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Odyssey of the Mind

4th Grade Glebe students strike a “selfie” at the end of their 8-minute show at the 2018 World Finals in Iowa.

Odyssey of the Mind is a for-profit international creative problem solving competition. School-sponsored teams of up to seven students spend months solving a creative problem. The teams do ALL the work and come up with ALL the ideas, encouraged by parent coaches. The hallmark of an Odyssey solution is that it is student-driven.

Glebe’s Odyssey of the Mind teams get an opportunity to:

Superhero puppies try to thwart a villain.

  • practice both teamwork and leadership,
  • hone their creative-thinking skill,
  • take ownership for the solutions they create for Odyssey of the Mind problems,
  • present their solution at a regional competition, and
  • have fun!

Please contact Christina Headrick if you are interested in forming a team or have questions. (email)

Who should participate?

  • Students who like to make things from odds and ends lying around – or students who would like to start making things from odds and ends lying around.
  • Students who like to write plays – or students who would like to try their hand at writing plays.
  • Students with big imaginations – or students who would like to have a big imagination.
  • Students with technical minds – or students who would like to explore something technical.
  • In other words – anyone whose interest is piqued should consider signing up!

Students who are in Kindergarten through Second Grade can join “Primary” teams, who aren’t scored competitively and all answer the same question. Do your best and just have fun!

Students in 3rd to 5th Grades can join “Division I” teams, whose “Long-Term Problem” presentations are scored at the regional tournament and who also participate in a “Spontaneous” competition to answer a surprise problem that day in a short amount of time. Do your best and have fun!

How to Join a Team

The number of Odyssey teams at Glebe will be dictated by the number of parents who are willing to coach, judge at the regional competition, and otherwise help out – as well as by the number of students who are interested in participating.

We cannot have a team without a coach or coaches. Parent volunteers can learn everything they need to know about Odyssey of the Mind at a coaching workshop on Saturday, November 3, in Alexandria, and at a second problem-specific Arlington workshop on January 16, 2019.

We also need volunteers to serve as judges at the regional meet. If your team cannot recruit a volunteer judge prior to registration, you will not be allowed to register. Judges must attend a mandatory training on February 9, 2019.

Parents and students in all grades are invited to an Odyssey Information Meeting:

WHEN: September 25, 7 to 8 pm

WHERE: Glebe Elementary School Library

Interested 3rd to 5th Grade students and parents should also make plans to have their prospective OMERs attend at least one Friday afternoon Odyssey of the Mind Workshop.

WHEN: September 28, October 5, and October 19, from 3:45 to 5 pm., October 5 and 19, from 5 to 6 pm,

WHERE: Glebe Elementary School (Meet in the Library. We’ll be in the Library and an Art Classroom.)


Odyssey Interest Form

Please submit an Odyssey of the Mind Interest form before October 19, if your student would like to be placed on a team, and/or you would like to coach, judge, or volunteer.

In addition, we created a sign-up sheet for various activities here, so we can get a better count for planning.


A team launches a vehicle on a zipline!

When does Odyssey happen?

The Glebe Odyssey program starts by the end of October, when student teams will be finalized, and then they choose a “Long Term Problem” to answer. Existing teams may begin working before then. Teams meet after school or in the evenings, depending on the availability of their coach and members.

The teams work on their problems for four to six months, then present their solutions at a regional competition in Alexandria on March 9, 2019.

A team may continue enhancing their project through April and May, if they advance to the State Championship, and then, World Finals.

A student engineers a car powered by a mousetrap.

