Loudoun County Public Schools will host two Odyssey of the Mind regional tournaments in March.
Woodgrove High School will be the home of the Region 14 tournament on Saturday, and Region 16 teams will compete at Briar Woods High School on March 16. Both competitions run from approximately 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and are open to the public.
“Odyssey of the Mind is a wonderful, crazy, fun way for students to develop some very important life skills,” stated Loudoun County’s Odyssey of the Mind Region 14/16 Co-Director Tom Coate. “It starts with creative thinking but also very much includes teamwork, leadership, and all of the STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math—skills in a very hands-on way.”
Students work for months in teams of up to seven to solve a problem with a complex set of constraints then demonstrate their solution in the form of an eight-minute skit. They also practice solving spontaneous problems with just a few minutes to decide their approach.
“In all of the problems, the emphasis is not on finding the one ‘right’ answer, but rather on finding the most creative answer they can imagine,” Coate stated. “They are encouraged to take risks and to learn through both their failures and successes.”
In its 40thyear, Odyssey of the Mind is the largest creative problem-solving program in the world. There are Odyssey of the Mind programs in nearly every U.S. state, as well as in approximately 25 other countries worldwide. Loudoun County’s Region 14 and Region 16 combined form the largest region in Virginia, with more than 100 teams participating in each of the regional tournaments.
Region 14/16 Co-Director Sheryl Lemma, a software product manager for a financial company, sees a strong correlation among skill sets taught in Odyssey of the Mind and those valued in industry, especially in the technology sector.
“In software development, in particular, small teams of generally fewer than 10 people take a business problem, boil it down to its basic components, challenge assumptions, and create a solution that solves the business’ need,” Lemma said. “It’s done across a team of varied skill sets, with each member bringing their strengths and skills to the solution. This is exactly what we are doing in Odyssey of the Mind!”
She encourages Loudoun’s tech professionals to get involved with their local teams. “Odyssey requires nearly as many volunteers as it does participants,” she says. “Technologists can teach students how to think critically, use design thinking techniques, project management skills and how to work as a team with multiple talents that all contribute to an outstanding product.”