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Odyssey events test students' creativity

It's a little frustrating for Jeanne Fessenden of Columbus. For 10 years, she has been the state director of Odyssey of the Mind in Georgia. Though 118 teams qualified for the state tournament taking place here Saturday, only one is from Columbus.

That team is St. Luke Middle School, which placed second in its region.

None of the Muscogee County School District elementary schools or high schools has a team.

"I wish I could get some more interest locally in this wonderful program," Fessenden said.

And there was more interest at one time.

Fessenden, who spent 40 years teaching locally, coached teams from the Muscogee County School District gifted program at the world level against teams from China, Japan and Canada.

"It was very exciting," she said.

The state competition from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday will be held in three buildings -- the Lumpkin Center, Woodruff Gym and Davidson Center -- at Columbus State University. And Fessenden is sure it will be an exciting event.

"These students really do some remarkable things," she said.

Fessenden figures more than 2,000 people, including team members, coaches, family members and friends, will be coming to town to attend the event, many of them arriving today and staying in local hotels.

"It's good for the city," she said, noting this is the third consecutive time it has been held at CSU.

Odyssey of the Mind was started 30 years ago by Sam Micklus, a professor at Rowan University in Glasbrow, N.J.

"He thought that schools did a good job of teaching reading and math, preparing students for tests, but not enough time on kids learning to be creative and thinking," Fessenden said.

Georgia Odyssey of the Mind Inc., a nonprofit organization, includes teams at every level from elementary school through college.

In competitions, students solve problems in a variety of areas, from building mechanical devices such as spring-driven vehicles to giving their own interpretations of literary classics. Through solving problems, students learn skills such as working with others as a team, evaluating ideas, making decisions, and creating solutions while also developing self-confidence from their experiences.

The teams have to solve long-term problems and spontaneous problems.

One long-term problem this year was to design, build and operate an original vehicle that they will drive in a road rally that has four checkpoints. At each checkpoint, the vehicle will compete in a sports-related event.

Another long-term problem requires the team to create and present a humorous performance about three eccentric characters that demonstrate odd behavior, peculiar mannerisms and unconventional dress. The performance will include a team-created problem within or involving an earth system such as the atmosphere, biosphere or cryosphere. The characters must solve the problem.

"It's really fun to see what the students come up with," Fessenden said. "It's all very clever."

She said sometimes it's even more fun to see what the students do with the spontaneous problem when they "don't know what to expect."

It could be anything from building a tower of pasta to doing poetry with a special purpose.

The program rewards students more for how they apply their knowledge, skills and talents than solving the problem. By watching, students see there are different ways to solve problems.

Arnold Middle School had two teams this year but both failed to qualify.

"We'd like for people to come out Saturday and see just how creative these kids can be," Fessenden said.

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