Odyssey Timeline for 2018-19:

  • Tuesday, September 257 to 8 pm, Information Meeting: Glebe Elementary School Library, students and parents welcome.
  • Fridays, September 28, October 5, October 19, from 3:45 to 5 pm, Odyssey “Try It!” Workshops: Students in Grades 3 to 5, and parents considering coaching, are invited to try out on-the-spot “Spontaneous” Problems. Meet and dismiss from in the Library. We’ve also reserved an Art Classroom for activities.
  • Friday, October 19: Students and parent coaches, who want to form teams, should submit information forms by this date to the Odyssey Coordinator. Please consider volunteering to coach, so we can allow all kids to participate.
  • Primary teams of Kindergarten through 2nd Grade Students will be formed based on student and parent interest.
  • Thursday, October 25: 5th Grade Teams trek to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for a behind-the-scenes tour after early release. We’ll return for pickup at Glebe Elementary between 5 and 6 pm. There are 25 spots, including chaperones, available.
  • Friday, October 26 (No school today), Materials Workshop: Come sample different supplies you can use to build stuff, including wood, foam, wire, styrofoam, cardboard, PVC pipes, and more. We’ll be creating a Halloween haunted house in a garage. More details to come. Come in old clothes that you can get paint on. Please bring goggles and work gloves if you have them. Please bring a handy or creative parent, if you have one of those. The kids will learn about safety for tools such as cutters, saws, hot glue guns, etc.
  • Sunday, October 28, 6 to 8 pm, Odyssey Halloween Haunted House Fun-draiser: Come enjoy the frightful creativity at the kids’ spooky haunted house. Stop by 4909 16th Road North, a few blocks away from Glebe. All funds raised support Odyssey teams at Glebe. $3 admission and/or make a donation.
  • Wednesday, October 31, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, Halloween Haunted House: Stop by 4909 16th Road North, a few blocks away from Glebe.
  • October/November: Teams should submit room reservation forms if they want to meet at Glebe Elementary initially. Forms should be turned into Colleen Calhoun in the school office. Most teams will move to a team member’s house as they start building things and/or using tools that may not be appropriate on school property. Decide when and where you will meet. Develop a team plan for your season.
  • November: Teams tell the Odyssey Coordinator which Long Term Problem they will answer, and everyone registers for the competition. Teams start meeting before the end of the year, based on students’ schedules. Your team should brainstorm and organize ideas for engineering projects, themes, plots, costumes, sets, props, and style items. Also set aside time at each meeting to answer Spontaneous Problems. It’s nearly 1/3 of your total score!
  • November 3, 8:15 am to 1 pm, Coaches Training: St. Louis Catholic School, Alexandria, VA (recommended for new coaches and great for current coaches to learn new skills). The school is at 2901 Popkins Lane, Alexandria, VA.
  • Tuesday, November 6: All teams, all ages, and parent volunteers are invited on a special group tour of the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, including a hands-on creative workshop. We’ll leave from Glebe Elementary School at 8:30 am and return by 4 pm. There are up to 60 spots available for this activity, and we are required to have a certain number of parent volunteers.
  • December: Teams may decide on themes, finish an outline of a story, write a rough draft of a script, begin working on costumes, begin building parts of their problem solution, start making sets and props, and practice Spontaneous Problems. Encourage your team to take risks and “fail fast” on ideas, so they can work on improving them, or move on to another idea. Let them know this is the normal design process!
  • January 2019: Teams finalize scripts, finish engineering work for project solutions, and complete major style items. Don’t forget to make a creative membership sign that is incorporated artfully into your show. Submit questions to the national problem clarifications webpage.
  • January 16, 2019, 7 to 8:30 pm, Regional Coaches’ Meeting with Problem Captains: Ask the experts problem-specific questions and gain coaching tips from others in the Odyssey community. Campbell Elementary School, 737 South Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA.
  • January 18, 2019: Deadline to enter a project into the Odyssey Angels community service competition. (It’s a ticket to World Finals if you win!)
  • February 2019: Teams practice presentations and perfect inventions. Time your practices. Teams complete paperwork, including their cost form, style form, and the problem form where they explain their solutions and ideas. Teams should have dress rehearsals for parents the last week of February. And don’t forget: Practice a Spontaneous Problem at every meeting!
  • February 9, 2019, 8:15 am to 1 pm, Judges’ Training: St. Louis Catholic School, Alexandria, VA (required for all competition judges). Every team must find a parent volunteer to serve as a judge, who MUST attend this training, as well as the March 9 competition. The school is at 2901 Popkins Lane, Alexandria, VA.
  • March 9, 2019, 7 am to 7 pm, Regional Competition: West Potomac High School, Alexandria, VA. Competition winds down about 4:30 pm, and the awards ceremony happens after all final scores are tabulated. More details will be provided about logistics, but plan to go early to get parking at 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria, VA.
  • April 1, 2019: Deadline to report results on any Odyssey Angels project.
  • April 6, 2019, 7 am to 9 pm, State Competition: location TBD, often in the Norfolk area. Most qualifying teams drive down Friday after school, compete Saturday, and come back Sunday.
  • May 22-25, 2019, World Finals Competition: Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. Yes! You can get there if you put in a lot of hours and keep pushing for that next, more creative idea. You can also attend for fun. It’s inspiring.

