Stretching the mind
A new way of learning

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 09/97) - Odyssey of the Mind provides a good model for classroom teaching, say this year's organizers of the Yellowknife OM tournament.

The extra-curricular science-oriented program forces students to think for themselves because they are faced with finding solutions to problems on their own, said Michael Morse, tournament director.

"This is a different kind of learning from what they do in the classroom, where the teacher gives out the information and they have to absorb it," he said. "This shows them how to think for themselves."

More than 200 students in kindergarten to Grade 8 spent much of the school year preparing for Saturday's presentations. Thirty-five teams of five to seven people worked a wide variety of subjects from robotics to archaeology.

Marion Gilewicz, OM association director of the NWT, said that the problems require some tenacity on the part of the students.

"These problems aren't easy -- they are meant to stretch the mind," she said.

Students work with a coach all year to perfect their eight-minute presentation. For the first time in Yellowknife, older students coached primary students.

The eagerness of the older students to teach the younger ones reveals the degree of success of OM, according to Morse. "Their experience was so positive, they wanted to share it with someone else," he said.

Gilewicz agrees that aspect of this year's tournament was positive for both the primary and junior high students.

"It certainly has given the older students a different perspective on learning," she said. "It gives them a new understanding of school."

The program also teaches students new skills that will help them as they mature and then move into the working world.

Gilewicz said that schools are traditional places that these new, innovative ways of learning have not yet been incorporated on a large scale.

She stresses that the skills students learn from OM equips them to deal with the world's problems, many of which are long-term and without easy solutions.

"The world is full of problems that need to be addressed by students with fresh perspectives," she said.

Anyone who has gone through the program, she said, has benefited from it.

"The students that stick with it are all winners," said Gilewicz. "And this is what the industry (work world) wants -- people that will stick with it and not give up."

Odyssey of the Mind, what is it?
by Nathan Pitre
Northern News Services

Odyssey of the Mind is an educational program which fosters problem solving and creative thinking skills. This program is run at schools worldwide.

Schools participating can enter as many teams as they want. Each team is comprised of five to seven people.

There are four different divisions in the competition. Each division corresponds to the ages of the participants. In division 1, students must be less than 12 years old before June 30. In division 2, students less than 15 years old. In division 3 students less than 19 old, and in division 4, students in college or university.

Another element of the program is the two types of problems. The first problem the teams complete is a spontaneous or short problem. The judges give the team the problem the day of competition. The team then has a few minutes to figure out what they will do, then they complete the problem.

The other type of problem is the long-term problem. This year there are five types of problems the teams could choose from including, balloonacy cars, omerdroid, classics - can you dig it, double trouble, and out of proportion.

The teams chose one of the long-term problems and have been working on the problem since September. Each year the long-term problems change and each problem has a number of divisions that can work on it. For instance, with the problem out of proportions, participants can only be from divisions 1 and 2. For the students involved there are many benefits.

They learn to work as a team, make decisions and create solutions. Also, they learn skills to help develop self-confidence. The students may use many of these skills can use later in life, either for work or in personal situations.