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Delaware kids take educational odyssey

By KATIE ROGERS * The News Journal * March 7, 2009
College professors were replaced by princesses, ducks and Christmas elves who filled the University of Delaware campus today to teach a different kind of lesson.

Instead of lecturing about English and math, these characters turned out to demonstrate teamwork.

The event was part of the 29th Delaware Odyssey of the Mind competition that attracted more than 1,200 students from 71 Delaware schools. Each group of up to seven students worked for months to creatively solve different problems as a team.

The groups had a choice of five problems to solve in a long-term skit, which they presented to a panel of volunteer judges during round one. They then went onto the spontaneous problem solving round, in which they were given an issue to resolve on the spot.

The winning teams will compete at the World Finals in May at Iowa State University.
Bill Hill, tournament director, said the competition has been held in Delaware since the late 1980s, and has grown from 30 teams in the early days to more than 200 now.

The skills learned while preparing for the competition are applicable to real-life situations, Hill said.

"Odyssey focuses on creative problem-solving," he said. "The skills it uses are practical in the business world, such as brainstorming ideas, compromise and working with limited resources. It teaches things you don't always learn in a classroom setting."

Featured in one classroom in Gore Hall were a prissy mouse, a crazy doctor with cotton balls for hair, a nurse with a fishbowl on her head, a wizard, and a woman named "Mrs. Fields," who resembled a cookie.

The team helped to show its creature, Omer the raccoon, why eating doughnuts would make it sick in their original skit, complete with handmade props and backdrop. Omer learned his lesson, the doctor lost her hair, and the girls danced excitedly to the applause of parents, teachers and peers.

The team, led by parent volunteer Sarah Jawahar, hailed from Holy Cross School in Dover. Jawahar said the girls had been working for nearly six months on their problem in the "Teach Yer Creature" category, in which they constructed a fictitious creature and taught it a lesson.

For Jawahar, the competition was a symbol of the team's hard work and diligence.
"They really learned to think out of the box," she said. "They figured out how to solve problems as a team, not just by themselves. The best part of it all is being here and seeing it all come together at the end."

Teammates Katie Boyle, 9, and Rebecca Jawahar, 9, both third-graders at Holy Cross, said they enjoyed working together.

"It was fun dancing," Katie said, "and I learned that we all have to work together."
Judge Jessica Czerwin said she competed as a child, and is enjoying her new role on the other side of the tournament.

"I really appreciate the teams' skits and creativity," Czerwin said. "It's a huge learning experience for everyone."

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