Saturday, June 29, 2013

World Champions, Part Three - an OU/OSU mashup!


Second Place at World Finals, the University of Oklahoma!


Typically, you will NOT find me posting about OU.  Here in Stillwater, we "bleed orange" and are proud to be "America's Brightest Orange," and there's no small amount of animosity between the two schools and their fans.  Bear with me, though, for a story about collaboration, teamwork, and a special University of Oklahoma Odyssey of the Mind team


As mentioned in an earlier post, collegiate Odyssey teams can be made up of any age adult from any college.  (Someday I, too, will take another college class and use my student status to participate on an OM team.)  Division IV teams don't compete at state tournaments, instead proceeding directly to World Finals.

The year our team took fourth place at Worlds, we were doing some pre-performance work in a conference room at the competition site.  A coach from Colorado named Ron stopped by to ask if any of my kids would be graduating and moving on to college.  (They weren't - they were sophomores and juniors that year.)

Each year Ron and his daughter Tracy have posted to the Oklahoma OM listserv looking for college-level kids to work with them, because while Ron coaches teams in Colorado, for the last three years has also participated on a Division IV team with his daughter Tracy, who attends school at OU.

Yep, a father-daughter team.  How cool is that?


Ron and Tracy have developed a technique for completing the structure problem (Problem 4, right up Ron's alley since he is an engineer) with just two people.  Remember, though, that in the Spontaneous part of the competition, having fewer than five people can adversely affect your team's score.  Here's why:

Most spont problems are designed for five people and allow a certain number of responses per person.  (Let's say 7 responses each for 5 team members - a total of 35 possible answers, which is a typical scenario.)   If a team shows up to compete with fewer than 5 people, they aren't usually allowed to use the remaining responses.  This happened last year to Ron and Tracy. Because there were just the two of them, they only got 14 responses, which cost them the trophy.

(Want my opinion?  Every team should be given all 35 response possibilities.  If two people can come up with 35 creative answers in the time given, why should they not have the opportunity to do so?)

OM and creativity are bigger than college rivalries

This year, since our high schoolers are now college students, three of our kids agreed to meet with Ron and Tracy at Michigan, practice together for a few hours, and be a part of their team for spontaneous.  Even though Mason and Robin are from OSU and Tracy attends OU, they were able to set aside the college rivalry and move forward for the benefit of the team.  Sure enough, the spont problem required 5 people, each with a limited number of answers, and this newly-combined team, having only known each other for a couple of hours, successfully tackled the problem, won the spontaneous part of the competition, and brought home a second-place trophy.

More about Spontaneous Problem-Solving

Spontaneous is something that teams should practice.  The problems vary widely, and many require knowledge of how your team members will react.  In addition, many spont problems have a teamwork score as part of the problem.  Putting together an effective spont team with complete strangers was tricky.  I brought practice problems with me, and the night before their competition, we met in the lobby of the dorm and I gave them problems while they got to know each other.

There are three basic types of spont problems that OM teams practice:
1.  Verbal:  respond to an item, a picture, or a prompt.
2.  Combo:  includes verbal and hands-on components.  Might include using an item to act out a story, or building scenery or props and telling a story, or responding verbally about the items created.
3.  Hands-on:  Teams are given specific materials (often things like toothpicks, straws, clay, tape, and paper) and a task to complete with the materials.  "Build a bridge between these desks" or "Build a tower to support this cup" are examples.

An example of a spont problem:  

The team enters and is shown random items on a table (like the items in the picture below).
"Tell a story using this wire rack, ice cream scoop, computer cable, flashlight, key, pen, and strainer.
You have two minutes to plan and five minutes to tell your story.  Your planning time begins now."
The judges give the team two minutes to think (and sometimes discuss) the problem, then the team must respond, using the items.  Sometimes teams are asked to act out their solutions, sometimes they are required to tell a story, and sometimes they respond individually, taking turns.  Puns and humor usually score well.  (This particular example is a verbal-hands-on combo problem.)  All teams in the same problem and division receive the same spont problem to ensure fairness in scoring.

We love OM for the things it teaches our kids - creativity, the ability to confidently find multiple solutions to problems, perseverance - but most of all, I love OM for the growth I've seen in kids of all ages in the ability to reach consensus, work together as a team, and collaborate.  You'll agree that these are hugely important life skills.

Congrats to our combined OK college team!  We look forward to bigger and better things from you in the future!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

World Champs, Part Two: An Oklahoma All-Star team!

