| The Richmond Register |
Odyssey of Mind contest brings more than 1,000 students to EKU

By Bill Robinson

RICHMOND -- Life can be characterized as an Odyssey of learning, especial for youngsters from kindergarten through high school.

On Saturday, a program that bills itself as Odyssey of the Mind brought more than 1,000 students from across Kentucky and parts of Tennessee to Eastern Kentucky University to competitively test their creative and critical thinking skills. Each team had placed in regional competitions.

The competition was last on EKU's campus 10 years ago.

The students, including a team of fourth and fifth graders from Kingston Elementary School, prepared for one of five challenges, some of which resembled the network television series "Survivor."

They could go on a nature trail adventure, revisit humanity's quest to fly, create and test an architectural structure to the breaking point, search for archeological treasures or challenge a food court to offer healthful selections.

Each team also was challenged to solve a spontaneous problem in addition to the long-term problem for which that had months to prepare.

Students from kindergarten through second grade staged surprise theme parties.

The Kingston students competed in the "Nature Trail'R" category in which each team designed and constructed a human powered vehicle, went on a family camping trip on which they overcame unforeseen obstacles.

They designed and built a camping trailer and cart that two students propelled by pushing it along the floor of Model Laboratory School's gym with kitchen sink plungers.

Arriving at the camp site, they intended to use solar power, but their solar panel kept falling down. In addition, they had to deal with wildlife that kept invading their site. On the way home, they had to contend with a tree that had fallen across their path.

The team consisted on three fifth-graders, Rebecca Moskal, Ellie Brock and Maribeth Bowman, and three fourth graders, Hannah McNemar, Lesley Reynolds and Rachel Brown.

The students had been working on their problem since mid-December, Moskal said.

The project had taught them they "can do more than we think we can if we use our imaginations," McNemar said.

Although coaching the team had taken a lot of time, teacher Caty Poff said, "It was worth the extra time to see how well these students performed today."

Poff, a graduate of Morehead State University who is in her third year of teaching at Kingston, said she had participated in Odyssey as a child in Iowa.

Poff is pursuing a master's degree in gifted and talented education at EKU.

Odyssey also teaches teamwork, said Kingston school psychologist Mary Margaret McNemar. Each child brings a different set of critical and creative skills to the challenge, she said, and they learn to rely on each other's differing talents to successfully complete the task.

"Odyssey seeks to inspire kids to find new ways to solve all types of problems through critical and creative thinking," said Jeannie Goertz, an assistant professor in EKU's Department of Curriculum and Instruction, campus coordinator of the event. "The more students apply their creativity, the more creative they become."

In a message to the participants, EKU President Doug Whitlock said, "Odyssey of the Mind embodies tenets of educational excellence that we also take very seriously at EKU: the importance of developing critical and creative thinking and problem-solving skills."

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.

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