Odyssey of the Mind

4th Grade Glebe students strike a “selfie” at the end of their 8-minute show at the 2018 World Finals in Iowa.

Odyssey of the Mind is a program that offers students the opportunity to improve their creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork skills. Here’s a quick video that you and your student can watch to orient you to what Odyssey of the Mind is.

At Glebe this fall, we are now in the process of creating our Odyssey teams. Students will then spend from October to March 2020 solving a creative problem, then present their solutions at a regional competition. The teams do ALL the work and come up with ALL the ideas, encouraged by parent coaches. The hallmark of an Odyssey solution is that it is student-driven.

Please contact Glebe’s Odyssey of the Mind coordinator, Christina Headrick (email), if you are interested or have questions. We must recruit more parent coaches and judges this year to keep our program going!

Who should participate?

Coaches are giving generously of their time, and we want to identify kids who really want to be there, so that teams will function more smoothly. Skills can be learned, but enthusiasm is priceless. Odyssey is a good fit for:

  • Students who like to make things from odds and ends lying around – or students who would like to start making things.
  • Students who like to write plays – or students who would like to try their hand at writing plays.
  • Students with big imaginations – or students who would like to have a big imagination.
  • Students with technical minds – or students who would like to explore something technical.

We are also looking for parents with a desire to mentor students in a special activity that applies everything they are learning at Glebe, plus encourages their growth in creative thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. You don’t have to be a technical person or an artist — just willing to take the leap!

What age is this for?

Students in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade will join “Primary” teams, who aren’t scored competitively and who all answer the same question. This year they will be creating an insect fashion show. The teams are encouraged to do their best and have fun! The focus is entirely on skills building and learning, and then everyone gets to enjoy seeing each other’s presentations at the tournament. Younger teams may need to have three coaches.

Students in 3rd to 5th Grades can join “Division I” teams, whose “Long-Term Problem” work is a bit more difficult. The older students’ presentations are also scored at the regional tournament, with any first place teams moving forward to the state tournament and maybe beyond. Older students also participate in a “Spontaneous” competition to answer a surprise problem that day in a short amount of time. The team should also have a lot of fun! The tournament is a celebration of creativity, and students can go see other presentations, including what high school students made.

How does my student join a team?

The number of Odyssey teams at Glebe will be dictated by the number of parents who are willing to coach, judge at the regional competition, and otherwise help out — as well as by the number of students who are interested in participating.

We cannot have a team without at least two coaches. Parent volunteers can learn everything they need to know about Odyssey of the Mind at a coaching workshop in November 2019 in Alexandria and at a second problem-specific Arlington workshop in January 2020.

We also need volunteers to serve as judges at the regional meet. If your team cannot recruit a volunteer judge prior to registration, you will not be allowed to register. Judges must attend a mandatory training in February 2020.

Parents are invited to our annual Odyssey Information Meeting on Monday, September 23, starting at 6:30 pm in the Library (UPDATED LOCATION!!!) to find out more about team formation.

Interested 2nd to 5th Grade students, and parents if possible, should also make plans to have any prospective new OMERs attend at least one Odyssey of the Mind “Spontaneous” Workshop, to allow students to try out this activity and determine if they would like to join a team in September 2019.

The Odyssey coordinator is responsible to create teams and help new coaches and students get started. Priority for team placement is based on parent involvement as a coach or judge, filling out the below interest form, showing up at a workshop(s), and consultations with the coaches. Also, if there are five students who share a strong similar interest — like working on the balsa building problem — it usually makes sense to see if they want to work together. The goal is to find every student a spot on a team that works well for them, but in the event we have too many students and not enough coaches, names may have to be drawn from a hat to decide who can participate. Students will be placed on a waitlist and in the event a spot opens on a team, these students will be immediately contacted to determine their interest in joining that team.

Odyssey Interest Form

(Required for ALL new and returning team members)

Interest forms are due by Friday, October 4th, and should be filled out even if you are on a returning team. We need to identify all the parents who can coach, judge, and help manage the program, and update our contacts for this season. We will be looking at these forms when we are doing team placement and registration, not reviewing emails or text messages, so please fill out the form.

Workshop Signups

In addition, we will have some sign-ups for various activities, so we can get a better count for planning.

Thank you to those who attended the introductory Spontaneous workshops. Just a reminder – RSVP in advance for events so we are prepared for the numbers. We had 25 extra students!


