| floridatoday.com |
Students use their minds to compete


Gemini Elementary sixth-grader Anne Hirsch stood in a hallway of Brevard Community College's Melbourne campus and straightened her dress, which was made entirely of empty, flattened Capri Sun containers. Her shoes were made of the boxes the containers come in when bought in bulk.

"I'm fashionista Reece Cycle," Hirsch said as half a dozen of her teammates chattered nervously and prepared to show off almost four months worth of work for this year's Odyssey of the Mind competition. "We're saving the environment from the ice melting."

Odyssey of the Mind is an international, nonprofit, creative, problem-solving program. Participants compete in several areas, including building mechanical devices or structures, acting out sketches and doing spontaneous problem-solving. Students from kindergarten through high school form teams of up to seven members and spend months working on their project. Winning teams advance to state final. If they win there, they can go onto the world finals.

More than 1,000 students comprised 120 teams Saturday and were judged on style, the solution to the problem they chose and their presentation. Parents act as coaches, but the kids do all the work and come up with all the solutions to problems.

Anne's team was competing in The Eccentrics category. Students in that group were required to act out a sketch with humor that solves an environmental problem and includes characters with odd behavior and unconventional dress. Their team traveled through a portal (made of a black fabric-covered hula-hoop) to the cryosphere, the portions of the earth that are frozen, to find out why the icecaps were melting. They discovered walruses (teammates dressed in costumes of black garbage bags) licking the ice and put them on a strict "Joanne Peg" diet.

One local "Omer," as they are called, has gone on to Hollywood stardom. Deanne Bell began her science career at Port Malabar Elementary, obtained a degree in engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and now hosts her own science show "Smash Lab" every Wednesday at 10 p.m. on The Discovery Channel. She was on hand to help Saturday and sign autographs.

"My experience in L.A. made me realize how we needed more positive role models of women in science," she said, crediting her gifted teacher, Kitt Kane, at Port Malabar with getting her interested in Odyssey of the Mind. "As a 12-year-old girl, I was using power tools in building things in my backyard. It gave me the confidence to go into science."

One team had a problem Saturday morning when they showed up with a battery that contained sulfuric acid. That was against the rules, but judges allowed the team from Golfview Elementary School to replace the battery.

"That's what OotM is about -- if it doesn't work, find some way that it does -- quick," Jay Edinger said. By day, he is a certified public accountant, but on Saturday he served as a judge.

He was one of the judges that allowed the team to return and compete in the afternoon.

"I thought it would be boring and hard," said Golfview sixth-grader Nikia Crawford when the team finished their almost flawless performance. "This is actually fun!"

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