This team created a hovercraft that flew across the stage with two riders.

More Program Details

When you sign up, we need to know:

  • Your student’s name, grade, and birthday.
  • If you (or another adult you know) would be interested in coaching or judging the competition. If we do not have enough parent volunteers, some students will not be able to participate.
  • Confirmation that your student CAN participate in the competition on Saturday, March 9, 2019, at West Potomac High School in Alexandria.
  • A commitment from your student to do the work and get creative!
  • If desired, information about which Long Term Problem(s) interests your student(s), and how they would approach those problems (their words and thoughts!) We are trying this, because it may help to place students with certain interests, like trying the balsa challenge, together.
  • If you may need any confidential assistance from the scholarship fund.

How Much Does It Cost?

The Glebe PTA covers coach training and regional competition entrance fees.

At a minimum, participants should expect to contribute $25-$60 towards their teams’ expenses, plus support coaches when they ask for help with snacks and other needs. Some teams may decide to purchase a tool or have another expense, such as extra costs to buy more balsa wood for structure testing. Coaches are responsible to discuss ideas with parents and to organize possible additional team-specific expenses.

To participate in all optional activities, contribute to a scholarship fund, and support their team’s expenses, participants should expect to contribute up to $90, which would be as follows:

  • A roughly $125-$150 budget that each team has for their Long Term Problem presentation, plus an additional amount to purchase extra supplies (that may not used in the end product). ($29 of the $90 cost)
  • Optional field trips to NASA Goddard (free, but possible transportation cost) and the American Visionary Arts Museum creative workshop/tour ($10 per student, plus a small possible transportation cost, undecided until we have a sense of interest)
  • Workshop supplies ($2.50 x 4 optional workshops = $10) and the supplies for any projects that could benefit all Glebe teams, such as building a “crusher” that all Glebe students could use to test balsa wood structures ($3)
  •  A scholarship fund. ($10)
  • Other possible costs as decided by a committee of coaches of teams, which could include t-shirts, truck rental, or a donation to help a Glebe team or another APS Odyssey team move onward in the competition.

The Glebe Odyssey program will provide fee waivers and financial assistance to interested students. You can indicate interest in financial assistance by adding a note on your form or by sending an email to the Odyssey Coordinator (to be kept confidential). No student will be turned away due to financial need.

What is the time commitment?

Students (and coaches) decide how hard to play at Odyssey of the Mind.

You can solve problems, have fun, and keep it all about the journey! Try it. Don’t stress. Just making it to the regional tournament with a solution is a SUCCESS.

Teams should discuss their goals.

At a minimum, all Odyssey teams should plan to:

  • Have extra opportunities to increase their creativity and teamwork.
  • Meet at least weekly – at a time, date, and place of your team’s choosing – starting anytime between October 1 and December 7th, and going until the regional competition in March.
  • The rest is up to your team!

More Details for Teams

So is this a theater project or an engineering contest?

The Long Term Problem solutions are usually short sketch plays, developed by the teams, that answer a creative question.