  • UpCycle Materials Workshop: Come visit the UpCycle Creative Reuse center in Alexandria and learn about all the kinds of materials your team can use to create their problem solution. Hands-on exploration! Get dozens of ideas to spark further creativity with recycled materials.
    • SUNDAY, November 10, 2-4 pm @ UpCycle, 1605 Cameron Street in Alexandria, Virginia. Registration is REQUIRED, and there is a small $5 cost to reserve the space.
    • Closed for registration. It was a great success today. Thanks to all who helped!!
  • Glebe Odyssey Tech Night: Come peek inside the new Central Library “Shop” maker space, then find out about local resources and experiment with circuits, motors, code and STEM resources in the Bluemont Room. Make & Take: Everyone will be able to connect a motor to a battery and invent a tiny robot friend while there!
    • TUESDAY, December 3, 6-8 pm @ Arlington Public Library, 1015 N. Quincy St.
    • If you have any desire to enter “The Shop” makerspace for a quick look around that night, between 6:15-6:45 PM, you should go ahead and fill out the “The Shop” maker agreement in advance.
    • Please RSVP via the Sign-up if you are interested in attending. This event is geared to 3rd-6th Grade, but younger kids are welcome to attend with parents who are also interested in learning.
    • PLEASE BRING: One laptop per team who wants to try some of the technology, and one old toothbrush per student who wants to build the tiny robot.
  • Balsa Basics – a NOVA East Odyssey Training Workshop: Come “take a break” with other Odyssey of the Mind teams and learn about structural engineering through hands-on activities. All students on balsa teams, and those who would consider this problem in the future, are invited. Structural engineering knowledge certainly also applies to solving Spontaneous problems! Today is for ages 3rd Grade and up, and we are bringing in a longtime balsa coach, problem captain, and engineer to help teach the class. Don’t miss this opportunity at our school!
    • SUNDAY, December 8, 1-3 pm @ Glebe Elementary Multipurpose Room
    • REQUIRED SIGN-UP & PAYMENT ($7.50 per participant):
    • PLEASE BRING: a notebook to use for your observations and a can of vegetables.
  • Pizza and Problem Nights: Come have fun at these nights of Spontaneous Problem-Solving and Community (with pizza for dinner) for Glebe OMers and Alumni. Primarily for 3rd grade and up but all are invited. (Little kids/siblings must have a parent to help them.)

A team launches a vehicle on a zipline!

Odyssey Timeline

The Glebe Odyssey program starts by the end of October, after student teams are finalized, and then they choose a “Long Term Problem” to answer. Teams meet after school or in the evenings, depending on the availability of their coach and members.

The teams work on their problems for four to six months, then present their solutions at a regional competition in Alexandria on March 14, 2020.

A team may continue enhancing their project through April and May, if they advance to the State Championship, and then, World Finals.

A student engineers a car powered by a mousetrap.

Key Dates for 2019-2020:

      • Monday, September 23, 6:30 – 7:30 pm, Information Meeting: Glebe Elementary School, LIBRARY (Updated Location!!) for parents. (Students are welcome but presentation geared to parents.)
      • Tuesday, September 24th, and Friday, September 27th, from 3:45 to 5 pm, Odyssey “Try It!” Workshops: Students in 2nd to 5th Grade, and parents considering coaching, are invited to try out on-the-spot “Spontaneous” Problems. Meet and dismiss from Ms. Huggler’s room, A116.
      • Friday, September 27, 7 pm – Coaches, Cocktails, and Conversation: So what are you getting yourself into? Join us for libations and discussion of coaching at the home of longtime Odyssey coach Deb Ryan.
      • Friday, October 4th: Students and parent coaches, who want to form teams, should submit information forms by this date to the Odyssey Coordinator. Please consider volunteering to coach, so we can allow all kids to participate.
      • Teams will be formed based on student and parent interest.
      • FALL ODYSSEY WORKSHOPS TO BOOST TEAMS – are being finalized including a STEM Workshop near the new Central Library Maker Space, Balsa Building Informational Workshop, and an Creative Materials Workshop at the UpCycle Creative Reuse center in Alexandria that will focus on costume, prop making, and all the stuff you can use to make your solution. Details are being finalized.
      • October/November: Teams should submit room reservation forms if they want to meet at Glebe Elementary initially. Forms should be turned into Maria Meraz in the school office. Most teams will move to a team member’s house as they start building things and/or using tools that may not be appropriate on school property. Decide when and where you will meet. Develop a team plan for your season.
      • November: Teams tell the Odyssey Coordinator which Long Term Problem they will answer, and everyone registers for the competition. Teams should be meeting before the end of the year, based on students’ schedules, because the regional tournament comes up fast. Your team should brainstorm and organize ideas for engineering projects, themes, plots, costumes, sets, props, and style items. Also set aside time at each meeting to answer Spontaneous Problems. It’s nearly 1/3 of your total score!
      • November 16, 8:15 am to 1 pm, Coaches Training: St. Louis Catholic School, Alexandria, VA (recommended for new coaches and for current coaches to learn new skills). The school is at 2901 Popkins Lane, Alexandria, VA.
      • December: Teams may decide on themes, finish an outline of a story, write a rough draft of a script, begin working on costumes, begin building parts of their problem solution, start making sets and props, and practice Spontaneous Problems. Encourage your team to take risks and “fail fast” on ideas, so they can work on improving them, or move on to another idea. Let them know this is the normal design process!
      • January 2020: Teams finalize scripts, finish engineering work for project solutions, and complete major style items. Don’t forget to make a creative membership sign that is incorporated artfully into your show. Submit questions to the national problem clarifications webpage.
      • January 13, 2020, 7 to 8:30 pm, Regional Coaches’ Meeting with Problem Captains: Ask the experts problem-specific questions and gain coaching tips from others in the Odyssey community. Campbell Elementary School, 737 South Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA.
      • January 2020: Deadline to enter a project into the Odyssey Angels community service competition. (It’s a ticket to World Finals if you win!)
      • February 2020: Teams practice presentations and perfect inventions. Time your practices. Teams complete paperwork, including their cost form, style form, and the problem form where they explain their solutions and ideas. Teams should have dress rehearsals for parents the last week of February. And don’t forget: Practice a Spontaneous Problem at every meeting!
      • February 15, 2020: This is the last chance to submit a personal problem clarification for your team’s problem. Also, your team should have reviewed all of the international problem clarifications that have been released, which affect all teams because the problem captains have decided to clarify a rule or requirement. It is extremely important to make sure that your team players understand the problem requirements and any rules, so they can make sure to avoid penalties at the regional tournament.
      • February 29, 2020, 8:15 am to 1 pm, Judges’ Training: St. Louis Catholic School, Alexandria, VA (required for all competition judges). Every team must find a parent volunteer to serve as a judge, who MUST attend this training, as well as the March 14th competition. The school is at 2901 Popkins Lane, Alexandria, VA.
      • March 14, 2020, 7 am to 7 pm, Regional Competition: West Potomac High School, Alexandria, VA. Competition winds down about 4:30 pm, and the awards ceremony happens after all final scores are tabulated; some of us will return for that about 6:30 pm. More details will be provided about logistics, but plan to go early to get parking at 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria, VA.
      • April 1, 2020: Deadline to report results on any Odyssey Angels project.
      • April 18, 2020, 7 am to 9 pm, State Competition: The state Odyssey tournament is back at Menchville High School near Norfolk, Virginia. Teams often spend two nights in a local hotel (Friday and Saturday).
      • May 27-30, 2020, World Finals Competition: Iowa State University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. You can get there if you put in the hours and keep pushing for that next, more creative idea. They have moved the date this year to after Memorial Day. It is quite an experience!

