam and balsa wood 16-inch vehicle that was powered by an air propeller placed first in the state competition held at the middle school.

The team is one of 30 that will represent New Jersey at the Odyssey of the Mind international competition at Michigan State University in May. Three other Franklin school district teams will also be competing in May.

Youngsters solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to traveling around the world in eight minutes.

Gaines and his team's task was to "tag" the vehicle while it was still moving. But because the students are also judged on creativity, the team presented an eight-minute play. They were the environmentally-friendly Green Construction Company, presenting their zero-emissions vehicle.

Team coach James F. DeMaio said the students' vehicle had to travel from point A to B through that tagging zone, where the team would place a tag on the vehicle. He said students wanted to go with an environmental theme, where their vehicle was powered by air.

"I think the fact that they placed first in the state is a pretty good indication about how creative the solutions are.... Odyssey of the Mind has been described as Mardi Gras, Halloween and a science fair all wrapped into one. For instance, our tag em' problem, it's just not the mechanical solution, there's another aspect where you have to present a play along with it."

Nine Franklin district teams -- including eight from Sampson G. Smith School -- competed at the regional finals in March.

Sampson G. Smith Principal Bill Grippo said he is proud of the students.

"We so often hear about kids not producing fully, but here are children who in their spare time that have exceeded in the work of creativity," he said.

Though her team did not advance to the world finals Saturday, Denise Graff, one of the coaches for the Sampson G. Smith school team, said she is proud of all the students.

"It's great to see kids come out of their shell. So many times in school kids are taught when there is only one answer. But with Odyssey of the Mind, they think outside of the box. There are so many answers to solve a problem, not just one," Graff said.

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