Okay, so if you read yesterday's post, you've been waiting anxiously (don't laugh, it could happen) for the story of the OSU team and their success.  Warning:  this post is loooooong.  Too long.  Sorry.  Skip to the end for the video of the 2013 First Place Problem 3 Division IV team.  Then come back and enjoy the story of how it all happened.
GO POKES!  Oklahoma State University's first ever OM team comes home World Champions!

A short history of OM in Stillwater

In the 2005-2006 school year, my daughter Tory and son Robin agreed to try putting together two OM teams.  We knew of OM from schools in Nebraska (where Tory was too young for a team) and at the DODDS school in Germany (where Tory actually participated one year on a team.)  We knew the basics; we knew that Destination ImagiNation was an option as well (having had friends who had participated in both programs), and we started researching to find out how to begin a team.
Judith and Robin on the vehicle they constructed, with the beginnings of Sassy the Sasquatch (later covered in fur.)  2006.
At the time, I was a Gifted and Talented Program Specialist for Stillwater Public Schools.  OM and DI are often used for gifted programming, so I asked for and received permission to bring the program to Stillwater Schools.  At the time, DI did not have a presence in the state, so we went with OM.  We formed two teams (one sixth grade, Division 2, and one high school, Division 3.)  The kids and I recruited team members, the teams chose problems, and we got to work.

That first year was crazy hard.  I went to every training and support meeting I could and searched for any information I could find online (remember, YouTube wasn't up and running yet.)  I even visited the other region's tournament the week before our tournament just to make sure we were on the right page.  (We were, sort of, and some of my other students attended that tournament with me and got excited about forming teams the following year.)  Until you've actually attended a competition, you really don't have any idea what the program is all about.  Our kids did okay, enjoyed the whole process, and most came back the following year.

Another shot of our pathetic first attempt at the vehicle problem, 2006.  Nice dragon, huh?
He did have electronic eyes, which was pretty cool.
On the middle school team were a very young Robin and Mason, two sixth grade boys with huge potential. Mason's comment after the first year:  "This is the most fun activity I have ever been involved in."  Something about power tools, creativity, teamwork, and autonomy (the team must create all aspects of the solution and make all decisions with no outside assistance from anyone) really piques kids' interest, and these two were hooked!

2008 - Stillwater fielded twelve teams!
Mason and Robin continued enthusiastically - every year recruiting new team members to replace those who left.  Their second year they qualified for World Finals (winning first or second at State earns the team a trip to Worlds) and continued to qualify every year after (sometimes just barely).  Our first trip to Worlds was to Michigan State University in 2007, and we GOT SO LUCKY to be housed on the same dorm floor as a team from Edmond, Oklahoma (it's about an hour away from Stillwater) who were the same age.  Our kids hit it off and became good friends, and we enjoyed competing with (and often against) them every year.  Once Facebook enabled them to correspond easily, they even started going to each others' birthday parties and other events.
2007 World Finals - Michigan State - the year we met the Edmond team.

Competitors, yes, but friends too.

The cool thing about these teams becoming friends:  Never was the fact that they were competing against each other an issue.  They cheered for each other and encouraged each other and celebrated together.  For instance, at many competitions they would form victory arches for the other team to run through.  Best kids ever.
Mason, Claire, Lucy, Robin, Jacob, Slava at a pizza place in Maryland in 2008.
Great to see our friends again!
Over the years, our solutions got better and better (although our style never even came close to the scores of the Edmond team.)  Finally, in 2011, the Stillwater team heard their name called at the World Finals awards ceremony.  Fourth Place, a big win for our team!  (You can see the video of that Problem 5, Division III, "Full Circle" performance here.)
Robin, me, and Mason after hearing our team won FOURTH PLACE in the world!  2011 - University of Maryland.
At World Finals awards ceremonies, only the top three teams get to cross the stage. Mason's comment when we won 4th place was, "Next year, we walk."  Unfortunately, they did walk - across the stage at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, where they graduated from high school the same night they could have been competing in Iowa.  Not competing during their senior year was a super tough decision; Robin had been saying for years that he wouldn't mind missing high school graduation to go to Worlds, but then three of the seven team members were elected class officers - and all of them had to speak at graduation.

(In fact, "not doing OM during senior year" ended up not working so well.  I asked for some help coaching a new team, and within hours Mason and Robin were inspired to form a team of three.  Madi, new to OM but anxious to try it, and Robin and Mason started working in January on an incredible three-person farce, with slamming doors, multiple characters and costume changes, and characters climbing in and out of windows and up and down stairs.)

