Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind: Filling the gap

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Jimmy Cornn
Jimmy Cornn

In life we are taught to fill what is empty. When our car is out of gas, we fill it up. If our drink is empty at a restaurant, the server fills it up.

In education, we are taught to fill the gaps. In the current frenzy of standardized testing, new math, personalized learning and Response to Intervention, a large gap is broadening out of control – creativity. This gap is not necessarily an achievement gap, but a void in our students’ educational experiences.

This hole in our student learning has occurred because our students are not being provided many opportunities to apply their knowledge in meaningful and creative ways. Odyssey of the Mind provides that opportunity and fills that educational gap for the students of our great Commonwealth.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program for students from kindergarten to college. Each year, the program publishes five problems that range from building vehicles that perform various tasks to constructing towers made of balsa wood and glue to challenging students to put their spin on great literary works. Each team solves its chosen problem in an eight-minute presentation while staying under budget – which encourages repurposing of “trash” and other materials. All the while students are learning soft skills crucial to success in a 21st-century world: teamwork, problem-solving, compromise and presentation skills.

Kiera Risner and Caleb Middleton of the Corbin High School structure team test their 8-inch, 15-gram structure to see how much weight it can hold. Photo submitted
Kiera Risner and Caleb Middleton of the Corbin High School structure team test their 8-inch, 15-gram structure to see how much weight it can hold. Photo submitted

“The team building, leadership and critical thinking skills that I learned in Odyssey, I apply daily here at the University of Louisville School of Engineering.”

– Taylor Brock

“This program provided for me an opportunity to learn teamwork in a more creative and open way that I had never experienced within any other program. I learned so much about myself and how to express myself in a creative manner with others.”

– Garrett Stephens

The testimony of these students speaks volumes. Both Taylor and Garrett were members of Corbin High School’s Odyssey of the Mind team that placed 4th at the 2018 World Finals. I watched Taylor grow up in the program for nine years. Odyssey allowed what even she admits was an awkward 4th-grader to find herself and shine in an environment that a normal classroom stifled. Odyssey allowed her to refine her “chatty” skills into great improvisation, comedic timing and public speaking skills.

Garrett, on the other hand, did not join until high school and wasn’t sure he would stick it out. He was reserved and kept to himself during his freshman year. When he joined Odyssey, he opened up and discovered he had skills and abilities with construction that were never given the opportunity to develop in regular classroom setting.

Most importantly, both students became more confident in themselves and their abilities. Odyssey filled a gap in their education.

To get started in Odyssey, teams must choose one of five long-term problems to solve throughout the year. Teams of five to seven students work together to create an eight-minute solution that they present at a regional competition to a team of judges. The teams also must be ready to think on their feet and solve a spontaneous problem, which range from building a structure to writing plays that incorporate technical challenges. Team scores are based on a composite of the long-term and spontaneous problem.

Each individual membership per school costs $135, but discounts are given if more than one membership is purchased. Teams can register online or can download a printable form at the Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind webpage.

“Odyssey helped me come out of my shell. It helped me progress with my soft-skills through script writing, performing, and spontaneous events. I can think on my feet so much faster now.”

– Kara Hale

“I discovered my passion for art. Most importantly, I have learned that the easiest way is not always the best way.”

– Matthew Laun

“The biggest thing I have taken away from Odyssey is how to work with a team to create something. School projects don’t teach this to the same magnitude. I have learned to deal with rejection of my own ideas and how to admit when other ideas are better for the team.”

– Blake Smith

This program, its values and its opportunities is what’s missing from our schools. It can fill the gap our Commonwealth is searching desperately to fill. Odyssey of the Mind – besides placing an emphasis on solving problems – also helps students to work together and to listen to each person. By working as a team, students learn to listen to others and to value each other’s opinions.

The Corbin High School Classics team placed fourth in the World Odyssey of the Mind competition in 2018. Pictured are: (in front) Jimmy Cornn, Kentucky board member and problem captain; Matthew Laun, from left, Kara Hale, Katie Collins, Chloe Krahenbuhl, Coach April Laun, Taylor Brock, Coach Nicole Brock, Blake Smith (as Tinkerbell), and Garrett Stephens. Photo submitted
The Corbin High School classics team placed fourth in the World Odyssey of the Mind competition in 2018. Pictured are: (in front) Jimmy Cornn, Kentucky board member and problem captain; Matthew Laun, from left, Kara Hale, Katie Collins, Chloe Krahenbuhl, Coach April Laun, Taylor Brock, Coach Nicole Brock, Blake Smith (as Tinkerbell), and Garrett Stephens.
Photo submitted

Odyssey also places a focus on good sportsmanship, showing students that even if you do not place in the winner’s circle, the team is still a winner because of the relationships developed and the skills that are learned while solving a problem. As an alumni of the program myself, I can solidly say that I would not be the teacher I am today without the skills I gained and refined in my more than 20 years of Odyssey.

As a member of the Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind Board of Directors, I urge you to visit www.kyootm.com to learn more about how to become involved in this amazing program.

Each year Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind hosts three regional tournaments and a state tournament. I encourage you to visit one of our tournaments and participate in the Shadow Program. This program takes you behind the scenes to talk to officials, students and allows you see performances. To sign-up, contact me and I can get you plugged in.

“My favorite thing about Odyssey is that moment when it all comes together. There is such a moment of satisfaction and ownership when you’re performing something you’ve created after all the passion, frustration and tears shed. It all becomes worth it and that is what keeps me coming back year after year.”

­– Katie Collins

Help Kentucky begin to fill a gap in its education of our children. Visit www.kyootm.com and become involved today. Like Katie, you and your students will want to keep coming back.

 

Jimmy Cornn is the director of bands at Corbin High School. He also serves on the Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind State Board of Directors and is the East-Central Region director.

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