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!


  1. Love to read your posts! Hoping you can still do them from Europe :)

  2. Oh dear - forgot to leave my name :) This is Kris Schennum Cromwell :) Take care!