In the challenging and often unpredictable world of creative problem-solving for youth, anything is possible.
Perhaps few understand that better than Milan Patel, a Keller area father, who volunteered to coach an Odyssey of the Mind team for Trinity Meadows Intermediate School so his two young daughters could participate in the creative problem-solving program.
As a newbie coach in a program that was introduced in a few Keller schools only this year, Patel was convinced that involvement would be beneficial regardless of the results.
An Odyssey of the Mind team from Trinity Meadows Intermediate School advanced to the world competition on May 24-27 at Michigan State University.
So Patel was amazed when his team advanced from regional competition to state competition. He was downright astonished when his team’s results at state were high enough to send the group onto world competition May 24-27 at Michigan State University.
“The kids all enjoy this so much,” Patel said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for us to represent Keller and Keller ISD at the state competition and at Worlds.”
Patel’s team was one of two from the Keller ISD that advanced from regional to state competition based on their scores. The other state team was from Fossil Hill Middle School.
Odyssey of the Mind is similar to the creative problem-solving competition of Destination Imagination, which has operated in the Keller school district and many other Texas school districts for more than 30 years.
Odyssey of the Mind originated the concept of a problem-solving competition for students in kindergarten through college, but as a result of a dispute over the for-profit status of a company controlling the program, Destination Imagination was spun off by a group of Odyssey of the Mind directors as a non-profit organization.
Odyssey of the Mind involves higher-level thinking skills, to engage students through creative and artistic elements and collaborative team-building.
While many districts in Texas and several other states opted to participate in Destination Imagination, Odyssey of the Mind continued to flourish in other parts of the country, particularly the Northeast. But over the years, more Texas school districts have moved back into the Odyssey of the Mind program.
Alison Weiss, a second-year math teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School, was one of the catalysts behind the Keller school district’s decision to test-drive Odyssey of the Mind in the Keller ISD this year.
Weiss’ own two children had participated in Odyssey of the Mind in Delaware and then again when her family moved to Southlake. The Carroll school district introduced Odyssey of the Mind several years ago so both of Weiss’ children, including one who has since graduated from college, participated in Odyssey competitions.
“It was an amazing experience for my kids,” said Weiss, who went to world competition four times while her children were involved and has been a coach and Odyssey judge. “There are 35,000 kids from Latin America, America, Europe and Asia all competing. It’s also a great cultural experience.”
Both Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination have teams from around the world participating and coming together at world competition.
Weiss took part in meetings with Keller ISD officials, including Rodney Jones, coordinator of advanced academics for the district, and Julie Clark, Trinity Meadows Intermediate gifted and talented coordinator.
“We were looking to do something more for our gifted and talented kids and this looked like a great opportunity,” Clark said. “It has been a really great experience for our kids and parents.”
The program was intended to debut at only Trinity Meadows this year. However, Nicole Isom, an English teacher and gifted coordinator at Fossil Hill, decided to open up the program at her school for her gifted and talented students.
Isom said she had been looking to introduce a new program next year to better challenge her gifted and talented students. Unexpectedly, she was contacted by Clark to have students enter the competition this year.
“I said to my kids, ‘If you are not scared, I’m not scared, so let’s do it,’ ” Isom said.
While Odyssey of the Mind does involve higher-level thinking skills, it is meant for students of all abilities who engage through creative and artistic elements and collaborative team-building.
District officials said they expect to open the program to a wide group of youngsters next year.
Trinity Meadows launched three teams this year and Fossil Hill had two. One team from each school advanced to state competition and Patel’s team advances on to world competition.
Odyssey of the Mind is set up in age divisions for elementary, middle school, high school and college-level students.
Teams of up to seven students in each age division must prepare a long-term solution — typically demonstrated during an eight-minute skit— from a choice of categories that involve either vehicles, technical elements, classics such as architecture or literature, or structure- which involves building weight-bearing structures using only light-weight balsa wood and glue.
Schools typically recruit a parent of a team member to coach students through the long-term problem.
Students also must compete in a spontaneous challenge that could be verbal, hands-on, or verbal and hands-on. Teams have no advance knowledge of which challenge they will face.
Both Keller schools recruited a parent of a team member to coach students through the long-term problem and Clark and Isom worked with students after school to prepare for the spontaneous problem.
Patel said his team chose the structure challenge and created a skit involving a group effort by friends to entertain themselves by building the structure. Patel’s two daughters, Jaanvi, a fifth-grader at Trinity Meadows, and Aachel, a second-grader at Caprock Elementary, helped persuade him to coach the team.
“This was something we could do together as a family,” he said.
Other team members are Logan Caton, Zane Bishr and Christian Martinez, all Trinity Meadows fifth-graders.
The team’s structure made of 1/8-inch balsa wood — about the thickness of three or four toothpicks together – was able to withstand 135 pounds of weight, at state competition, “which is very good,” Patel said.
Brian Severance, who coached the Fossil Hill Middle School team that went to state, said he too chose to coach so his son, Jake, could participate. His team of five boys also included Amaan Reza, Tyler Belknap, Ben Rotter and Anthony Grosse, all seventh-graders.
“The boys are all friends,” he said. “It was a great experience getting to know my son’s friends and their families better.”
The team chose the “The Catch Us If You Can” challenge that required building three vehicles that all had different functions, including one that had to block something from occurring. Their skit had a James Bond-style spy theme, Severance said.
Although the team didn’t place high enough to advance, Severance said the competition was a great learning experience with important life lessons dealing with an unexpected equipment failure and working together to overcome problems.
“If the boys want to do it again next year, I’m there with them,” Severance said.