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Odyssey of the Mind team adapts to competing online

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Recently the The Curtin Intermediate School Odyssey of the Mind team recently placed second in the World OM competition. This year the competition was held "virtually" with Curtin competing against 118 teams with a problem of "The Effective Detective." From left is Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter, Jerry Owens, PA State Association Director of OM, Elizabeth Smith, fifth grade, fourth graders Cooper Gutberlet, Daniel Turner, and Lynnae Campbell, fifth graders Asher McClelland, Ava Carter, coaches Spring Moore, and Bret Southard.

When the members of the Curtin Intermediate School Odyssey of the Mind team, which placed second in World Finals this year, met for a photo in front of their school recently, that was the first time they had all met face-to-face since the beginning of March, before schools in the state schools were shutdown due to the pandemic.

As the team from Curtin, coached by Spring Moore and Bret Southard, competed in Regionals on March 7, they did not expect that around 10 days later, schools would be shut down and there would be no opportunity to get team members together in person to practice for the world finals scheduled in May.

“They were lucky enough to be able to have their regional competition in person like normal,” said Moore. “Some regions weren’t even that lucky, but we were.”

The team placed first in regionals in their division and were headed to Nationals in Michigan. Then, the pandemic spread and travel was out of the question and so was gathering in groups.

“That was really the last time that the team was able to perform together,” Moore said. “We were (told) all of a sudden they’re not allowed to be together any more, so we were lucky we had that.”

Students participating in Odyssey of the Mind are given problems in specific categories which they are asked to solve in creative ways. After brainstorming, problem solving and creating a skit, the solutions to the problems are presented for judging at a live performance. This year, because of COVID-19, that was not possible at the National competition.

In order to compete in the world competition, the team used the video from their regional performance and sent that in instead of the live performance. But, there was the problem of the spontaneous portion of the event.

In the spontaneous portion of the competition, the teams are given a problem when they enter the room and then they have a certain amount of time to solve it. Teams can practice in order to prepare for the experience of solving problems spontaneously, but the actual problem is not revealed until they are there.

For this year’s world competition, the spontaneous problems were given and solved virtually. The students also practiced virtually according to Moore.

“Obviously it has to be spontaneous, so you can’t prepare ahead of time,” she said. The Odyssey of the Mind officials had sent a link to her that could only be opened one time.

“So we have all the kids together on ZOOM. Everybody was ready and they told us what the format would be, how it would be a verbal problem and that sort of thing,” she explained.

The students had been practicing the procedure for working together, although apart, on the virtual platform.

“They went alphabetically by first name. We had practiced the way to respond so that they knew how to make it happen,” she shared.

“It’s not that they don’t know how to take turns, but they get excited. That way they knew how to listen to everyone else. So, we practiced that method and practiced it really, really hard,” she said.

When the time came, Moore and the other coach opened the link and everyone was signed on via ZOOM.

“We all read the problem and then we gave the kids a certain amount of time to think. Everyone had to be quiet and write their answers down and be ready to go. Then they all shared and collaboratively they decided which were their best answers,” she said.

In the midst of the unprecedented way of competing, Moore noted that the kids really seemed to gain an appreciation for how well they can collaborate when they are forced to do that.

“It’s hard for them sometimes in person, but this really forced them to think and listen. Overall every time we did a spontaneous, they come out of it very pleased with themselves,” she said.

“Feeling successful because they knew that they were working together and they knew that when they work together they were doing their best work,” she added.

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