Some questions are more technical, such as asking students to design and build a vehicle that is unpacked out of a suitcase, assembled, and driven by a student. Technical components of solutions can include coded robots, low tech “simple” machines, and tiny balsa wood structures that hold over 1,100 pounds of weight.

Other questions are more dramatic, such asking students to bring new life to an old fable. The plays can involve elaborate musical numbers, fanciful costumes, clever dialogue, and student-built sets that transform with elaborate engineering. A high school team engineered a way to make Peter Pan fly at last year’s World Finals. Another created a lifelike, mechanical puppet bird, that stole the show.

All problems tend to involve both technical and dramatic aspects, so whether your student is more technical or artistic, there is a place on the team for him or her.

Do students compete against kids who are the same age?

Students in Kindergarten to 2nd Grade all tackle the same Primary Division Long Term Problem that combines aspects of the older division problems so students can try things.

Second Graders tend to be more ready for this experience, but all younger students are welcome to participate, based on the availability of parent volunteers. Glebe has had some multi-age Primary teams, especially with siblings who wanted to work together.

There is no scoring for younger kids, and the judges are supportive of whatever they create. They put on a performance at the regional tournament. After they are done, they can play games and watch other presentations.

Younger teams benefit from having two coaches present during work sessions. We recommend keeping meetings short, one hour or less, and planning more sessions if needed. Coaches are actively responsible for team time management.

RESIST the urge to help the kids with making anything. It’s totally against the spirit and the rules of the competition! Also, if younger students show up with duct-taped brown boxes for their set, it’s fine. Respect the kids’ ownership. A parent coach can act as secretary, writing down ideas and even typing out a script, as long as it’s the kids’ words.

Students in 3rd to 5th Grade can join teams that are in the same grade or that are multi-age and multi-grade.

They spend four to six months to create a roughly 8-minute presentation that showcases their solution to a Division I Long Term Problem. There are five kinds of Long Term Problem questions:

  • a vehicle engineering challenge,
  • a “technical” engineering challenge that requires several original inventions to be incorporated into a performance,
  • a classics challenge where students reference a known work of art and/or literature in a creative way,
  • a balsa wood engineering challenge where the strength of a structure is tested with weights while a performance ensues,
  • and, a theatrical challenge, which typically requires designated plot elements, elaborate sets, costumes, original scripts, music and other details.

Older kids should learn a process for how to brainstorm what needs to be done, to make their own task lists, and to learn how to manage their time, although coaches are still allowed to act as secretary or scribe sometimes during sessions. Coaches can also assist elementary school students in filling out paperwork, as long as it is their words.

Meetings can last up to two hours. You can schedule more sessions and host 2 to 5 kids at some meetings, to create more time for hands-on work. Or you can set greater limits on your time as a coach, and the students can work on projects at home, then bring them to meetings.

Always plan to have a lot of parent-donated snacks on hand, especially after school!

Synopses for the 2018-2019 Long Term Problems

The full text of the problems has been released but is still confidential except for teams that have already registered and begun work. For now – here’s a synopsis of each problem. Teams will choose one Long Term Problem to solve.

Please don’t tell your student how you would solve these problems, as that could be “Outside Assistance” and result in a penalty. Also, if your student discusses problem solutions with other students not on their team, that’s also considered OA and could result in a penalty.

New OMERs should read the problems and write down their thoughts, when you are filling out the interest form together. We would like to know if students have any specific interests, to help us in forming teams.

If your OMER is flexible, and doesn’t have strong feelings about problem selection, that’s also fine!

Learning the Engineering Design Process

Design Engineering Process

Participation in Odyssey of the Mind is a great way for creative students to get hands-on learning experience with the engineering design process.

Coaches or team members might ask open-ended questions to start discussion. Teams plan, disagree, and work through conflicts as they try to improve a design.

Projects are built. Students often fail, but learn from the results, and try again, as part of the engineering design process. A coach can help teach grit and walk them through this process, without telling the students what specifically to do.

Become a Coach – We Need YOU!

