The best way to learn how to do Odyssey of the Mind is simply to do it: most teams and coaches will say that their first foray into the program is truly an eye-opening, educational experience. Teams come back their second year stronger, smarter, and better equipped to tackle the problems they are presented.
However, it is possible to have a solid grasp on the program so that team members and coaches feel better prepared for their inaugural Odyssey. On this page, you will find answers to common questions for first-year participants, as well as for seasoned Omers and coaches who may not have a clear understanding of what is meant by “Style” or “Outside Assistance.” Also, for anyone interested in how to start a new team or membership at a school or in a community, a “How-To Guide for Starting a Team” is available for download in the resources section on the right.
Let us help direct you to information:
Started in 1978 by Dr. C. Samuel Micklus in New Jersey, Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem solving program for students (K-12) in which students select one “Long-Term” problem to “solve” using divergent thinking. Five Long-Term problems are presented each year — 1: Vehicular, 2: Technical, 3: Classical, 4: Structural, and 5: Theatrical — as well as one Primary Problem (for K-2 students). Although the specific requirements of each problem change year to year, the problem categories remain the same. Students compete with other teams in their designated age division — Division I: elementary, Division II: middle school, Division III: high school, Division IV: university — at local regional tournaments then state tournaments and all the way up to the World Finals held each May. At World Finals, the best teams from around the world present their Long-Term problem solutions, and the world champions are crowned!
Of course, beyond the fun and educational experience provided by solving the Long-Term problem, Omers are exposed to budgeting, teamwork, social skills, brainstorming, craftsmanship, technology, programming, design, performance, public speaking, spontaneous thinking, improvisation, and countless other skills throughout their odyssey. To say Odyssey of the Mind is a life-changing program would be an understatement; there’s simply no other journey like it!
In addition to the Long-Term problem, which will be the focus of most of the team’s efforts, there are two other scored elements of Odyssey of the Mind: Style and Spontaneous.
Long-Term is the core component of the Odyssey of the Mind program. Each year, teams select one of the five Long-Term problems to solve and spend months dreaming up their solutions, building backdrops and costumes, rehearsing lines, and finally performing their solutions at the local, state, and international level. Although the five problem categories remain the same year to year — Vehicular, Technical, Classical, Structural, and Theatrical — the specific requirements change annually. For example, one year’s classical problem “Classics…ARTchitecture: The Musical” required teams to incorporate famous works of art and architecture from around the world while also writing and performing an original musical included in their performance. Another year’s classical problem “Classics…Pandora’s Box” required teams to recreate the tale of Pandora’s Box in an original way while also incorporating a video game theme that included a hero, a power monitor, levels, and evil bosses, just like a real video game. Long-Term problem synopses are revealed each April for the following year competition season and the full Long-Term problems are released sometime in early September to coincide with most school starting dates. All requirements and scoring information are listed in each respective Long-Term problem. From there, it’s up to teams to dream up and create their unique solution to the Long-Term problem of their choosing…in the spirit of divergent thinking, there’s never any one right answer!
Style is presented simultaneously within the Long-Term solution and can best be thought of as a team’s unique approach that, while explicitly not asked for or required within the Long-Term problem, is something the team added to their solution to make it distinctly their own — their “flair” or “technique.” The best way to think of Style is using an example from the world of fine art: although you may not be familiar with every single Picasso painting that exists in the world, chances are you would recognize a Picasso if you saw one. Why? Picasso had a very distinct style to his artwork. Similarly, using a different medium as an example, although you may not be familiar with every song from the Motown era, chances are you can recognize a Motown song when you hear it. Why? Because many Motown songs have the same structure, rhythms, and instrumentation. In short, Style is the unique approach a team takes and integrates throughout its Long-Term solution that makes them stand out over and above the competition. Style done well will make it easy for audiences and judges to think back and say, “Oh, that was the team that did _________,” or, “That was the ______________ team,” with the blanks filled in by whatever Style the team developed.
While Long-Term and Style can be worked on for months leading up to a competition, Spontaneous is exactly that: spontaneous! On the day of competition, each team will be assigned a time to compete in Spontaneous. Spontaneous consists of a problem presented to teams after they enter a room. No spectators are allowed inside the room with the team (including coaches), and the team is not made aware of the problem until they have entered the room to compete. Spontaneous problems can vary in scope and format but have included verbal problems like, “Name things that are green,” non-verbal problems that require teams to complete tasks or build weight-bearing structures out of toothpicks and straws, and performance problems that require teams to put on a 5-minute fully improvised play using random items on a table as props. No two problems are ever alike, so teams practice for Spontaneous in the months preceding competition by solving comparable problems, even ones they make up themselves. The purpose of Spontaneous is to encourage quick, improvisational thinking, while also fostering a sense of teamwork and grace under pressure. Spontaneous also keeps teams in suspense, as no one can ever know how a team fares in that sealed Spontaneous room!