This team created a hovercraft that flew across the stage with two riders.

More Program Details

How Much Does It Cost?

The Glebe Elementary School PTA covers some training costs and regional competition entrance fees. (Thank you PTA for your generosity!)

The Glebe coaches’ advisory committee will meet and decide on a final plan for this year’s program, after teams are finalized in early October.

Parents should expect to pay $50 to $55 per student, to cover team and program costs, although the final amount will be determined after discussion with the coaches.

Most of this cost will be for your parent coaches to pay for your team’s specific expenses. Last year, coaches received $40/student or a team budget of $280 to use over five months. The students decide what materials to buy for their Long Term Problem presentations. (About $100-$150 worth of purchased stuff is allowed to be used in the finished presentation, with specific rules for each problem)

Coaches will buy extra materials to be used in testing, skills learning, and design, especially in the balsa and more technical/engineering problems. Teams may use their budget to purchase various items such as extra “emergency” snacks, safety goggles, hot glue protective gloves, a license to use a pop song in their performance, or a unique tool that is required for their solution.

Coaches may have additional expenses, beyond this, that they will need to discuss with parents. One team needed an extra $60 to be able to test many kinds of thermochromic paint and buy extra heating pads to disassemble for the tests; they had to ask parents to kick in additional funds.

Glebe teams who decide to build very large items may want to reserve $50-$75 of their budget to help pay for a shared moving truck to conveniently transport projects to the regional tournament.

In addition to team costs, we pool our resources and purchase some items as a group, including providing every team with $20-$30 of practice materials for Spontaneous problems and printing kid-designed Glebe Odyssey t-shirts to show our team spirit at the regional tournament. (You will see many OMER’s wearing their t-shirts with pride!)

This year, we are also proposing to acquire a school membership at the Alexandria Upcycle Creative Reuse Center, that all teams could use to acquire stuff to build projects. Think rolls of fabric, huge cardboard tubes, gold paint, silk flowers, beads, bottle caps, ribbon, computer components, old maps, and anything else that your team can fit into the back of your car… The materials available change every week and are varied. The cost would be about $22 per team. This discounted access pass will only be available if all teams agree to work together to participate. (In addition, the Upcycle CRC is an awesome place to donate extra craft materials and recycled trash items that you don’t use after your season is over!)

Finally, there may be some additional participation fees for those students who choose to attend additional skills-building workshops later in the fall, so we can cover materials costs, such as balsa wood, spray foam, circuit boards, or PVC pipe, etc. We’ll need to post a sign-up for those activities and figure out how many are attending, in order to have adequate supplies. However, our early season “Try It” Spontaneous problem-solving workshops are free to all students in 2nd to 5th Grade to come check out Odyssey of the Mind.

Parents are invited to make an additional, completely optional contribution to go towards financial assistance for eligible students and/or to help us fully cover the full costs of the program, including additional training/tournament costs, supplies used at group events, subsidized transportation to allow more kids to go on field trips (while parents were working), and other costs, as may be determined by the advisory committee of coaches. For the 2018-2019 year, Glebe parents contributed more than $1,000 in additional extra donations, in order to help cover all costs and provide scholarships. Thank you for supporting Odyssey, parents!

