Judging Odyssey of the Mind

It was intriguing to find out about a thing in the US called "Odyssey of the Mind" that is supposed to be a contest that challenges kids of all ages to "think outside of the box". I was really skeptical about how anything could be *judged* as being "outside the box", but the judge's training kind of gave me a glimpse at a possibility and since I'd volunteered so that a team from Blue Mountain Elementary could go to the competition, I thought I should follow through with that.

I had the judges training just before Biloxi, and was asked to judge today. The team had to go to Littleton, which is an hour to an hour and a half drive away, so I was up at 6:30 this morning to get there on time.

It was surprisingly easy after a week of getting up at 6:30 Central Time, now that I'm back in Mountain time, and I was up and functional far earlier than I thought I could be. I think that if I just stayed getting up that early that I might actually like it.


And I loved the long drive in, for some odd reason, it touched off all of my LA-girl buttons, going a steady lick bumper to tail with the car in front of me on three or four lanes of freeway just felt really good all of a sudden.

I got there plenty early, got my judging t-shirt and was amused when the lady at the table said that I was skinny enough to fit into a medium. I have now lost nearly ten pounds since the beginning of the Biloxi trip, and have been feeling kind of skinny, to have it confirmed from outside of me was very nice.

The judging team for Problem 1 for the southern Colorado division was nicely set up by the head judges. There were two of them. There was a pre-staging judge, a staging judge, an announcer/timekeeper, a scorekeeper, three problem judges, three style judges, and one guy who simply helped out with anything that needed helping with. And the whole judge team was involved whenever penalties were assessed.

I was one of the "problem" judges, and it was an odd blend of just figuring out if the requirements were met and how "originally" and "creatively" the kids did them. I was glad that I had more of the "did they do it at all" sorts of things to measure while the style folks did more of the "how well did they do it?" sorts of things. That was cool. And with six of us, the scores were pretty well modulated.

I got to see 11 teams bring on their creations.

And did the judging on them all, which was kind of exhausting. The team of judges was fun to work with, and I found myself really liking that part of it, having fun people getting to a common goal was really cool in many ways.

The whole process was pretty clear and clean, especially by the end of the whole thing. But I was oddly disappointed, for me at least, while there were some good ideas and some fun approaches, nothing really surprised me to the point of wow, they're really being super creative or being particularly surprisingly out of the box. Most of the elementary school kids had ideas that were more unconventional than the high schoolers did. That was... intriguing to see.

Got to see a few of the parents doing the competitive parent thing, too, which is always kind of a let down.

I think the idea is solid, I'm still contemplating the actual implementation of it all before I'll really try to get Jet into that kind of competition next year. I'm also very glad that I did do the judging before contemplating even coaching, so that I understand what it is that is expected of the kids. It was obvious that some of the coaches had no clue what really needed to be done, and their kids really suffered in the competition because they and their coach had no idea what the definition of the problem even was. They'd worked off the synopsis rather than the actual requirements. *sigh*

It was worth a single Saturday, but I'm going to have to think a bit about it all. I suspect that Jet might well learn how to think outside the box more easily without a competition result hinging on it, given how John and I think anyway.

I got home around 4:30 and the boys had taken care of themselves. John made dinner, and we ate, and Jet and I played for most of the evening and did both video games and making one of Jet's stuffies. He's into making stuffies right now, and we're gradually putting together a tree stuffie for him. *grins*

Tomorrow's an early start, so I'm probably headed for bed now.
Do you have Destination Imagination out there? We haven't done it, but I've heard good things about their challenges from some families who have done it. Since we haven't done it, I don't know a lot about it, but I have heard that the kids are supposed to do the activities themselves, and the adult facilitator is supposed to help but not really do things for them.
I heard about it being the for-profit version of this... but, yeah, it sounds like it's nearly the same thing, but the problems for both sound pretty intriguing.

It was interesting to know that my 'problem' was sponsored by NASA, too. *contemplates*

Anyway.... yeah... it seems to be like that.
I don't think that's quite accurate -- DI's parent organization is a non-profit, and I'm not sure Odyssey of the Mind's organization is. But they did begin as a single organization, and then DI split off after some sort of internal dispute about 10 years ago.

Amy did DI this year -- their regional tournament was this weekend also -- and she has LOVED it. I'm now wishing that Rob had gotten involved with it when he was in elementary school, and we may see about him getting involved next year (he didn't express any interest before, but now he's all "Hey, why didn't I get to do that?!"). I also volunteered, but I was organizational help for the instant challenges (similar to OM's spontaneous problems), checking the teams in to that section of the competition and making sure they ran on time, rather than judging. I'm helping out with the state level competition next month, though, and will be judging instant challenges for that, so I'm looking forward to the experience.
Oh! Cool that you got to clear it up here! I only heard that from one of the other judges and they'd been involved long enough that I think they could well have been biased. *laughs*

Neat to hear about your experiences and those of your kids, too! That's possibly more important.

Yeah, the instant challenges/spontaneous ones sounded really fun. I think at the higher level competitions there would be more interesting stuff to see, too. I might get to go to the state ones, too, depending on how 'my team' did. I suspect not, though, they always seem to be looking for willing judges.
That sounds like a blast! Alas, I could also see how the competitive parent thing could be problematic. I dealt with my fair share of those when I taught middle school.

Most of the elementary school kids had ideas that were more unconventional than the high schoolers did. That was... intriguing to see.

I do wonder why it seems as if filters and blocks start getting placed around kids' imaginations when they hit the middle grades. Social pressure? Pedagogical methods? Hormones? Natural developmental phase? Media exposure? Dang it, now I want to read up on this...
As a developmental psychologist (student :p) this intruiges me as well... A few explanations that I think could be it... One of them is actually brain development. The brain goes on developing well into the twenties, but early puberty is definitely a time of growth spurts in there as well. As the frontal lobe grows, 'logical' reasoning and analytical thinking develope and kids' thinking starts following formal rules. That allows them to tackle more complicated problems and hypotetic situations, and find the most efficient way to do so, but also takes away their need to be as creative in their solutions. Like any fairly efficient organ, the unused parts are stripped away and that's what happens to the neurons responsible for solving problems in a creative way.

Add to that that especially kids are encouraged to be efficient and not strange, and it makes a lot of sense. After all, younger kids that come up with odd stuff are seen as adorable and amazing and the grownups around them reward them with attention and praise, while older kids get told that this and that solution is much more efficient as well as peer-pressure to conform and it's not all that weird that it's the younger kids that come up with the awesome stuff!
I think we had Odyssey in our high school... or some kids participated, I think. I'm not at all surprised that the younger kids came up with more interesting ideas than the older kids. Sometimes, the younger minds are fantastically open.

Jet's making stuffies!!! You must take photos! :D
I must! He's getting there, and he's really liking it, too. He likes the sewing parts and the planning parts. That's really cool.