Each team will receive a score for its Long-Term solution, its Style, and its Spontaneous performance. The raw scores are presented, as well as calculated scores which are based on a percentage of the top-scoring team’s performance in each of the three areas. The team with the highest overall (combined) calculated score wins 1st place, etc. The top-scoring teams at regional tournaments earn the right to compete at the state/association level, and the top-scoring teams at the state/association level earn the right to compete at the World Finals competition.
Good news! Absolutely anyone can start an Odyssey of the Mind team! The first step you take depends on a few factors, but we’ll address those here to help you know the best way to get a team up and running. A good first place to start is at your local school. Most educators and administrators are familiar with the Odyssey of the Mind program given its long history. If the school already has an Odyssey of the Mind program or coordinator, that’s great – your job just got a lot easier! You just have to let the person running the Odyssey of the Mind program that you’re interested and he/she will help you from there. If your school does not have an Odyssey of the Mind program, don’t worry: you can get one! The only investment a school has to make to have Odyssey is one $135 membership fee for the year’s program materials. Most schools will provide this for interested teams, and even if they do not, you can still start a team by purchasing the membership yourself under the school’s name in most instances. Before we get too carried away, a bit of advice…
OTHER INTERESTED STUDENTS/PARENTS/TEACHERS
Odyssey of the Mind is a team-oriented program. Teams can consist of anywhere between 2 to 7 members each, so a wise thing to do early on is to gauge interest in the program and/or to introduce the program to other students, parents, and teachers who might find it interesting. One way to do this is to have an informational meeting where you can share videos on YouTube or have local volunteers, Odyssey alumni, or even your association’s Association Director available to explain the program.
WORKING WITH A SCHOOL
Most schools have some experience with Odyssey and those that do not yet have experience with Odyssey want it – Odyssey of the Mind is a cost-affordable way to provide STEAM education to students in a creative, engaging way. The annual membership fee of $135 permits a school to enter a team in each problem and each division covered by the school, so an elementary school spanning K-6th grade could enter five 7-person teams in Division I, five 7-person teams in Division II, and a Primary team (…so 35 + 35 + 7 = 77 students, or roughly $1.75 per pupil). That’s a rather good return on investment, not to mention the fact that Odyssey is perceived to be a premium program from parents moving to new districts and has a proven track record of producing exceptionally talented participants.
WORKING WITH A COMMUNITY GROUP
Still, in today’s difficult economic times, some schools are unable to provide funding for an Odyssey of the Mind program no matter how cost effective the program is. In these instances, many teams opt to work with local community organizations – Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the local library, the local Exchange Club, etc. – just about any pre-existing organization can be a “sponsor” for a new team/membership. The only rule is that a community organization cannot be created for the sole purpose of sponsoring Odyssey of the Mind — but rest assured that there are plenty of kind community organizations willing to sponsor Odyssey teams.
Whenever you have a fair number of students interested in the program (along with parents and or teachers who can help coach or facilitate team meetings), you simply purchase a membership at the Odyssey of the Mind Headquarters (www.odysseyofthemind.com), your materials are immediately accessible (and hard copies are mailed to you), and you’re well one your way!
Odyssey of the Mind has deliberately not changed the price of a membership for well over ten years: $135. The reason for this is that the organization believes in making creative problem solving and divergent thinking available to as many students around the world as possible regardless of financial ability or resources. Thus, the membership fee is the only cost a group must pay to access the contents of the program.
If a team plans to compete at its regional, association, and the international tournament known as World Finals, there are, of course, other costs involved. The tournament registrations costs vary from place to place but are minimal and cover the cost of running the tournament (e.g., school rental fees, trophies/awards). World Finals costs incorporate housing and dining plans for teams while they spend a week meeting with and competing against teams from around the world. There are ways to offset these costs through fundraising, travel grants, and sponsorships, but these costs are only incurred if a team qualifies for World Finals and chooses to attend.