The Glebe Odyssey program provides fee waivers and financial assistance to interested students who qualify because they are participating in the free/reduced lunch program, Medicaid, or similar programs. You can indicate interest in financial assistance by sending an email to the Odyssey Coordinator (to be kept confidential). No student will be turned away due to financial need. Please contact us for additional details about the scholarship policy.

What is the time commitment?

Students (and coaches) decide how hard to play at Odyssey of the Mind.

You can solve problems, have fun, and keep it all about the journey! Try it. Don’t stress. Just making it to the regional tournament with a solution is a SUCCESS.

Teams should discuss their goals. Realistically, a team doing it just for fun and younger primary teams should schedule at least 15-20 hours together to complete a solution. A younger primary team can generally schedule 8-10 short after-school meetings and 1 to 3 weekend making stuff “workshops,” and finish a solution, especially if kids work on a few items at home.

Teams that are more serious, and older kids’ technical and engineering problem teams, should have a lot done by the end of December and take advantage of days off during the winter vacation.

Serious teams who have a good sense of what is required to complete a solution will schedule at least 40 hours (or more) so the kids can work on their solution before the March 14, 2020 tournament. It is important to give the kids time to try things and fix problems, so they can get to a good solution, and not be stressed out. Teams should begin actively testing and improving — not just brainstorming — solutions by mid-January.

Many older teams plan to meet weekly for about 90 minutes and then set up three to four “team workshops” so the team can complete a lot of building tasks done all at once.

Coaches should plan in advance to schedule more time during the two “crunch time” weeks in early March, when many teams realize that they underestimated the time it will take to complete their ideas. (They are learning project management skills!) You need to schedule time for multiple rehearsals, so your team is ready to give a presentation, and confirm in advance the times when your full team can come together to practice.

At a minimum, all Odyssey teams should plan to:

      • Have extra opportunities to increase their creativity and teamwork.
      • Meet at least weekly – at a time, date, and place of your team’s choosing – starting anytime between October 7th and December 7th, and going up until the regional competition in March.
      • The rest is up to your team!

More Details for Teams

So is this a theater project or an engineering contest?

The Long Term Problem solutions are usually short sketch plays, developed by the teams, that answer a creative question.

Some questions are more technical, such as asking students to design and build a vehicle that is unpacked out of a suitcase, assembled, and driven by a student. Technical components of solutions can include coded robots, low tech “simple” machines, and tiny balsa wood structures that hold over 1,100 pounds of weight.

Other questions are more dramatic, such asking students to bring new life to an old fable or create a script with witty wordplay. The presentations can involve elaborate musical numbers, fanciful costumes, clever dialogue, and student-built sets that transform with elaborate engineering. One team engineered a way to make Peter Pan fly, and another created a very lifelike, mechanical puppet bird, as ways to enhance their theatrical performance. In the dramatic performances that stand out, engineering and design are used in an impactful way.

All problems tend to involve both technical and dramatic aspects, so whether your student is more technical or artistic, there is a place on a well-rounded team for him or her.

Do students compete against kids who are the same age?

Students in Kindergarten to 2nd Grade all tackle the same Primary Division Long Term Problem that combines aspects of the older division problems so students can try things.

Second Graders tend to be more ready for this experience, but all younger students are welcome to participate, based on the availability of parent volunteers. Glebe has had some multi-age Primary teams, especially with siblings who wanted to work together.

There is no scoring for younger kids, and the judges are supportive of whatever they create. They put on a performance at the regional tournament. After they are done, they can play games and watch other presentations.

Younger teams benefit from having two coaches present during work sessions. We recommend keeping meetings short, one hour or less, and planning more sessions if needed. Coaches are actively responsible for team time management.

Helping the kids directly on their problem is against the spirit and the rules of the competition! Coaches do teach skills and creative thinking techniques, that the kids can apply. If younger students show up with duct-taped brown boxes for their set, it’s fine. Respect the kids’ ownership. A parent coach can act as secretary, writing down ideas and even typing out a script, as long as it’s the kids’ words.

Students in 3rd to 5th Grade can join teams that are in the same grade or that are multi-age and multi-grade.

They spend four to six months to create a roughly 8-minute presentation that showcases their solution to a Division I Long Term Problem. There are five kinds of Long Term Problem questions:

      • a vehicle engineering challenge,
      • a “technical” engineering challenge that requires several original inventions to be incorporated into a performance,
      • a classics challenge where students reference a known work of art and/or literature in a creative way,
      • a balsa wood engineering challenge where the strength of a structure is tested with weights while a performance ensues,
      • and, a humorous theatrical challenge, which typically requires designated plot elements, elaborate sets, costumes, original scripts, music and other details.

Older kids learn how to brainstorm what needs to be done, to make their own task lists, and to learn how to manage their time, although coaches are still allowed to act as secretary or scribe sometimes during sessions. Coaches can also assist elementary school students in filling out paperwork, as long as it is their words.

