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New Canaan Students Victorious at Odyssey of the Mind

Many New Canaan teams honed their teamwork and showed their creative prowess to place at the statewide Odyssey of the Mind competition on March 31.

On March 31, New Canaan teams traveled to Bristol, CT for the Odyssey of the Mind State Championship.

“It’s a creative intellectual challenge,” Connie Batchelor, a coach for one of the teams, said. “The students come up with the ideas. If they make mistakes along the way, that’s okay.”

New Canaan schools swept the Weird Science category with Saxe Middle School teams placing first in Weird Science Division I and Weird Science Division II, while took first place in Weird Science Division III.

The Weird Science problem was sponsored by NASA. Students were presented with 15 aerial photos of Earth and asked to choose one and imagine a mystery, exploration, and solution.

“They had to imagine they were sending scientists there, create a machine that would take two samples, and create a technical representation. Then they had to tell a story about the expedition,” Susan Brill, coach for the Saxe team made up of seven fifth graders, said. “The image they chose looked like a bullseye and they decided that Atlantis was rising through the desert floor.”

The team designed a set with both an inside and an outside by using Velcro to connect refrigerator boxes. Then, using Plato’s descriptions of Atlantis, the team had the machine discover a piece of wall and a piece of a boat.

“They took apart a vacuum and figured out how to put it inside a box so it could suck up a sample,” Brill said. “All this they had to come up with themselves and they had such a good time with it.”

Even at the third through fifth grade level, coaches are there to moderate discussion, not to provide ideas or guide the project. Students come up with their own answers and their own projects with minimal guidance.

“When you ask fifth graders for ideas, some personalities overpower and others are very quiet. We have to make sure all the kids get a voice and that everyone feels heard,” Brill said. “We allow them to play, it has to be fun every time and let the team evolve.”

The Saxe Middle School seventh grade team used the same NASA photo and imagined the circle of life had started to turn too quickly due to a nearby soap factory, causing a little girl to age quickly into an old woman.

New Canaan High School meanwhile chose a different photograph and imagined a Romeo and Juliet story between the periodic table of elements, focused on Calcium's relationship with Helium. The team not only crafted muppets for their skit, but wrote new lyrics to Beatles’ songs to tell their story.

The same New Canaan High team placed second in the performance catagory, Odyssey Angels Division III, while took third place in Odyssey Angels Division I.

Saxe Middle School took third place in Ooh-Motional Vehicle Division II. Batchelor coached the team of seven sixth grade boys, five of whom had competed in Odyssey of the Mind last year.

This year, the team was challenged to created a vehicle that had two methods of propulsion and could show four human emotions. In addition to creating their vehicle, the team had to write and act out a skit that showed the vehicle in action.

“They came up with the idea of doing planets — at first they thought maybe Earth is mad about a tsunami. Then someone said, “What about bullying?” and they decided that Saturn was bullying Earth,” Batchelor said.

The Saxe sixth grade team created paper mache planets for the car and ways to drive the vehicle by using a bike wheel and turning a drill.

“They learned how to sew on a sewing machine, designed a pattern and made it fit,” Batchelor said. “Two of the boys had carpentry skills so they took the lead in building.”

In addition to the projects they worked on from September through March, teams go up against each other in spontaneous problems where they are presented with a question or a challenge and asked to use their creativity and work together to find a solution.

“My team got really good at the verbal problems, they’d come up with these answers and I’d think, “Wow, I wish I could do that!"” Brill said.

The first and second place finishers move on to the Worlds, so the Saxe Middle School fifth graders are just one of the New Canaan teams that will be headed to Iowa May 23-27 for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

“You wonder if you’ve slipped off the edge when you’re planning to take refrigerator boxes to Iowa,” Brill said. “But we talked with people who had gone before and they say it’s really worthwhile, you feel the ideas and they get to spend time with other kids who love solving problems. They’re so excited. It’s neat to see them get involved with something and actually have a dream realized, placing first in the state.”

“One parent emailed me and said his son had told him he was so proud of the medal because it was the first one he’d gotten for not just participating,” Batchelor said. “They were proud of their work and I was so proud of them.”

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