(In OM, you really need at least five people on a team due to the nature of the Spontaneous Problem-Solving part of the competition.  For this three-person effort, Logan and Kelsey were recruited to attend competition at Regional and State simply to add their skill to the spont team.  Perfectly legal and legit.  It happened again this year; more on that later.)
2012's three- (or is it five-?) person team before competing at Regionals.

All-Star Team

High school is rough for OM kids.  The season is long, it involves many, many hours, and the type of kids who like to do OM are the same kids who are in band, orchestra, Youth In Government, school plays, student council, and so on.  Several times when trying to recruit team members, we discussed the idea of forming an "Oklahoma All-Star team" made up of kids from both Stillwater and Edmond.  That's exactly what happened this year.
Mason and Robin getting ready to perform; Lauren getting in character behind them.
OM has a collegiate division open to any adult taking college classes; teams can be made up of members from a variety of schools.  Our team knew going into their freshman year that they wanted to do OM as Division IV competitors, and six of them attended OSU, so the Institute for Creativity and Innovation at OSU sponsored the team (thanks, Melanie!)  Five Stillwater kids and two Edmond kids competed, using Google Docs and GroupMe to plan their script during the school year.  Once finals week ended, they all started hanging out at my house in order to build their solution.  Two weeks later, they put their stuff on the props truck and boarded the bus, headed for Michigan once again.

Claire, University of North Texas vocal performance major, sings as the music box opens.
Their solution was phenomenal.  Division IV usually has fewer participants but bigger crowds, and the crowd at this team's performance was hugely appreciative of their work.  In true college-level fashion, the team used metaphors to meet the required elements.  Their problem ("Art-chitecture:  The Musical") required a replica of an actual structure, with artwork that goes missing and is later integrated into the structure.  Teams had to have two sets of choreographed moves with music and lyrics.k  Several of the elements were judged on artistic quality, and the quality of the performance is also important in Problem 3.

One set of choreographed moves had The Shah picking up the female assistant and shoving her in front of him for protection.  Another had a sword brandishing in "four-four time" like an orchestra conductor.  Subtle things you don't notice unless you are the judge or know the team's work.
Without further ado, I give you the video of the winning performance.  Problem 3, Division IV, Odyssey of the Mind World Finals 2013 at Michigan State University; here is Oklahoma State University's solution.  Congrats to these great young adults!

(Listen closely to the father at the end.  It will give you goose bumps or make you cry.  Or both.  Usually both, for me.)

Aren't these kids fantastic?  And aren't we lucky they are still doing OM?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TWO World Champion OM teams from our town!

Last year, I bragged about some of my students who competed and did well at Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.  It's time to brag again!  Here in Oklahoma, our thumbs are in our suspenders and we are burstin' our buttons with pride at the success our teams had at World Finals this year.

Oklahoma strong, fresh from the tornadoes but ever persevering, we had three teams called to the stage at the awards ceremony on Saturday, May 25.

The first (I will write about them in another post) earned Second Place in Problem Four, Division IV (collegiate.)  Yay, Ron and Tracy!

The other two teams?  All MY KIDS!  Here we are after winning, with two FIRST PLACE trophies.


These two teams are made up of kids I've encouraged, coached, taught, and enjoyed for years.  The younger group, from Stillwater Junior High, were almost all my students from second grade through fifth grade.  This is the same team that almost won last year (with a couple of roster changes.)  I wish I could take credit for their success, but they worked for many years to get here - I was just happy to be along this year for the ride.

The older kids are my ex-high-school team.  Two of them (my son Robin and his friend Mason, shown above in 2007 during their team's first visit to World Finals) were among the very first OM team members in Stillwater, when they were in sixth grade and we started two teams here (2006).  They've continued every year since, topping out at Fourth Place their Junior year.  This year, in their freshman year at Oklahoma State, they brought OM Division IV to OSU and formed a team (adding two ex-opponents from Edmond that we've become fast friends with over the years.)  (More on this team, their solution, and their extraordinary friendship later.)

Both teams have worked for years to get called to that stage, and we couldn't have been happier to hear our names called.  What a great year for Stillwater and Oklahoma!

You want to know more about the winning solutions, right?

The junior high team, competing in Problem 2 "The Email Must Go Through" was required to "send" three "emails" eight feet across the stage using some technical means (remember that in Odyssey problems, the team must meet certain requirements, but do so in the most creative way they can.)  This team chose to utilize an Oklahoma forest as their setting, and brought in forest creatures like an armadillo (completely covered in pop tabs), a beaver (layer upon layer of coffee stir sticks), a buffalo, a spider, and an owl (her costume, although it looks soft and fluffy, is almost 100% milk jugs, cut into thousands of feathers.)


