Spring Hill Students Qualify for Odyssey of the Mind World Finals
Seven students and their coaches at Spring Hill Elementary School won in competition against 20 other Wisconsin school districts making up 100 teams including nearly 600 students. They have earned an invite to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan from May 22nd to the 25th. This world problem-solving competition includes 800 teams from 32 countries and is sponsored by NASA.
This past January the School District of Wisconsin Dells created an opportunity for gifted and talented students through the pilot of this international program. Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving method where students work in teams of up to seven people. Teams choose from one of six possible problems to solve and compete by presenting their solutions. Each problem includes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) components. Teams from all over Wisconsin competed at Madison College on Saturday April 13th.
Since this was the first year of the program Spring Hill School, both elementary and middle, served as the pilot group and the district hopes to expand the opportunity to all of the other schools during the 2013-2014 year. The pilot included four teams and 23 students in grades one through eight and four volunteer coaches. There were over 40 parents, siblings, and relatives who traveled to Madison College to watch the teams compete.
The Spring Hill Primary, or non-competitive, teams consisted of 11 first and second graders. Two Primary teams performed to solve the problem “Top Sea-cret Discoveries.” In this problem two human characters must explore the ocean, encounter three different types of sea life, develop a humorous character who is a Captain, create a unique reason for the existence of the ocean’s waves, and make a silly discover, which must be kept secret. One team discovered a diamond that had magical drying powers, created a Captain that was humorous as he did not realize his “ship” was really a toy boat, and when bombarded by chili peppers the students created ocean waves. The other Primary team created a rainbow that made the ocean waves.
The third team (World Finals Qualifiers) consisted of 7 third through fifth graders. The problem, “It’s How You Look at It” was to create two characters that have what appears to be “normal” behavior to them, but odd to others. This problem included the development of a meter that indicated the degree of odd/normal behavior. The problem also required a scene change, which the team developed three stages with a system of rods and curtains to make those scene changes.
The fourth team consisted of 5 sixth and eighth graders. Their problem, “Tumble-Wood” was to design and build a structure made of only balsa wood and glue that balanced and supported as much weight as possible. The structure the students created weighed 14.8 grams and looked similar to a cellular tower in design. The team had to create a marketing commercial for their wood product. During the commercial the balsa wood structure had to tumble off a ramp and over a finish line without damage. Meanwhile an entertaining info-mercial salesman (Taylor Crum) pushed the audience to purchase the balsa wood with students (Tess Jisa and Emma Kooij) dancing and singing in the background “Balsa weights, balsa weights, everyone needs some balsa weights. Balsa weights, balsa weights, come and get your balsa weights.” The team’s balsa wood structure held the most weight at the competition at 100 pounds before collapsing. The audience was astonished as each weight was added by team members (Tim Tylka and Adam Wieser) and balanced on top of the balsa wood structure. Coach Dawn Crum noted her amazement at the performance of the team stating, “I never dreamed that we would take home 2nd place!”
All teams were scored using a rubric and checklist for components of each problem. Every team had to come up with a signal to indicate to the audience that the problem performance ended. No team was permitted to go beyond eight minutes. The most important rule, and a terrific learning experience for both children and adults, the students may not receive any outside assistance. Everything must be thought of by the students and original to their creation. Adults are not permitted to assist. Coach Shannan Statz, also the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Gifted and Talented Coordinator, stated, “It’s really hard to be the guide-on-the-side without solving the problem for the kids, giving an idea, or making a statement that would change how they interpret or solve the problem. Even when they create things, such as my second grade daughter sewing her costume, I had to prevent myself from trying to guide the material through the sewing machine. I had to realize that this is a ‘no adults allowed’ opportunity for children to be creative.” In speaking with parent Erin Wermeling, her first grade son Thomas participated in the Primary problem, she stated, “It was difficult, I was next to Tommy when he put together his turtle costume and I almost grabbed the scissors and elastic and started showing him how to do it.”
Statz decided to implement the program out of need stating, “Creative thinkers need more than what a traditional school model provides.” When Board of Education Treasurer, Holly Waterman, noted to Statz that she had been involved in similar gifted learner activities in her community while growing up Statz explored opportunities for the district. She found that Odyssey of the Mind was affordable. She hesitated about sending students to compete in the State Tournament this year because they only began practice in January and the coaches were just learning what to expect alongside the students. They decided to attend regardless so that they would have the experience and be able to cultivate the program further in the future. Before the competition Statz’s long-term vision was sending teams to the World Finals. Little did she realize that this vision would come true so soon. First year teams, much less a first year district, typically do not place.
The challenge the qualifying team now faces is getting to World Finals. The cost for registration, lodging, and meals is $531 per participant. Since the coaches never imagined they would be so fortunate to have a team qualify they were not prepared with a budget or prior fundraising for the World Finals. With just six weeks until the event, the teams plan on doing as much fundraising as the district policy permits and remain optimistic that the team and coaches will get to Michigan next month.
Statz further explained that implementing the program was not easy. The program kick-off occurred in January with a family meal and program overview. The program was set-up with an application process that made it clear that participation was a large commitment on the part of both parent and child. Statz also stated that this was a learning year for everyone and she has many ideas for how to cultivate the program in the future. She thought the way they formed teams this year was one of the biggest things they will change for next year. Getting teams finalized, having teams agree on which problem to solve, creating practice schedules, finding committed coaches, and understanding the program-as-a-whole was complicated. “Next year I think we will first let students select a problem they are interested in and then form their teams on their own. Once their teams are formed they must then find a coach. This year was rocky, partly because we really didn’t know what we were doing. It has been a positive program and it will only get better in the future. I am so proud of Coaches Dawn Crum, Aimee Schulz and Lisa Hartley, and the co-coaches Brian Hartley and Kevin Schulz, as their teams came home with big trophies! I am proud of our Primary Teams who earned all their competition points! These volunteer coaches put in countless hours of dedication and commitment, not just for their own children who participated, but for other students and our community. I hope our community values that. The Dells’ focus needs to be on education. We need to commit to academics in all that we say and do. We need to value our learners and the parent and teacher coaches who committed so much to support this program.”
Attached Team Photographs:
Primary Teams (Grades 1 and 2, Earning 100% points)
Team A: Max Ennis, Thomas Wermeling, Haakon Rosholt, Andrew Nelson, Jacob Rogers, Daniel Showalter, Coach Chris Statz (A PARENT WILL SEND A PHOTO)
Team B: Karson Meister. Tessa Kooij, Dhiti Patel, , Hope Statz, Breanna Hartley, Coach Shannan Statz (PHOTO 2)
Division I Team (Grades 3, 4, and 5; WORLD FINALISTS, 2nd Place Trophy by 3 point MOE for 1st/2nd Place)
Laura Beghin, Emmett Schulz, Katrina Laubscher, Myah Schulz, Nikki Kooij, Cindy Stefanek, Brooke Hartley, (not pictured) Coach Aimee Schulz, Coach Lisa Hartley, Co-Coaches Kevin Schulz and Brian Hartley (PHOTO 4)
Division II Team (Grades 6 and 8; 2nd Place Trophy)
Emma Kooij, Adam Wieser, Coach Dawn Crum, Taylor Crum, , Tim Tylka, Tess Jisa (PHOTOS 1 & 3)