Odyssey of the Mind in full swing in Loyalsock Township

The 30th year of Loyalsock Township School District’s Odyssey of the Mind (OM) program is in full swing.

It was in 1983 when Loyalsock sent its first team to a regional tournament, and in its second year of competition, Loyalsock was able to advance one team to the State Tournament.

Then, in 1989, a Loyalsock OM team qualified for World Finals.

Since that time, there never has been a year that a Loyalsock OM team has not qualified for the state tournament and only three years have passed without a Loyalsock team in World Finals.

Throughout the 30-year span of Loyalsock’s Odyssey of the Mind program, more than 1,500 students have participated and 30 teams have qualified as State Champions and advanced to World Finals where more than 10 teams placed in the top three spots, with two of those teams placing 1st.

Last October, eight teams from all grade levels, Kindergarten through high school, began preparing for this year’s series of tournaments.

The first tournament, regionals, will be held on March 16 at Berwick High School.

By participating in Odyssey of the Mind, students learn the essence of teamwork and creativity. Every year, Dr. Sam Micklus, founder of Odyssey of the Mind, creates six problems that are very complex. The goal is to not just solve the problem, but to solve it as creatively as possible.

The Odyssey of the Mind problem-solving process is a long and challenging one. Teams sometimes try dozens of possible solutions before deciding on the one that they believe is good enough to present at the regional competition.

After six months of practicing, the teams must prove themselves in a three-level competition during which each team has only eight minutes to present their solution to the judges.

OM students do all of the work on their own. If you would happen to walk into an OM practice, you would find students sawing, hammering and discussing how to solve their long-term problem.

Solutions to problems may involve building mechanical devices, interpreting literary classics and designing costumes.

Each team consists of no more than seven members and includes a coach. The role of a coach is to keep the team on track, get their supplies and provide adult supervision.

The coach is not allowed to tell the team how to solve the problem. The team members must do the work and come up with the ideas. Any suggestions from parents or coaches are considered “outside assistance” and cannot be used.

If the students want to learn how to build something, they can ask someone to teach them, but any props, ideas and materials they use for the competition must be made completely and exclusively by the team.

Students are not judged on whether they come up with the right answer, but rather on how they apply their knowledge, skills, talents, and creativity.

In addition to the 8-minute long-term problem, each team must also tackle a spontaneous problem during the competition.

The teams have no idea what the problem entails and no coaches are allowed in the room when the team is presented their problem, leaving the students to rely on teamwork, quick thinking and their own imaginations.

On March 16, students from many area school districts will compete in the Odyssey of the Mind North Central Regional competition at Berwick.

Those who place high enough in the Regional Competition (first or second place) will be eligible to compete at the State competition on April 12 at Pocono Valley East School District.

From there, those who qualify will move on to the 2013 World Final Competition, which will be held May 22 through 25 at Michigan State University.

Teams that qualify for Worlds will spend three days on a major university campus and meet other teams from across the United States and from around the World.