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It's minds that matter for these students

Published: Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 6:58 p.m.

About 380 students from grade school to high school challenged their imaginations and abilities Saturday in the annual Odyssey of the Mind regional competition in Santa Rosa.

Sixty teams of students from seven Northern California counties honed their skills in the problem-solving competition, with a chance to advance to the state and world championships.

Students devised their own skits and solutions to one of five problems as diverse as building mechanical devices or interpreting literary classics.

"It gets them to think, use creativity. It's a challenging environment for the kids," said Christian Sievers, a Windsor parent and a judge in the competition held at Santa Rosa High School.

"Instead of sitting on a Saturday afternoon and watching TV, they're actually thinking, using their minds to solve a problem," he said.

The problems ran the gamut from designing and building a small vehicle, to creating and presenting an original performance based on the mythological Heracles and re-enacting one of the Greek hero's 12 labors.

Another problem, "shock waves," involved designing and building a small balsa wood and glue structure and seeing how much weight it will withstand.

The team from Willits High School, which has reached the world finals in five years since 2002, did well Saturday.

The balsa structure, weighing only 18 grams, officially supported 429 pounds before collapsing.

"It's trial and error," sophomore Mackenzie cq Kirkpatrick said. "You build, design and see how it fails."

Willits coach Dave Madrigal said the competition stretches student minds because there is not always a right, or wrong solution.

"It stimulates thinking," he said. "You don't put up so many walls around kids. You let them roam."

Judges' coordinator Tom Sawyer described Odyssey of the Mind as "creative problem-solving, risk-taking in a team environment."

"It's really exciting to see the kids expand and learn a lot of teamwork," said Earl Craighill, a coach from Windsor.

Coaches are not allowed to tell the students what to do, but they can ask questions designed to help.

"They're working under a bit of time pressure," he said noting that students have eight minutes to perform and accomplish their task.

"When things don't work as they should, you see them toying, to figure out what's going on," Craighill said.

Odyssey of the Mind, which began in 1978 in New Jersey, has spread to 22 countries. The state finals will be held April 4 in Brentwood and the world finals are scheduled for May 27 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

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