Our program greatly appreciates all the superstar parents who help by coaching and volunteering to support Odyssey teams.

Check out the 2018-2019 Program Guide for even more details.

Responsibilities of a coach include:

  • Helping the kids with time management and task organization, especially younger ones.
  • Organizing a weekly meeting for about one to two hours each week through January, as well as some longer workdays. If you can have some work days and accomplish more in December, you will be well-positioned in January.
  • Being a “Go-for” to take them places and exposing them to experiences that might inspire. (We’ve planned two optional trips FOR you.)
  • Creating space and time for the team to have more hours to work, especially closer to regional tournament. In the weeks leading up to the presentation, teams may want anywhere from 2 to 10 hours of time per week, as they rush to complete things they haven’t finished yet (although hopefully, you are ahead of schedule!)
  • Keeping the kids safe. Parents can teach skills that students ask to learn, such as how to use a tool safely all by themselves with an adult standing by or how to operate a glue gun without getting burned. Coaches can facilitate “guest experts.” Just don’t teach to the problem or a specific solution. Keep it general.
  • Creating a positive team spirit. Emphasizing teamwork and conflict resolution. Help your team to disagree in a way that is productive for improving their solutions. Learn about Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. Bring it to the elementary school level by using a simple handout and having “hat signs” that the kids hold up as they discuss. Encourage them to use all the hats to discuss a strategic decision.
  • Teaching positive brainstorming, with no criticism. Encourage the kids to list more ideas than needed. Coaches may keep a notebook or save all of the notes the students make. If the kids get stuck, pull it all out and remind the kids about the other ideas they had earlier in the season.
    • For younger students, you might consider using a “magician’s hat.” Get a costume top hat or a wizard’s hat, and encourage them write down ideas to an open question. “Where should our play take place?” Collect responses, then read them out, so no ideas are tied to a particular person. A coach can even rewrite sticky notes, so they are all in your handwriting and not identifiable as belonging to a specific child. Try to remove the “ego” from the ideas and emphasize all ideas belong to the team.
    • Make sure that quieter kids get heard. For older students, sometimes having students write ideas down (without doing everything verbally) can be a good way to make sure that an introverted student is heard. Encourage the strong personalities to practice listening. When you see a problem disintegrating your meeting, encourage a total time out. Then suggest that the team has a quick group brainstorm to write down ways to solve the problem.
    • Try to ask general, non-specific questions to spark a better solution. A great tool is the SCAMPER technique. Check out this video, then ask questions like “How could we combine things? How could we eliminate something?”
    • Suggest that the kids identify at least three options for major decisions. They can create a narrative where they tell themselves a story about each idea. Encourage them to tell a story where the idea succeeds. What was great about the idea that led to success? Encourage them to tell a story where things go wrong (then work on solving those problems.) Now which choice seems like the best one?
  • Encourage the kids to identify their most creative ideas. What makes an idea creative?
    • First, it is original. It is not something we’ve seen before! It is not on Pinterest a million times. It may require risk-taking.
    • Second, it is useful. It gets the job done and accomplishes the problem solution effectively. Throwing an octopus on the stage for fun is creative, but if it’s pointless for your plot, it won’t help your score at all. Creative solutions are purposeful.
    • And third, there is an element of surprise. You were not expecting that! The element of surprise delights the judges and your audience.

Encourage the team to meet together, and plan specifically what they want to do, so that members have team permission to work on items in smaller pairs and trios, especially if people are available at different times.


Tips for Teams and Coaches

Disclaimer! You don’t have to do Odyssey this intensely, but if your team wants to position themselves to make a run for State or World Finals, here’s what you need to know.

How Do You Go to World Finals?

Odyssey Score Sheet

A Typical Scoring List for a Long Term Problem

The team with the most points wins. 

In the final, adjusted scores of each tournament level, the Long Term presentation is worth up to 200 points. Don’t leave any points on the table that are objective points, such as “5 points if the car crosses the finish line.” You either get points for this achievement or you don’t. Many of these objective points are all or nothing. Encourage your team to carefully review the problem requirements and to make a list of what they still need to do, in order to get all the points. Don’t give up. You CAN get all these.

