Arizona Daily Star
Odyssey of Mind founder finds just how far an idea can travel
By Jamar Younger
Sam Micklus received the rock-star treatment as he walked around the campus of Canyon del Oro High School Saturday afternoon.
Teenage girls smiled widely as they posed for photographs with him and, afterward, nervously thanked him for the opportunity.
Equally nervous parents shook his hand and asked him to autograph T-shirts and hats for their children.
And hundreds of people in a packed gymnasium gave him a rousing ovation when he was introduced.
Micklus, known as "Dr. Sam," visited Tucson to attend the state finals of Odyssey of the Mind, an education program he founded more than 30 years ago. The program teaches students from kindergarten to college how to solve problems through teamwork and creative thinking.
Students acted out skits while demonstrating mechanical devices and presented their own interpretations of literary classics and historic events during competitions with titles such as "Extreme Mousemobiles" and "As Good As Gold...berg."
"I see people who say kids are stupid," Micklus said. "I'd like them to take a walk with me."
During a Mousemobiles match, students from Tempe Preparatory Academy demonstrated small vehicles that had to perform tasks, such as shooting an object from a catapult.
One group of students played the role of military personnel looking to buy the vehicles, and the others dressed in white lab coats and tested the vehicles.
"This is where science and engineering meets theater and the arts," said Deanna Day, state association director for Odyssey of the Mind.
Micklus, a former industrial designer, started the program in 1978 while a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey - then called Glassboro State College. Instead of merely lecturing and giving exams, Micklus would grade his students on their ability to solve problems he presented.
"They were used to people giving lectures on facts then giving the facts back on exams," he said.
Micklus figured children also would have fun dissecting problems and creating solutions.
Twenty-eight New Jersey schools participated in the first competition, followed by about 100 schools from New Jersey and surrounding states the second year, he said. The program has now expanded to places as far-flung as China and Poland.
Teams were competing for the right to attend the world finals in May at the University of Maryland - but the rewards extend beyond that, participants said.
"I think it will help with any job and any relationship you have in life," said Chloe Harwood, 12, an Orange Grove Middle School student who has participated in Odyssey of the Mind for six years. "You learn to get beyond and find more creative answers."
local ODyssey finalists
These local teams placed first or second in the state Odyssey of the Mind competition and will compete at the world finals in Maryland in May.
* Extreme Mousemobiles: Magee Middle School
* As Good as Gold...berg: Lulu Walker Elementary School
* Le Tour Guide: Mesa Verde Elementary School, Magee Middle School and Canyon Del Oro High School Team A
* Unhinged Structure: Prince Elementary School, Magee Middle School and University High School
* Full Circle: Magee Middle School and Canyon del Oro High School
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Arizona Daily Star