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Odyssey of the Mind competition held at Easton Area Middle School

Sunday, March 08, 2009

FORKS TWP. | The skit was about a parrot, but the lesson was about teamwork and creativity.

The play was the work of a group of third-graders from the Lehigh Valley Academy in Bethlehem, just one of the groups participating Saturday in the Odyssey of the Mind regional competition at Easton Area Middle School.

The students had been working on the performance since the fall, making a large cardboard backdrop, a television out of a cardboard box and a large parrot with construction-paper feathers.

Each student had her own favorite part, including Sierra Porter, who said she preferred the end when they all came out together.

"It's better to be with everyone than to be by yourself," she said.

The entire Odyssey program, according to contest materials, is meant to stimulate creativity among students with friendly competition.

"Kids are rewarded more for how they apply their knowledge, skills and talents, and not for coming up with the right answer," according to the event's Web site.

Saturday's meeting included schools from southeast Pennsylvania. Groups were formed based on age. Participants ranged from elementary school students to high school teens.

Groups of students from each school can prepare to compete in any of six "problems," many of which involve performances before a panel of judges. Each problem provides a loose framework upon which students base their creative efforts. Winners continue to state and world levels.

In the "Shockwaves" problem, students designed a 15-ounce balsa structure and tested how much weight their design could hold.

Another problem, called "The Lost Labor of Heracles," had students devising an additional task to the traditional 12 assigned to the mythological figure. In one performance, students from Pennridge High School in Perkasie, Bucks County, had the hero participate in a cooking contest overseen by Demeter, the Greek goddess of the seasons.

In "Teach Yer Creature," a mechanical creature had to learn lessons, like the construction-paper parrot that learned to talk.

"It comes from the kids. That's the point of the program," said Barry Cohen, chief executive officer of Lehigh Valley Academy, following the third-graders' performance.

After watching her son, Jack, perform with his classmates in the academy's parrot production, Patti Penrose was pleased with the result.

"My son is very shy," she said. "For him to get up there and do something like this is amazing."

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