What is Odyssey of the Mind really about?

When you ask people what Odyssey of the Mind is, the response is that it is creative problem solving. Push them for an explanation and you hear, “well, like you have a problem and then you get to write a play or build something.”  Still not sure? Well, to me, Odyssey of the Mind is the opportunity to encourage students to truly develop the skills needed to be a future citizen of the world.  It’s not just for the “smart” or “creative” kids. Students need to draw upon all of their strengths to do well. Coming up with a creative solution isn’t enough if you aren’t sure how to implement it. Knowing pi to 36 places doesn’t always push you out of your comfort zone to develop original ideas that will lead you to a win. You must learn how to apply your “smarts”.  


There is no better way to practice our THS learning goals- to be perceptive, inquisitive, self-determined, integrated within, integrated with others, resilient, and innovative.


When given an Odyssey problem to solve, students learn quickly that the “easy” answer isn’t going to be the best.  They learn to brainstorm and give everyone a voice at the table. They learn to be perceptive and listen to other’s ideas - perhaps taking someone else’s kernel and figuring out to make it grow.  They learn to keep asking questions, to be inquisitive, and keep pushing their teammates to elaborate. They practice being self-determined, able to articulate why the team should adopt their solution.  They recognize their own strengths and weaknesses while helping their teammates overcome theirs. It takes resilience to put in the hard work of numerous practices and giving up weekends. Innovative almost goes without saying - Odyssey of the Mind is built around teams coming up with the most original, creative solution. Students must work together to come up with an answer to the assigned problem and build all the props themselves, integrating creativity, intelligence and hard work.


The hardest part? Students have to figure out most of this on their own.  Odyssey of the Mind is very child-centered and not only encourages students to develop their own ideas- but requires it.  


Coaches are there to motivate students to do their best and to fortify them when they get frustrated.  But we can’t tell them what to do, how we would do it, or “fix it” if they didn’t solve the problem the way we think they should have.  We have our own lessons to learn here such as the balance between being helpful and wanting to tell them how to do it, so it is “right”. We learn that the answer that they come up with together is “right” for them. We try to remember how to turn statements into questions that provoke students to push themselves into thinking more. In other words, we let them tie their own shoes, even if that means it takes 15 minutes longer for them to do it themselves.


Some teams come together naturally, others struggle to find their footing. While winning is nice, the lifelong lesson they take away with them is that not everyone is going to agree all the time, but that different people with different ideas and abilities can come together like pieces of a puzzle and create something that is bigger than themselves - something they should be proud of.


More importantly, they are building themselves into well-rounded citizens of the world, able to see a problem, work with others to come up with a solution and determined enough to implement it.  Our team embodied this ethic, overcoming obstacles in the weeks leading to the competition to place as 2nd runner up in our division.

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