The other way you are scored is subjective. What appeals to one judge might not appeal to another. Subjective scores cannot be questioned.

Generally, to get a higher subjective score, your team should make things in a way that shows extra effort in their creation. Your team could make any item, rather than using something pre-existing. Do not use a recording of music if you have a team member who can play the violin — but realize that your team will be scored by people who have a deep appreciation for the arts, so quality matters in performance, dance, and music.

Practice speaking loudly and smoothing out the performance, so your team can present with confidence. Teams should start running through their entire presentation plan no later than January/early February – even if you don’t have all your props and inventions made.

Also, all teams should practice good sportsmanship, maintain positivity, and show support for each other at all times. This is the right thing to do, for so many reasons, including that we want team members to be better people after their Odyssey experience, and we are representing our school community.

Judges may give a penalty for poor sportsmanship, including for coaches’ or parents’ behavior. Practice what to do if something doesn’t work, so you can deal with that with a smile.

Winning teams achieve some measure of success in all problem requirements. They spent time talking about how they would be scored and making sure they did not overlook something. They asked questions and got clarifications of anything they didn’t understand.

Students play well in the Spontaneous round. 

During the competition day, the older teams (3rd Grade and up) have an opportunity to earn 100 extra points by solving a surprise problem on the spot.

Most of the time, the Spontaneous part of the competition takes only about 20 minutes, maybe less, but it will be critical to your final score. The teams compete in a room by themselves – no coaches or parent audience members are present.

To do well in the Spontaneous competition, PRACTICE!

Do a problem for fun at every team meeting, work on teamwork and listening to each other, and try to come up with some strategies that spark creativity, risk-taking, and divergent thinking. Also, have FUN! Strengthen your team bonds.

There are definitely tricks, such as having each team member create and memorize puns and jokes in an area of interest, such as space or the ocean, over the course of your season. Humorous answers often receive extra points. Good teamwork and sportsmanship will always earn your team extra subjective points, while frowns and bad sportsmanship will often receive a penalty.

Coaches can offer specific suggestions during Spontaneous practice. The rules about Outside Assistance are different than how you approach the Long Term Problem. Also, team members can pretend to be judges during practices, and write down the answers they feel were the most creative. Have the team members go around and share the answers they thought were especially good. Keep it positive, and the students will get the hang of it.

There are three general categories of Spontaneous Problems:

  • Verbal: Team members receive a question, brainstorm (often silently), and then go around giving answers.
  • Hands-onA problem is read to the team, and then usually, they are given materials where they have to build something or create something to answer the question.
  • Hands-On/Verbal Combination problems: You may have objects that you have to incorporate into your verbal response.

Please check out the above links for examples of problems, and your teams can attend our fall after-school workshops, where we will be having fun with different Spontaneous problems to get started. There are hundreds of sample problems online.

You should practice all types of problems and decide in advance which five members of your team will compete in each category.

In the early planning stages of the Long Term Problem, encourage your students to spend a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a “theme.”

Build your story around a universal idea, or what one of Glebe’s English teachers might call the “big idea” of a novel.

Examples of classic themes are a battle between good and evil, the power of love, or a person struggling to survive in nature. Examples of creative themes that have been done by Odyssey students include ideas such growing up and going through puberty (as students went around the spots on a board game transforming!), or remembering the love between a parent and a child, years later after the parent has passed away. The theme was the power of memory and love.

Award-winning presentations tend to have a clear theme that is easily accessible and sometimes even emotional, allowing the audience to quickly be able to connect to the performance.

Themes can be light-hearted and sweet, or deal with heavy ideas, including prejudice, fears, and even death. A good theme will present an authentic perspective from the students. We found at World Finals that judges tended to love dark themes, because they stood out amid all the happy craziness of the competition, and they often felt very honest and real, as a performance work of art.

Make sure the plot is easy to understand, but is also creative.