Meetings can last up to two hours. You can schedule more sessions and host 2 to 5 kids at some meetings, to create more time for hands-on work. Or you can set greater limits on your time as a coach, and the students can work on projects at home, then bring them to meetings.

Always plan to have a lot of parent-donated snacks on hand, especially after school!

Learning the Engineering Design Process

Design Engineering Process

Participation in Odyssey of the Mind is a great way for creative students to get hands-on learning experience with the engineering design process. The consistent feedback received from parents is that they see tremendous growth in how their students approach problems, as a result of their experience with Odyssey.

Coaches or team members might ask open-ended questions to start discussion. Teams plan, disagree, and work through conflicts as they try to improve a design.

Projects are built. Students often fail, but learn from the results, and try again, as part of the engineering design process. A coach can help teach grit and resilience, and walk them through this process, without telling the students what specifically to do.

An even simpler way to break this down for younger kids is:

      • THINK – What do you want to do?
      • MAKE – What supplies do you need? What do you need to learn?
      • IMPROVE – What’s not working? What do you observe happening? What needs to be fixed?

Become a Coach – We Need YOU!

Our program greatly appreciates all the superstar parents who help by coaching and volunteering to support Odyssey teams.

Check out the 2019-2020 Program Guide for even more details.

We have created an Arlington County Odyssey of the Mind FB page where we have posted videos and other resources, and can chat. It is a closed group and we invite you to join.

Responsibilities of a coach include:

      • Helping the kids with time management and task organization, especially younger ones.
      • Organizing a weekly meeting for about one to two hours each week through January, as well as some longer workdays. If you can have some work days and accomplish more in December, you will be well-positioned in January.
      • Being a “Go-for” to take them places and exposing them to experiences that might inspire. We highly recommend taking your team to the American Visionary Arts Museum for ideas on how to use recycled materials.
      • Creating space and time for the team to have more hours to work, especially closer to regional tournament. In the weeks leading up to the presentation, teams may want anywhere from 2 to 10 hours of time per week, as they rush to complete things they haven’t finished yet (although hopefully, you are ahead of schedule!)
      • Keeping the kids safe. Parents can teach skills that students ask to learn, such as how to use a tool safely all by themselves with an adult standing by or how to operate a glue gun without getting burned. Coaches can facilitate “guest experts.” Just don’t teach to the problem or a specific solution. Keep it general.
      • Creating a positive team spirit. Emphasizing teamwork and conflict resolution. Help your team to disagree in a way that is productive for improving their solutions. Learn about Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. Bring it to the elementary school level by using a simple handout and having “hat signs” that the kids hold up as they discuss. Encourage them to use all the hats to discuss a strategic decision.
      • Teaching positive brainstorming, with no criticism. Encourage the kids to list more ideas than needed. Coaches may keep a notebook or save all of the notes the students make. If the kids get stuck, pull it all out and remind the kids about the other ideas they had earlier in the season.
        • For younger students, you might consider using a “magician’s hat.” Get a costume top hat or a wizard’s hat, and encourage them write down ideas to an open question. “Where should our play take place?” Collect responses, then read them out, so no ideas are tied to a particular person. A coach can even rewrite sticky notes, so they are all in your handwriting and not identifiable as belonging to a specific child. Try to remove the “ego” from the ideas and emphasize all ideas belong to the team.
        • Make sure that quieter kids get heard. For older students, sometimes having students write ideas down (without doing everything verbally) can be a good way to make sure that an introverted student is heard. Encourage the strong personalities to practice listening. When you see a problem disintegrating your meeting, encourage a total time out. Then suggest that the team has a quick group brainstorm to write down ways to solve the problem.
        • Try to ask general, non-specific questions to spark a better solution. A great tool is the SCAMPER technique. Check out this video, then ask questions like “How could we combine things? How could we eliminate something?”
        • Suggest that the kids identify at least three options for major decisions. They can create a narrative where they tell themselves a story about each idea. Encourage them to tell a story where the idea succeeds. What was great about the idea that led to success? Encourage them to tell a story where things go wrong (then work on solving those problems.) Now which choice seems like the best one?
      • Encourage the kids to identify their most creative ideas. What makes an idea creative?
        • First, it is original. It is not something we’ve seen before! It is not on Pinterest a million times. It may require risk-taking.
        • Second, it is useful. It gets the job done and accomplishes the problem solution effectively. Throwing an octopus on the stage for fun is creative, but if it’s pointless for your plot, it won’t help your score at all. Creative solutions are purposeful.
        • And third, there is an element of surprise. You were not expecting that! The element of surprise delights the judges and your audience.

Encourage the team to meet together, and plan specifically what they want to do, so that members have team permission to work on items in smaller pairs and trios, especially if people are available at different times.

Tips for Teams and Coaches

Disclaimer! You don’t have to do Odyssey this intensely, but if your team wants to position themselves to make a run for State or World Finals, here’s what you need to know.

How Do You Go to World Finals?

Odyssey Score Sheet

A Typical Scoring List for a Long Term Problem

The team with the most points wins. 

