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5 teams head to Odyssey finals

Nicole Lee
Staff writer

(April 4, 2007) -- After months of practice and trial and error, Mendon Center Elementary School fifth-grader Katie Guzzetta and members of her team found an interesting way to use a rat trap.

The invention has earned them a spot among thousands of students who will compete in May during the world finals of Odyssey of the Mind, a competition focused on problem-solving, teamwork, and above all, creativity.

Katie, 11, of Pittsford, is the only girl on her first-place Division I team, but doesn't mind it too much. She's just excited her team has been successful through the regional and state competitions.

"It was a little challenging," Guzzetta said. "I'm expecting it to get even more challenging."

Using an axle, string and other materials, team members fashioned a rat trap into a propeller to move a toy vehicle about 20 feet without pushing it with their hands. The team also created a way to remotely "tag" the vehicle, which was necessary to complete the exercise.

Created in 1978 by Dr. C. Samuel Micklus and open to students from kindergarten through college, Odyssey of the Mind challenges students to solve problems and present their solutions through a dramatic performance.

Grades kindergarten through five are Division I, sixth through eighth grade are Division II and high school students constitute Division III.

"(Judges) want to know who can creatively answer a problem," said Susan Doran, who helped coach the Division I first-place team at Thornell Road Elementary School. "It does teach (students) not to be followers. You'd be amazed at what they come up with."

In addition to coaching, this year, Doran is also the Odyssey of the Mind coordinator for the Pittsford school district. Her son, Danny, an eighth-grader, has participated in the competition, and Doran said the program helped her fifth-grade son Ben, 10, who is on the Thornell Road team, evolve from a shy student into a confident contributor.

You don't have to be an academic whiz to do well in Odyssey of the Mind, say Irondequoit High School sophomores Lindsay Taylor and Sara D'Ambrosio. They were on the same eighth-grade team that took first place in the world competition two years ago.

The Irondequoit team placed second in its division by using 6-foot-tall boxes, foil, plastic tubing and some ingenuity to create two full-scale interactive books to teach children how to read simple words. A team member also took on the comic-book-style persona "Literacy Lad" to complete the presentation.

The competition can sometimes seem overwhelming, but, said D'Ambrosio, students shouldn't lose sight of one thing: "Make sure you have fun."

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