YORK — While many of their classmates were getting ready for a school dance last Friday, one group of girls was busily preparing for the Odyssey of the Mind world championships.
“A lot of people look at us and think that we can’t do this,” said Caitlynne Scott, a ninth grader on the Bruton High School team. “But, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re the girls with the power drills and we can do anything we put our minds to.’”
Odyssey of the Mind is a club that helps develop creative problem-solving skills by working through a series of problems as a team, according to the organization’s website. Both teams from Queens Lake Middle School and Bruton High School have made it to the world championships at Iowa State University later this month.
Many of the students had been on an Odyssey of the Mind team since they were in elementary school after being involved in STEM — science technology, engineering and math — programs in school.
Building a winning bond
The teams start preparing for the competitions eight months in advance with practices going until 5 p.m. three nights a week and then sometimes staying until 9 p.m., every night of the week as the competition gets closer.
Each of the problems that teams have to solve involve certain parameters, such as using a forgotten emoji. In the Bruton High School’s skit, the students had an analgogue phone with a rotating dial board. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
The girls get to spend a lot of time together and this is what helps them to get to know each other and problem-solve on such a competitive level, said Kaya O’Brien-James, a ninth grader on the Bruton team.
“It’s not just about winning,” Kaya said. “It’s that you’ve done something with these people that have had an affect on your life and the people around you.”
Kaya is one of the students who has been a part of the organization since elementary school. It wasn’t until she joined the Queens Lake Middle School team, though, that she found a connection with her fellow OMers — a term used for students involved in Odyssey of the Mind, she said — that made it hard for her to move on to a new team.
In fact, many of the graduating middle schoolers said they felt the same way and started a team that allowed the younger students they competed with the year before to still compete on a high-school level with them. Now the Bruton High School team has members from middle and high school, and the Queens Lake Middle School team has an entirely new batch of middle-school students.
“I think that this club just really helps you become the very best version of yourself,” said Naomi Gesler, a seventh grader on the Bruton team.
To start the process, the teams look at the problems presented by Odyssey of the Mind, place a large sheet of paper on the wall and start brainstorming any ideas that come to mind. This year, one problem’s parameters were to use 3D emojis to communicate the life story of a once famous but now forgotten emoji, according to the organization’s website. In the teams’ skit, the emojis will be used to demonstrate special functions such as growing, turning into a team member or changing into a different emoji. But the trick is that the entire skit has to be conveyed without words.
“When the first solution we try fails, and it will fail, we know that we can’t just give up,” said Belle King, an eighth grader on the Bruton team. “This teaches you how to keep going, how to keep trying.”
For the Bruton team, the students decided to tackle the issue of texting and driving. As part of their skit, there is a fake wooden car that gets into an accident and crashes, after which the car turns into a gravestone through a contraption put together with a rat trap and wires.
Following this, the students have a colorfully-decorated bridge that is rigged with a pencil sharpener motor and fishing wire that when turned on shoots PVC pipe from the sides to represent the growing aspect of the problem.
The middle-school team is looking at the issue of pesticides for their skit, in which a farmer discovers that all of his crops are dying after a decrease in bee population because of his use of chemicals on the farm.
Both teams use intricate mechanisms of engineering, artistic creativity and teamwork to put together something they describe as unique ways of solving the issue before them.
“It feels so good when we have all of our engineering stuff and people want to know who made it,” said Addie Mall, a ninth grader on the Bruton team. “Then they look at us and see it’s a bunch of teenage girls.”