In the final, adjusted scores of each tournament level, the Long Term presentation is worth up to 200 points. Don’t leave any points on the table that are objective points, such as “5 points if the car crosses the finish line.” You either get points for this achievement or you don’t. Many of these objective points are all or nothing. Encourage your team to carefully review the problem requirements and to make a list of what they still need to do, in order to get all the points. Don’t give up. You CAN get all these.

The other way you are scored is subjective. What appeals to one judge might not appeal to another. Subjective scores cannot be questioned.

Generally, to get a higher subjective score, your team should make things in a way that shows extra effort in their creation. Your team could make any item, rather than using something pre-existing. Do not use a recording of music if you have a team member who can play the violin — but realize that your team will be scored by people who have a deep appreciation for the arts, so quality matters in performance, dance, and music.

Practice speaking loudly and smoothing out the performance, so your team can present with confidence. Teams should start running through their entire presentation plan no later than January/early February – even if you don’t have all your props and inventions made.

Also, all teams should practice good sportsmanship, maintain positivity, and show support for each other at all times. This is the right thing to do, for so many reasons, including that we want team members to be better people after their Odyssey experience, and we are representing our school community.

Judges may give a penalty for poor sportsmanship, including for coaches’ or parents’ behavior. Practice what to do if something doesn’t work, so you can deal with that with a smile.

Winning teams achieve some measure of success in all problem requirements. They spent time talking about how they would be scored and making sure they did not overlook something. They asked questions and got clarifications of anything they didn’t understand.

Students play well in the Spontaneous round. 

During the competition day, the older teams (3rd Grade and up) have an opportunity to earn 100 extra points by solving a surprise problem on the spot.

Most of the time, the Spontaneous part of the competition takes only about 20 minutes, maybe less, but it will be critical to your final score. The teams compete in a room by themselves – no coaches or parent audience members are present.

To do well in the Spontaneous competition, PRACTICE!

Glebe students — who practiced a lot — have actually won the Spontaneous competition in their age and problem division at World Finals. Many of these students will be coming back this year to mentor younger students. Our more experienced coaches will schedule some extra Spontaneous workshops to help you out later in the season, and we have also developed our own materials to assist your team. Glebe teams will also receive practice materials that they can use at their meetings. We recommend taking advantage of all these resources.

Do a problem for fun at every team meeting, work on teamwork and listening to each other, and try to come up with some strategies that spark creativity, risk-taking, and divergent thinking. Also, make sure to have FUN! Strengthen your team bonds.

A key element of Spontaneous practice is that your team will fail to complete problems successfully. That can feel discouraging, but it actually is GREAT! This is an opportunity to talk about things they would change and things they learned. This information is critical to success the next time. The team that won first place in the international competition applied specific knowledge that they had learned from practice problems where they had failed to solve the problem. So don’t get discouraged. This is how it works.

There are definitely tricks and strategies, such as having each team member create and memorize puns and jokes in an area of interest, such as space or the ocean, over the course of your season. Humorous and witty answers always receive extra points. Good teamwork and sportsmanship will always earn your team extra subjective points, while frowns and bad sportsmanship will often receive a penalty.

Coaches can offer specific suggestions during Spontaneous practice. The rules about Outside Assistance are different than how you approach the Long Term Problem. Also, team members can pretend to be judges during practices, and write down the answers they feel were the most creative. Have the team members go around and share the answers they thought were especially good. Keep it positive, and the students will get the hang of it.

There are three primary categories of Spontaneous Problems:

      • Verbal: Team members receive a question, brainstorm (often silently), and then go around giving answers.
      • Hands-onA problem is read to the team, and then usually, they are given materials where they have to build something or create something to answer the question.
      • Hands-On/Verbal Combination problems: You may have objects that you have to incorporate into your verbal response.

Please check out the above links for examples of problems, and your teams can attend our fall after-school workshops, where we will be having fun with different Spontaneous problems to get started. There are hundreds of sample problems online.

You should practice all types of problems and decide in advance which five members of your team will compete in each category.

In the early planning stages of the Long Term Problem, encourage your students to spend a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a “theme.”

Build your story around a universal idea, or what one of Glebe’s English teachers might call the “big idea” of a novel.

Examples of classic themes are a battle between good and evil, the power of love, or a person struggling to survive in nature. Examples of creative themes that have been done by Odyssey students include ideas such growing up and going through puberty (as students went around the spots on a board game transforming!), or remembering the love between a parent and a child, years later after the parent has passed away. The theme was the power of memory and love.

Award-winning presentations tend to have a clear theme that is easily accessible and sometimes even emotional, allowing the audience to quickly be able to connect to the performance.

Themes can be light-hearted and sweet, or deal with heavy ideas, including prejudice, fears, and even death. A good theme will present an authentic perspective from the students. We found at World Finals that judges tended to love dark themes, because they stood out amid all the happy craziness of the competition, and they often felt very honest and real, as a performance work of art.

Make sure the plot is easy to understand, but is also creative.

Many winning presentations have ideas that are simple to understand for the audience seeing it for the first time. There aren’t any inside jokes. The presentations might be complex in some way, but the story is easy to follow.