Their emails were sent via an "automata" (more on that will come soon), a mechanical device with a crank, crank-shaft, and a variety of levers which was used to move the email messages across the stage.  Their "spam filter" (required element) was the spider's web, which sorted and delivered the emails to three different locations.  One email was diverted (required element) by a tornado.  This team didn't just SAY a tornado blew the email off course - they actually created a spinning, whirling tornado that swept across the stage.  You can see it near the beginning of the performance on the video (sadly, their performance was a bit off that morning, but they did earn all the points they needed.)

Here is the video of their performance:
Last year, this team took first place in Long-term and first in Style, but had a rough (rough) day at Spontaneous, which is the portion of the competition where the teams are given a challenge to solve instantly.  We worked hard this year to improve our spontaneous performance, and (drum roll, please) this team took first at spont this year!  Their long-term was also first, but only by a HALF A POINT, and they were second in style.  Spontaneous can win and lose OM competitions, we can tell you!

Tomorrow, I'll write about the OSU team and showcase their performance!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Boat for our Beverages!


Oklahoma summers became FAR more bearable two years ago when our friends gave us their big, blue, inflatable ring pool.  We were skeptical that its less-than-four-foot depth and 16-foot diameter would A.) be large enough for adult fun and B.) stay cool enough to be refreshing.  We could not have been more wrong!  We LOVE getting in our pool, climbing up on our spring floats, and relaxing.  We've even learned how to read books and magazines while floating. (Carefully!  No library books!  Buy books at garage sales for the pool!)

Last summer, I paid 50 cents for an old Styrofoam cooler with a lid, designed to hold six cans (another garage sale find).  I assume it was designed for boating or fishing.  We used it as our Beer Boat by tying a string and clothespin to it. It floated along with us, safely holding our beverages most of the time.  Unfortunately, it sometimes became unbalanced.  "Beer overboard!"  is not what you want to hear in your pool!
Our original Beer Boat

This year, we have a new pool and summer is becoming crazy hot.  Fed up with the U.S.S. Tippy, I decided to innovate.  I had seen this floating cooler, but I don't need a whole cooler!  (How cool is it, though?!  I will definitely be keeping this one in mind if I have a party!)  Looking instead for individual floating cup holders,  I found this instructable and its related comments.  One prototype later, and here's my take on the beverage barge.

Materials

pool noodle
plastic cup big enough to hold your beverage of choice, in its container, comfortably
small rope (about 3 1/2 feet)
medium-sized zip ties (3)
palm-sized rock or handful of smaller rocks
sturdy mesh fabric  - maybe an onion or orange bag?

Step One - Cutting


Cut two 7" long pieces of the noodle.




Cut a hole for your cup holder.

My cup holder is an Eskimo Joe's cup.  If you live in Stillwater, you have a cupboard or drawer full of these.  They hold 22 ounces, but they are shorter and squatter than regular plastic cups.  (I can relate to being shorter and squatter, darnit.)  You may have seen the Eskimo Joe's logo on t-shirts around the world.  It's famous.



The bottom of my cup had a diameter of three inches, so I marked three inches in the center of each noodle piece, then drew half a circle to cut.



Step Two - Connecting


Feed a 20" piece of rope through your noodle, from the end to the center cut-out, across to the other noodle's center, and out through the end of noodle number 2.  (Well.  That is probably one of the oddest sentences I've ever written. Probably a picture is a better idea.)


Do the same thing on the other side.  Tighten each side so the cup is held snugly between the two noodles.  Now, normally, this is where I would break out my hot glue gun, however, I'm skeptical that hot glue will hold up on plastic and foam, in the Oklahoma heat and sun, in water, so I was looking for a different way to keep the boat together.  Perhaps a nice squirt of silicone caulking might be an effective way to accomplish this.  I will let you know if I try it.  Today, I simply tied each piece into a snug square knot.  (Remember this from Girl Scouts?  "Right over left, and left over right, makes a knot neat, and tidy, and tight.")