Many winning presentations have ideas that are simple to understand for the audience seeing it for the first time. There aren’t any inside jokes. The presentations might be complex in some way, but the story is easy to follow.

To come up with a plot, consider asking the team if they want to use a storyboard on a few sheets of poster board or a wall. Students can brainstorm their ideas for plot points quickly on sticky notes and arrange them in a beginning, middle, and end. Then they can decide on the best ideas as a team.

Encourage them to act out their ideas for the scenes and use their acting tests to figure out the best ideas. It’s better to start practicing in early February or late January.

Some teams realize late they have written a 30 minute play and need to cut two thirds of their work. Try not to spend hours writing a script you won’t use. Encourage the team to choose only the “best” sticky notes when creating their outline, act it out in play, THEN write it down. (Ultimately, it’s the kids decision how to proceed however!)

Some teams draw inspiration for a plot by retelling a classic story, such as The Little Prince or Alice in Wonderland. Then they spend their time reinterpreting the story and adding creative twists.

Another tactic is for a team to take turns with roles in their rehearsals, and not to claim roles immediately (which all little kids will want to do.) If everyone chooses their parts immediately, the problem then becomes that the team struggles when they can’t cut or modify a part, in order to improve their presentation, without offending someone’s ego because “hey, that was their part!” A coach can remind the players they will lose as individuals, but they can win as a team, and try to encourage them to take group ownership of the whole presentation, not just their individual roles.

Encourage brainstorming with SCAMPER (What can we combine? What can we magnify? etc.) to come up with creative combinations to produce surprise plot elements. At World Finals, one of the “space” drama presentations involved a fight scene. Okay, pretty normal. But the team combined the fight with a “zero gravity” idea to make it more creative. The characters were floating towards each other, trying to land punches, and they did it in slow motion. The crowd was roaring with laughter.

The team’s work shows the students put some time and detail into machines, props, costumes, and set pieces.

Detail always matters when the judges come up close to inspect the work. Using ordinary materials in a way that transforms them from a distance (watch an episode of Project Runway’s materials challenge) is a tactic used by many groups.

The judges will be able to see if your team took care with their work, and if it looks polished, you might receive higher subjective scores. Sometimes this means making something many times until your team is satisfied.

Students decide early and plan how they want to score points for “Style.”

Some of your best set pieces and costumes could earn points in the Style category, where your team requests that the judges score certain items. Style projects are things that the team think make their solution unique.

Style items haven’t already been scored, according to the requirements of the problem. They are often something your team added.

An example of an award-winning style item might be an armadillo costume that is made out of 4,000 soda can pop tops, or a balloon that expands to six feet and then pops, showering a stage with confetti. For maximum scoring, style components in a presentation will typically:

  • demonstrate creative thinking,
  • have a “WOW” factor,
  • thematically helped to tie everything together,
  • reuse common materials in an uncommon way
  • be BIG – large enough to be seen from the back aisle of an auditorium,
  • and, be effective in directly advancing the plot points of what is happening in the presentation.

Style points are often a secret of winning teams. Many teams don’t identify style items until the week before the competition, and then it’s almost too late to compete with some of the groups who have been planning and working on style items for weeks.

Start early on STYLE – decide on a few ideas to test out beginning in DECEMBER – and you might find those extra points will help a lot. The winner’s adjusted score is rounded up to 50 points.

Size matters for sets and props.

The judges at World Finals seemed to take into account how big things were, so you need to be size wise and create items that have an impact.

Everything must be easily portable and able to fit through a classroom door, BUT it can become bigger when assembled quickly in the room in 20 seconds or less. Sets can be taller than kids when assembled. (You can bring a step stool!) Some sets transformed innovatively and included engineered components, even when they had not been specifically requested by the problem question.

The competition starts out in small classrooms, but many of the rooms used for competition at both State and World Finals are very large auditoriums, college theaters, or classroom spaces that are huge auditoriums for elementary school kids. The World Finals judges graded our Glebe team based on if a person in the last row of the space would be able to appreciate the dramatic impact of our students’ set and props. Our machines involved axles, weighted levers, movable type, etc., but they were a bit small.

