A Glance at Loch Ness: One Coach’s Perspective of Odyssey of the Mind
By AMY TROMBO
April 14, 2012
Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international organization with regional, state, and international competitions focusing on the ability to solve problems creatively while working as part of a team. The purpose of OM is to encourage children to use their higher level thinking skills to solve interesting and challenging problems.
OM teams are composed of 5-7 members. Each team is assigned one of six long-term problems. These problems change each year. This year teams might have been required to build a vehicle capable of displaying emotions, present an original performance about a team of scientists on a mysterious expedition, craft a balsa wood structure designed to hold weight, create a short musical built around the theme of “To Be or Not To Be”, perform a skit involving angels capable of changing negative situations into positive situations, or build a device that could uncover surprise objects from remote distances.
In additional to completing the assigned long-term problem, teams must prepare to face a “Spontaneous” problem on the day of competition. The teams, without benefit of support from parents, friends, or coaches, enter a room and are given a new problem to solve, on the spot, in front of a team of judges.
On March 31st, 17 teams representing the Falls Church City Public Schools participated in the regional competition at West Potomac High School competing alongside 150 other teams with great success.
Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School brought home two third place finishes, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary earned two 6th place finishes, two 5th place finishes, a 2nd place finish, and a 1st place finish.
The first place team of third graders dubbed themselves the “Loch Ness Monsters”. James Trombo, Kurt Barth, Felix Barth, Daniel Trauberman, Parrish Pipestem, and Colson Board will be moving on to the state finals in Newport News this weekend. What follows is one of their coach’s reflections on her OM experience this year…
Last year, my son James, Valerie Barth’s twins Kurt and Felix, and Daniel were on an Odyssey of the Mind Primary Problem team. The team was coached by my husband, Joe Trombo, and John Krotzer; Valerie sat in on most meetings. This year, John relocated to the Far East for work, and my husband felt unable to contribute the time needed. Valerie and I decided we wanted to keep the boys together and we would coach the team. Parrish had previously been on a team coached by his mother, and Colson was interested in giving Odyssey of the Mind a try, though unsure whether he wanted to perform.
Before our first meeting, the boys knew they wanted to solve the ride-on vehicle problem entitled “Ooh-Motional Vehicle”. By the third meeting, they had lots of drawings of Volvo-looking cars, and the green idea to power one geo-thermally.
Then in late December they toured my backyard and basement, which had sadly become a graveyard for two bicycles, two tricycles, a few scooters, a Big-Wheel, and many other toys. Within 5 minutes, the boys had found and decided to use my garbage can. This was a garbage can that had been under my deck for some eight years, it was lid-less, cracked and leaked, mildewed and rather ratty, but the boys insisted. Valerie and I looked at each other, raised our eyebrows, and took a few deep breaths. My mantra soon became, “It will be okay.”
A few seconds more, and the boys had found the top of a Little Tykes sandbox. This turtle sandbox had passed from my husband’s cousin through his aunt (who used it for composting) and through both my children. Thus, a Turtle was born!
Over the course of several more meetings, the boys established a set of 6 rules: Safety First (nobody gets hurt too badly), Try Your Best, Pay Attention, Be Respectful, Must Have Snack, and Have Fun. They also read the problem over and over, and knew the vehicle had to travel a pre-determined course with three stops, move forward and backward using two different propulsion systems or power sources, display 4 different emotions and be a character in a play.
We had a safety meeting on the use of tools and power tools, a meeting on batteries and simple circuits, and a meeting to play with springs, bungee cords and all kinds of joining materials. But, still, they hadn’t written the play. One afternoon, Valerie sent her Kurt and Felix into their room and told them to write a story about a turtle with three things happening to it. What emerged was entitled “The Space Turtle and the Attack of the Mars Martians.” Soon thereafter, Felix knew he wanted to be the driver and everyone else wanted to be a Mars Martian. James was chosen to be the narrator, and Parrish agreed to be the President.