The best part of Odyssey is that the actual *solving* of the problems includes a cost limit component that sets an exact dollar amount of how much teams are allowed to spend on their solution. Thus, if a cost limit for a long-term problem is listed as $125, then every aspect of the solution – from props to costumes, vehicles to structures – must cost no more than $125. Some items, typically items that would be available to students in any school (e.g., a normal school chair) are exempt from cost, and only those items actually appearing in the solution on stage must be listed (e.g., if a team uses a computer to print a picture, the cost of the paper and amount of ink used for the picture would be listed but not the computer or software itself). The cost limit serves three purposes: 1) it keeps the playing field even for all teams participating regardless of their resource differences, 2) it keeps the cost of the program’s implementation low, and 3) it encourages creativity as teams find clever ways to use trash, novel materials, and alternative approaches to keep the cost of their solutions low.
An important aspect of Odyssey of the Mind is teamwork. For some Omers, it is difficult to be a part of a team at first because they are quite used to having good ideas or even the “best” idea, but Odyssey of the Mind likes to reinforce the idea that there is no one right way to solve a problem – there are many possible solutions! Omers work with one another to brainstorm several solutions, often solutions that incorporate several different people’s ideas, and then the team pursues the best solutions as a group to compete with other teams. Your idea may spark an even cooler idea in your teammate or vice versa! The important thing to remember is that you’re all on the same team, you all have the same goal, and you are all on this Odyssey together.
Because Odyssey of the Mind is a rather comprehensive program, Omers often find that they can contribute to the team in their own special way. Some students gravitate towarrd technology, engineering, and architecture whereas others gravitate toward painting, composing music, or performing — some do both and others find even more diverse ways to contribute to the group (e.g., one student may be really calm under pressure and, thus, be a great asset for Spontaneous). By working together, team members learn how to play to their strengths so that, together, the team encourages one another and helps the group develop the best possible solution in a rather efficient manner.
For some step-by-step ideas on how to be a good team member, consider the following:
- Read the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (available at www.odysseyofthemind.com).
- Read your Long-Term problem cover to cover several times throughout your Odyssey.
- Review the scoring of your Long-Term problem — are you sure your team is getting all the possible points?
- Contribute. Take a risk. Share your ideas.
- Be supportive. Know that criticism is okay, both giving and taking, but be constructive. Provide alternatives.
- Learn how to separate personal decisions from team decisions: do what is best for your solution.
- Be responsible. Attend scheduled meetings on time and be sure to use that time productively.
- Play to your strengths and encourage others to play to their strengths. This is a team effort.
- Appreciate the journey: you learn so much on this Odyssey!
- Check clarifications and/or submit clarifications up until the clarification cutoff date.
- Support other teams at competition and appreciate their dedication.
- Practice Spontaneous. Anytime, anywhere, with anyone (or even alone).
- Always ask yourself, “Is this the best we can do? Is this the most creative we can be?”
- Always makes sure you have completed your Long-Term paperwork (and make several copies) before tournaments. Exact specifications for what is expected/needed are listed clearly in the Long-Term problem.
- Come back each year stronger, smarter, and even more energized!
Of course, these are just a few ideas of how you can be a good team member. There are other skills you will certainly learn along your journey, but hopefully these will get you started on the right foot.
Coaching an Odyssey of the Mind team can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. In fact, some coaches have been around for decades even after their children are long grown and they have retired from their jobs! For most, seeing the positive impact the Odyssey of the Mind program has on students is enough to keep them around so that they can continue sharing that experience with generations fo students to come. It truly is a life-changing opportunity!
When you ask yourself, “What is an Odyssey of the Mind coach?” you might picture athletic coaches or life coaches that directly tell or otherwise guide their teams on what they must do. NOT IN ODYSSEY. In fact, Odyssey of the Mind has a name for this: Outside Assistance. Indeed, *all* the work in Odyssey of the Mind must be done by the students on the team. No outside help – from the coach(es), parents, friends, siblings, etc. – is allowed. The reason for this is that it keeps solutions fair (e.g., Division I teams are highly unlikely to build elaborate, polished, perfected wooden backdrops), and it also ensures that students are getting the maximum amount of learning out of their Odyssey experience as possible. A student would never learn mathematics if a parent always did the student’s mathematics homework, right?
