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Leftover Ink: Mad Genius

By John L. Geddie
Be very careful. I'm feeling particularly smart this week. I didn't do anything particularly smart myself, but I did get to spend the day on Saturday with a lot of smart kids.

They were all at the "Odyssey of the Mind," a problem-solving and team building competition at Park View last weekend. Provided with a specific scenario and problem, the teams performed their own skit, or designed and constructed their own solution to the problem. After seeing some of the solutions that the teams built, I've hired one of the grade school teams to build an addition onto my house.

It is a fantastic program. In the working world, one of the most frustrating experiences is trying to work with someone without any problem solving ability. Problem solving is simply not a skill that most schools devote time to and like everything else, it takes practices. It requires a certain amount of creativity to arrive at a solution instead of just identify a problem. If you can judge from the turnout--which included representatives from schools all over Loudoun--the program seems to be rapidly increasing in popularity.

I was drafted into helping out by my friend Erica Garman. As a parent of some competing little Einsteins herself, she needed to be in the audience for moral support and started recruiting for judges and volunteers.

Instead of actually judging, which might require math, I instead worked as the staging area judge. Having been told that it was the best job, I collected paperwork and talked to the kids before they went into the gym to perform. It was a blast. As you might imagine, I'm something of a ham and giving me a captive audience of little people was great fun--especially once they started to explain to me what their respective skits were and how they built their different props and vehicles.

Like everything else, there were highs and lows, but each and every group was excited to be there and couldn't wait to start explaining what their performance would look like, who had the best costume and what their favorite "animal that occurs in nature" (a requirement for our particular problem) was. Some presentations looked like they might have been heavily influenced by mom and dad than others, but most teams appeared to have worked together and arrived at the solution themselves--and winning aside, that's the point anyway.

It's amazing how a day spent with grade schoolers can make you feel young again. In case you're wondering, I'm off lima beans and I don't want to go to bed.

I think the best part of the event was just getting out and having the opportunity to meet more people in the community. Sometimes those of us who grew up here get the idea that we know everyone. Even so, I did run into a number of friends--one of my good friends from high school (also judging), my mom's former physical therapist (volunteering), one of our web developers (supporting the family brain) and of course, Erica--who was very concerned that I was having a good time.

And I did. After what seemed like 112 years of snowfall and freezing temperatures, I'm afraid I lost some of my volunteer mojo and hadn't really done much community work. For those who wax philosophic about the decline of small town life and the disunity of suburban communities, let me respond that there's no better way to fight that than getting out of the house, attending local events and volunteering for the causes and organizations you support.

All in all, it's not a bad way to spend a weekend.

I even got a t-shirt.

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