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Annual Odyssey of the Mind folds creativity into problem solving


Seven bubbly actors came on stage, ready to present the culmination of three months of work: a play about the need to recycle.

Complete with dragons and giants dribbling the Earth like a basketball, the play was the O'Dea Elementary School girls' skit on their solution to an environmental problem, one of the categories at this year's Odyssey of the Mind competition.

The 21st annual competition was held Saturday at Fossil Ridge High School.

More than 80 teams representing 21 local schools competed in this year's event. Participants ranged in age from kindergartners to ninth-graders.

The yearly event tries to give a different way to look at learning, said Sue Ballou, co-director of the event. It requires participants to come up with a creative solution to a problem, then act it out.

"They have a specific problem and they try to solve it in the most innovative way possible, which is what life is about," Ballou said.

The event also teaches responsibility and the rewards of hard work, said Barbra Mawlawi, coach of the third-grade team from O'Dea Elementary.

Teams competed in several categories including technical problem solving, the classical era, building balsa wood structures and humor.

For the students involved, even a failed attempt was enjoyable.

Alison Osborn's group saw its structure break when weight was applied to it, but it didn't dampen her day.

"I like that we got to do a skit along with the project," said Osborn, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at O'Dea. "It didn't really matter if your structure broke, you can still have fun."

The unorthodox style of learning attracts students who don't always enjoy school, Ballou said.

And the nature of the competition helps creative students who do not always excel in school, she said.

"It's not just for the good students," she said. "It has something for everybody."

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