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An odyssey of time, space

Problem solving is a problem in itself for many. But not for students of Bear River High School and Magnolia Intermediate School who participated in the “Odyssey of the Mind” competition recently in Poland and brought home honors.

“Odyssey of the Mind,” a New Jersey-based educational program, requires students to solve problems using creative means. Participants then present their solutions at local, state, and international competitions where they are judged for their creativity.

“It’s a creative problem-solving competition,” said Michele Uppman, advanced studies teacher at Magnolia. “The students work together as a team and one of the things they like about it is that there cannot be any help from adults as far as ideas and the actual work.”



Uppman has been involved in the “Odyssey of the Mind” program for the past 21 years.

This year, teams from Magnolia and Bear River participated in the Odyssey of the Mind EuroFest in Wroclow, Poland, from April 28 through May 4. While the Magnolia team won the first position in their age group, the team from Bear River took third place and got an award for exceptional creativity.




“In the beginning of the year around October, we were given a problem,” said 15-year-old Kerri Lohse, a sophomore at Bear River. “The ‘Odyssey of the Mind,’ they come up with a problem we have to do … we have to come up with a backdrop, we have to do a skit under eight minutes, we have to do props, we have to do an entire play, pretty much. And we have to do all of this under a $125 budget. It’s very challenging and fun.”

This year, the Magnolia team had to create a skit involving a person in the backdrop of a jungle. The Odyssey of the Mind guidelines specified that the character should talk to the animals and birds of the forest, and hear from them about the problems of the forest and help them. The play had to include an original song and dance.

The high school team had to create a skit against the backdrop of ancient Egypt. The plot had to include a pharaoh, or a queen, and five ancient artifacts or works of art. The play also had to include an explanation about the construction of an ancient Egyptian architectural structure and had to have a plot twist.

“For our performance, we chose to have an obelisk as a sundial to chart the shadow across the land and make sure that King Tut can get home in time to ride his chariot before dark,” said Logan Kaper, 15, another sophomore at Bear River. “This project was very challenging this year because we knew that we would have to go to Poland. So instead of building a giant backdrop like we usually do out of lumber and everything, we had to make it small to be able to pack it easily in three suitcases. So we made the characters our backdrops – four roommates, their heads would be gods’ heads – ancient Egyptian gods – and they would interact with Tut. But the rest of their bodies (costumes) were scenes that could be folded up and changed in different ways, so when they were done, they could slip off the scenes and pack them up nicely.”

Once in Poland, the teams were given a whole new problem to deal with. It was called “A Constitution for All.” The teams had to create a plot in which people and/or animals are forced to live together in a limited space, but are able to do so in harmony after coming up with a new constitution of their own.

Both teams came out in flying colors, though they were given three days only to come up with a play.

For those like Kaper, the Odyssey experience brought home several useful lessons.

“It’s taught me how to deal with people, how to fix problems spontaneously, how to think your way through situations, how to deal with team members disagreeing with you, how to forget your pride and go with other team members’ point of view,” Kaper said.

Patty Mandrup, a parent, who accompanied the team to Poland, couldn’t agree more about the benefits of being a part of the Odyssey program.

“Where do I start? They learn things they don’t learn in traditional classroom structures,” she said. “This program allows kids to use their creativity to solve problems in an academic manner. It teaches them budgeting because they have to work within a budget and they have to be accountable for what they purchase and they have to list it.

“They have to learn time management because they have to produce a solution that they present in a certain amount of time. They learn the art of conversation, because as they are problem-solving, script-writing, or everything else, they are sitting around the table conversing. A lot of kids nowadays don’t know how to carry on a conversation.”

Interaction was a great challenge for the teams, especially because they were often asked to work with teams from countries where English is not the usual language of conversation. For instance, for the Magnolia team had to work with teams from Poland and the Czech Republic, while the Bear River team had to perform with Russian and Polish students.

The participants, nevertheless, seemed to savor the international experience more than anything else.

“It was really fun to work through the language barriers of the Polish and the Russian teams because the Russians did not speak good English and we had to work through that which was really fun,” Lohse said.

Kaper agreed.

“Being able to go and see people from other countries has been really special to me because I was able to see their takes on what America is, how they see us and also see how they perceive the rest of the world,” he said. “They are from all over the world, but they are just like us … They are bright students, they get good grades, but they think just like we do.”

Mandrup felt the Odyssey gave students an opportunity to live and work in a completely different culture.

“I think a lot of the kids got a brand new perspective on America,” she said, ” and how fortunate they are to have a lot of the luxuries they take for granted.”

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To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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