Tape out a square on the floor that is the minimum amount of space you are guaranteed to perform, and your team can brainstorm the most creative, biggest thing you can do there. Leave room to perform. Think about how you can move things into the room quickly using wheels, cardboard “sleds,” and other tricks.

The Glebe Odyssey Coordinator is available to come to a meeting, and provide a general, non-problem specific, presentation on topics like set construction, with photos and examples seen at competitions for inspiration for new ideas.

Watch your costs from the start.

Encourage your team to discuss purchases and to make sure they have found the CHEAPEST price for items.

There is a limited budget of roughly $125 to $150 for each problem, so be prepared to have boxes of recycled trash that your students are saving in your team’s work area.

Encourage your student to look in your recycle bin each week, and see if there is anything they want to keep. Some teams will try something with more expensive materials, then reverse-engineer their idea to come up with a cheaper way to accomplish it. (Lego wheels become hot-glued wheels made of dowels and plastic tops to orange juice bottles, etc.)

You must SAVE all receipts so your team can track their costs and use the receipts to compile their cost form at the end. If you buy 10 feet of PVC pipe, and use only 3 feet, you may count only the 3 feet your team used in your presentation.


Fundraising for Glebe Teams

Teams should be prepared to help raise funds to cover expenses for any later rounds in the competition.

Participation in the State Tournament can cost $150-$400 per team member for lodging, food, and to offset any transportation costs to move your project there and back. It depends how many nights you stay in one of the tournament hotels.

Should a team advance to World Finals, be prepared for a cost of about $1,200 for each student and for each parent/coach. These costs include approximately $600 in four days of college dorm lodging, cafeteria meals, and tournament fees, as well as transportation to Michigan, rental vehicles, and the shipping of possibly large project components.

Last year, funds were raised to reduce the cost to $300 per participant at World Finals, through the generosity of our community. (Thank you!)

This year, the Glebe Odyssey program will try to be better prepared to offset the costs for any successful teams who could advance to State or World Finals.

We will host several fundraisers in the fall, to build up a reserve and a scholarship fund. Success should not be a burden on any team who has worked so hard. There will be a kid-made Halloween haunted house fundraiser and perhaps another fall dining night. Some 5th Grade students are working on a website (under construction) called Narwhal Prints. Interested students are invited to create artwork for designs that can be printed on goods and sold to raise funds. We could host another bake sale or seek corporate sponsors, similar to the way Glebe sports teams are sponsored.

Any team that advances will need to be prepared to take charge of raising additional funds, and to start quickly.

A local nonprofit corporation, called ArlingtonSTEAM , is being created (legal paperwork has been filed and waiting to receive back from state). As part of its mission to expand opportunities for hands-on STEAM activities in Arlington county, the new group will be able to assist an Odyssey program to collect and hold donations, with a dedicated bank account and oversight from a board of directors and a school-based advisory committee. If you can help, we are seeking a few more creative board members to provide oversight and volunteer time in the first year. Please contact the Glebe Odyssey Coordinator.

Ideas and parent power are welcome!


Giving Back with Odyssey Angels

Some teams apply their Odyssey knowledge to solve problems in their communities, by participating in Odyssey Angels projects.

In addition, teams can be invited to go directly to World Finals if they have a winning project, to recognize them for their creativity and their service.

Projects must be submitted in January, and then a panel reviews them to see if the team:

  • Found something to fix in their community that others hadn’t noticed.
  • Devised a creative way to attempt to fix it.
  • Used teamwork.
  • Helped others!

“Much like judging in Odyssey of the Mind, those projects that utilize creative thinking will be given more weight than simply the best final outcome. We hope that teams will continue their projects after the deadline to help those in need,” according to the program website.

Please contact the Odyssey Coordinator if your team would like to spearhead an Odyssey Angels project.

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