The Real Paul Jones

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Heading to Odyssey of the Mind World Finals

Note: Once the Wired folks admit me Now that the Wired folks have set me up as a contributor, this and other postings about kids and tech will be over on Geek Dad.

The hardest part of being a teacher and of being a geekdad is keeping your mouth shut and letting the kids take charge. That’s what Odyssey of the Mind requires. You can show your kid and others on his team how to do something but they have to ask and ask without prompting. The results are amazing and creative and as you might guess, unpredictable.

Think of Odyssey of the Mind as MakerFaire by and for kids with contraints in budget but not on creativity.

My son’s team is on their way this week to their second OM (as it’s called unofficially or OotM more officially) World Final competition. I’ll report on not only their progress but about other creative kids in the competition at Michigan State University the end of this week.

Tucker’s team is made up of four girls and three guys all now 14 years old. But teams can be single sex and can span a few years. Divisions cover from K – 12 with a small college division.

Teams are given long term problems which are quite involved and include technical solutions, skits, costumes and sets — all scored and all presented in 8 minutes or less. And at a materials cost of under $145 (for their problem this year).

The Large And Small Of It requires that the team “create and present an original performance that integrates team-created Small Pages and Large Versions that change appearance. The method used to make the Large Versions change appearance will simulate the methods used to change the Small Pages. One of these methods must be technical. The Large Versions will serve as stage sets for the performance. During the performance a character will also appear to dramatically change in size. This effect will be created using technical means.”

Other problems include building weight bearing structures from balsa wood, building vehicles that perform some task, combining Classics and world geography and psychology.

That’s half the work. For the other half the team must spontaneously solve a problem presented to them. They aren’t allowed to talk about the spontaneous problems so I have to tease that out from other sources with the help of the OM press folks.

Last year, a team from Shanghai, China finished first in the vehicle problem leaving the Chapel Hillians in 6th place. So the competition is truly international and tough.

I can’t tell you just now what this team has dreamed up, but I can say that it involves some creative use of story telling, technology, duct tape, a recycled leaf blower and pvc pipes — and that the Chinese will be back to defend their title.

More news as it happens.


  1. I participated in odyssey of the mind in elementary school, and remember well the hours we spent crafting our skit, which was just a massive parody of then popular “Family Ties”. I still have schematics of our massive “Skippy”, a paper mache and chickenwire potato-esque contraption designed to interact with us. We placed third, I think, and our competition was strictly kids 3 or more years our senior.

    Our balsa construct team took a devastating blow when the florida heat dissolved some of their binding in transit. I think the structure still bore 12 lbs. befor failing, though that may have only been 12 oz. Thank god I wasn’t involved, since I am terrible at piece work and detail.

    I also remember doing some weird parallel thinking exercises in some side room with a woman that smelled of leather and lemons. They would hand us scribbles or objects, and we had to identify 5 possible uses or possibilities for each. I think we won that one.

    Thanks for the memories culled from your writing. Good stuff.

  2. Holy crap!

    I just saw that this entry was in 07. Hope you are still alive!

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