When I was visiting my parents in Montana over the holidays, we managed to dig up old photos and newspaper clippings, and this was probably one of my favorites (not entirely because I was dressed in cellophane, but that definitely helps).
Odyssey of the Mind: Fostering Creative Thinking
My happiest times in grade school definitely involved Odyssey of the Mind, an after-school organization designed for kids to improve their critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving skills. We worked on a project all year, and then presented at regional and state competitions. So, while most kids spent their weekends running around the soccer field, I was busy writing a screen-play, making a paper mache dinosaur, or possibly trying to think of the most creative riddle in the fastest time possible. And it was awesome.
The year our team won first place at the regional competition (which the article highlights), we had the challenge of creating and presenting a storyline to explain how dinosaurs became extinct. We had to include special effects, follow a budget, highlight specific quirks in the main characters, and best of all – be as creative and original as possible. Dry ice, puppets, and a dancing cellophane girl with crashing symbols (me, clearly) to represent a meteorite only touch the surface of our winning presentation.
These are the types of projects I wish we integrated into the classroom. I think back to the most rewarding and helpful academic experiences to prepare me for “life” and they definitely were the Odyssey of the Mind type activities. We had to work as a team. We had to present in front of judges. We had to troubleshoot. We had to create something together and share it with a limited budget and time frame. Sure we weren’t spending hours running multiplication tables, but the math we used to purchase supplies, the writing, and the research all surpassed the traditional subjects we had in class. Why? Because we were all working towards a common goal, and the skills we needed made sense to reach that goal. We had context and ownership, so learning and working were not only fun – but made complete sense.
I actually wasn’t sure if Odyssey of the Mind still existed, but a quick Google search proved it’s still available for kids to create a team and build up a skillset that will become invaluable in life.