So if you cannot actually do anything, what does a good coach actually do? A good coach is a MESS: you (M)entor, you (E)ducate, you (S)upervise, and you (S)upport. First, as a mentor, you are an adult figure demonstrating commitment (to meetings, deadlines, etc.) and group dynamics to young people. Second, as an educator, you provide resources – books, guest speakers, videos, etc. – that can instruct students on general skills, such as what makes a strong structure (architecture), what good performance skills are (theatre), how propulsion systems work (vehicular). Note: educating students about general subject areas is not Outside Assistance because you’re not specifically solving their problem for them. Instead, you are providing them general tools, skills, and education that they can then synthesize and use as they develop specific solutions to their Long-Term problem. The classic example of what’s acceptable and unacceptable is an architect speaking to a team competing in the structural problem. If the architect gives a general overview of shapes, their varying strengths, and their use in architecture, this is okay. If the architect creates a mockup of what an example structure might look like that could be used to solve the Long-Term problem or suggests how to solve the problem, this would not be okay. Don’t be afraid to educate – just don’t try to solve the problem for the team. Good coaches are also supervisors. While this is more applicable for younger students (e.g., Primary, Division I, and Division II age groups), older students (Division III and, in some instances, Division IV) have their own challenges that may require supervision. Just making sure the students are safe and secure while they solve their problem is an important part of being a coach. And finally, a team’s coach is its strongest supporter. Sometimes meetings go late. Sometimes outsiders amy nay say a team’s solution (which doesn’t matter anyway because they have no say). In these instances, a team’s coach is its strongest supporter. A good coach keeps the world at bay while the team develops its solution and works its way to competition. A good coach is its team’s biggest fan.
For some step-by-step ideas on how to be a good coach, consider the following:
- Read the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (available at www.odysseyofthemind.com).
- Read your Long-Term problem cover to cover several times throughout your Odyssey.
- Review the scoring of your Long-Term problem — are you sure your team is getting all the possible points?
- It’s fair to ask your team, “Do you believe you’re doing everything you can to make this as creative as possible?”
- Be a good liaison between team members, school administrators, and parents. Keep everyone in the loop.
- Be responsible. Attend scheduled meetings on time. You’re setting an important example for the students.
- Keep your hands off the solution itself. Remember, you can educate, but you can solve the problem.
- Check clarifications and/or submit clarifications up until the clarification cutoff date.
- Practice Spontaneous. You can do practice Spontaneous problems with your team and even score them!
- Recruit some help! It’s perfectly acceptable and normal to have a co-coach.
- Don’t forget the parents: you have a busy life – recruit parents to sit in on some meetings from time to time.
- Appreciate the journey; you learn so much on this Odyssey!
- Double check to make sure the team has all its required paperwork, registrations, etc., prior to tournaments.
- Keep up the energy – it’s easy for students to get stressed or feel overwhelmed – help them shine through!
- Come back each year stronger, smarter, and even more energized!
Of course, these are just a few ideas of how you can be a good coach. There are other skills you will certainly learn along your journey, but hopefully these will get you started on the right foot.
Odyssey of the Mind is a family experience. You will often hear stories of parents who coached their children, siblings who were on the same team, grandparents who flew or drove across several states and time zones to see their grandchildren competing at an Odyssey tournament, and more! Of course, as a parent it is natural to want to see your child succeed, although part of the learning in Odyssey of the Mind is learning how to cope with losing, whether that means coming in 2nd place or not having your idea pursued by your team. Being a good parent in Odyssey of the Mind is a lot about helping your child realize the deeper learning that takes place along the Odyssey – from social skills and teamwork to being a humble winner and a gracious loser. Parenting kids is no easy task, but a good Odyssey parent stays upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic about the many benefits the program brings to his/her child.
Another important part about being a good Odyssey parent is being aware of Outside Assistance. In Odyssey of the Mind, the students must create every aspect of their solution. From the words in the script to the propulsion systems of their vehicles, the students must do all the work. It is often difficult as a creative adult not to chime in or make a useful suggestion especially when your idea might be a million times better or more creative than the students’ ideas, but that’s not what the program is all about. The only time an adult should intervene is if the students are doing something potentially dangerous (e.g., using a wood shop saw without any prior training or supervision). Instead of doing the task for the students, a good parent makes sure that the students have proper training, are using all safety equipment properly, and can complete their task safetly. If not, a good parent asks the team if they have another way of solving the problem – a method the students can actually perform without injuring anyone. No matter how much they may want to, a good Odyssey parent never solves any aspect of the problem for the team. Similarly, the day of competition, it is just as important for parents to be supportive but not to interfere with the team as members put on their costumes, put on makeup for their performance, or finalize their props, structures, vechicles, etc. Parents *can* help move props and backdrops for the team up until the team is scheduled to perform. In addition, parents/supporters can help a team remove their props and backdrops from the performance area once the judges release the team after the performance. However, parents should not be directing or calling the shots: the students are in charge – the parents are simply an extra pair of hands, a warm/loving smile, and a comforting face.
