How Do We Teach Creativity? Odyssey of the Mind

In the Age of Information with energy challenges and dwindling resources, we need more and more creative, innovative solutions to the world’s problems.  The existing education system does not teach this well.

So how do we teach creativity today? I’m just back from Ames, Iowa and I have an answer for you.

Odyssey of the Mind.

Iowa State University hosted the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals with 833 teams attending from the United States, Mexico, Poland, China, Singapore, Germany, Togo and other countries.

Students from kindergarten through college compete by solving long term and spontaneous problems.  Success requires teamwork, collaboration, and creativity, in no small quantities.

 

Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, Iowa State University

Hilton Coliseum Opening Ceremonies

 

New Canaan High School Team, Division III (Grades 9-12)

Wearing Connecticut shirts and hats

Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, a professor of Industrial Design at Rowan University in New Jersey, founded the program over thirty years ago.  He welcomed everyone at the opening ceremonies in Iowa this weekend and talked about Odyssey of the Mind.

For one of the original problems, he challenged his students to a lake fishing tournament where he set up 50 wooden fish.  Seven teams would fish for three minutes.  The trick was:  they could not use fishing gear.  A little boy watched the teams.  He asked if he could get into the water to get the fish.  The professor told him there was a penalty and the little boy said he would take the penalty and scoop up all the fish before the other teams.

Dr. Micklus realized age did not matter when it came to creative solutions.  So the program grew to include students from kindergarten through college.

 

Saxe Middle School, Division I   (Grades K-5)

It’s How We Rule, Classics Problem

Teams worked on a long term solution to one of five problems: vehicle, classic, balsa structure, technical performance, or performance. A team develops its solution to a problem over a five month period and presents it in an eight minute skit.  This Saxe team recreated the historic Elizabethan court and created a fictional court of cards, complete with jester, song, and dance.  They placed eleventh at World Finals.

There are two components to Odyssey of the Mind.

  • Long Term solution to one of five problems – developed over five months
  • Spontaneous solution to an unknown problem given at the competition — usually a minute or two to discuss and four to five to solve

Another team chose the Driver’s Test which required them to design and create a vehicle with two propulsion systems and complete a test.  The banana mobile, made completely with trash items, moved on a Radio Flyer wagon with dolly and navigated the digestive system, attacking French Fries and other nasty food.  It performed a good deed by delivering the red blood cell to the lungs. They placed 18th in the finals.

 

Saxe Middle School, Division II  (Grades 6-8)

Driver’s Test, Vehicle Problem

Creative, unique, and elaborate solutions receive more points and it was fascinating to walk through the “Prop Room” for the Driver’s Test. We saw an eight foot tall hamster type wheel made of duck tape on rollers, designed for a driver to walk inside; a Model T car constructed from cardboard with a chain propulsion; and various Rube Goldberg type vehicles, many with outlandish décor; one had chicken wire with rolled newsprint inserted, the body resembling a news-floral float.

More than anything else, the students loved pin-trading. They brought their own local and state pins and traded with other competitors from around the world.  Like any marketplace, they learned to negotiate, valuate, communicate, and respect the rules of commerce.

A gentleman stopped to talk with our team and afterwards shared an observation.

“When I listen to the news today, I’m concerned about the future.  But coming here and seeing Odyssey, I’m not worried.  I’m optimistic.”

Learn more about Odyssey of the Mind (http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/)

About mylinhshattan

I’m a writer who has worked in the private sector, taught at college, and served in the U.S. Army. I hold a B.S. in Mathematics from West Point, an M.B.A. from Florida Southern College, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Queens University.