Next, you need to add some ballast to keep the boat from tipping. Innovate!  Consider all the ways you can think of to add ballast to your boat.  One person recommended washers and steel ball bearings, but have you priced washers lately?  Plus, metal in the pool?  My idea was to make a little parcel full of rocks to hang under the boat.  I found a nice rock in my gardening supplies (unfortunately, we don't have a lot of rocks around here that would be suitable, so I used one that had been purchased for use in a flower vase.  Tip:  don't use sandstone!  It'll erode and give your pool a nice sandy bottom.)


Here I'm using a piece of old trampoline netting that was in our trash can this week.  You could try a plastic mesh bag from your onions or oranges, too.  Weave one of the zip-ties through around the top edge, then cinch it tight.

A little package of rocks.

Trim off the excess fabric at the top.  (Really, who's going to know if you do or don't?  I just like things to be tidy.)  Turn your boat over and put the rock parcel on the bottom of the cup.  Wind it through the rope, through the mesh, and zip it closed.  Do this on both sides.  It'll help hold your cup in place, too.  Warning:  don't pull the ties TOO tight, or you'll pop your cup right out of the noodles!  Whoops!




Step Three - Test and Enjoy!


Check it out!  I can put a 32-ounce drink cup (Sonic, anyone?) into my floating cup holder.


Here it is holding my more typical beverage of choice.  Note that my beer is wearing its shirt - this cup holder is even big enough for coozies.  (I am not a huge Spartan fan, by the way.  I just wanted a souvenir from our trip to Michigan State last month for Odyssey of the Mind, and a coozie fit the bill.  It makes me smile when I see my beer wearing a Sparty shirt.  Our other beer shirts are all from Oklahoma State; GO POKES!)

You can also see the prototype beer boat that I made yesterday, with its clothespin waiting to be clipped to a float.  The prototype used a styrofoam coozie that came with the six-pack cooler.  It works, but your beer can't be wearing a shirt and still fit in the boat, so I knew I needed a different option.

This weekend, I will give my floating cup holder a real test.  If modifications need to be made, I will report back promptly.  In the meantime, cheers! 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Surprise in my Salad!

I had to do a little "investigative reporting" the other day after a surprising discovery in my kitchen.
I bought nectarines at Walmart from these bins:
Yes, they all say, "Nectarines."  They are all priced at $1.98 per pound.  They are all, apparently, eligible for WIC stamps.  For all intents and purposes, these are the same.

Here's what I found when I cut into them at home:
Ah HA!  Did you know such a thing as a "white flesh nectarine" existed?  I knew of white flesh peaches, but didn't know about the nectarines.   Here's a close-up of the bins at Walmart, when I went back and investigated more closely:
Nowhere are they labeled as being different varieties on the bin labels - but - they do have two different stickers.  Also, now that I KNOW there's a difference, I can clearly see the difference in the skin colors.  When quickly throwing fruit into a bag at the store, though, the difference was far less noticeable!

We did a taste test.  The white flesh nectarine beat the traditional in all categories.  It ripened better, it was juicier, it cut easier (can you see how the orange nectarine in the photo above had to be sliced away from its pit?)  It was also a bit sweeter with a truer flavor. Incidentally, at our house we prefer nectarines - no fuzz and great taste.  The only drawback?  I miss the bright orange-yellow color on my plate, especially for the recipe I made using these very nectarines.  From this week's Weight Watchers meeting and its publication, I give you my version of their Arugula, Peach, and Goat Cheese Salad.

(I'm not going to take a photo of the recipe, because that would be copyright infringement, and you know, we librarians get a little sore about that.)

(I also don't have a photo of the salad, sadly.  It was devoured the minute I put it on the table.  Hungry boys at home.)


Chop up one peach (or nectarine, *wink*).  Peel if desired.  Put in blender (I used my immersion blender) with 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, a little salt, and a little pepper.  Blend.  Mmmm.  Smells delicious!  (I had to add 1/4 tsp sugar because my vinegar-pouring got a little out of control and my dressing was too tart.) You also might want to add a little water to thin the consistency.

On four plates, put a nice big handful of arugula.  Sprinkle with finely sliced red onion and some chopped pistachios.  Slice/crumble 1/4 cup goat cheese and sprinkle on each plate.  Slice one nectarine for each plate. Grind black pepper over each salad and drizzle with some dressing.

Four servings, four PPVs per serving.  Delicious!  I did have to put an astronaut chicken on the table to satisfy my carnivorous husband, though, but he really liked the salad, too.  (Astronaut chicken - you know, the ones in the capsules?  I believe that name was from a Stephen King book; we've used it ever since to refer to rotisserie chickens in the plastic containers.)

Did you know there were different varieties of nectarines?  Which do you prefer?