To come up with a plot, consider asking the team if they want to use a storyboard on a few sheets of poster board or a wall. Students can brainstorm their ideas for plot points quickly on sticky notes and arrange them in a beginning, middle, and end. Then they can decide on the best ideas as a team.

Encourage them to act out their ideas for the scenes and use their acting tests to figure out the best ideas. It’s better to start practicing in early February or late January.

Some teams realize late they have written a 30 minute play and need to cut two thirds of their work. Try not to spend hours writing a script you won’t use. Encourage the team to choose only the “best” sticky notes when creating their outline, act it out in play, THEN write it down. (Ultimately, it’s the kids decision how to proceed however!)

Some teams draw inspiration for a plot by retelling a classic story, such as The Little Prince or Alice in Wonderland. Then they spend their time reinterpreting the story and adding creative twists.

Another tactic is for a team to take turns with roles in their rehearsals, and not to claim roles immediately (which all little kids will want to do.) If everyone chooses their parts immediately, the problem then becomes that the team struggles when they can’t cut or modify a part, in order to improve their presentation, without offending someone’s ego because “hey, that was their part!” A coach can remind the players they will lose as individuals, but they can win as a team, and try to encourage them to take group ownership of the whole presentation, not just their individual roles.

Encourage brainstorming with SCAMPER (What can we combine? What can we magnify? etc.) to come up with creative combinations to produce surprise plot elements. As an example, let’s say you are making an outer space drama presentation, and you want to create a fight scene. Okay, pretty normal. But what could you combine the fight with? What about a “zero gravity” idea to make it more creative? Have the characters floating towards each other, trying to land punches, in slow motion. Suggest that your team brainstorm a list of combinations of “this plus that,” to see if anything sparks a more creative idea.

The team’s work shows the students put some time and detail into machines, props, costumes, and set pieces.

Detail always matters when the judges come up close to inspect the work.

Using ordinary materials in a way that transforms them from a distance (watch an episode of Project Runway’s materials challenge) is very important. The most unconventional material we have ever seen used in a project is chewed bubble gum in different colors to create an artistic portrait. The gum was technically “trash” so the budget cost of this material was also zero. They received a Ranatra Fusca award for this creative idea!

The judges will be able to see if your team took care with their work, and if it looks polished, you might receive higher subjective scores. Sometimes this means making something many times until your team is satisfied.

Students decide early and plan how they want to score points for “Style.”

Some of your best set pieces and costumes could earn points in the Style category, where your team requests that the judges score certain items. Style projects are things that the team think make their solution unique.

Style items haven’t already been scored, according to the requirements of the problem. They are often something your team added.

An example of an award-winning style item might be an armadillo costume that is made out of 4,000 soda can pop tops, or a balloon that expands to six feet and then pops, showering a stage with confetti. For maximum scoring, style components in a presentation will typically:

      • demonstrate creative thinking,
      • have a “WOW” factor,
      • thematically helped to tie everything together,
      • reuse common materials in an uncommon way
      • be BIG – large enough to be seen from the back aisle of an auditorium,
      • and, be effective in directly advancing the plot points of what is happening in the presentation.

Style points are often a secret of winning teams. Many teams don’t identify style items until the week before the competition, and then it’s almost too late to compete with some of the groups who have been planning and working on style items for weeks.

Start early on STYLE – decide on a few ideas to test out beginning in DECEMBER – and you might find those extra points will help a lot. The winner’s adjusted score is rounded up to 50 points.

Size matters for sets and props.

Judges may take into account how big things are, so you need to be size wise and create items that have an impact. This is especially true for later rounds of the competition.

The challenge is to build a set that is impactful, but that is also designed to be moved quickly into a room by your team in 20 seconds!

Tape out a square on a floor that is the minimum amount of space you are guaranteed to perform in order to help your team comprehend the amount of space they have to work with. Suggest brainstorming ways you could use the space, brainstorming ideas (with measurements!) for what they will build, and brainstorming ideas for where they will leave room to perform. Think about how you can move things into the room quickly using wheels, cardboard “sleds,” and other tricks. Brainstorm ideas for how to make a creative membership sign as part of your set and where that will go.

Remember: Everything must be easily portable and able to fit through a classroom door — so make sure to set up a rehearsal space where your teams can test that, and practice and plan their moving in and out strategy multiple times. Reading the annual Program Guide is essential, so you can find out all these details. After going through the door, the set and props can become bigger when assembled quickly. Sets can even be taller than kids when assembled. (You can bring a step stool!) Many sets transform innovatively and include engineered components, even when they have not been specifically requested by the problem question.

Some Odyssey competition locations have strict rules about protecting floors, when moving pieces, so you may be required to show you have felt or wheels or another solution to make sure your set can be moved without causing any concern. Stools, wagons, and moving devices can be used, as long as they are quickly carried off to the side before you start (and then they won’t count against your budget).

Finally, the competition starts out in small classrooms, but many of the rooms used for competition at both State and World Finals are very large auditoriums, college theaters, or classroom spaces that are huge auditoriums for elementary school kids. Teams should consider if a person in the last row of a larger space would be able to appreciate the dramatic impact of their set and props, and think forward.