It’s hard to say just which boy came up with what idea, though each can tell you his contribution, and another will cut in to tell you how he heard the idea and improved it. Ideas came fast and wild, bouncing around like lottery balls, and somehow landed in a sweet combination. But the boys each unwittingly stepped into a unique role as team-mate. Parrish kept the team on task, and became the order-keeper, encouraged everyone to pay attention, and could quickly take a vote or decide to flip a coin to make a decision. Daniel listened to everyone, took all the ideas in and processed them, then returned reshaped ideas with precise and often comedic timing. Colson was the planning and process guy, he thought through a problem and placed each step in order of when it needed to be done, then did it. James charged in with grand ideas and the enthusiasm to get it done now. Kurt saw problems and opportunities for improvement and never stopped thinking about the project. Felix found the middle ground between Kurt and James, and truly steered not only the vehicle but also the team.
Of course, Falls Church parents are the greatest, but the parents of our team truly went beyond what should be asked of any parent. They provided enthusiasm, encouraged everyone to have fun, believed in their sons and the team, provided tons of popcorn and Capri-sun, accepted that their 9 year olds would be using power tools, and reorganized their schedules to accommodate a meeting schedule that progressed from weekly, to twice weekly, to three times a week through much of February and all of March.
Regional Competition day was March 31st, and everyone arrived at West Potomac High School early. The self-styled Loch Ness Monsters’ performance was the second of the day, and started about 9:15am. The boys clamored to tell the staging judge all about their gun, their grenade, their fireworks, and their exploding rocks, but I was able to assure him that they would not need to call the fire department again, as everything was actually an artistic interpretation of the prohibited items!
Through a small miscommunication, the vehicle went to stage left instead of stage right as was planned. This meant that props on both sides of the stage were in the wrong place. The team noticed, and in an amazing display of teamwork, managed to reset the entire stage into a mirror image and adjust their stage entries accordingly, all as the performance continued. The correction was so seamless, even the parents who had seen the play 4 times in rehearsal did not notice what had happened. The coaches were wrecks!
Later in the morning, while waiting to solve the Spontaneous problem, I asked the boys which one of their six rules they followed the most and which they followed the least. The unanimous response was they had fun the most, and paid attention the least. Of course, that response made my day and term as coach perfect.
When the scores were tallied, Thomas Jefferson Team A placed first in their problem and division at the tournament. The division contained 10 teams, with 2nd through 5th graders competing. Yet, the six third-grade boys did what they said they would do… “we’re in it to win it” was established in December, and that they did. But one day, they will realize that they also won in many other and more important ways, just as every other participant in Odyssey of the Mind also won. In an era in which everything comes internet-quick and is often a solitary pursuit, they learned to work together as a team to solve a problem over four months.
The problem was complex; there were many decisions they had to make, and many little problems to solve along the way. There was a lot of creative thinking, interpretation and re-interpretation of instructions and rules, and many long hours of construction and crafting.
There were sacrifices, too. Every team member had to compromise with one another, one boy missed the first 4 baseball practices and another ate a sandwich dinner in the car every Friday evening en route from soccer to Odyssey of the Mind meetings. When polled, the guys all say they want to win at the State Tournament and will definitely be in Odyssey of the Mind next year. (But the chatter right now is more about the indoor pool and water guns at the hotel and the potential trip to Busch Gardens.)
Besides the team, team parents and coaches, there are many others to thank for our opportunity to participate and our success in Odyssey of the Mind. Thomas Jefferson Elementary School purchased several memberships to sponsor multiple teams, and also paid the registration fees for all teams in both the Regional and State Tournaments.
Additionally, Mr. Bob Palermo, TJ’s principal, Ms. Mary Kay Howard, TJ’s assistant principal, Ms. Lisa Allan, fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jennie Ehrenzller, librarian, and Mrs. Pattie Smith, second grade teacher volunteered the first Saturday of their Spring Break in order to staff the regional meet. Ms. Heidi Lang and Ms. Beth Green coordinated the teams, distributed information and paperwork, and located space for rehearsals.
And perhaps most significantly, the classroom teachers at both Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson, in the course of their normal duties, have laid the educational foundation, spirit and ethic of hard work, teamwork, cooperation, attention to detail, art, creativity, stage performance and much more which allowed the boys to come the team with a full toolkit. You’re the best!
Please wish the Loch Ness Monsters luck as they compete at the Virginia State Odyssey of the Mind Tournament on April 14th in Newport News, VA.
Editor’s Note: Some 150 FCCPS students from Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School participated in the Odyssey of the Mind competition. The teams and individuals are listed below. Congratulations to all the FCCPS participants and their coaches on this very worthy endeavor.
By (see byline)
April 14, 2012