Good Odyssey parents are also helpful with respect to coaching. Keep in mind that, as adults, everyone is busy including your son/daughter’s coach. He/she has a personal life. He/she has other professional obligations. While the coach has volunteered to spend a great deal of time coaching your child’s team, having helpful parent support makes that job infinitely better. Whether that means sitting with the students during a meeting from time to time so the coach can focus on other obligations or simply providing pizza during an all-day weekened marathon meeting, the littlest of gestures can go a long, long way and sets a wonderful example for the students.
Odyssey parents are integral to the Odyssey of the Mind program. They endure a lot of trips to craft stores, supplies stores, dumpsters, and elsewhere. They often feel like a cab service shuttling their children and other people’s children around town and to/from Odyssey meetings. They open up their homes for all-night creativity fests and sleepovers (glitter is very difficult to remove from carpeting as an FYI). However, any Odyssey parent will attest to the countless benefits the program brings to students — all the sacrifices and “hard work” of keeping your hands off the solution pays off as you see students grow through the program. If you’re the kind of parent who can’t see the benefit in losing or failing spectaculalry sometimes, if you are the kind of parent who cannot keep his/her hands off your child’s school projects, or if you are the kind of parent who sees the value in dedicating a great deal of time to a long-term project, we’ll stop short of saying that “Odyssey isn’t for you” and suggest that, instead, maybe Odyssey is exactly the kind of program you need to experience with your child to help both your child and yourself be better prepared and equipped for the real world.
Of course, the best part of being an Odyssey parent is showing up the day of competition and watching your child present his/her solution with a team. There is something quite magical about Odyssey of the Mind in that students, coaches, and even parents may not realize just how many important life skills the students are acquiring on their journey, but on the day of that first performance in front of judges and a crowded room of spectators and supporters, it hits you…and all that hard work makes perfect sense.
Each year, Odyssey of the Mind releases six Long-Term problems – one Primary Problem (for grades K-2) and five core problems (for K-university level). The purpose of the Primary Problem is to expose the youngest of students to the Odyssey of the Mind program in a safe, educational way: these teams do not receive an official “score” but, instead, are often invited to showcase their solutions at local and association-level tournaments (note: they are adorable). However, most students compete in one of the core Long-Term problems: 1) Vehicular, 2) Technical, 3) Classical, 4) Structural, 5) Theatrical. Although the specific requirements of a Long-Term problem varies year to year, the genre or “theme” of each problem stays the same (i.e., Problem #1 always involves vehicles — whether that means small vehicles that must complete tasks around an obstacle course or a large vehicle upon which a team member must ride and complete tasks). In April of each year, Odyssey of the Mind Headquarters will post Long-Term problem synopses for the upcoming Odyssey year. These synopses are “sneak peeks” at what the Long-Term problems will require of teams for the upcoming year. Then, in early September, the full, complete versions of the Long-Term problems are available for download and mail (hard copy) once a group has purchased its membership for the year.
The Long-Term problem is what the team will spend most of its time solving in Odyssey of the Mind. Some teams begin in September as soon as the full problems are released. Other teams wait until January to get started. As such, teams can spend anywhere from weeks to months dreaming up their solutions to their Long-Term problem. Teams often wonder whether it is advantageous to start earlier/later, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter: what matters is that a team uses its time efficiently and constructively.