The Glebe Odyssey Coordinator and other experienced coaches are available to come to a meeting, and provide a general, non-problem specific, presentation on topics like set construction, with photos and examples seen at competitions for inspiration for new ideas.

Watch your costs from the start.

Encourage your team to discuss purchases and to make sure they have found the CHEAPEST price for items.

There is a limited budget of roughly $125 to $150 for each problem, so be prepared to have boxes of recycled trash that your students are saving in your team’s work area.

Encourage your student to look in your recycle bin each week, and see if there is anything they want to keep. Some teams will try something with more expensive materials, then reverse-engineer their idea to come up with a cheaper way to accomplish it. (Lego wheels become hot-glued wheels made of dowels and plastic tops to orange juice bottles, etc.)

You must SAVE all receipts so your team can track their costs and use the receipts to compile their cost form at the end. If you buy 10 feet of PVC pipe, and use only 3 feet, you may count only the 3 feet your team used in your presentation. Teams often purchase materials to test them and they do not use all of their supplies.

Fundraising for Glebe Teams

Teams should be prepared to help raise funds to cover expenses for any later rounds in the competition.

Participation in the State Tournament can cost $150-$400 per team member for lodging, food, and to offset any transportation costs to move your project there and back. It depends how many nights you stay in one of the tournament hotels near Norfolk. Most teams stay two nights. You’ll also need to cover your registration fee, usually about $65. If you have any funds left in your team budget, this is a good way to spend them. Many teams also cover costs for a judge who is traveling to the tournament on their behalf, if the judge is not a parent, as a courtesy.

Should a team advance to World Finals, be prepared for a cost of about $1,000-$1,300 for each student and for each parent/coach. These costs include approximately $600 that will pay for your four days of college dorm lodging, about eleven cafeteria meals, and tournament costs to use the college campus. Your team will have other costs for transportation to Michigan or Iowa, rental vehicles once you arrive there, and the shipping of large project components. Expenses are usually higher for teams going to Iowa for World Finals, due to travel costs to the location.

There are resources to help you. Scholarships can be acquired from several local, regional, and national non-profit organizations that support Odyssey of the Mind students, and together, we will find a way to greatly reduce costs for students with the greatest financial need, as well as for other members of your team. Success should not be a burden on any team member who has worked so hard.

Any team that advances to later rounds of the competition will need to be in charge of raising additional funds, and start immediately.

Glebe parents created our program’s sponsoring 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, ArlingtonSTEAM, to expand challenge-based learning opportunities within Arlington Public Schools and to remove barriers to participation in programs such as Odyssey. Needs-based scholarships can be provided by ArlingtonSTEAM. Scholarships are funded through optional parent support as well as fundraisers, such as a kid-made Halloween haunted house last year. Tune in soon to find out what we do this year!

Glebe’s Odyssey community has also organized dining nights, bake sales, a student-run website called Narwhal Prints, and GoFundMe campaigns to support our students.

NOVA East, the regional nonprofit that organizes the regional Odyssey tournament, often is able to provide financial support for teams attending additional rounds of the competition from Region 11, which includes Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church schools.

Creative Opportunities Unlimited is a national nonprofit that provides needs-based financial assistance to support teams heading to World Finals. Applications for fee waivers are usually due immediately after our Virginia state tournament, so you must submit quickly.

Ideas and parent power are welcome, as we figure out new ways to support our students!

Giving Back with Odyssey Angels

Some teams apply their Odyssey knowledge to solve problems in their communities, by participating in Odyssey Angels projects.

In addition, teams can be invited to go directly to World Finals if they have a winning project, to recognize them for their creativity and their service.

Projects must be submitted in January, and then a panel reviews them to see if the team:

      • Found something to fix in their community that others hadn’t noticed.
      • Devised a creative way to attempt to fix it.
      • Used teamwork.
      • Helped others!

“Much like judging in Odyssey of the Mind, those projects that utilize creative thinking will be given more weight than simply the best final outcome. We hope that teams will continue their projects after the deadline to help those in need,” according to the program website.

Please contact the Odyssey Coordinator if your team would like to spearhead an Odyssey Angels project.

Glebe Odyssey Hall of Fame

2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Emoji Speak for Yourself,” NOVA East Regional Tournament

2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Emoji Speak for Yourself,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament

2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 7th place, World Finals

2018-2019 – Glebe Coaches and OMER Moms – Runner-up in the Coaches Challenge for building the the tallest tower they could, part of the Empire State building, out of 40 sheets of paper in three minutes

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 1st place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” NOVA East Regional Tournament

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” NOVA East Regional Tournament

2018-2019 – 3rd Grade Girls Team Problem 5, Division 1 – 1st place, “Opposites Distract,” NOVA East Regional Tournament

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 2nd place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 2nd place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 21st place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” World Finals

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 4th place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” World Finals; also 1st place in Spontaneous in problem and division

2018-2019 – Glebe Coaches, OMER Moms, and Glebe 5th Grade Girls – 1st place Winners of the Coaches Challenge at World Finals for their sketch “HERstory” about women empowering the next generation of girls through time




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