Pennsbury teams demonstrate creative problem solving during Odyssey of the Mind competition

by June Portnoy

More than 130 students from Pennsbury School District competed in the South East Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind Regional Competition held at Pennsbury High School on Saturday, March 3rd.

Odyssey is an international educational program whose mission is to provide creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through high school.

Through problem-solving open-ended questions, students develop creative thinking skills that can be applied to real-life situations.

With 23 teams competing, Pennsbury was the largest school district to compete in the South East Pennsylvania Region of Odyssey, the largest region in this state. This year, 13 of these teams finished in first, second or third place in their division, and 11 of these teams will advance to the state Odyssey tournament being held April 7th at the Pocono Mountain East School District.

Seven of these 11 teams finished in first place. “This is a significant number,” explained Jim Howarth, President of the Pennsbury Odyssey of the Mind Association, “because only about 15 teams in the region win first place. This was also the first year that we have had representation from every school in our district.”

Competing schools formed teams of up to seven students. Teams were broken into the following four divisions: the Primary division, consisting of kindergarteners through second graders; Division 1, made up of third through fifth graders; Division 2, made up of sixth through eighth graders; and Division 3, made up of ninth through 12th graders.

Teams selected one of five long-term competitive problems. “Each team dedicates approximately four months to creating and developing the best possible solution to the problem in which they are competing,” explained Allison Emmerich, Regional Director of the South East Pennsylvania Region of Odyssey. “They receive up to eight minutes to present their solution, often in a theatrical performance, to the judges. Judges look for creative solutions, so students are taught to think outside the box.”

This year’s Problem 1, “Triathlon Travels,” required students to create and ride in vehicles while competing in multiple events, such as scoring in “curling” and hitting the right target when “jousting.”

In order to solve “Emoji, Speak for Yourself” Problem 2, teams used emojis to tell another emoji’s life story. Many students dressed in costumes and created sets for “Classics…Mockumentary! Seriously?” Problem 3.

Teams presented a “mockumentary” on classics of literature in an on-stage performance. Those teams who chose to solve Problem 4, “Animal House,” created and designed structures to look like an animal.

The structure and weight placement were vital components in the team’s performance of this solution. Problem 5, “A Stellar Hangout,” challenged teams to bring together original creatures in a creative hangout during a quest for a treasure.

“Problems appeal to diverse areas of interests,” described Allison. “This year you might see theater majors performing in the “mockumentary,” while future engineers chose to create “Animal House” structures.

In addition to one long-term problem, each team was also required to solve a spontaneous problem. These problems were not revealed to the teams until they walked into the room to solve the problem.

These problems help develop quick thinking, creativity, teamwork and the ability to deal with the unexpected.

“These spontaneous problems have taught me to think on my feet and be prepared for whatever comes my ways,” said Katie Rosta from Fallsington, a Pennsbury High School senior who has been competing at Odyssey since third grade.

After a full day of competitions, students, parents, volunteers and teachers, as well as administrators from Pennsbury School District and Odyssey of the Mind, gathered in PHS’s gym for the award ceremony.

Teams were scored for their long-term problem solution, how well they solved a spontaneous problem on the spot and style–the elaboration of their long-term problem solution.

Those students advancing to the state Odyssey tournament will have the opportunity to compete with teams from all over Pennsylvania.

According to Allison, teams will be asked to solve the same long-term problems they solved in the regional tournament, but might opt to practice more and tweak their solutions prior to that competition.

Those teams who win at the state Odyssey Tournament will advance to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Iowa State University to be held May 23rd through May 26th.

Allison described this tournament as the “Olympics of creativity.” She added, “We have a parade of nations from all over the globe who come together to compete.”

“Pennsbury School District has sent at least one team to the World Finals 30 out of the 33 years that we have been competing in this tournament,” said Jim. “This is our 34th year, so fingers crossed that we keep that winning streak going.”

PHOTO CAPS: 1. This team from Pennsbury High School performed a  “mockumentary” on “Alice in Wonderland.” They are from left Robby Zelin, Danielle Gershman, Noah Petroski, Sarah Uhlman, Rowan Leventhal, and Becca Uhlman.

  1. Katie Rosta, of Fallsington, has been competing in Odyssey since third grade.