When approaching the Long-Term problem it is imperative that every team member reads through the problem several times. Each problem will list, specifically, what the team is required to do. In some instances, the problems will also list what teams are not allowed to do. Research has shown that having some constraints often leads to more creative solutions than leaving a question entirely open-ended, so one way to think about solving the problem is, “If it doesn’t say we can’t do something, then we can!” Hooray for divergent thinking! Perhaps the most useful section of a Long-Term problem (aside from the list of requirements) is the section on scoring. Too often teams have a poor understanding of what, exactly, is being scored and how it is being scored. For example, in some instances teams are scored objectively: did the team present X during it’s solution? Yes (10 points) or No (0 points). In other instances, teams are scored subjectively: how creative was X (1 = not at all creative to 10 = extremely creative). Understanding scoring is important because it will suggest how teams should budget their time. If a team receives 10 points for simply having some item in the skit and 0 points if it does not, perhaps the team should not spend months perfecting the item because regardless of how pretty, novel, creative, or exciting it is, the team is only scored on whether or not the item appears. On a related note, when it comes to budgeting time, an aspect of the Long-Term solution worth 40 points should probably receive much more attention that an aspect of the Long-Term solution only receiving 5 points. Note, it is often true in the vehicular, technical, and structural problems that the vehicle, technical device, and structure, respectively, count for the majority of the Long-Term solution’s points. So while a good performance is often entertaining and fun to watch, teams should keep in mind where the points are in the Long-Term problem, as a structure team who sings its entire solution might be disheartened when they don’t win first place after their structure only holds five pounds. Alternatively, teams in the classical and theatrical problems will likely spend more time perfecting their sketches, costumes, props, music, and artistic masterpieces, as these items will likely count for more points in these particular problems. Of course, the specific requirements change year to year – a Classics problem may require a technological device just as a vehicular problem may require an original piece of music to perform – the point is to pay attention where the points are being allocated and to budget your time and efforts accordingly. This is a great preparation for real-life time management.
The day of competition, teams will be assigned a specific Long-Term performance time. They are required to show up at least 15 minutes prior to the start of this scheduled performance time to check in with Staging Judges. It is here that teams will provide copies of their required paperwork (found in the Long-Term problem; blank forms are available in the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide and online). Teams will then be escorted to the staging area where they will meet the Timekeeper/Announcer. The Timekeeper/Announcer will ask teams if they are okay with flash photography, videotaping, and what they will say to indicate that they are finished performing so he/she knows when to stop the clock. Teams performing in the technical problems (i.e., Problems 1,2, and 4) have exactly 8 minutes to perform their Long-Term solution at which point the Timekeeper/Announcer will say, “Stop,” aloud and stop the timer. Teams may not continue performing past these 8 minutes and any part of the Long-Term solution not presented during those 8 minutes will not be scored. Teams performing in Classics or the theatrical problem (i.e., Problems 3 and 5) can go over the 8 minutes but are penalized 5 points for every 10 seconds (or fraction thereof) that they go over the time limit. These teams will be stopped at 9 minutes (which carries a 30-point overtime penalty). No one likes to penalize, but the time limit penalty is enacted to keep the schedule on time, which is particularly important in the setup intensive technical problems (hence the 8-minute hard stop). Time management is an important part of Odyssey, so a well-rehearsed team will know its solution fits within 8 minutes.
Following the team’s Long-Term solution performance, the audience and judges will cheer and then the judges will approach the team to ask them questions about their solution. The judging team consists of Problem Judges and Style Judges. The Problem Judges are tasked with scoring the Long-Term problem per the scoring rubric presented in the problem. In other words, the Problem Judges are scoring the team on all the required elements listed in the Long-Term problem according to the scoring rubric also presented in the problem. As such, the Problem Judges will ask the team how they came up with their solutions, how they constructed their solutions, and other questions that help them better understand the team’s logic and work behind their Long-Term solution. The Style Judges are scoring *only* the Style categories — some of which are predetermined for the team and listed in the Long-Term problem and some of which are the “free choice” of the team — and, as such, will ask teams questions pertaining to their Style. IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT STYLE: For the “free choice” options, teams can *only* select to be scored on aspects of their solution that are not already being scored in the scope of the Long-Term problem. So if a Classics team is being scored on the creative use of materials in its narrator’s costume in the Long-Term problem, the team cannot choose “creative use of materials in the narrator’s costume” as its free choice for Style nor is it wise to choose “the narrator’s costume” or “the creativity of the narrator’s costume.” The team could choose another character’s costume or perhaps something that has nothing to do with the “creative use of materials” or the “creativity” of the narrator’s costume, but you can see how the latter might be tricky for judges to fully grasp in the short amount of time the team has their attention. More on Style in a bit…
Once the Long-Term judges are finished asking the team questions, they will let the team know, send them on their way, and return to their seats to finish scoring the team’s Long-Term performance. At this time, the team will begin to take its props and Long-Term items from the stage to an area outside the performance space as instructed by the judging team. Parents, coaches, supporters, and friends can help the team remove these items from the stage at this time to help speed the process along. At a later point in time, the Head Judge will post that Long-Term scores are available (usually on a white board or posterboard) at which point the team’s coach can retrieve the scores from the Long-Term judge.
In sum, the Long-Term component of Odyssey of the Mind is truly the central aspect of the program. This is what the teams will spend most of their time solving, this is where a great deal of learning takes place, and these are the 8 minutes that delight judges, fellow teams, family members, and spectators around the world!
Don’t worry: Style is a tricky concept for newcomers and old-school Omers to understand. Hopefully after reading this tutorial you’ll have a better grasp on what Style is and what it is not. As addressed in the preceding section for people interested in starting an Odyssey program, the best way to think about Style is that it represents a team’s unique “flair” or “technique,” something that is so unique to the team that when judges and/or spectators think about all the solutions they saw later in the day they’ll say, “Oh, that was the Blue team,” or, “Oh, that was the team that incorprated gymnastics throughout their solution!” The analogy we like to use comes from the world of fine art: although you may not know every single painting Picasso painted, chances are if we showed you a painting you would know whether or not it was a Picasso simply based on the style. That is, Picasso had a very distinct painting style that involved sharp angles, geometric shapes, and distorted human figures. That’s how Style works in Odyssey, too!
To come up with a particular Style, teams should consider two key ideas: 1) Can we be sure that our Style will be unique and make us stand out from all the competition?, and 2) Can our Style be executed across most of the components of our Long-Term solution, especially the two required Style elements listed in the Long-Term and the two “free choice” elements we select ourselves? For the first question, Style is sort of meaningless if it does not make your team unique. If every painter painted like Picasso, suddenly his Style carries a lot less meaning. So for Odyssey of the Mind teams, sometimes choosing a Style that seems like it might be popular is risky: maybe everyone will be solving their Long-Term problem in that Style! If some global event is taking place in Asia, teams might be tempted to incorporate Asian artwork and themes into their solutions — but they should keep in mind that other teams might do the same! Or maybe an a cappella movie is #1 at the box office, so the team plans to incorporate a cappella and the use of voices for sound effects in its solution…so might every other team. Thus, it’s important for a team to think, “What can we do that will make us truly unique?”
As for the second question, the fifth and final category of Style is what’s called “Overall Effect.” This, of course, refers to the team’s selected Style and its ability to enhance the Long-Term solution comprehensively. Thus, the more specific elements of a team’s solution that can be touched or influenced by its Style, the better. If the team is only able to incorporate its Style to a few minor components of its Long-Term solution, it probably should not expect to do remarkably well in this “Overall Effect” category.
One last point about Style: do *not* include something in Style that is already being scored in your Long-Term solution! If judges catch that you have done this the day of competition, they will ask you to select something else to be scored on in Style prior to your team presenting its solution. Of course, this is intended to help the team, as otherwise the team would receive no score for this Style element (as it is already being scored in Long-Term). Thus, to save yourself any stress, anxiety, or worry, double check to make sure that your “free choice” selections for Style are not already being scored in Long Term directly or indirectly. Some teams try to skate around this issue by choosing something like “The humor of the heroic character” when the Long-Term problem is already judging something like “The Overall Effectiveness of the heroic character.” While these are technically two different constructs – humor v. overall effectiveness – it’s just as clear that humor could be included in the ‘overall effectiveness’ so much so that teams may inadvertently be shooting themselves in the foot by selecting so conceptually similar to what is already being scored. Depending on the judging team, they may let this fly, but when it comes to Style and its overlap with Long-Term scoring elements, it’s better to be safe and discrete as opposed to overlapping and sorry!
What do you want your team to be known as/for? The team that did _________. The __________ team. Go above and beyond what’s asked of you, create a unique stamp, and then own that Style in every possible aspect of your Long-Term solution.
Spontaneous is exactly what it sounds like: spontaneous! That is, one never knows what to expect with Spontaneous, which is precisely the point: the purpose of Spontaneous is to help students hone their quick-thinking skills, to expect the unexpected, to work as a team to solve an unknown problem that presents itself. Spontaneous problems can take a variety of forms, but the process for Spontaneous is always the same. Teams will be assigned a Spontaneous time at the competition. Roughly 15 minutes before that scheduled time teams should check in at the Spontaneous check-in desk. From there, coaches and supporters must wait for the team to return (that is, only teams may go beyond the Spontaneous check-in desk). Some associations will escort the team to a “holding room” where volunteers will engage the students in games, singalongs, and other activities as they wait for their Spontaneous judging team to come retrieve them. Once the team is called for in the holding room, they will go to the room in which they will solve their Spontaneous problem.
Once the team arrives to its room, the judges will have the team enter and will let the team know what kind of Spontaneous problem they will solve. There are many varieties of Spontaneous problems, but the most common include Verbal, Verbal Hands-On, and Non-Verbal. Verbal problems are solved using words and spoken language. Verbal Hands-On are problems that often require some building or interacting with objects but permit talking and language to also be used. Non-Verbal problems often require teams to complete tasks without talking, and teams tend to be scored on accomplishing certain tasks. To give you a better understanding, let’s consider specific examples of each of those three problem types:
Verbal: An example of a Verbal Spontaneous problem might be, “Name things that are green. Each common response will receive 1 point while highly creative or humorous responses will receive 3 points. For example, you could say ‘grass,’ which would be common or you could respond with ‘A rookie is green,’ which would be more creative. You have one minute to think and three minutes to respond.”
Verbal Hands-On: An example of a Verbal Hands-On Spontaneous problem might be, “On the table in front of you is a collection of random props including a toy guitar, a hand duster, three paper plates, markers, string, four wooden dowels, two rubber bands, a bucket, and five plastic cups. Using the materials provided, your team is to come up with and perform a four-minute sketch that incorporates these items in creative ways. The sketch should include a song but otherwise can be about anything the team wishes. You will have two minutes to discuss your solution and four minutes to perform your sketch.”
Non-Verbal: An example of a Non-Verbal Spontaneous problem might be, “For this problem, your team will be divided into signalers and receivers. You may decide who plays which role. Signalers will be given a diagram demonstrating colored ping pong balls placed in a variety of six buckets as shown (show image of two rows of three buckets). During the planning time, your team is to use the materials provided on this table (e.g., a broomstick, a dustpan, three papers plates, markers, a bell, two paper clips, a piece of yarn, a ruler, blue painter’s tape) to devise a communication system that will be used to help the receivers know which color ping pong balls go in which bucket. When time begins, the signalers will be given a new sheet featuring certain color ping pong balls distributed throughout the six buckets to communicate to the receivers without using any verbal communication. You will have two minutes for planning and practicing and two minutes to perform the actual solution.”
As you can guess, each problem type carries its own unique opportunities and challenges for teams. Some team members may be better at verbal problems and performing whereas other team members may best contribute for building or hands-on problems. The good news is that once the problem type is mentioned at the beginning of the Spontaneous experience, the team can select which five of its members will compete in the Spontaneous problem (not all 7 team members participate in Spontaneous, but the two extra members stay in the room and watch their team compete).
Scoring in Spontaneous varies from problem to problem but is clearly articulated during the problem instructions. A newer approach (as of 2015) is to allow teams solving Verbal problems the opportunity to decide the possible points for their answer. In this type of Verbal problem, team members are given a finite number of index cards with numbers on either end, the lower number representing the score for a common response, the higher number representing the score for a creative response. The team member gives his/her response, and then based on whether the judges thought the response was common or creative, they score according to the points on the card. This provides team members an opportunity to take calculated risks. Some Verbal problems even let students write down a few answers (note: not for their fellow team members to see), but this varies from problem to problem. The lesson: it’s good to practice a lot of different Spontaneous problem types, as you never know what you are going to get! Practice problems are available in books provided for purchase on the main Odyssey of the Mind website and several associations/teams even post their own practice problems online for free. Of course, you can always make up your own Spontaneous problems, as well!
Although Odyssey of the Mind is an affordable solution for schools and community groups hoping to bring the value of divergent and creative problem solving to students, there are some costs associated with the program. A membership costs $135, and the team’s solution is capped typically between $125-$145 depending on the specification in each particular Long-Term problem. However, teams advancing to World Finals will have to pay the cost of food and lodging for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To help offset these costs, most Odyssey of the Mind teams engage in various forms of fundraising. From car washes to candy sales, special performance nights to sponsorships from local businesses and organizations, teams are typically as creative when it comes to fundraising as they are with solving their Long-Term problems! It should be noted that parents, coaches, teachers, and others can help secure funding for teams (i.e., there’s no Outside Assistance when it comes to fundraising). The best idea when it comes to fundraising, however, is to start it before you even need it! Schools will often allow Odyssey groups to save money in an account that will help pay for future expenses that arise when participating in the program.
Creative Opportunities Unlimited is happy to provide this website as a resource for teams around the world, but we also think it is important for teams and coaches to share “best practices” with one another! For that reason, we are happy to host an Odyssey of the Mind wiki, started by an Odyssey alumnus from North Carolina, that continues to evolve as the program continues to evolve! You can find the wiki here – just remember not to share specific solutions to avoid unintentional Outside Assistance. Otherwise, best practices are permitted and encouraged!